To produce a hand-carved shell cameo, most artists follow the following
- After the sardonyx or carnelian shell is selected, it is divided
into two parts. One part of the shell is used for souvenir items
and trinkets, and the other part thicker and more richly
colored is used for cameos.
- The part of the shell to be used for cameos, called the cup,
is then divided further by a cutter. The back of these pieces
of shell are then smoothed and rounded, and finally attached to
a wooden stick for easy handling by the carver. The rough, curved
outer layer is left exposed for carving.
- Carvers work with a carving tool called a bullino, introduced
by Italian carvers several hundred years ago, or small dental
drills, to grind away shell.
- After drawing a sketch of the subject matter on the shell, the
carvers use traditional cameo carving tools to create the image.
Most carvers sit near windows to take advantage of natural light,
doing the majority of the work by hand. Cameos can take a few
hours or a few days to complete.
Thanks to Anna M. Miller's book Cameos
Old & New for production information.