Thursday, 26 September 2013

Elephant No. 24: Crackle Effect

I saw this technique while looking at various videos in search of art techniques I've never tried before. This one looked quick and easy—a mantra for me these days—so I thought I'd try it for today's elephant.

Essentially, you paint a thick coat of glue onto a surface, paint over it with acrylic paint, and leave it for several hours. I'm guessing that the glue and the paint dry at different rates, and/or have different surface properties, which is what creates this effect. There are many online tutorials on how to create crackle surfaces for everything from furniture to assemblages, but to see the video I used, click here.

The general idea is to create a flat surface with random cracks, to give something a vintage look. I don't think you're supposed to use this technique to draw things. However, it seemed to me that a crackled elephant would be an interesting experiment, so I decided to try it.

I began by painting two small 6 x 8-inch (15 x 20 cm) canvas boards with acrylic paint in colours that pleased me. I left them to dry for an hour or so, then blasted them with a hairdryer, to make sure they were really dry.

Next, I sketched an elephant lightly over each surface to guide me when I painted on the glue.

For my first elephant, I used a fairly thick coat of glue, keeping more or less to the outlines I'd drawn. Immediate after this, I painted the surface with white paint. The idea is to make make your brushstrokes go in the direction that you want the cracks to form. The thicker the glue, the larger the cracks, and the thinner the glue, the smaller the cracks.


This amorphous-looking quadruped was not exactly what I'd had in mind. I'd clearly drawn something too small and too detailed to accommodate the gloppiness of the glue-paint combination. I tried to fix it by painting on more glue and paint, but I only made it worse.

I repeated the process with my second board, this time using a lighter coat of glue and paint over most of the elephant, with thicker areas primarily in the trunk and the edges of the ears. I already liked the look of this one a lot better.

Once I was finished with the painting, I left everything to dry for about three hours. The crackling begins almost immediately, but it needs to dry for at least a couple of hours to ensure that it's set.

And voilĂ ! I liked the effect, particularly in the vertical elephant. The thicker areas of glue and paint did indeed crack more, and the direction of your brushstrokes is indeed reproduced in the pattern of the cracks. I thought it was most interesting in the fine wrinkles across the vertical elephant's head and trunk, and in the edges of his ears.

I had to work a bit more quickly on this than I like, so it wasn't as fun as it perhaps might have been. And because I was trying to create at least some large cracks, I had to add a lot of paint to a lot of glue, making precision somewhat elusive on the first elephant. On the other hand, it's a great way to create the many fine—and very random—wrinkles on an elephant's hide.

Despite my disappointment with the horizontal elephant, and the slightly frantic nature of the technique, I do like the vertical elephant very much. Working this fast also had a hidden bonus: forced to be economical with my brushstrokes, I learned a whole new way of modelling an elephant head.

I would definitely try this again—perhaps on something larger next time, and something I work on in sections, rather than all at once.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although human-elephant conflict often ends in violence against the offending animals, sometimes the better side of human nature prevails.

In April of this year, a herd of elephants that was fond of nightly crop raids lost one of their calves. The baby elephant fell into a fifteen-foot open well, and couldn't climb back out.

According to P.R. Janardahanan—a homesteader inside the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary in Goa, India—the herd first entered his fields around 11:00 p.m. The herd was chased away, but by 3:00 a.m. it was back, staying in the area for two hours and resisting all attempts to run it off again. It was on this second foray that the baby fell into the well.

Villagers were roused the following morning by the cries of the baby elephant, and rushed to the scene. Forest officials were called immediately, and brought in earth-moving equipment to gouge out a channel. The calf was then coaxed out of the well by forestry officials and local villagers.

According to the villagers, raids by elephants had become more frequent in recent months, due to drought-like conditions prevailing in the region. Elephants came to the well to drink, and often strayed onto nearby agricultural land, where they caused considerable damage.

However, rather than electrocuting, shooting, poisoning or otherwise harming the baby, Mr. Janardahanan and his neighbours rallied together to save the little calf, who was soon restored to his herd, none the worse for wear.

Baby elephant following his rescue from a well in the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary
in Goa. The ropes are not restraints, but aids to help pull him free.
Photo: H. Vibhu

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

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

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