Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Elephant No. 141: Guest Artist MaryAnna Coleman

 All art photographs © MaryAnna Coleman.

I first came across MaryAnna's work via the #Elegram Project, where one of her gorgeous watercolour elephants (the one just below) was showcased. I was thinking of trying to contact her via the Nature Conservancy to see if I could feature her work on this blog, when she contacted me herself.

MaryAnna says she grew up doing art, earning a BA from Gettsburg College with a major in Studio Art. She also spent a semester studying abroad in Florence, Italy, with a significant focus on art.

Although MaryAnna says that, after her graduation in 2010, she hadn't been as active in art as she would have liked, she began doodling again this past winter, "which turned into drawing and painting. I started drawing dogs I ran into around New York City, and started to get requests for portraits/commissions of friends' pets."

MaryAnna is highly experimental—a quality I greatly admire, as you can well imagine. According to MaryAnna herself, "It's been fun trying out different subjects, styles, and mediums. Before this, I had mostly just worked with acrylic/oil painting, so watercolour has been a fun challenge and experiment as well."

In addition to her wonderful watercolour elephants, MaryAnna has produced a wide range of sensitive images featuring wildlife and domesticated animals in mediums from pen-and-ink to paint.

To see more of MaryAnna's work, check her out at MaryAnnaColeman Design on Instagram. To get in touch with her directly, contact her at Maryannacolemandesign@gmail.com.

Elephant Lore of the Day
We all know by now that elephants are highly sensitive creatures, and that they form strong emotional attachments. This, however, is one of the most poignant little stories that I've ever read.

In May 2014, a female elephant named Cherie died of an infection on Kenya's savanna. Rangers had been monitoring her condition over a number of days, hoping that she'd rally. Sadly, she died of a twisted gut, despite all attempts to help her. After her death, her heartbroken calf refused to leave Cherie's side. The five-month-old baby clung to her throughout the night, even after the rest of the herd had left.

Throughout the night, Sokotei refused to leave his dead mother's side.
Photo: ©DS2/Barcroft Media
Source: www.viralspell.com

The story has a happy ending, however. The following morning, keepers from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the Kenya Wildlife Service and Save the Elephants were able to tranquilize the calf and separate him from his mother. He was then moved to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage near Nairobi.

Tragically, orphaned elephants often pine away, even with the best of care, and sometimes die of what can only be described as a broken heart. Luckily, Sokotei, as the calf was named, eventually rallied with the support of dedicated keepers and other elephants, and hopes are high that he can be returned to the wild one day.

To read more about Sokotei and other orphaned elephants available for adoption at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, please click here.

Sokotei with a new friend at the David Sheldrick Wildlife
Trust Elephant Orphanage, Kenya.
Photo: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
Source: www.Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.org

To Support Elephant Welfare

Monday, 22 June 2015

Elephant No. 140: Inktense Blocks

I wasn't going to make an elephant today, but then I came across a tin of Inktense blocks, and realized I'd never really used them before.

I thought they deserved a large surface, so I decided to work on an 18 x 24-inch (45.7 x 61 cm) sheet of Canson 140 lb. watercolour paper. I almost cut the sheet in half, but I never work big so I made myself stick to using the whole sheet.

I'm always better, of course, drawing from a photograph, so I chose this one by Nick Brandt.

Elephant with Tattered Ears, Amboseli, 2008
Photo: Nick Brandt
Source: www.nickbrandt.com

I began by doing a faint outline in red.

I followed up by adding shading in yellow, orange, blue, green and navy, in that order.

Now comes the fun part. Because Inktense is a water-soluble medium, the pigments become much more interesting when wet. Unlike watercolour paints or pencils, Inktense turns into ink when wet. Essentially, the heavier you draw, the more saturated the colours, and the more ink you have to move around.

To me, it's a bit like those magic-dot pictures in colouring books: just add water and colours appear. I used a small flat paintbrush for most of this, with a finer brush to make a few thin lines.

I liked this quite a lot, but I also wanted slightly more definition, so I waited until this was damp-dry, then added some fine lines and shading on top with a purple Inktense pencil.

The thing I like most about Inktense blocks and pencils is that you can leave some of the sketchy lines as a contrast with the swathes of ink.

I really didn't want to make anything today, but in the end, I'm glad I did. It only took about an hour and a half, and I like it enough that I'll definitely try this again sometime.

Elephant Lore of the Day
This is one of my favourite elephant stories, adapted from the original Elephant a Day blog. A few years back, at a safari camp in Tanzania's Katavi National Park, one of the area's normally well-behaved elephants suddenly took to ripping the canvas flysheets on the camp's tents.

At first it was assumed that the elephant had accidentally stumbled into the canvas. Elephants are usually clever enough to pick their way over guy ropes and other obstacles with no trouble, but maybe this guy was a little clumsy. The safari operators called in a tailor, who carefully sewed the tears in the sheets.

A day or two later, it happened again. This was repeated several times, until the elephant was caught in the act. Resting his tusks on the flysheet at the back of a tent, he gently pushed down on the canvas, causing it to rip. At first no one could figure out why this particular elephant had become so destructive. Then in occurred to them: he simply liked the noise of ripping canvas.

