Thursday, 1 December 2011

Elephant No. 60: Modelling Foam

For several weeks now, I've been noticing something called "modelling foam" in the kids' craft section of various stores, so I thought I'd try it for today's elephant.

Having never seen a package of this stuff opened, I had no idea if it would be sticky or squishy or stretchy or what. I'm sure my nieces or the cute little twins next door would know exactly what to do with it—probably while rolling their eyes at my ineptitude—but I'm on my own, so I figured I'd just make the best of it.

The package tells me that I will "Feel the fun!" with this material, but that's all the instruction it seemed willing to impart. It did come with three helpful photographs of modelling foam creations on the front, like this pig, so I felt safe in assuming that I could make a reasonably three-dimensional object with this material.

I didn't like any of the colours in the package, so I perversely chose orange. Bonus: it has iridescent bits sprinkled throughout. The texture is like a firm marshmallow or a rice krispies square (not my favourite treat), and it's ever so slightly sticky—not enough to be annoying right out of the package, but I guess enough to make it stick to itself. I noticed also that each of the tiny balls is hollow. I guess that's what allows the material to compress.

The first thing I did was break it in half to use one half for the main part of the body, and the other half for everything else.

After the body was more or less in a shape I liked, I added the head.

Here's where it started to get annoying. I think the orange is actually the adhesive part of the material, because the styrofoam beads showed white the more I handled it, and wherever it was whitest was where it tended to fall apart. The sparkly bits also started coming off. 

This would have been fine, but for the other tendency of this stuff, which is to displace itself. This means that, although you can stick on ears and legs, for example, the moment you try to ensure a good bond by pressing it together a little, all the styrofoam beads move around, forming a totally different shape. Taking the whole thing in your hands and trying to gently compress it in a uniform way all around is no better. There is simply a volume of styrofoam that is going to remain the same volume, no matter what you do. The little holes through each bead mean nothing.

It also got stickier as I went along, making individual beads detach from the main elephant and stick to my palms, wrists and the back of my hands. For anyone who reads this blog, even occasionally, you know I don't like things that stick to my hands too much.

It eventually got so ridiculous that I had to laugh. Once, when I got the legs almost right, gravity decided to take the trunk and detach it from the head. When I got a nice shape for the head, reattaching one of the ears made most of the head bulge back into the body. The elephant's body was variously fat, skinny, skeletal, long, short, round and almost wedge-shaped.

When I felt it was as good as it was going to get, I quickly photographed it before it decided to fall apart again. No telling what shape I'd end up with if I had to squish it back together for the twenty-third time. Maybe a giraffe—or a hippo.

I can see the appeal of modelling foam to kids. If you want to make something fairly compact (i.e., without a trunk or ears that stick out) or something that lays flat, this is not bad. I liked it at first myself. But I know that, when I'm finished writing this blog, I'll go back and see a trunkless elephant with perhaps one leg missing, no ears and bits of itself trailing all over the place. The upside is that I think I can squish it back together and make something else—until all the orange adhesive wears off, anyway.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Interestingly, elephants have even made their mark on Space. Observing an unusual texture on the surface of our moon, scientists have given it the technical name "elephant skin".

Elephant skin texture on the surface of Earth's moon.

This particular pattern is currently believed to result from a slow movement of the lunar soil related to thermal cycles of day and night, as well as from shaking due to the impact of meteorites. It is most noticeable when the Sun's rays strike the moon at an oblique angle.

Actual elephant skin.

To Support Elephant Welfare

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