Monday, 17 October 2011

Elephant No. 15: Fingerpainting

Today I wanted to do something easy and fun. No glueing, no folding, no sewing, no engineering of any kind. At first I thought I'd do sidewalk chalk, but it's raining. Then I thought of fingerpainting.

I don't think I've tried fingerpainting since I was about six years old, and I was surprised to learn that fingerpainting is much more than a kids' preschool activity. Although painting with fingers has been around as long as people have been drawing on boulders and cave walls, fingerpainting as an educational tool is credited to American teacher Ruth Faison Shaw. She developed fingerpainting as an expressive medium for children in 1931, then turned her attention to fingerpainting as art therapy—an activity that continues to this day.

To some artists, fingerpainting simply means using anything but brushes. Hands, arms, feet and even the entire body are sometimes used, as are tools such as sponges and rags. Others, who paint only with their hands, often use paints such as oils and acrylics. This type of painting is actually a specific sub-genre of outsider art called "Reckless Art", and is represented by artists such as Nick Benjamin, Jimmy Lee Sudduth and Tyler Ramsey. Reckless Art surfaced around 2002, originally as a way of saying that everything artistic had not been done already.

I definitely like the idea of creating reckless art today.

For conventional kids' fingerpainting, the main criterion (other than having lots of handwipes around) is that the paints be non-toxic. Some schools use pudding instead of fingerpaint, just in case smaller children put their fingers in their mouths. You can apparently also make your own fingerpaints with cornstarch, water and food colouring. I think I'll just stick to the pretty colours I can buy pre-made at the art store.

In addition to the paint, you need special shiny paper that allows the paint to glide across the surface. You also need a place where you can make a bit of a mess. I personally need an apron as well.

The fingerpaints in the art store were a bit expensive at $3.00 a jar, and only came in single—and surprisingly unattractive—colours. I was lucky, however, to find this set of eight colours in a department store for $4.99. The kit even comes with sponges and paper. I thought I would need bigger paper than whatever would fit in this 9x9 box, however, so I bought a pad of special fingerpainting paper at a nearby dollar store. If I could have gotten something even bigger to splash about on, that would have been better, but beggars can't be choosers.

This was a fun activity. I don't know if it's because I had no expectations about the materials, or if it was just that the materials are so easy to use. Because of the shiny surface of the paper, the paints glide over it quite nicely. One thing I didn't like was the stickiness of the paints. They have a consistency that's somewhere between glue and pudding, and as soon as they start to dry, your fingers get really sticky. I highly recommend having either running water or a wet washcloth nearby.

On the paper itself, the paints don't dry quickly at all, which has both its pros and cons. If you want to be able to blend two colours together, it's great that they stay wet. If you want to be able to overlay, however, it's not at all easy while they're wet.

Interestingly, the kit I had didn't come with black or white. Since the paper is always white, I understand the lack of white, but black might have been nice. Then again, this is a kit for kids, so bright colours are probably the thing.

I also recommend having fingernails that are on the short side. It's easy enough to get the paint out from under your fingernails with running water, but the paint has a tendency to glop under your nails. This can make it difficult to control the amount of paint you have on your fingertip.

I started with a freehand outline in purple, then started adding colours. I think I used all the colours the set came with, other than yellow and a sort of bright blue-green.

This sketch took me about half an hour, and I'm pretty happy with the final result. I'm not used to working without a pencil or pen or brush in my hand, so this was an interesting experience. Besides, you get to make a mess and act like a kid—and who doesn't like that?

Elephant Lore of the Day
An elephant's trunk is sensitive enough to pluck a single blade of grass, yet powerful enough to tear branches from a tree. Although elephants have teeth, they always tear their food into pieces with their trunks before placing it in their mouths.

Interestingly, the trunk is actually a fusion of the elephant's nose and upper lip. One of the differences between African elephants and Asian elephants is that the African elephant has two fingerlike projections on the end of its trunk, whereas the Asian elephant has only one.

Elephants can suck up to 14 litres (15 quarts) of water into their trunks at a time. They either spray the water into their mouths to drink, or use it in bathing—showering themselves first with water, then mud. When dry, the hardened coating of mud acts as both sunscreen and pest-deterrent.

An elephant's trunk is important in social interactions as well. Elephants "shake hands" by entwining their trunks when they greet one another. They use their trunks in play, and in displays of affection. A raised trunk is a sign of warning; a lowered trunk is often a sign of submission. Elephants will defend themselves using their trunks by either smacking the offending creature or object out of the way, or grasping it and flinging it. And it only makes sense that elephants have a highly developed sense of smell—by raising their trunks and swivelling them from side to side, they can determine the location of food, friends and enemies.

Elephants also use their trunks to paint—either by delicately holding a brush in their trunks, or applying the paint directly, just as in fingerpainting.

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society 

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