Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Elephant No. 9: Acrylic Medium

At last week's yarn-spinning session, I was kindly invited to return to the countryside this week to play with acrylic medium. I've never used this stuff before, although I've eyed it in the art store from time to time and wondered what it would be like to work with.

The group holding the workshop was the West Carleton Fibre Guild, so the focus for today was using acrylic medium with fibre elements. The idea was a fabric support for the acrylic medium, with bits of lace, paper, ribbon, yarn and so forth embedded in it.

I honestly didn't quite grasp the concept from the newsletter I received, even when I looked at the helpful online references to other artists' finished works. The suggestion that I "think collage" didn't really help me, for some reason. However, I'm game for anything that offers me a chance to play with new materials, so off I went.

The list of suggested things to bring was pretty extensive: paint, glitter, beads, buttons, lace, ribbon, ink, paper, metallic bits, sequins, fabric, feathers, natural materials such as grasses, and anything else with a texture. And that didn't include the basic equipment such as canvas, palette, brushes, palette knives, plastic tablecloth, towel and parchment paper.

At first, I found the idea of dragging all this out to a community centre pretty daunting. I even toyed with the idea of just going to the workshop to learn, then doing the actual activity at home. But I'd optimistically loaded up the car last night, so what the heck. I figured I could always leave everything in the car until I knew what I was in for. As long as they'd let me make an elephant and not some sort of abstract to "get a feel for the materials", I'd be happy.

Acrylic medium is like very thick, gooey acrylic paint. It comes in various textures, weights and consistencies and, although it is usually white, it is also available in a modest range of colours. The "gel" version dries clear; most others dry white or translucent. The density of most acrylic mediums allow you to embed things in the surface and create surface textures. It can also be painted, dyed or stained, either before you apply it, or after it's dry. For those of you who paint, gesso would allow you a similar effect. The benefit of acrylic medium over gesso, however, is that you can sew through it, and it remains flexible, even when dry.

Our instructor Frances was great, and most people dove right in, making everything from intricate abstract fabric designs, to a purple cow, to my favourite: a Victorian-looking still life with feathers, real beetles and butterflies, seed pods and grasses. Just goes to show you that the acrylic medium is heavy enough and gooey enough that you can stick anything to it.

The medium I used was a gel with the consistency of pudding, and of course I glopped the stuff on way too thick. When it's thick, it allows for interesting sculptural effects, and allows you more leeway in embedding things into the medium. If it's thick, you can also sand or carve it later, if you like. Unfortunately, the thicker it is, the longer it takes to dry. This is helpful if you want to take your time manipulating the material, but a complete nuisance if you want to paint it—or if you just want it to dry, already. I liked the dimensionality I got, but I kept smearing the thicker parts with the side of my hand.

I created the elephant shape first, then loosely spread around the rest of the medium. I shredded bits of washed dryer sheets, poked them into the medium with a plastic knife, then moved them around to give the background some texture. For no apparent reason, I decided to add the three glass domes and a bunch of fine blue glitter. Not liking that, I added blue and purple splotches of paint. Didn't like that, either.

At that point the session ended, which was probably a good thing, as I had begun to chase my tail in artistic terms.

A few hours later, I looked at it again, and made it at least less horrible to me. I smushed green paint all over the background—and I really did have to smush it in to all the crevices of the now-hardened dryer sheet.

The elephant, on which the acrylic medium was thickest, was still very wet and gooey. This was a good thing when I went to embed beads in the headdress—a bad thing when I tried to paint over it.

I won't be framing the final result, although I found the material interesting to work with, and would definitely try it again. But next time no glitter.

Elephant Fact of the Day
An elephant's ears are very important for temperature regulation. Elephant ears consist of a thin layer of skin, stretched over cartilage and an extensive network of blood vessels. When it is particularly hot, you will see elephants flapping their ears continuously. This creates a slight breeze, cooling the surface blood vessels. The blood in these surface blood vessels—now cooled by as much as 6˚C/10˚F—is then circulated throughout the elephant's body.

One of the most obvious physical distinctions between African and Asian elephants is the size of their ears. This is because African elephants live closer to the equator, where it is warmer, while Asian elephants tend to live farther north, in slightly cooler climates.

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 

No comments:

Post a Comment