Friday, 9 March 2012

Elephant No. 159: Painted Rock

I've loved rocks since I was quite small. When it rained, I used to search the streams running down the road for any pretty pebbles that might have washed to the surface. But I've never actually made anything with rocks. Nor have I ever received anything made with rocks—unless you count the pebble adorned with googly eyes that someone gave me when I was about six years old.

Painted pebbles, Azilian period, ca. 9000 B.C., cave of Mas d'Azil,
Ariége, France

People have been painting pebbles since prehistoric times. Usually the designs are very simple, consisting of a few lines or dots, and may have been intended for divination and other ritual purposes. The painted pebbles of Pictish times, for example, are believed to have been "charm-stones" used to cure sickness in humans and animals.

Pictish painted pebbles, ca. A.D. 200–800

It's hard to say when people began to paint on rocks as a decorative art. Today, however, people paint on rounded pebble-shaped rocks to produce everything from realistic animal-themed paper weights to bookends with abstract designs.

Painted stones by Audrey Marsolais.

For today's elephant, I went out in my backyard and looked for a suitable rock. I didn't want to make something huge, so I chose this stone that measures about 10 x 6.5 cm (4 x 2.5 inches). It's reasonably smooth, but has some pitting and fractures that I like.

To paint the rock, I used acrylic paints, which seem to be the normal rock-painting medium. I didn't bother to draw anything first, as I figured I could just scrub it off if I didn't like it—at least until the paint dried. 

I did, in fact, start with the rock in a horizontal position as above, because I thought I saw an elephant I liked in the surface. I painted something on this, but it didn't appeal to me after all, so I scrubbed it off. As the rock dried, I noticed a different elephant in the pitting on the rock. I liked this one better.

I started by roughing in an elephant with some grey paint, then added a loosely painted flower to fill in a small gap near the bottom of the trunk.

After this, I just added details to the elephant, totally forgetting to document the process. When I was happy with the final elephant, I added some gold dots to make the background a little less plain, without having to fill in the whole thing. I continued these onto the underside as well, to make the design more cohesive.

A few tips if you decide to try this (although there are many, many tutorials online as well):

1. It may seem obvious, but make sure your rock is well scrubbed and reasonably dry before you start, to ensure that the paint adheres well.

2. Work with whatever pits, marks and flaws the rock has. These can add character to the work.

3. Since you're working on a rounded surface, there will be some distortion of the design. I tried to cheat this a bit, but it's somewhat like working with anamorphic drawing, and had some of the same challenges I faced with my sidewalk chalk elephant. However, if this is something you don't want to deal with, either paint only on the flattest part of your rock, or simply don't worry about it.

I like the final result well enough for my first rock painting. It's not a masterpiece, by any means, but it has its own charm, and I won't be ashamed to have it on my desk as a paperweight.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although elephants have often travelled by train in the past, these days trains are more likely to harm elephants. And sometimes elephants fight back.

In 1993, a train travelling through Bangladesh sounded its whistle when it saw an elephant on the tracks. The elephant refused to move, so the conductor stopped the train a few yards from the elephant and waited. 

The elephant then walked up to the train and began head-butting the engine. She pummelled the locomotive with her forehead for a full fifteen minutes, until it would no longer run. The elephant then walked off the tracks and back into the bush.

It turned out that the elephant's calf had been knocked down by the previous train. The mother had apparently decided to wait for the next train on those same tracks, and teach the train a lesson it would never forget. The train's 200 passengers were stranded for more than five hours. 

The fate of the calf is not known. Sadly, however, elephant deaths from encounters with trains are on the rise across Asia.

Elephant crossing railway tracks that run through the Mahananda Wildlife
Sanctuary in West Bengal.
Photo: Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty Images

Elephant's World (Thailand)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks- this has been a great help to get me started- your advice is simple & straightforward. I have developed a love of painting on rocks & seeing the personalities on rocks. Love it. Thanks again!