The most prevalent ivory was African ivory which was used extensively during the 1400s to 1900s in Europe and Asia. It was only after 1989 that mammoth ivory completely replaced the demand for elephant ivory. Some of the key aspects of African tusk ivory are that it is not white but creamy in color and is amazing to work with. In most cases, it was procured fresh and thus the gelatinous substance from the pores gave it high flexibility as compared to hard and drier mammoth tusk ivory.
Additionally the fine crosshatching and grain structure gave it flexibility to be cut from any angle yet maintain strength and resistance to splinting. The natural oils gave it a peculiar mellow shine and rich luster as in any ivory. It is advised that once a year, all ivory sculptures that you have should be rubbed with oil.
Most of the African tusks of ivory are over 10 feet in length and the weight can exceed 200 pounds. However, there are inherent pulp cavities in the upper regions of the tusk, which creates a natural hollow. This requires exceptional skill of the artist to shallow carve bringing our translucent appeal. Cutting the area for maximizing the use of ivory was a delicate task especially when the core is hollow.
Generally, the tusks are 8 inch in diameter with solid ends that taper while the middle areas are round, which is used for carving. Intricate sculptures and carvings were done such that the patterns conformed to the shape of the ivory tusk. Even today, mammoth tusk ivory intricate carvings are designed such that they are done on the middle part of the ivory tusk.
The master artists used the hollowed out portion of the tusk to carve cups and tankards. Sometimes, they were sliced to form thin sheets of ivory, coveted by artists to watercolor miniature portraits. Additionally, the artists painstakingly shaved off parts of the designed compositions to give it thinness which led to heightened translucence.
Painting on ivory after sculpting it has been in vogue. The artists first etch and carve the desired patterns and then hand paint the details, giving it a realistic look. Exemplary art and artistry of the artists is visible in the delicate patterns and motifs that can be seen. The figures have hand-painted hair, tiny painted motifs and traditional patterns on the apparel. Ivory can be sculpted intricately adding manifold ways of translucency for better effects of the carving.