Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Elephant No. 58: Skelephant

I bought a paint-your-own wooden skeleton weeks ago, thinking I could turn it into some kind of skelephant—maybe even one that would glow in the dark. Since Hallowe'en is tomorrow, I decided to finally make this for today's elephant.

The wooden form was obviously meant to be a human skeleton, so I figured it needed at least a bit of tweaking to make it into an elephant. To make sure I didn't completely embarrass myself, I thought I'd look up x-rays of elephants online. Then I remembered that it's impossible to x-ray an entire elephant, so I decided instead to look at images of actual elephant skeletons—particularly the skull.

I did remember that elephants have large holes in the centre of their skulls, so I planned to cut something out of the centre of my wooden skeleton's head. And, since teeth are usually part of a skeleton, I planned to add a couple of wooden tusks, cut out of thin plywood. With visions of x-rays still in my head, I thought briefly about adding a ghostly trunk, then remembered that this was a skeleton, not an x-ray or ectoplasmic elephant.

3-D elephant skull model.

I began by placing plain white paper over the wooden skeleton, in order to figure out what the tusks should look like. I also traced out the void in the forehead. I used this image to guide my drawing of the central hole in the skull. There wasn't a lot of room in the forehead of the wooden shape for an additional hole, so it's definitely not to scale.

I'm pretty good with a jigsaw—my only possible claim to power-tool fame—so I cut out the void and the tusks with my trusty jigsaw. I then sanded the edges of everything to clean them up. I hate sanding, as you can see by the many raggedy edges that remained.

I painted everything with inexpensive white acrylic paint next, and let it dry. I hadn't thought about the fact that I'd have to paint all four "sides" of this three-dimensional form. Sigh. I painted everything with one coat of white paint, and put two coats on the front.

I glued the tusks to the skeleton form with a glue gun. By now, many of you will know that I also hate glue guns. At least I didn't burn myself today.

Now, to give the whole thing an eerie look, I decided to paint it with glow-in-the-dark paint. This stuff was much more expensive than I had expected. For this
207 ml/7 oz. jar, it was about twelve dollars. Add that to the six dollars it cost me for a 2 x 2-foot (60 x 60 cm) piece of 1/4-inch (0.6 cm) plywood to make a couple of measly tusks, and the two dollars for the elephant, and this was one of the more expensive elephants I've made.

I had originally thought I'd be painting this to look like an x-ray, so I had visions of carefully painting to make the bones look slightly dimensional. You can imagine how happy I was to remember that a skeleton is just bleached white bones. So I just painted everything the same. I wasn't sure if thicker layers would glow more, but it didn't really matter.

The instructions on the can say to paint two coats for best effect, leaving 45 minutes between coats. I think they tell you that because it's so hard to see the paint on the surface that they want to make sure you've actually covered everything. I was also not very careful, more or less glopping it on and not worrying about nice brushstrokes.

I reassembled the whole thing with twists of black wire, and left it to dry for about an hour. And then, for the moment of truth.  I put this outside in daylight for about an hour, then brought it inside to see if it really would glow in the dark. Never having painted glow-in-the-dark paint on anything, I wasn't sure what to expect. Well . . . nothing.

Thinking I needed to add more paint, I put on two more really thick coats, let it dry, then stuck it under a bright bulb for a couple of hours. Still nothing. It does have a very faint glow, but it's so faint that my camera literally couldn't pick it up at all. Most disappointing.

The instructions say it needs "several hours" in light to charge up, but this has been in either daylight or artificial light all day, so I'm not sure why it doesn't work. If I'd had glow sticks on hand, I probably would have broken a couple open and doused the skelephant in whatever scary substance is inside your average glow stick.

I still had the skeleton itself, however. It's nothing like a real elephant skeleton, but if you could get an elephant to stand up, and ignored the fact that an elephant's eyes are normally on the sides of its head, this might squeak by. Or end up reminding you of a human skeleton with a severe head injury and a handlebar moustache. Or a walrus.

I'm not sure if this skelephant will be part of tomorrow's Hallowe'en decorations, and I'm peeved that it doesn't glow in the dark, but I may sand it down at some point, paint it white again, then decorate it as a Day of the Dead skelephant. Kind of wish I'd thought of that in the first place.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Because I'm not likely to do too many elephant skeletons, I thought I'd bring back a bit of elephant lore from the original Elephant a Day blog about elephant skulls and the myth of the Cyclops.

An elephant's head weighs literally hundreds of pounds. To support this weight, there are extra muscles along the neck. Interestingly, an elephant's skull is also filled with tiny air pockets, just like the bones of birds, to keep it relatively light.

Some palaeontologists believe that the Greek myth of the one-eyed Cyclops arose from discoveries of the skulls of dwarf elephants on Cyprus, Crete and Malta. These elephants had skulls roughly the size of humans, but with a large cavity in the middle of the head. Because these early Mediterraneans may have lacked direct knowledge of elephants, is is conceivable that they believed they were looking at a humanoid skull with a large central eye socket.

Skull of dwarf elephant on display at
the Hellabrun Zoo, Munich, Germany.
Photo: MaxM

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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