Friday, 20 September 2013

Elephant No. 18: Rubber-Cement Resist

I saw this technique on a Pinterest board, so I traced it to the original tutorial, which I found on the Columbus North High School page. To see the tutorial, click here.

I'm not very good with ink washes, so I feared this could be a total disaster. However, playing with rubber cement takes me back to my childhood, so I was game to try.

The first thing I had to do was make a sketch. I drew today's elephant from this photograph.

African elephant.

Because this technique requires a series of ever-darker washes of ink, I thought I should at least try to map out the darker areas. This was actually really difficult for me, because I normally do some of the darker bits first when I draw. This time I would have to work more or less in reverse.

The other thing is that whatever is left untouched by rubber cement will end up black. This meant that I also had to address the background. I hate drawing backgrounds.

I used regular rubber cement, which comes with a very clunky brush. It's great for slopping the stuff across wide areas, and even spreading it nice and thin. It's wretched for fine detail.

Since I didn't want to ruin a paintbrush, however, I decided I'd try using the big, fat brush, with toothpicks for finer details. I should have used a smaller brush that I didn't care about.

I began by putting rubber cement on the areas I wanted to leave white, let the glue dry until it was tacky to the touch, then coated the whole thing with a highly diluted wash of Chinese stick ink.

I could see right away where the darker areas were going to be. What I couldn't see anymore was my drawing. Upon reflection, I should have drawn it darker, and I should have made the various areas clearly defined, almost like a paint-by-number kit. It was too late, however, so I soldiered on.

After letting the first one dry, I painted on more rubber cement, this time tackling the next darkest areas, then the next darkest, and finally masking off everything but the very darkest parts. Each time, I let the rubber cement dry to the touch, and ensured that the ink was completely dry before adding another layer of rubber cement and ink.

I let the whole thing dry for a good hour or so this time, then began peeling off the rubber cement. I could have used a crepe block, but I don't know where mine is, so I used the pads of my thumbs. Use a crepe block.

This is what I ended up with. I didn't like that I'd left some areas too white, and that some weren't dark enough. On the other hand, the whole thing had a woodcut look that I didn't mind—and I really liked the brush strokes and speckles left behind by the much-maligned brush. But it lacked definition and finesse.

To rectify this, I got the bright idea of masking off a few more areas with rubber cement, and painting them over with a darkish wash of ink. Not sure I'd recommend this, unless you want a layering effect like the one below.

In the end, I found this an interesting experiment. I would definitely use a finer brush next time, and I'd probably pay a lot more attention to what should be dark and what should be light. I would also delineate things a little more clearly. One benefit of rubber cement is that it will remove pencil marks. I'd forgotten that.

For someone like me, this was a mind-bending exercise, mostly because I had to think backwards. It was also hard to come up with enough shades of ink. When I was finished, it suddenly occurred to me that I could have used colours instead. Maybe next time.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Kerala, India is known for its established elephant culture. Every temple has its own elephant, and some have as many as 60.

Many of the elephants become so famous that they have their own fan clubs and make wildly popular public appearances. In the August 16, 2013 edition of the New York Times, Rollo Romig wrote about the famous elephants of Kerala, and one of the culture's star attractions, Thiruvambadi Shivasundar.

Thiruvambadi is owned by a wealthy businessman named Sundar Menon, who bought him in 2002 for three million rupees, or about $60,000. This is apparently a bargain by today's prices—particularly since elephants can be a risky and temperamental investment.

Unlike many festival elephants, however, Thiruvambadi is fairly mellow, and has never killed anyone, even by accident. He is, however, rather spoiled, living a rock star sort of life—with some of the same potential pitfalls, if Thiruvamadi's love of brandy is anything to go by.

Thiruvambadi has even had a song written about him, and stars in his own Bollywood-style music video, which you can watch here.

Thiruvambadi Shivasundar enjoys a bath.
Photo: Brent Stirton, New York TimesSource:

To Support Elephant Welfare
Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary (Thailand)
Wildlife SOS (India) 
The Elephant Sanctuary (Tennessee)

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