Sunday, 29 September 2013

Elephant No. 27: Painted Umbrella

A couple of weeks ago, on a rainy day, my friend Jacinthe Caron said I should make an elephant umbrella. I wasn't sure if that was possible, but when researching fabric paints a few days ago, I came across some images of painted umbrellas, and decided to give it a try.

Strangely enough, it had never occurred to me to paint an umbrella. I figured it would be too hard to find paints that were waterproof enough and flexible enough. Many fabric paints require heat-setting, which would be a problem unless I intended to dismantle my umbrella in order to iron the cover. I didn't want to do that, so I looked for paints that would cure on their own, and found these textile paints by Pebeo.

I also bought a black umbrella at a discount store for $5.00. I had intended to buy something lighter, but this was the only non-patterned umbrella I could find at this time of year.

I thought I'd better plan out my idea at least a little, so I made a sketch of what I thought my final umbrella might look like.

I sketched this lightly onto the surface of the opened umbrella with a white pastel pencil, then began painting.

Do not buy a black umbrella if you want this to be an easy job. I had visions of the fabric paint lying opaque on top of the nylon umbrella fabric. It didn't. In fact, the first two coats of white all but disappeared, leaving a sort of glossy shadow, but no real discernible elephant. I began to suspect that these weren't really paints at all, but goo that had to be slopped on thickly rather than brushed on.

I decided that maybe the "white" could serve as an undercoat and that the next coat of paint would be more opaque. Wrong. I used "pearl lilac" and ended up with an iridescent fly-eye blue. I didn't mind the blue, once I got used to it, but it was definitely a surprise.

This was not going particularly well, and I admit that I was beginning to be at a bit of a loss. While I tried to figure out what to do with this—other than wash the whole thing off and start over—I painted some greenery at the bottom, thinking I could maybe add flowers or something to distract from the rest of it.

Then I remembered that I had some dimensional fabric paint that I'd used on a pair of sneakers. The package had a nice range of colours, so I thought I'd see what I could do by squeezing these onto the surface. No more paintbrushes today, thank you very much.

I started by outlining the elephant in a loose, sketch-like way with the silver iridescent paint. I didn't mind this, so I went to work on the greenery next, adding petals to the flower stalks.

I had also added water drops above the elephants' trunks, which I didn't like, but it was too late to remove them, so I started adding confetti-like dots throughout the water droplets. I also scattered a few random coloured dots through the blank areas of the umbrella to tie things together.

As a final touch, I gave each elephant a small garland of flowers, to add a touch of colour to the elephants and make the design more cohesive.

In the end, I like my elephant umbrella well enough—although it's hard for me to love something that's so radically different from what I had in mind. It's also hard for me to love something that wasn't all that fun to make.

Now, however, that I've figured out what works and what doesn't when using fabric paints on an umbrella, I may make another one someday. Perhaps next time it rains in Ottawa in February.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although it isn't true, as some sources suggest, that elephants get drunk on fermented marula fruit, they can get drunk. And they do like alcohol. Their taste for alcohol may be due to an inherent sweet tooth, given that most alcoholic drinks are loaded with sugar in one form or other.

In late 2012, in one of the biggest invasions of party animals ever seen, an entire herd of elephants bellied up to the bar in a small Indian village. Drawn out of the jungle by the smell of a strong local drink called Mahua, about 50 elephants trampled crops and homes on their way into town.

Their first stop was a shop that sold the beverage, which is made from the flowers of the mahua tree. In short order, they had consumed the shop's entire supply of 18 jugs. Clearly in a party mood, the elephants raided three homes near the shop before villagers were able to force them back into the jungle.

Once they were back in the jungle, forestry officials forced the elephants across a nearby river, making it more difficult for them to head back into town for another round.

Asian elephants in Bandipur National Park, India.
Photo: © Dr. Manoj C. Sindagi Photography

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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