Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Elephant No. 72: Sgraffito

For today's elephant, I thought I'd try a simplified form of sgraffito.

The word "sgraffito" comes from the Italian word sgraffiare, "to scratch", which is in turn derived from the Greek gráphein, "to write". In its most traditional form, sgraffito involves either the application of tinted layers of plaster to a wall, or the application of contrasting layers of slip to a piece of unfired ceramic. Once the layers are in place, a sharp implement is used to scratch through the layers to the wall or ceramic beneath, creating a line drawing.

Maison Cauchie (1905), Brussels
Photo: Ben2
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mais.Cauchie_

Sgraffito can be found in many cultures. In Europe, it has existed since at least Classical times as a form of ceramic  and architectural decoration, and was popular in sixteenth-century Italy. In Bavaria, sgraffito was commonly used to ornament housefronts.

Sgraffito platter by Jessica Laubart.
Source: http://www.jlaubart.com/ceramics.html

Sgraffito is also used in painting. One version involves painting a base colour on a canvas or sheet of paper. Another layer of paint is then applied over top, with the design scratched through while the second layer of paint is still wet. In the second painting-related form of sgraffito, crayons or oil pastels are used to create a base coat, which is then covered over with black paint or ink. Once the black paint dries, a design can be scratched through the paint to the colours below.

Sgraffito painting by
Source: http://artefaktotum.blogspot.com/

For today's elephant, I decided to revisit my childhood and do the crayons-and-black-paint version.

I started by scribbling various colours of crayon over the surface of a cut-down piece of bristol board. I made sure that I laid down lots of pigment. I wish I were the kind of person who reads instructions, because if I were, I would have used oil pastels for this part instead. They would have been easier to use, and the colours would have been richer. Oh well.

Next, I took a cake of black poster paint and began painting over the crayon. The reason I used poster paint instead of acrylics was that I thought acrylics might peel and drag more paint away than I wanted, whereas poster paint has a sort of chalky consistency that lends itself to this kind of work. I also like the smell of poster paint.

It took four coats before the crayon was completely obscured. I'm not sure if it would have been any different with oil pastels. The first two coats, as you can see, hardly covered the colours, and even after the fourth coat, some of the colour still shines through under strong light.

Once the black looked fairly uniform and had dried completely, I took a bamboo skewer and scratched a bit of an outline. This is actually a little nerve-wracking, because if you wreck things at any point after this, you have to start over.

I added a few details next.

Then a few more.

To finish, I added a headdress, a few more scratched lines here and there, and some flowers sprinkled across the background.

It was an interesting exercise, although I wish I'd had more time to play with it. I did like the way the bamboo skewer glided across the paint: the wax makes for a smooth ride. I also liked the way the multiple colours showed through. I think I might try sgraffito again with paint, but for now, I liked this one—and I definitely liked the combined smell of poster paint and crayons.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Because of their size, elephants have few enemies in the wild, although baby elephants can be attacked and killed by lions and hyenas. The elephant's greatest enemy these days is man.

Interestingly, a study in Africa seemed to prove that elephants can pick out human enemies by scent and by clothing colour. The study was carried out in Kenya, where Maasai warriors represent a potential threat to elephants, while Kamba farmers do not.

Dr. Lucy Bates and Professor Richard Byrne of the University of St. Andrews tested the reactions of a number of elephants to different pieces of clothing at the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in southern Kenya. The elephants were first presented with with clean red clothing, then red clothing that had been worn for five days by both Maasai and Kamba men. Surprisingly, the Maasai-scented clothing made the elephants run away and travel farther. It also took the elephants longer to relax once they had stopped running away.

The elephants also distinguished between red cloth (Maasai) and white cloth (Kamba), with similar results.

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

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