Thursday, 8 December 2011

Elephant No. 67: Painting on Feathers

For today's elephant, I decided to try painting on a feather.

I didn't actually know that painting on feathers was an art form until I did some research on feathers a few weeks ago. Most of the painted feathers I saw were mini-masterpieces, featuring incredibly detailed images of birds, animals and people. It seems to be a particularly popular form of art in the southwestern United States, although there are feather artists all over the world.

Feather artists tend to paint on large, wide feathers from birds such as turkeys, swans, pheasants and the like. Sometimes they use the inherent pattern of the feather itself as part of the design; sometimes they simply paint over it. From the bit of online research I did today, I gleaned a few tips:

1. A wide, flat feather is best, as it provides you with a relatively good canvas.

2. A heavier feather is best, because the feather stays together better when you slide your paintbrush across it.

3. Feathers are oily, so acrylics are the best paint, because they sit on the surface. Because acrylics sit on the surface, they will also flake off if you don't spray your painting with fixative afterwards.

4. Thinner acrylics are best, as they will allow you to create finer detail, and will sit more lightly on the surface of the feather.

A selection of painted feathers by Julie Thompson.

I don't have access to any of the recommended types of feathers, so I bought a selection of the widest feathers I could find at a discount store. I also bought some short peacock feathers, because it occurred to me that it might be nice to paint an elephant on the eye of a peacock feather.

I had no idea what to expect, so I originally thought of trying out something on a plain feather first. Then I decided that, since I had three peacock feathers, I'd just dive in and paint right away on one of those.

The first thing I did was paint a tiny silhouette in grey. I discovered immediately that thinned-down paint is actually not great on a peacock feather. Perhaps because a peacock feather is sort of soft, it seemed to absorb and spread any paint that was the least bit watery.

Next I added some pink inside the ear, some tusks and a hat. I also did a bit of shading in the grey.

Thinking it should have a bit of shimmer to match the iridescence of the feather, I added some gold accents.

To finish it off, I decided to add fine dots of gold paint. I think I went a bit overboard, but I don't completely hate it.

In total, this took me about half an hour, so it's not a huge investment of time—or money, for that matter. It looks better with the naked eye than in the camera's rather cruel close-up, but it's nowhere near as accomplished as any of the feather art I saw online. I do like it, though, and I may even try painting on a peacock feather again sometime.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Elephants are apparently quite ticklish. The wilder they are, the more ticklish they are, and it can take a long time for an elephant to lose this sensitivity.

Despite their thick skins, elephants can feel almost anything that touches them. They are even sensitive enough to feel a fly alight on their backs. Scientists are not quite sure how dense the nerve endings are in an elephant's skin, although they believe that the nerve endings in skin differ from those in the trunk.

Elephants are also very susceptible to sunburn. Without regular baths and a coating of mud, an elephant's skin can suffer terribly. Albino elephants—more common among Asian elephants—are particularly vulnerable to sunburn, as are baby elephants. This is why elephant calves usually shelter in the shade beneath their mothers.

Asian elephants often have pink on their ears and trunks.

To Support Elephant Welfare 
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