Monday, 7 November 2011

Elephant No. 36: Spatter Painting

Because it's a nice day out, I decided this might be my last chance before winter to do spatter painting.

The most famous proponent of spatter painting is Jackson Pollock. As an early convert to "action painting", Pollock would tack large canvases to the floor of his barn studio, flicking thick liquid paint at the surface with a variety of implements.

From a quick online look at spatter paintings, it appears to be virtually impossible to create a recognizable spatter-painted image without using a stencil or some other type of masking technique. I didn't really want to use masking tape, masking fluid or a stencil, because I didn't really want a sharp line. Instead, I decided to see what I could do by modulating the way I flicked the paint. Silly me.

I don't have a barn studio to play in, so it was nice to have a reasonably warm, sunny day. My set-up was simple: big plastic sheet covering a round patio table, largish sheet of white paper, various colours of liquid acrylic paint, and a bunch of paintbrushes.

This was far more challenging than I expected it to be. I thought some of the paint would spatter far from where I wanted it to be, but that I'd be able to flick most of it more or less where I wanted. Not so much, as it turns out.

Spatter painting is a technique that definitely has a mind of its own. You may think a quick flick of the wrist will deposit paint right below the tip of the brush, but it will actually go somewhere far off the page. No wonder spatter painting is rumoured to have driven Jackson Pollock a little insane.

The final result took me about two hours, and these are the main things I learned:

• Thicker paint will flick the farthest and be the hardest to control. The paint will also deposit in large blobs at first, which is fine if that's what you want, but annoying if it isn't.

• Thinner paint is easier to control, and will flick close to the tip of the brush. The drawback is that it will take forever to cover anything, because the dots will be tiny and lacking in pigment.

• The best thickness of paint is achieved by dipping the brush in water, then in full-strength liquid acrylic to make a medium-weight paint.

• In addition to depositing paint near the tip of the brush, a sharp flick of the wrist will also send paint about a foot away, depositing paint on the other side of the page, as well as everywhere in between.

• A really hard flick of the brush against your non-dominant hand will create long filaments of paint. This, however, is very hard to control or direct, as you can see in the painting. I tried to use it to good effect on the larger ear to the right, but it wasn't easy to use for the faint tusk or the smaller ear poking out of the upper right of the elephant's head.

I see now why this technique is used mostly for abstracts, or with a stencil or masking material of some kind. I found the process and final result interesting, but it wasn't all that much fun. It didn't help that the wind picked up about ten minutes in. I spent about a third of the time trying to keep the paper from floating around; tying down the plastic sheet to keep it from flipping onto the wet painting; retrieving my pie-plate palette and bottles of paint that kept getting flung about; and removing various dessicated leaves that floated down onto the painting.

Because the paint builds up into fairly thick layers, it takes forever to dry and can be easy to smudge. It's also quite difficult to photograph, because the camera gets confused by the welter of individual dots. In real life, this almost looks like an elephant. In a photograph, it's a bit of a tough sell.

The end result is very abstract, but if you use the large black splotch of paint as the elephant's eye, and really squint, you can just about make it out.

Elephant Lore of the Day
The main landmark in the city of Hamm, Germany is not a castle or cathedral, but a glass elephant. The structure—measuring 35 metres (114 feet) high by 63 meters (207 feet) long, by 18 metres (59 feet) wide—was adapted from a former coal-washing facility in 1984. When built, it was the world's largest animal-shaped building.

Designed by artist-architect Horst Rellecke, the Glaselefant contains a permanent exhibition of ten robotic art objects created by Rellecke, as well as a palm garden. The back of the elephant is a greenhouse. Visitors are transported upwards through an elevator in the elephant's trunk, and leave via stairs in the tail. The upper level offers panoramic views of the surrounding Maximilianpark gardens.

The Glaselefant in Hamm, Germany
Photograph: Mike Rix

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
Bring the Elephant Home
African Wildlife Foundation

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