Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Elephant No. 178: Mass Drawing

Another busy work day, so I looked for something that wouldn't take a lot of time. Mass drawing is something I'd actually never heard of, despite taking a semester of drawing at university. Not only had I never heard of "mass drawing", but it's also something I'd never tried under some other name.

Mass drawing involves using tonal values of light and dark to create an image, without using outlines. In essence, you're drawing a form by building up blocks of light and dark.

Although there isn't a great deal of online information on mass drawing, the concept is relatively simple. Taking a piece of paper with a bit of tooth, and something like Conté crayons or other dry pastels, you use a sort of circular motion to create a dimensional drawing. 
According to the best source I found on mass drawing, the drawings of Georges Seurat are excellent examples of this particular technique. Given that Seurat went on to create pointillism, which also involves blocks of shading, his excellence at mass drawing is perhaps not surprising. 

The Echo (study for Baignade), 1893
Georges Seurat (1859–1891)
Conté crayon on paper
Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

The instructions I've seen suggest that it's best to use a three-dimensional form for this exercise. Not having access to an actual elephant, and not being keen on drawing a toy or plastic elephant today, I decided I'd work from a photograph instead. This is the first photograph I chose:

Asian elephant.

I used my set of many-coloured Conté crayons for this, and an inexpensive sketchbook paper with a bit of tooth.

Because you use the side of the Conté crayon, it's a good idea to break off a smaller piece. I started by more or less doing as the instructions said, making soft circles until I had the shape fleshed out.

After this, I simply went back and, still using the side of the Conté crayon, added some shadows and enlarged the elephant in various places.

Since this one went well, I decided to try another. This is the second photograph I chose:

Charging African elephant, Etosha National Park, Namibia.
Photo: Tony Heald

I started the same way for the second drawing.

And finished the same way, by adding extra shading and so forth.

I quite enjoyed this activity. It's very difficult not to add outlines, but it's an interesting exercise, and it forces you to look at blocks of light and dark in a new way. I also thought the final results were rather pretty, and might even frame one of these.

Elephant Lore of the Day
I avoided science after basic high-school physics, so today's elephant lore was a bit of a mind-bender for me—although probably completely logical to most everyone else. 

Although an elephant has a much greater mass than a feather, if both were dropped off a building at the same time, and—here's the important part—there was no air resistance, both would hit the ground at the same time. This sounded completely illogical to me when I first read it, but once you understand the scientific principle behind it, it makes perfect sense.

The reason both would hit the ground at the same time, if there were no air resistance, has to do with the law of acceleration. This law states that the acceleration of an object is directly related to the net force (in this case, gravity), and inversely related to its mass. This means that, although a significant quantity of force comes into play, dragging the elephant downwards, the elephant's mass produces an equal resistance to that force. In a nutshell, although the elephant experiences, let's say, 100,000 times more force (gravity) than the feather, and should plummet to the ground faster, the elephant also has 100,000 times the mass, making the ratio 100,000:100,000—or one to one, just like the feather.  


Everything changes, of course, once air resistance is added to the equation. According to Newton, an object will accelerate if the forces acting upon it are not balanced. In addition, the amount of acceleration is directly proportional to the amount of force (in this case, gravity) acting on it. Falling objects initially accelerate, gaining speed because there is not enough counter-force to balance the downward pressure of gravity. As an object gains speed, however, it encounters an increasing amount of upward force from air resistance. Because of its mass, an elephant would have to accelerate for a lot longer than a feather in order to generate enough air resistance to balance the downward force of gravity. 

If you're still confused (and I wouldn't blame you), check out this helpful site, where I found the original elephant-feather explanation. 

Curious baby elephant with goslings.

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