Thursday, 24 November 2011

Elephant No. 53: Glass Etching

For today's elephant, I thought I'd do acid etching on glass.

Although I've tried this on a small scale a couple of times before, today's research tells me that I've been essentially dicing with death. Apparently I'd be much safer using abrasives instead. However, given a choice between slathering on a small amount of etching cream, or spraying the room with a fine slurry of water, oil, abrasives and glass particles, I'll stick with the etching cream for now.

Glass-etching creams—readily available at art and hobby stores—contain fluoride compounds such as sodium fluoride and hydrogen fluoride, the latter of which is particularly dangerous. This particular brand contains a diluted mixture of barium sulphate, sulphuric acid, sodium bifluoride and ammonium bifluoride. Yikes.

The technique is very simple—and in my experience, not at all dangerous, unless you get the acid on your skin. Since the cream is applied with a brush, you have to be pretty klutzy to get it on your skin. Not that I don't sometimes fit into this category—but I'm more careful when dealing with things that might hurt me.

The first thing to do is find a piece of glass you want to etch. I chose this drinking glass, which I bought for $1.29 at a discount store.

Next, draw something you can use as a stencil, bearing in mind the size of the glass surface, any decoration already on the glass, and so forth. If you feel particularly confident, you can paint etching cream directly on the glass with no stencil.

Once you've drawn a design you like, transfer it to a sheet of peel-and-stick plastic. It needs to be plastic rather than something like paper labels or masking tape, because plastic is more resistant to the etching cream. I wanted elephants on two sides of the glass, so I made two identical stencils.

Cut out the design, remembering that the surface will etch wherever there is no plastic.

Peel off the backing and stick the design carefully to your clean, dry surface. Don't worry about bubbles unless they deform the design.

Paint on etching cream. I have no idea why this is brown (it's supposed to be white), but I tested it on the bottom of a jar first, and it still seems to do what it's supposed to.

Wait five to ten minutes for the etching cream to do its work. Wash off cream and remove stencil. In my limited experience, by the way, it makes no difference to the depth of the etching if you leave the cream on longer. I did the elephant on one side, washed it, then flipped it around to do the other.

This was virtually impossible to photograph this without putting a piece of cardboard inside. Even then it wasn't the easiest thing I've ever done, but you get the general idea.

I found it a bit plain with just the silhouette elephants, so I added points to the tops of the crowns with a fine brush, as well as some random polka dots all the way around.

Although I don't like the fiddly work of making tiny stencils, I do like this technique a lot. It's an easy way to dress up plain glassware, and this pretty little elephant glass will be perfect for my morning juice.

Elephant Lore of the Day
One of the world's most famous elephants was Jumbo. Born in 1861 in Mali, West Africa, Jumbo was first imported to a small Paris zoo. In 1865, he was transferred to the London Zoo, where he became a popular attraction, often giving rides to children. It was here that he was also given his name, which is a variation on either the Swahili word jumbe, which means "chief" or jambo, which means "hello".

In 1882, Jumbo was sold to the Barnum & Bailey Circus for the then-exorbitant sum of $10,000. When P.T. Barnum first offered to buy the elephant, 100,000 British schoolchildren wrote to Queen Victoria, begging her to keep Jumbo in Britain. A series of sheet music covers for the music-hall song "Why Part with Jumbo?" were also produced in 1882, depicting children visiting the zoo and riding on Jumbo's back.


Jumbo was indeed a very big elephant. By the time of his death, he was claimed to measure four metres (13.1 feet) in height, and weighed 5.9 tonnes (13,000 pounds). During his lifetime, his size would make his name synonymous with anything large—a trend that continues to this day.

Jumbo's arrival in America.

Sadly, Jumbo died in September 1885, when he was accidentally hit and wounded by a locomotive in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada. It was suggested that he had died saving the younger circus elephant, Tom Thumb—although not all witnesses agreed. Peculiarly, Jumbo's stomach was found to contain numerous metallic objects, including coins, keys and metal rivets.

Following his death, Jumbo's hide was stuffed and travelled with the Barnum & Bailey circus for several years. It was later donated to Tufts University in Massachusetts, where it was displayed until it was destroyed by fire in 1975. His heart was sold to Cornell University, and his skeleton was donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Jumbo's ashes remain at Tufts University, contained in a large peanut butter jar in the office of the university's athletic director. His preserved tail, removed before the fire, is in the university's archives. Jumbo has also long been the name of the Tufts University mascot.

No comments:

Post a Comment