Art Making

Come into the exhibition Iqqaipaa: Celebrating Inuit Art, 1948-1970 at the Canadian Museum of Civilization and explore both the Multimedia Resource Centre and the Interactive Area to learn more about Canada's Inuit and the works of art featured in this exhibition. Here are two highlights from the Interactive Area that explore Inuit art making.

Inuit Art : A Further Exploration

Artist at work: Lucassie Tookalak Carving, 1985<BR>Photographer: Cheryl Lean.
Lucassie Tookalak Carving, 1985
Photographer: Cheryl Lean.

For today's Inuit, art provides a source of income as well as a means of cultural expression. In their works, artists document traditional ways, raise important social issues, and depict stories and legends. Explore the displays in this section to learn more about the traditional way of life of the Inuit, as represented in works of art, and the techniques used by Inuit artists to produce sculptures and prints.

Inuit Sculpture

Inuit SculptingInuit artists use basically the same tools as other artists. From 1948 to 1970, sculptors used mainly pocket knives, files and hand-made tools adapted to their personal needs.

The technique used to produce a sculpture depends on the material - whalebone, ivory, antler or stone - and its characteristics. In this display, Henry Kudluk, a contemporary artist, has employed techniques used by artists from 1948 to 1970 to illustrate the five stages in the production of a sculpture of a bear.

Selection of the stone.1. Selection of the stone

Quarrying stone for sculptures can be a laborious task. Artists often have to travel far from their communities by snowmobile, komatik (sled) or boat. The stone itself has little commercial value; the cost of fuel for the trip to the quarry represents the main expense incurred by artists.

Initial shaping of the stone.2. Initial shaping of the stone

Inuit sculptors import most of their tools from southern Canada or other countries. In the past, they roughed out the stone using axes of various sizes. Today, they usually use power tools.

Adding detail.3. Adding detail

After the initial shaping of the stone, the sculpture is further defined using chisels, often without a hammer. As the work becomes more detailed, artists use an assortment of files to perfect the shape of the piece. Once completed, the sculpture is usually washed in a tub of water to remove dust and stone fragments.

Polishing.4. Polishing

If the artist is satisfied with the sculpture, the polishing begins. Wet-or-dry paper (carborundum paper) does not dissolve in water, so it is ideal for smoothing stone carvings under water. Water acts as a lubricant. Using the finest grade of paper, artists can obtain a very smooth and unblemished surface on most types of stone.

Final touches.5. Final touches

Sculptures that are polished in water using wet-or-dry paper need only be buffed with a dry cloth. Artists in Nunavik often use shoe polish to give their grey stone a more interesting colour. Highly polished sculptures have usually been covered with a layer of beeswax, which used to be applied by heating the stone with a blowtorch. Today, microwave ovens are used to heat stone evenly.

Photographer: Harry Foster, Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Inuit Prints

From 1948 to 1970, stonecut and stencilling were the main techniques used to make prints in the Canadian Arctic. Other techniques have been added since then, including lithography, engraving, silk-screening, etching and aquatint. Stonecut and stencilling remain important, however, and are often combined.


The stonecut technique is an adaptation of the woodcut, with stone replacing wood as a printing surface. The image to be printed is carved in relief on the printing block.

When making a stonecut, the printer usually traces a drawing by an artist on a stone slab that has been painted white. The image is then retraced with India ink, and the areas that are not to be printed are chiselled away. Using a soft rubber roller, the printer inks the image, starting with light shades then adding the darker ones in layers.



The inking process may take an hour or more and must be repeated for each print in the edition. Once the inking is completed, a protective cover resembling a stencil is placed over the block to mask areas that are not to be printed. The image is now ready to be printed on paper.


Only soft rice paper, such as mulberry paper, is absorbent enough for a stonecut. The paper is placed over the inked image and rubbed against it with varying pressure. The print is then peeled off and hung to dry.

Photographer: Harry Foster, Canadian Museum of Civilization.

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