Friday, 11 October 2013

Elephant No. 39: Scribbling with Acrylic Paint

A couple of weeks ago, I tried making a Jackson Pollock elephant using acrylic paint mixed with Golden-brand clear tar gel. As I drizzled and dripped the mixture onto a canvas, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to draw with acrylic paint using squeeze bottles.

I bought some squeeze bottles with very tiny holes, thinking this would make it easy to produce fine lines. It doesn't.

I filled six bottles with the three primary and the three secondary colours—red, yellow, blue, orange, green and purple. Because I was only going to use a 6 x 8-inch (15.35 x 20.3 cm) canvas, I put a single small squeeze of paint into each bottle. To thin the paint very slightly, I added a quick splash of water. The final paint had the consistency of buttermilk or heavy cream.

I began with red, drawing an elephant freehand. I thought about using a photograph, or laying down a pencil sketch first, but decided to wing it.

This gave me a feel for the technique, so I continued with blue, purple, green, orange, and yellow, in that order.

One of the things I discovered right away is that the consistency of the paint makes a huge difference. If it's even slightly too runny, it's not going to make nice, neat lines. If it's too thick, it's not going to make its way cleanly out of the tiny hole in the bottle. Even worse, if there are any thicker pieces of paint in the bottle—if you often use acrylic paint, you know the stringy bits I mean—the tip of the bottle will clog, then splat paint all over the place.

To finish this up, I went over various parts of the painting. I darkened some areas with purple and blue, added a bit more red, and added some "highlights" with yellow. Finally, to make the background less blank, I added a few tiny dots in each of the colours.

This was more of an experiment than anything else, but I like the final result. I don't even mind the blobs of paint here and there, because it adds to the scribbly look. In fact, I liked it well enough that I'm definitely going to try it again, perhaps for a portrait next time.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Today's elephant lore features another fantastic elephant story sent to me by Sylvie Morel.

According to a study published yesterday in the journal Current Biology, elephants understand what humans mean when they point, even without any prior training.

Richard Byrne and Anna Smet studied a group of 11 African elephants in Zambia that were trained to follow vocal commands, but not gestures like pointing. The research team hid tasty tidbits in one of a series of buckets, then pointed to the bucket containing the food.

Astonishingly, five of the 11 elephants went to the correct container every time. All told, the elephants chose the indicated container 66% of the time, placing them on a cognitive par with two-year-old human children. Even more impressive to researchers was that some of the elephants didn't even need a learning curve, but chose the right bin on the very first try. They even chose correctly when the person pointing tried to confuse them by facing her body in the opposite direction.

The findings suggest several things to researchers. The first is that elephants, as social creatures, may be highly attuned to gestures, and may be more sensitive to attempts to communicate than many other species. As Byrne says, elephants may thus be "able to work out what pointing is when they see it."

Although elephants make many gestures with their trunks, they don't do anything that looks like pointing. This further suggests that they have managed to make the mental leap between their own directional cues, and those of humans.

Among species untrained to recognize human pointing, only cats, dogs, bottlenose dolphins—and now elephants—appear to have this ability. Chimpanzees can recognize pointing as well, but only after being trained to understand it by living with us for extended periods.

To read more, click here.

Elephants in Zambia showed that they instinctively understood human pointing.
Photo: Anna F. Smet/Richard W. Byrne

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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