Because the flysheets could only be mended so many times, the safari operators came up with a clever solution. Instead of sewing the flysheets back together, they fastened on new pieces of canvas with Velcro®. The elephant still gets to enjoy the sound of tearing fabric, but now it's easier to put back together.

African elephant near a vintage-style safari camp.
Source: vintagecamps.com

To Support Elephant Welfare

Friday, 19 June 2015

Elephant No. 139: Painting with Nail Polish

I'm next to useless at painting my nails, so there will be no elephants on fingernails today. However, given the number of bottles of nail polish I own, I thought I'd try painting on canvas instead.

I have every colour you can imagine—although, strangely, never the specific colour I want on my nails—so I had a lot of colour choices at my disposal. My only rule was that I had to use the brushes that come with the nail polish. No point, after all, in ruining a perfectly good paintbrush.

Not having ever tried this before, I decided to use a small canvas board, measuring 5 x 7 inches (12.7 x 17.8 cm). I also thought it might be good to make a light pencil sketch to guide my work, and decided to draw from the photograph below.

African elephant.
Source: animalfactguide.com

I began by using a few pale blues and greens, with a sort of drybrush technique. I had originally expected that I'd be applying the colours more thickly, but I became timid when faced with actually committing nail polish to canvas.

Where the nail polish was a bit opaque, I didn't really like the effect. In the end, I used the nail polish brushes very gently, barely touching the surface. This also let the texture of the canvas show through, which I thought was interesting. Who knew you could get a watercolour effect with nail polish straight out of a bottle?

I used a surprising number of colours, as you can see from the photograph below. Some of them were more opaque than others — for example, three different pale blues that looked very similar in the bottles were remarkably different in opacity when applied to the canvas.

Although I avoided using glitter nail polish, the final work has a definite surface shimmer.


Despite my hesitant brushstrokes, I like the final elephant quite a lot. Next time I think I'd be a bit bolder with the colour—and I'd definitely have better ventilation—but as a first attempt at painting with nail polish, it was kind of fun.

Elephant Lore of the Day
In many parts of Asia, there are yearly festivals to honour elephants. Most of these include games, an elephant parade, and an elephant beauty contest.

Competing elephants are painted with bright water-based paint, and are dressed in embroidered silks and brocades. For many elephants, the finishing touch is a coat of bright acrylic paint on the elephant's toenails.

Loktantrakali getting her toenails painted, Sauraha, Nepal, December 2011.
Source: Telegraph.co.uk

To Support Elephant Welfare

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Elephant No. 138: From the Archives: Fumage

An early experiment from the original Elephant a Day blog. One of the weirdest art things I ever tried . . . Enjoy!

A couple of years ago, I saw an intriguing portrait created with smoke by South African artist, Diane Victor. Since it's warm enough to go outside and burn things on my front porch, today seemed like a good day to try fumage.

Fumage (from fumée—French for "smoke") was invented in 1936 by Surrealist artist Wolfgang Paalen. The technique involves creating patterns with the smoke and soot of a lit candle. Intrigued by Paalen's invention, fellow Surrealists such as Salvador Dali also created works of fumage, usually painting over the delicate lines of soot to complete the work.

The technique is very simple: take a thick piece of paper, board or wood. Run a candle over it until soot is deposited on the surface. Try not to burn or scorch anything.

Although the technique is simple, the set-up is a bit weird. In order to have visual and manual control of your work, you have to hold it above you. I had no idea what this meant until I saw a photograph of Diane Victor at work.

I used a piece of art bristol (the same thing as bristol board, but slightly better quality), attached to a piece of masonite with binder clips. You could use any heavy paper or bristol board, but make sure it's 100 lb. or heavier, or it will catch fire. I used 40 lb. paper for my first test piece, and set it on fire within seconds. You can also use canvas coated in gesso, or supports such as masonite, wood or fibreboard, also coated in gesso. The gesso—a plasterlike substance (don't use acrylic gesso for obvious reasons)—is primarily to help the design show more clearly.

Once you have your canvas and a place to work, light a candle and get started. The best type of candle is a slender taper of some sort. It's also a good idea to have a pillar candle or other large candle to relight your working candle if necessary. You may also want to take precautions to cover your table, porch or floor to avoid the mess of melted wax. I didn't find, however, that the wax that fell on my hand was overly hot or annoying.

If you have a big surface to play with, you can also try a "palette" of different candles, in order to experiment with various effects. I tried a smallish candle (the kind used for angel chimes) on my test piece, but found it too big for the size of paper I had, so I switched to birthday candles. These were a much better fit for me, and each of the pieces I did required exactly one birthday candle—as you'll see, I got faster as I went along.

Using your non-dominant hand to change the angle of the paper, start running the candle over the paper's surface. Depending on the weight of your canvas and its support, your hand might get tired, so it's not a bad idea to have something for it to lean on.

As you guide the candle and the paper, you will see dark areas of soot and smoke appearing on the paper. These were my first two attempts, which were very tentative, as you can see.

