Thursday, 5 September 2013

Elephant No. 3: Permanent Markers on Ceramic

I tried something like this once before in the previous blog, but I didn't realize that the markers that came with the kit I used were just plain old permanent markers. So I thought I'd try it again today, this time on a bigger surface.

When I used permanent markers on ceramics the first time, I was completely underwhelmed by the effect, until I started using the markers to colour things in. That's when the technique really starts to take off, creating a sort of watercolour effect.

My first markers-on-ceramics project, September 2, 2012.
Photo: Sheila Singhal

For today's elephant, I bought two inexpensive plates from the dollar store: one square and one round.

I already had lots of permanent markers on hand. These two things—a ceramic surface and markers—are really all you need.

I thought I'd draw from a photograph today. This was the photograph I chose.

"Wrinkle nose", Kruger National Park, 2011.
Photo: © Wingssail Images/Fredrick Roswald

I thought this design would work best on a square shape, so I used the square plate. I gave it a quick wash with dish soap, just to be sure it didn't have any oily or sticky residue on it, but the alcohol in the markers cuts through most everything, so you probably don't even have to do that.

I began by sketching in an outline. It doesn't matter if you make a mistake, because as soon as you run over the lines with another marker, the line is going to "reactivate" and is going to blend and change. That, I find, is the main fun of this technique. And if you hate the whole thing, you can simply soak a paper towel in rubbing alcohol and wipe the whole thing off.

Surprisingly, I didn't dislike this first sketch as much as I thought I would. I'm woefully out of practice drawing realistic elephants, so I wasn't expecting much.

Once I was happy with the general outline, I began playing with colour. I added colours in the following order: purple, blue, green, yellow, orange and red, blending as I went along. A light colour like yellow is also useful for removing excess colour in a relatively subtle way.

To get the general effect you see above, all you do is fill things in, adding additional colour overlays wherever you like. If you want to keep a bit of the original outline, just work carefully alongside the outline you like to avoid obliterating it. The series of photos below gives you a closeup idea of what happens when you run the markers over one another.

Once I was happy with the general look of the design and colour placement, I went back over a few areas with the purple marker to sharpen some of the lines, and used the yellow to remove colour here and there. If you're removing colour, run the marker over the area in a quick swipe, and keep a paper towel handy to wipe the marker nib.

I'm told that this is more or less permanent, but that you can't put it in the dishwasher, should wash it only sparingly, and that baking it doesn't help. Essentially, I guess this should be used primarily for decorative rather than functional pieces, although it definitely doesn't wash off, and is hard to scratch off as well.

This is a very forgiving technique, so don't be afraid to play with it. The markers are inexpensive, and you can use a cheap plate, mug or bowl to start with, so there's really nothing to worry about. It's also fast—this only took me about an hour from the time I started sketching to the finished product, including photos along the way.

The final result is a bit riotous, I know, but I like a lot of colour, so I'm actually quite pleased with this piece. I may even make a few more at some point. Or maybe I'll just draw on the ugly tile backsplash in our yet-to-be renovated kitchen.

Elephant Lore of the Day
This story comes from the Save the Elephants website.

With poaching of African elephants at an all-time high, conservation organizations like Save the Elephants work hard to keep tabs on the elephants in their regions, generally with GPS collars that track the elephants' movements.

In mid-August of this year, Matt the elephant gave Save the Elephants a scare when he became stationary for too long. Most elephants don't stand still for more than two hours at a time, so tracking collars send out an alert whenever an elephant has been immobile for more than four hours.

Matt was a particular concern. At 50 years old, he is old for a male elephant in Africa, as most fall prey to ivory-hungry poachers well before that age. Matt, however, was a preternaturally clever elephant, and always seemed to be able to find places to hide.

At around 10:00 p.m. on August 18, however, the system that automatically tracks elephant movements sent out an alert about Matt. Several more alerts followed, and first thing the next morning, a small aircraft was scrambled to find out what had happened to him.

The team found his last-known position, along with a great many human footprints. But no Matt. Several bulls that Matt was known to hang out with were also spotted, but still no Matt. On a second flight later that day, one of the spotters took a photo of an elephant that looked like Matt, but without a collar.

It turned out that Matt had figured out how to rip off his collar, like a great many bull elephants before him. He was quickly tracked down and fitted with a new collar. Curiously, later that day, staff watched Google Earth as Matt's original collar got up and began moving, stopping again about 500 metres later. Seems that local herders were keen on the collar's counterweight, cutting it off before leaving the rest behind.

Aerial shot with a collarless Matt (bottom left).
Photo: Jeremy Bastard

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


  1. This elephant is so pretty & vivid.

    The process information really brings it all to life :) thanks again Sheila*

  2. Thanks, Terena! You should try this sometime. It's sooo easy...