Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Elephant No. 44: Eyedropper Art

For today's elephant, I thought I'd try painting with an eyedropper. Before I realized there was a whole art practice devoted to this, I wasn't sure it was an actual technique. It was something that popped into my head mostly because I'd been reading about some very bizarre Surrealist art processes.

This is apparently another art activity recommended for kids. This already sends up a red flag for me, as I haven't had remarkable success with any kid-related activity so far. My inner child is clearly having a major tantrum these days. However, there are many examples online of people using eyedroppers to create art, so I decided I'd give it a try.

There seem to be two major strains of eyedropper art. One involves the use of eyedroppers as rigid brushes. The other is the simple dropping of paint on dampened paper—or even on blotting paper or coffee filters. I decided to save the eyedropper-as-brush method for another time, as it looked slightly easier and more straightforward than the droplet method. If this is the only eyedropper art I produce, might as well go whole hog.

The method I decided upon was this: spray the surface of a piece of watercolour paper with water, then drop thinned-down liquid acrylic paint on the surface of the paper with an eyedropper. Some instructions suggest using ink or even food colouring, but I thought ink might be too heavy a look, and food colouring might be too thin. That being said, I tested thinned-down acrylics, thinned-down watercolours, ink, and food colouring, just to be sure before I committed myself. 

I had no idea what to expect from the actual working process, except that the paint was sure to spread wherever I put it via capillary action. Capillary action, for those unfamiliar with the concept, simply means in this case that the water already on and in the paper will draw the wet paint towards it, dragging some of the pigment along with it.

That was the expectation, anyway. Any time I've done watercolours, I've ended up with at least one unwanted area of major paint bleed, mostly because I'm too impatient to let things dry completely.

Here the bleeding would be exactly what I was after, but I wasn't sure how hard it would be to control. From the few examples I saw online of this method of eyedropper art, the result looked really blobby. The idea I had in my head was a bunch of light-coloured paint circles, combining and overlapping to create a recognizable image—a form of pointillism, I suppose, but with really big dots.

I used a sheet of mid-range watercolour paper, and placed a selection of highly thinned colours in a paint palette. I also kept a spray bottle of water handy, just in case the paper decided to dry out faster than I wanted.

The paint was very pretty as it spread, but of course impossible to control. That being said, I ended up improvising, and came up with a few tricks and tips, described below.

First of all, make sure the paper is very wet when you start. If it isn't, the paint kind of sits there, sending out maybe a few tiny veins. Great if that's what you want; frustrating if it isn't.

With reasonably wet paper, the best paint consistency is something like regular milk. Too much thinner and it runs; too much thicker, and it doesn't spread.

Keep paper towels handy—but not the kind with some weird pattern or texture. I used something called "Viva", which my mother brings me from the United States. They're very absorbent, and have no pattern. 

The reason you don't want a pattern is that it will leave an imprint in the paint. The reason you want paper towels is that they're helpful if you want to sop up some of the blobs of paint. I found that the best technique was to gently lay a paper towel over the paint shortly after the paint was dropped on the paper, pat it lightly in spots where the paint was thick, then quickly remove it.

The spray bottle is definitely your friend with this technique. I sprayed the paper before laying a new colour of paint. I sprayed the paper right after I laid a new colour of paint. I sprayed the paper when I thought it was drying out too quickly. 

Using a spray bottle, however, definitely requires some experimentation. A quick blast will spread your paint around and make it fan out almost immediately. A fine mist won't do much in terms of leaching paint. The best technique for me was to mist the entire thing fairly generously, but from about 45 cm (18 inches) away.

Squirting paint at the canvas makes a big blob. Dropping paint from the eyedropper does the same thing. For precision, it's best to touch the tip of the eyedropper to wet paper. This makes the paint spread instantly, but in small amounts, and is great for creating shadows or vague outlines. To keep these precise blobs from being too obvious, mist again and blot.

That's about all there is to it. It wasn't particularly difficult, although it was somewhat time-consuming. I was essentially blotting up more paint than I left on the page, so I had to keep layering. And it's not a technique that lends itself to much control over where the paint goes. 

That being said, the final result is quite pretty in real life. This took about two hours, and I would probably try it again, perhaps adding some fine lines afterwards to delineate the elephant a little better. Or perhaps not.

Elephant Lore of the Day
You would think that it would be impossible for an elephant to camouflage itself, and indeed it is. Elephants require human intervention to help them dazzle-paint themselves. This allows them not only to hide from predators, but also to blend against a jungle background or even a clear, blue sky.

For the most effective elephant camouflage kit on the market, click here.
It's pricey, but probably worth every penny if you're trying to hide a pet elephant in plain sight.

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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