Monday, 28 October 2013

Elephant No. 56: Black-and-White Charcoal Drawing

As those who read this blog regularly will know, I like Derwent products, and I have a lot of them. (Alas, no, I don't have stock in the company or a deal to promote them.)

One of the Derwent things I had yet to try, however, was what one artist called the "blackest black you'll ever see in a charcoal." Well, how can one not be intrigued by such a statement—even someone as completely colour-mad as I.

This blackest-black-of-all-blacks came in the tin of Derwent XL Charcoal that I bought some weeks back. I'd tried almost everything else in the tin, but not the black. The whole idea of something that dark kind of scared me. It surely wouldn't erase, even with the best of kneadable erasers, so I was certain to be stuck with whatever marks I made. This always gives me hives.

To give myself my best shot at a successful drawing with such fat charcoal, I used a piece of watercolour paper measuring 18 x 24 inches (45.7 x 60.9 cm). Why watercolour paper? Because charcoal is naturally water-soluble, I'm told, so I thought perhaps I could paint over my mistakes, if it came to that.

I also decided to work from a photograph with suitably dark areas. This is the photograph I chose.


I took the chicken's way out and sketched the general outline first with willow charcoal. It's still charcoal, but much lighter than the Derwent XL stuff. I also kept a kneadable eraser handy.

This was my first—very tentative—sketch.

Now came the scary part: adding the blackest-black-of-all-blacks. I more or less just blocked in the darkest areas, not exactly sure where I would go from here.

I figured smudging things with my fingers might be the next thing to do, so that's what I did. I smudged things heavily in the darkest areas, then ran my messy fingers into adjacent areas.

This looked kind of interesting to me, but I thought it needed some definition to give it a more finished look. To create sharp lines, I used a tourtillon, a kneadable eraser, and a touch of willow charcoal around the eyes and ears. I also smudged in a light background, removing some of the sky smudges with the eraser to create the look of clouds.

And that was pretty much it. This was indeed one of the blackest blacks I've ever used, and it made its presence known by getting on everything: fingers, clothes, parts of the paper where it had no business being, my face, my sandwich . . .

I decided against using water on this, so after about an hour and a half, I felt I was done. It's not a masterpiece, by any means, but I like it a lot for the amount of time I spent on it. It's much larger than I normally work, and in a medium that generally terrifies me, but now that I've tried it, I think I could get to like it.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although most elephant rampages are carried out by large adults who are either in musth or simply fed up, a couple of years ago a surprisingly small elephant did a lot of damage before he was finally tranquilized.

In June 2011, a young wild elephant ventured out of the forest and into the heart of Mysore—a city of almost 900,000 people in southwestern India. Estimated to be about eight to ten years of age, the elephant strayed into the city with a tuskless male a few years older.

According to a witness who tracked the elephants from the time they entered a marketplace, the elephants became agitated by the unexpected crowds. And as the crowd panicked, so did the elephants.  In the confusion, the tuskless elephant soon became separated from the "tusker", fleeing to an area near a sewage-treatment plant, where it more or less stayed put. The tusker, however, terrorized the city for a full six hours.

He first attacked a pair of cows tied to a post, fatalling injuring one of the hapless creatures. Running along a wide road towards a hospital, he came across an elderly man, essentially mowing him down when the man attempted to get out of the way. Chased by crowds of people trying to capture the rampage on camera and cellphone, the elephant ended up in a narrow lane, where he gored and killed a security guard.

Although efforts were made to tranquilize the elephant, the first two attempts failed. Maddened even further by the darts, the elephant attacked a bus and several other vehicles, doing considerable damage. A third tranquilizer dart eventually calmed the animal, who was led away with ropes.

The two wild elephants were kept corralled for a number of hours, until a quartet of festival elephants could be brought in. Domesticated elephants are often used in India to calm wild elephants. Although festival elephants spend part of their life in cities, when not needed for festivals they live in the forest and are able to ease a wild elephant's agitation and help guide it back to its forest home.

To read more, click here.

Young male elephant attacking car in Mysore, June 2011.
Photo: M.A. Sriram

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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