By changing the angle of paper and/or candle, you can create different effects. Changing the speed and proximity of the candle also creates interesting patterns. For example, if you move the candle fairly quickly, you'll get a soft, light grey over a large area. A longer wick gives you more delicate lines, whereas a shorter wick will give you darker and heavier areas.

These were my next few attempts. To create the eyes, I held the flame directly perpendicular to the paper. This is something you have to do very quickly, or the paper will scorch. I scorched the first of these (the baby elephant) a bit, but not enough to actually burn the paper.

In a couple of these pieces, you can see the effect of using the candle at a very acute angle to the paper. The lines will be delicate and feathery, but they will also be quite long, slithering all the way up the paper.

These are the last two I made. Something I discovered on the final piece is that, when I layered smoke on top of itself in five or six layers, the top layer went a sort of whitish ash colour (you can see it in the ear of the final elephant). It doesn't actually feel like ash, and it doesn't blow off like ash, so I'm not sure what it is. Perhaps it's some sizing or chemical in the paper leaching up. It makes for an interesting effect, but I didn't really want white to show up, so I'd probably watch out for it next time.

It's not an easy medium to control, so the results will definitely be abstract. Many artists who do fumage today add paint to their final works. The fumage creates a dreamlike image, which is then enhanced with colour in the form of oil or other paints. I might have wanted to do that if I'd created more long, feathery lines, but I didn't think paint would help any of these all that much.

Once you're happy with a fumage work, you can play with the design by smudging some of the soot with your fingers, an eraser, a brush, or even something sharper. I tried this on my test board, just to see what effect it would give, and I didn't like it all that much. Unless the area is quite dark, the soot doesn't brush off to any great extent, and smudging just seems to lighten the area without making it any more interesting. That being said, I didn't smudge anything on the elephants pictured here. What look like finger smudges on some of them are actually the work of the candle.

Unfortunately, fumage really is as ephemeral as smoke. The dark areas in particular are especially unstable. Although some recommend preserving the final result with a varnish or fixative, many artists have found that fixatives will ruin the work. I tried spraying fixative on a test piece first, and it worked okay, as long as I kept the spray really far away and sprayed a very fine mist. The fixative does seem to grab onto any thicker areas of soot, turning the area a slightly cloudy colour and beading up a little. It also appears to fade the work somewhat, which may be because a fine layer of soot is being blown away by the force of the fixative spray. And the combination of soot and fixative (even the low-odour kind) smells terrible.

A better idea might be to quickly frame anything you really like, making sure the glass doesn't smudge the work—because the least touch of anything on the darker areas will make them rub off. I learned this the hard way. Thinking it would be clever to place the finished (non-fixative) pieces between sheets of tissue paper, I was disappointed to find that the slightest touch of tissue made obvious scratches in the dark areas. The damage was already done, but I quickly sprayed them all with fixative anyway. (By the way, I discovered later that even a coating of fixative will not completely prevent the darkest areas from scratching.)

I also learned that it doesn't work if you try to go back and "re-soot" the scratched areas. Not only can you never match the original effect, but the paper has also already been somewhat compromised, and is more likely to scorch. Better to live with the scratches as an interesting effect, and/or rework them with charcoal or something. Better still to carefully photograph anything you especially like as soon as you've finished it, and keep that as your final work.

Fumage is an interesting medium to work with, although you really can't control the results to any great degree. Once you get a feel for the angle of candle to paper, and how close to get, it's fun to explore various effects. Just don't be married to a final result. And be prepared for scratches.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Elmer the Safety Elephant was an elephant character invented in Toronto, Canada in 1947. Originally created to teach schoolchildren about road safety—with slogans such as "Look both ways before crossing the street" and "Keep away from parked cars," Elmer later branched out to cover fire safety.

An elephant was chosen to represent the program because of the exceptional memory elephants were reputed to have. The program was the brainchild of Toronto mayor Robert Hood Saunders, who was inspired by a similar program in Detroit, Michigan. Within the first year of the Toronto program, collisions involving children had dropped by 44 per cent.

The first Elmer was a simple profile of an elephant, but in 1948, Saunders decided to recruit former Walt Disney animator Charles Thorson to give Elmer a new look. Thorson, who was born and raised in Winnipeg, Canada, had also designed the characters for the world's first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and is credited with designing and naming Bugs Bunny.

The new Elmer wore a sailor's hat and a bow. The Toronto Safety Council had costumes made which were worn by mascots for Elmer's many appearances in classrooms and at Saturday morning movie matinees. Elmer's fame soon spread far beyond Toronto, becoming a Canada-wide children's safety program.

The original design for Elmer the Safety Elephant
Source: http://www.canadiandesignresource.ca/officialgallery/symbols/elmer-the-safety-elephant/

One of the most important parts of the Elmer program was the safety flag, which flew outside schools. Schools that had gone at least 30 days without an accident caused by a student's carelessness were allowed to fly the Elmer flag on their flagpoles. This remains a part of the Elmer program to this day.

In addition to road safety, Elmer now deals with fire safety, railroad safety, Internet safety, and bullying.

Elmer the Safety Elephant today
Source: http://elmer.ca/fun-elmer/colouring.php

To Support Elephant Welfare