Friday, 6 January 2012

Elephant No. 96: Corrugated Cardboard

I saved a piece of multi-layer corrugated cardboard from some packaging a few days ago, thinking I could use it to make some sort of elephant. Because it measures about 6 cm (2.5 inches) wide by about 45 cm (18 inches long), I didn't think it would lend itself to anything other than a bas-relief frieze, so that's what I decided to try today.

Corrugated cardboard was invented in the mid-nineteenth century as a new type of lightweight packaging. Corrugated or pleated paper was patented in England in 1856 as a liner for tall hats, but corrugated cardboard wasn't used as a shipping material until 1871.

The original patent was issued to Albert Jones of New York City for a paper board that was flat on one side, and corrugated on the other. Jones used the material for wrapping bottles and the glass chimneys for lanterns. By 1874, a machine had been built to manufacture the board, with sandwiched corrugated cardboard invented later that year. This was the prototype for the corrugated cardboard we still use today.

Today, corrugated cardboard is made on high-precision machines called corrugators, running at 2.5 metres a second (500 feet per minute). The key raw material is paper, with different grades used for each layer in the "sandwich". The fluted internal layer is glued to the flat liner boards with a starch-based adhesive.

Corrugated cardboard is one of the best sources of paper fibre for recycling. It is easy to cut, bale and transport, and breaks down readily in pulping machinery. New shredding equipment also allows the conversion of post-consumer cardboard into packing and cushioning materials. The recycling of cardboard is often used as a way of building paper and packaging industries in countries without sustainable wood resources.

For today's elephant, because the piece of cardboard is long and skinny, a true frieze would have meant a lot of tiny elephants. Tiny was not what I felt like doing today, so I went for three larger elephants, which I sketched lightly in pencil.

I decided to start with a rotary tool to try and carve this out. The idea of fiddling with a craft knife didn't really appeal to me, and scissors would obviously be useless. I had no idea if the rotary tool was the right thing, but it was worth a try. To start with, I chose the same bit and blade that I had tried on my aluminum can lantern.

I started by roughly carving away the outer areas around the elephants, which was harder than I expected it to be. Corrugated cardboard is both oddly sturdy and surprisingly weak, so I was constantly jockeying between a light touch and a heavy hand. Also, although this would be a penance if you tried to do it with a craft knife, a rotary tool is a bit too clunky, unable to finesse fine curves.

Once I had more or less scraped away the outer areas, I cleaned them up a bit. I wasn't sure yet what I was going to do with the background, but this was taking a lot longer than I expected, so it wasn't going to be much. I also kept breaking the little cutting discs, which are pretty dangerous when they split and spin off at 30,000 rpm.

Next I tackled in the internal lines with the pointy tool bit. This wasn't terribly effective, as the bit is spinning, not moving in a forward-and-back motion. Basically, it churns out a line, rather than cutting it.

I spent some more time cleaning up the background and tidying up the edges as much as I could, then decided to get "fancy". This was a mistake. The cardboard obviously had it in for me, and shredded around the ears. I decided I might be able to use this as a design element, and shredded the ends of the ears on all the elephants, but it looks stupid. I also tried to smooth the raised edges on everything, but this didn't really work, either.

I suppose it was worth trying to carve a bas relief in cardboard, but I felt as though I might as well have been creating a treetrunk chainsaw sculpture for all the delicacy I was able to achieve. And most chainsaw sculptures are much better. The dust that this kicks up is also a misery: worse than the finest sawdust I've ever produced while renovating. And it took nearly two hours to produce this travesty. You'd either need a lot more time than I had today—or avoid this activity altogether.

I had visions of being able to produce something quite interesting with cardboard, but the final result certainly doesn't say "classical frieze" to me. In fact, I think I'll call it the "anti-frieze", because if it has a cute name I might be able to resist an overwhelming desire to burn it.

On the plus side, I read recently about printing with cardboard instead of linoleum, so this opulent masterpiece may get a second chance at some point. Or not.

In case it's not already obvious, I hated this activity. It was incredibly messy, and resulted in something that even my mother wouldn't love—not even if I were five years old and had made it for Mother's Day. And my mother likes pretty much everything her kids do.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although elephants are often shown walking in single file with trunks entwined around tails, this is not something they do in the wild. Occasionally a calf with hold onto its mother's tail if it is tired, but linking tails is otherwise highly unusual in the wild.

The single-file promenade was originally developed for circuses, and is sometimes seen among elephants in other captive situations. Naturalists frown on this practice, however, considering it harmful to elephants for a couple of reasons. The first is that elephants are sensitive about the tail area, because they cannot see who is behind them. Elephants also try to bite one another's tails when fighting, making the practice of latching onto another elephant's tail, even with the trunk, a potential sign of aggression.

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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