Friday, 13 April 2012

Elephant No. 194: Hammered Flowers

I came across this technique back in the fall, but thought I'd save it for spring, when I could use my own flowers. My best friend happened to offer me some tulip petals this morning, so today seemed like a perfect day to try this.

The method is simple in principle: choose plants with colours and shapes you like; hammer into paper or fabric; peel off plant pieces; seal with acrylic spray if on paper, or heat-set with an iron if on fabric. In practice there's a little more to it than that, but you'll get some kind of effect with those basic steps. There are good tutorials on the process here for paper, and here for fabric.

Japanese maple hammered print by Wendy Hansen.

I was surprised to discover that there's actually a flower that looks remarkably like an elephant's head. Its botanical name is Pendicularis groenlandica, although it's more commonly known as elephant's head or elephanthead lousewort.

Elephanthead lousewort, or Pencicularis groenlandia.

The plant grows in the high mountain ranges of western North America, as well as much of Canada and Greenland—hence its scientific name. It would have been interesting to create a hammered flower elephant using elephant's head, but not living in the mountains and never having seen it before, I'll just stick with the tulip petals and what's growing in my garden.

The photographs below show the selection of flowers I had to work with: mauve-pink tulip petals, Siberian bluebells, Chinodoxia, hyacinth and periwinkle. I picked a few bits of greenery as well, just in case.

For a hammer, I used a small chasing hammer, as this looked more or less like the hammers in the tutorials, and I figured a lot of brute force wasn't really called for.

I started by placing some waxed paper on a maple breadboard, placed a sheet of quite expensive watercolour paper on top, then positioned my first petal. 

I put a piece of waxed paper on top of this, and started gently hammering.

I don't know if the petals are just too juicy or too fresh or what, but they mostly splattered and turned to mush, without making much of an imprint. Tapping more gently changed nothing, and tapping longer changed nothing.

Thinking that I might need something a little less waterlogged, I tried a periwinkle flower. This was less splattery, but still not ideal. I didn't mind the way the ear below looked, but it wasn't what I expected, so I was somewhat disappointed. In the example above, the artist has used Japanese maple leaves, which are relatively dry compared to flower petals. So I tried greenery. Still a big mess. 

I could see that I wasn't going to get the effect I was going for today, so I simply continued hammering various bits onto the watercolour paper. 

To give you an idea of how the petals looked, the two photographs below show how a petal at the tip of the trunk looked after being hammered, then how it looked when I peeled the petal away.

 In the end, I didn't like the way my first elephant looked, so I decided to try another one.

For my second attempt, I used cheap sketchpad paper, as I was loath to use another expensive piece of watercolour paper for something I knew wasn't going to reward me for my trouble. I didn't really photograph the process for this one, but you can see below what it looked like when it was wet. I figured I could scrape off the lumpy bits when it dried. I couldn't, so if you try this and leave bits behind, be prepared to incorporate them into your design.

This was an easy activity, but ultimately disappointing. To be honest, I was expecting a pretty floral elephant, something like the leaf-printing elephant I did last fall. On the other hand, if I look at this as a way to colour paper without paint or any other artificial medium, it has its merits.

I may try this again with some drier leaves and flowers later in the season—perhaps even on fabric—but I can't say it's at the top of my list.

Elephant Lore of the Day
In China's Yunnan province, where most of the country's wild elephants live, villagers have been planting special elephant "canteens" in an attempt to keep elephants from raiding other crops.

In 2011, farmers were hired to plant bananas, plantains and corn on 20 abandoned hectares (50 acres) in a village, where elephants are frequently spotted. Since then, elephants have often been seen enjoying the crops grown just for them, and have shown a lesser tendency to raid farms and plantations. According to local authorities, if more elephant canteens are needed, more will be set up.

China has only recently been seeing a return of its wild elephants. As habitats and food sources dwindled in the wake of new agricultural activity and rubber plantations, the elephants began migrating to neighbouring countries. In 1995, however, they began returning to Yunnan province, where wildlife preserves had been established, hunting had been banned, and forest lands expanded to accommodate them. There are currently only about 250 to 300 wild elephants in China—making them fewer in number than pandas.

As the elephants began returning, there was a major spike in conflicts between elephants and humans, becaue there is simply not enough food left in the wild to support the elephant herds. Unfortunately—like raccoons and bears in North America—Asia's elephants have become somewhat dependent on the easy food available at farms, and it is likely that only plentiful food provided by sources like the planted canteens can draw them away.

Asian elephant eating bananas, Thailand.
Photo: © Mike Smith

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