Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Elephant No. 2: Grains of Rice

A few days ago I saw a video on YouTube demonstrating how simple it is to draw on grains of rice. So I decided to try it for today's elephant. Sometimes I think YouTube should be held accountable for all kinds of idiocy.

First off, I needed something to write with. The video I watched suggested permanent markers, so I trundled off to the art store for a fine pigment liner. When I told the clerk what the pen was for, she stared at me for a moment, then burst into laughter. This is the marker I bought.

Next, I needed rice. I checked out all the rice in our cupboards—wondering in passing why we need so much rice, since I don't even really like it. All of the rice we had looked too skinny to accommodate an elephant shape. Bah, long-grain/basmati/wild rice!

I headed off to the health food store, where I came across something called "sushi rice". I bought as little as I could without looking like a total cheapskate. The photo below shows the difference between a grain of sushi rice (left) and a grain of high-quality basmati rice.

The video suggested that embedding the grain of rice in modelling clay is a good idea, so I scrounged up an unopened pack of purple/discoloured clay. Although you can't really tell from the photo below, this was actually a stupid colour to use. White would have been much better, because the rice would have remained translucent, and I could have seen what I was doing a little better.

Some sources suggest taking a utility knife, and carefully scraping the grain of rice to create a smoother writing surface. That sounded like way too much fussy-work for me, so I didn't.

I began by trying to draw with the pigment liner. This was pointless, since it clogged almost immediately. I think the ink made the surface of the rice gummy, which then transferred as a kind of gluey mess to the nib. So I switched to a fine drafting pen.

This worked much better. Not that anything was going to help me draw a recognizable elephant, but at least the ink flowed freely. I also wore 2.5X magnifying/reading glasses, which helped me see better. Strangely, seeing better doesn't translate into artistic finesse when drawing on grains of rice.

This was my first elephant: an attempt at a simple elephant head in profile. Yes, well.

I tried another elephant head next, and discovered that, if you scratch into the surface while the ink is still wet, you can create interesting, um, details. Still without any finesse whatsoever, but it breaks up that vast expanse of black.

After this, I did a series of whole elephants, most of which looked like blobs with a pointy bit that might kindly be called a trunk. The two below were the best of the lot.

Most sources on rice-drawing suggest placing the grain of rice in a vial of some sort with mineral oil (e.g., baby oil). This is done to magnify the image and make it easier to see. I wasn't taken enough with any of these to want to magnify them, so I skipped that part.

I didn't hate this particular activity, but I'm also not looking to start rice-drawing for fun and profit. I usually like working on tiny images, but these were a bit too tiny even for me.

Elephant Lore of the Day
This story was sent to me by my friend Chenar. Now if only I could make one of these . . .

A few days ago, Rajah the mechanical elephant arrived home at his birthplace in the former Luneside Engineering works in Halton, Lancashire, U.K.

Rajah in the carpark of Halton Mill, Halton, Lancashire, U.K.,
September 1, 2013.

Built in the 1950s, Rajah was originally designed by Frank Smith, who had been inspired by a real elephant he'd seen at an amusement park. Several elephants like Rajah were later commissioned by tourism companies, and soon became popular attractions at mid-century seaside resorts. Powered by a 250cc gas engine, each elephant stood about seven feet (2.2 metres) tall, and could carry six to eight children at a time.

Rajah carrying children at his homecoming celebration.

For years, Rajah was used to lead a carnival parade, and a number of his fellow Luneside elephants still exist in various parts of the U.K. To see Rajah in action at his Halton Mill homecoming, click here. Interestingly, the cooperative that manages the new Halton Mill eco-centre complex is called Green Elephant. How fun is that?

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


  1. Gosh how wonderful! :)

    I really did giggle when you spoke of the store clerk, when you told her why you needed the fine pen.

    I admire your persistence there.
    The repeated attempts needed to get the detail in, very interesting post.

    The epitome of a persnickety task.

    This did stick out along with the tea bag one on a quick look of the blog recently.
    Loving the unusual ideas :D

  2. Thanks, Terena. Yes, the clerk's face was wonderful...