Scrimshaw artist Noemi Rafel was born in Barcelona, Spain. In spite of growing up in an artistic environment Noemi studied prosthetic dentistry and later made a career in the food service industry. At the age of 24 she moved to Madrid where she met Paco, who would become her husband and with whom she would eventually move to Orcera, a small and healthily quiet town in the mountains of southern Spain, to raise a family. Paco started making knives as a hobby in 2007 and they both enjoyed looking up beautiful artisan knives on the internet, many of which had scrimshaw engravings.
Knowing her artistic inclinations and that she had done pointillism (dot art) drawings during her prosthetic dentistry studies, Paco encouraged her to try to learn the art of scrimshaw, assuring her that she could become as good as the artists whose pieces they admired. Noemi started etching on the knife blades made by her husband. She began with small decorative etchings such as name initials but soon progressed into more advanced designs. When building their current house, Paco created a workshop with large windows for maximum light and when her work reached a certain level he gave her a binocular magnifying glass to enable her to do more defined and precise scrimshaw pointillism.
Noemi developed into a highly skilled scrimshaw artist in spite of never taking any course or workshop to learn it. As many successful self-taught artists, she took the time to find all kinds of information about scrimshaw, practiced a lot and, through trial and error, defined her own working technique that enabled her to make increasingly higher quality engravings. When her work became more complex she adopted the method of starting with a sketch from which she transfers the main graphite lines of the drawing to the piece she wants to engrave, using them to apply pointillism or small notches to achieve the desired intensity of the engraving. Noemi engraves her stunning motifs on natural materials such as reindeer, elk, white-tailed deer or European red deer antlers. Walrus ivory is next in line. “I read a long time ago that scrimshaw requires thousands of ink points and dozens of working hours. Now I also know that it takes character. One could say that my first scrimshaw engraving was one of my husband’s image and three wolves that represent our three children. I did it on a knife that I have him as a birthday gift or for Christmas, I don’t remember exactly. But either way he glows every time he shows it to his friends,” she shares.
Like many other artists Noemi evolves through her art with every piece she creates and with every goal she reaches. One of her latest achievements was learning to engrave human faces that convey even the subtlest face expressions. Noemi believes that if she had not studied prosthetic dentistry she may have never understood the engraving technique required to create scrimshaw art.