Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Elephant No. 192: Circulism


This is a drawing technique I'd never heard of before, so it struck me as an interesting thing to try for today's elephant.

Circulism was apparently invented as a coloured pencil technique in 1992 by artist Maggie Toole, and is used primarily to create skin textures. The reasoning goes that human skin has many imperfections, which are better captured with a technique such as circulism, rather than something like regular drawing and shading. Most circulism seems to be used for works of high realism, and a large number of these works appear to be pencil portraits of celebrities and others.

Steve (2005) by Alison Campling.
Graphite on bristol board

The method is fairly simple: circle your pencil in looped lines until you've built up the general density you want, then blend with a cotton swab, blending stump, or tortillon. Okey dokey, then.

There also seems to be some debate on what size circles constitute circulism. They should be somewhere between obvious circles and virtual invisible overlapping circles, as those two techniques are different. In addition, colours can be used to provide additional shading and texture. There is an excellent tutorial on drawing an apple using circulism here.

Some people seem to use bristol board as their base, but I wasn't sure how well that would blend—if I even decided to blend. So I tried two different versions: one on inexpensive sketchpad paper, and one on good-quality bristol board, both using mid-range coloured pencils.

This was what it looked like on sketchpad paper.

And this was what it looked like on bristol board. This was as sharp as I could make it, so you can see that the lines are very different, probably due to the greater tooth on sketchpad paper.

I decided that I liked the sketchpad paper better. I also decided that I liked the idea of using multiple colours. Once I figured out how the technique worked, I thought I'd work from a photograph. This is the photograph I chose:

African elephant in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania, 2008.
Photo: © Pietro Luraschi

I started by drawing my circular lines without having an underlying sketch to guide me, but there's something very disorienting about drawing a representational image using little loopy lines. I found it weirdly hard to picture proportions—then again, perhaps that's the way my brain works. In any case, after doing the top of the elephant's head and part of the face without a pencil sketch underneath, I decided I needed at least a faint outline to work with.

This is what the first colour looked like.

And here's a detail from the left side of the head, to give you an idea of what the little lines look like. This is an extreme closeup, so the lines don't look quite so curly with the naked eye.

This is what it looked like after a couple more colours. I could already tell that I wasn't going to have near enough time to fill everything in today.

I added a few more colours, deciding that I needed a bit of purple and red and light green. These are colours I couldn't really see in the original photograph, but they seemed to give it a bit of life. And, as many of you know by now, I like colour.

I decided not to blend anything with a finger or blending stump or whatever, because I rather liked the curly lines. I did vary the size of the circles, and the weight of the line, but every line on here is made up of little loops. Except for the underlying pencil sketch, of course.

This was an interesting technique, although I did find it a bit fussy for my particular personality. It does, however, allow you to create some interesting shading, as the overlapping circles leave lots of white space that then gets filled with loops of a different colour. This makes colours blend in an interesting way, even without a blending tool of some sort.

I'm not sure I'd want to do a whole drawing like this, but I would definitely use circulism as a blending technique if subtle shading was called for. I was also a bit surprised at the amount of precision you can get, because I actually expected my drawing to end up looking vaguely lumpy.

This took me about an hour and a half, and I think it gave me a headache. I do like the final result—it's just not something I'm rushing to do again.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Anyone who rides horses knows that one of the most potentially lethal conditions is colic. When a horse gets colic, it's very important to keep the horse moving, in order to get the digestive system working properly again. The same holds true for elephants.

In February 2011, a 13-year-old African elephant named Umna collapsed at the Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent, England. Umna was seriously ill with colic, and was found lying on her right side, with her left side bloated. The most urgent order of the day was to get Umna up and walking.

Two tonnes of elephant, however, is not an easy thing to lift. Staff at Howletts made two attempts to get Umna to her feet without luck, using ropes and a forklift.

Enter the fire department. Kent Fire and Rescue Service was called, arriving quickly with crews from two towns, as well as members of the urban search and rescue team. Although the Service was more used to rescuing cattle and horses, they devised a way of placing straps around Umna's body.

Umna being winched to her feet.
Photo: Shelley Ansell

Gently using a winch, they lifted Umna's front legs, and kept her in that position until she was able to bear her own weight—a process that took about an hour. They then released the straps, and Umna walked free. As a precaution, Howletts staff kept on her feet and moving until the crisis had passed.

Umna on her feet outside.
Photo: Shelley Ansell


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