Monday, 6 February 2012

Elephant No. 127: Calligramme

For today's elephant, since I'm mostly stuck at my computer, I thought I'd try a calligramme.

The concept behind calligrammes is simple: poems and other texts are formed into shapes—most commonly, visual images that reflect the content of the text.

Eiffel Tower calligramme by Guillaume Apollinaire, 1918.
The text reads: "Salut monde dont je suis la langue éloquente que sa bouche
Ô Paris tire et tirera toujours aux allemands"

Although writer Guillaume Apollinaire is credited with creating the form, and even wrote a book of calligrammed poems published in 1918 called, shockingly, Calligrammes, anyone who's read Alice in Wonderland (1865) in its original form, will remember that the "mouse's tail" is imagined by Alice as a "mouse's tale", with the words appearing on the page in that shape. This predates Apollinaire's invention by more than 50 years.

For today's elephant, I decided to work with the one of the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling called "The Elephant's Child", which is sometimes also known as "How the Elephant Got Its Trunk". For the full story, click here.

The rules I set myself were these: I had to somehow use the whole story. I couldn't use an outline or reference drawing. I had to run the words from right to left, even across wide gaps. If I needed to break a word, I had to break it in a grammatically acceptable way—in other words, no "doesn'-t" and the like. I also had to use only the tab bar, the space bar, and return key, which made it seem more traditional to me, even though I was using a computer. This meant I would have no preset shape into which I could shoehorn the story. To be honest, that would be beyond me, anyway.

I started at the tip of the ear and began working my way down. This is an early stage in my first try.

I kept working at this particular design, until it got to this stage.

I didn't really like the way this one looked, since it was sort of lumpy and troglodytic, so I began reworking it. You can see the new elephant emerging out of the head of the old. Kind of like Athena, if you're Classically-minded.

I liked this one a lot better, so I kept at it.

However, there was obviously far more text than a single elephant could contain. This is the second page of leftover text. You can even see part of the legs of the previous elephant.

Since the story also features a crocodile, my next bright idea was to use the remaining text to make a crocodile on the second page. This was not a success. I actually don't know how to draw a crocodile, which made it difficult to picture one in silhouette. This was my crocodile, which to me looks more like a salamander or a newt. And I still had text left over—on a third page this time, as you can see in the second of the two images below.

I tried to make a larger crocodile, but it was clear that I was never going to be able to use up the rest of the text. I decided to do an elephant head instead. I still had three lines of text left over at the end, but they didn't look like they were hurting anyone, so I left them. I'm pretending they're a shadow of the head floating above the ground.

This sounds like it would be a lot more tedious than it is, but if you have a clear sense of shape for whatever you're trying to create, it's actually quite easy. If you're working on a computer, and you goof, it's fairly simple to adjust the lines, as long as you work from the top down. My final version was something like the tenth stage, so there was a lot of fiddling along the way.

I like the final result quite a lot. It actually surprised me to discover that I could make a decent elephant silhouette without a design to look at, or an outline on the page. It was also nice to have something that didn't require photographs and actual manual labour.

I can't imagine setting something like this by hand, but with a computer to go back and alter your mistakes, it's definitely worth a try.


Elephant Lore of the Day
This is a possibly apochryphal story about a circus elephant in London, but it's a sweet story, so I'm telling it anyway.

Many years ago in London, there was a circus elephant who was very popular with children. One day, however, the elephant's personality suddenly changed. He tried to kill his keeper several times, and when children came near his cage to feed him peanuts, he would charge at them, as though wanting to trample them. It soon became obvious that the elephant was dangerous and would have to be destroyed. The circus owner was a cruel and greedy man, and decided to stage a public execution. That way, he could sell tickets, and recoup some of his investment in the animal. 

When the day of the execution came, the circus tent was packed to the rafters. The elephant stood in a cage in the centre ring. A firing squad with high-powered rifles stood at the ready. The circus owner was about to give the signal to fire, when a man stepped out of the crowd.

"There is no need to destroy the elephant," he said to the circus owner.
The circus owner brushed him aside. "He is a dangerous animal. He must be destroyed before he kills someone."

"You are wrong," said the man. "Give me a few minutes in the cage with him, and I'll prove it to you."

The circus owner thought for a moment, then decided that he would be foolish to pass up such an opportunity. Even if the man were killed, the publicity surrounding such a dramatic spectacle would be worth thousands of pounds. "I will let you enter the cage, as long as you sign a release absolving the circus of any responsibility."

The man signed the paper, then removed his coat and hat. The door to the cage was unlocked, and the man stepped inside. The crowd held its collective breath as the door was locked behind him.

At the sight of a stranger in its cage, the elephant bellowed and lowered his head as if to charge. 

The man stood very still, smiling faintly. He began to talk to the animal quietly. The audience was so quiet that they could hear the man speaking, but could not make out the words. 

As the man continued to talk, the elephant slowly raised its head. It let out a piteous little cry and began to sway its head from side to side. The man walked up to the elephant and began to stroke its trunk. The elephant wrapped its trunk around the man's waist.

Seeing that the elephant was no longer aggressive, the circus owner unlocked the cage. The man and the elephant walked slowly around the ring, the elephant's trunk still wrapped around the man's waist. Astounded by the sight, the audience suddenly broke into cheers and applause.

After a while, the man said goodbye to the elephant. "He'll be alright now," he told the astonished circus owner. "You see, he's an Indian elephant, and none of you spoke his language. He was simply homesick. If you hire someone who speaks Hindustani, the elephant will be fine." With that, the man picked up his coat and hat and left the circus tent.

It was only then that the circus owner thought to glance down at the document in his hand, which had been signed, "Rudyard Kipling".

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 
Elephants Without Borders
Save the Elephants

No comments:

Post a Comment