Sunday, 8 January 2012

Elephant No. 98: Crayon Dripping

Today was a very busy day, so I needed to do something that I thought might not be too time-consuming. I thought making a crayon dripping might be easy and quick, but when it's something I've never tried before, I never know if it's going to take me fifteen minutes or several hours. This unfortunately took nearly two hours. I made up "crayon dripping" to describe this technique, but there are probably better names for it. I'm just too tired to think of one.

For this project, I decided to use Crayola®-brand crayons, since they come in lots of colours, I'm well stocked with them, and they're easy to handle. Also, I'm reliably assured that they won't catch fire like some cheapo crayons might.

The idea of combining wax with pigment dates back thousands of years to the encaustic technique. Although their genesis isn't entirely clear, modern wax crayons are thought to have originated in Europe, made from a combination of charcoal and oil. Their roots are similar to Conté crayons and oil pastels, also covered in previous posts.

Sometime in the nineteenth century, as powdered pigments became more readily available, lithographers began to experiment with other formulae for crayon-type colour sticks. Joseph Lemercier, considered at one time to be the "soul of lithography," is one of the people responsible for the invention of modern crayons. Through his Paris business, he produced a range of crayons and other art products, in the process discovering that wax was a good substitute for oil in colour sticks, as it strengthened the stick while also remaining a good medium for the pigment. 

As these discoveries were being made in Europe, American companies were also experimenting with wax crayons. By the late nineteenth century, companies such as Binney & Smith (Crayola) and American Crayon/Dixon Ticonderoga had tapped into the lucrative education and artist markets. 

One of the first companies to offer a line of wax crayons for small children was E. Steiger & Company of New York City, which had a range of 6, 12 or 18 colours, available as early as 1881, and perhaps before.  Similarly, the Franklin Manufacturing Company of Rochester, New York, was selling wax crayons as early as 1883, with a display at the World's Columbian Exposition that year. That same year, the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company of Germany developed a line of crayons that were encased in cedar—unlike traditional all-wax crayons, which were either wax alone, or wax with a paper wrapping.

Charles A. Bowley, a resident of Massachusetts, also developed a wax crayon with a paraffin base in the late 1880s. A stationer by trade, he had long been selling clumps of coloured wax for marking leather. When his clients requested greater accuracy, Bowley went home and formed the wax material into cylindrical shapes, similar to pencils. His crayons were about 14 cm (5.5 inches) long, and quickly sold out. Demand soon exceeded his ability to produce the crayons, and by 1902 he had partnered with the American Crayon Company to create a full line of wax crayons.

Louis Prang was also developing a line of watercolour crayons, similar to modern wax crayons, for use in art education. He sold his crayons through the Prang Educational Company, which later merged with the American Crayon Company, which in turn merged with the Dixon Ticonderoga pencil company.

Many other companies, including the Milton Bradley Company, the Standard Crayon Company, the American Crayon Company of Ohio, Eagle Pencil, the New England Crayon Company and the Munsell Color Company also produced wax crayons in the final years of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth. Most of these companies produced pencils, art supplies and other educational materials, in addition to lines of crayons usually offered in boxes of 6, 12 and 18. 

Crayola crayons first hit the market in 1903, produced by the Binney & Smith Company of Peekskill, New York. The company owned by Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith had its roots in Binney's chemical factory, which had been turning out lampblack by burning whale oil and carbon black for many years. The resulting material was later instrumental in colouring automobile tires. In 1902, the company developed the Staonal marking crayon, later coming out with the famous Crayola brand of crayons. Binney's wife Alice came up with the name, combining the French word for chalk, craie, with the first part of the word "oleaginous" for the oily paraffin used to make the crayons.

Binney & Smith quickly capitalized on their creation, offering 30 different colours. In 1903, they were already marketing a line of crayons for artists, called the Rubens Crayola line, designed to compete with the similar Raphael line in Europe. Interestingly, Binney & Smith inherited a range of high-quality colours from the Munsell Color Company, keeping the Munsell name in some lines of their crayons until 1934.

Their most recognizable brand was the "Gold Medal" line, in the familiar yellow box still used today. The gold medal was earned for the company's "dustless chalk" at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Capitalizing on the award, they redesigned their crayon boxes, featuring a gold medal on the package for more than five decades. Although the box design has changed somewhat over the years, the box's signature colours have remained the same, making Crayola crayons the most recognized and most popular crayon brand in the world.

For today's elephant, I decided to dry melting crayon wax and dripping it onto a small canvas board. Rather than using a messy candle as my heat source (which I thought would leave me with the "pollution" of candle wax on the surface as well), I opted to use my trusty pyrography tool. I decided I would only be allowed to drop wax onto the canvas board, and could not manipulate anything with the pyrography tool afterwards.

If you try this, make sure your space is well ventilated. The wax that stays on the pyrography tool continues to smoke, causing fumes that will give you both sore eyes and a sore throat. I didn't take my own advice most of the time—partly because the ventilation hood where I was working made the wax act weird, and partly because sometimes I'm just kind of stupid.

I didn't really know how to do crayon dripping, so the first thing I did was make a few tentative dots by touching the tip of the pyrography tool to a blue crayon and letting the wax drop onto the canvas board. I figured there wouldn't be much room for error, so I was hesitant to glop the crayon wax all over the place.

Next, I added a couple more colours in a vague elephant outline.

I could sort of see how this worked now, so I added a few more colours. I didn't stick to any particular number of colours or colour palette, figuring I'd just use whatever crayons took my fancy. In the end, I think I used most of the colours in the box, other than the browns, greys and metallics.

Thinking the elephant might look weird without a bit of background, I also began splashing colours onto the rest of the canvas. To get a sort of splatter effect, I stuck the pyrography tool inside the crayon tube and let the molten wax fall from a height of about a foot. This is something I overdid a bit, in my opinion, so I splattered white on top of some of the background droplets. Not an entirely successful solution to my enthusiasm for background dots, but it mitigated the effect somewhat.

I kept on adding and layering colours until I was as happy as I was going to get with it. The wax did some interesting things along the way, hardening quickly when it landed on heavy wax, splattering widely when it landed on bare canvas, doing strange alchemical things when it was a light-coloured crayon that landed on hardened wax. I think the paler colours might have a greater proportion of wax than the darker colours, which may account for the strange ability of these colours to melt whatever was underneath.

When I was finished, I added an eye by dropping some black in the general eye area, then melting a tiny bit of white crayon on the tip of the pyrography tool and touching it to the black, which hadn't quite hardened yet. The white spread out in a very interesting way that was perfect for what I wanted.

I don't entirely love the final result, but it was an interesting exercise. I might try it again sometime without a messy background, and might even allow myself to use the pyrography tool on top of the hardened wax to create new textures, colours and blends.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Ancient writers appeared to believe that elephants were rather neurotic. Although elephants were generally considered noble, intelligent, and brave in battle, Pliny the Elder recorded in the first century A.D. that the slightest squeal of a pig would frighten an elephant and send it running. 

African elephants were also believed to be "afraid to look at Indian elephants," and all elephants were purported to hate mice so much that they would refuse to eat any food that a mouse had touched.

To Support Elephant Welfare 

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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