Cuttlefish Art

23 Aug

I cannot help but like cuttlefish. They can change color, are fairly intelligent, and are apparently quite tasty as well. They are just alien enough to warrant curiosity, but familiar enough to be dissuade any fear. They’re bright and complex and beautifully patterned. It makes me think about how we must have used them in art.

And *so* flamboyant!

Interestingly enough, we have. But not as subjects, no. We’re more used to using these guys as ingredients. There are two ways that cuttlefish have been used in art. The first, and perhaps more well known, is their ink. Cuttlefish ink is composed of melanin, the same pigment that gives humans our skin color. Only, a cuttlefish’s ink is many thousand times more concentrated than we would ever find in us, which produces a rich brown or black color. The ink sacs of these creatures would be dried and mixed with shellac to produce the color sepia (the word is actually derived from the Greek name for cuttlefish. Today the name of their order, Sepiida, shares the same roots). It was quite popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, although today the shade has been replaced with an artificial color instead.

The other way deals with metalworking. Cuttlefish have a hard calcium rich structure known as the cuttlebone within them. It is porous and light and in life provides a source of buoyancy. Harvested, the cuttlebone has a number of uses. Pet owners may recognize it as a cheap calcium source for their birds or rodents and it is commonly sold in pet stores. Silversmiths, on the other hand, prized it for casting. The cuttlebone is easy to carve and cut, but can resist very high temperatures with no problems. Jewelers will carve out the shape they want to form then fill the resulting cavity with molten metal. They then simply wait for the silver to cool, then remove it. This technique is both simple and old; silver belt buckles have been found in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, that were cast in cuttlebone sometime around the six or seventh century.

Sources:,,, Wikipedia


Posted by on August 23, 2011 in History, Natural History


Tags: , , ,

2 responses to “Cuttlefish Art

  1. Becoming herself

    August 26, 2011 at 3:38 am

    Fascinating stuff. I had no idea about its use by silversmiths.

    • theglyptodon

      August 26, 2011 at 10:22 am

      Yeah. I think the sepia ink thing is more well known, but the jewelry thing is definitely more interesting. If only I could find a picture of those belt buckles.


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