Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Elephant No. 198: Sand Bottle

On the weekend, my sister-in-law gave me a nice glass bottle decorated with an elephant on one side, and my first thought was, "This would make a nice sand bottle." So today I thought I'd try it. Not that I had a clue how to do this sort of thing, but it was worth a shot.

Sand bottles appear to originate around Petra, Jordan, in the 1920s. The multi-coloured sands of the region inspired local artisans to make geometrical designs inside recycled glass containers, which were then sold to tourists. By the 1940s, the repertoire had expanded to include camels and desert scenes, often in purpose-made bottles.

Sand bottles from Jordan, using local sand and crushed stone, by Abdallah Albdoul.
Source: http://chicagosandart.blogspot.ca/2009/08/our-sand-art-journey.html

Today, many street artists and artisan workshops in the Middle East produce sand bottles, often with incredibly elaborate designs. Using coloured sand, a long funnel and various pointed tools and wires, sand is manipulated into everything from abstract layers to highly detailed scenes. The art has also spread far beyond its Jordanian origins to become a technique practiced all over the world.

Elaborate sand bottle of scene from Isle of Wight
by Brian Pike, 1981.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Compressed_

The technique looks simple in tutorials, but I was already assuming that it was harder than it looked before I even started. Pouring coloured sand into a bottle in layers looks easy; carefully placing and poking sand into a shape resembling an elephant was likely to make me want to shake the bottle senseless. If bonseki was hard—when I could lay the sand out as I liked on a flat surface—I could only imagine what a sand bottle was going to be like.

This is the bottle I received from my sister-in-law, both front and back. Obviously I'll be using the back for the elephant.

For coloured sand, I'd seen sand-art kits at the dollar store a few days ago, so I went there for my supplies. These are the kits I picked up—and I got two of each, just in case. The second photograph below shows the funnel, straw, bottle and packages of sand, so that you can see what I had to work with.

I started by pouring a layer of yellow sand into the bottom of the bottle, then poured in a bit of green. I could already see that it was going to be hard to eke out all the sand I had to make my elephant, as this little bit of yellow was an entire package from the kit.

I layered some orange next, poking the straw from one layer through to another in order to make the pointy bits. I was beginning to find the colours a bit garish—better, however, to spend five dollars on weird-coloured sand than to buy a whole bunch of stuff I might never use again.

I continued layering different colours of sand, while also continuing to create points, peaks and valleys. The photograph below shows what it looked like when I was ready to begin the elephant. I wanted the elephant to be surrounded by yellow for contrast, but I knew there wouldn't be enough to make a full layer across the entire bottle. So I pushed the sand close to the front, heaping it in the middle, then added a bit of orange to extend the yellow even more.

Next I poured a small heap of purple on top of the mound of yellow, and poked in some legs and part of the body. This was relatively simple, if a bit fiddly. Because the yellow sand wasn't layered straight across, I had to deal with a bit of sliding and collapsing, but this section of the elephant wasn't too bad. For precision, I used the pointy tip of a bamboo skewer, rather than the more clumsy straw. It looked a bit like a komodo dragon or tapir at this point, but I was hopeful that I could fix the two longer ends.

To create the elephant I poked quite precisely with the bamboo skewer, gently moving the yellow aside, pushing the purple into place, and generally holding my breath. This is what the elephant looked like after about fifteen minutes of manipulation. I decided to leave well enough alone, quickly layering more yellow and orange on top to hold it in place. As you can see below, the sand is still heaped towards the front.

After this, I layered all the colours I had left on top of one another. As the sand got higher, I couldn't really reach inside the neck of the bottle to make points, so I just pushed the sand around in a desultory sort of way with the straw. I know you can use bent wires and the like, but I didn't feel like making special tools today.

When it was full, I added just a bit more sand and packed it down tight with the bottle's cork. Packing things in tightly helps the sand to stay in place. I should probably glue the cork as well, but I'm not sure I want to keep this forever and ever.

I thought this would be really fussy and frustrating—and perhaps even impossible for someone like me—but it was surprisingly easy. It took me about an hour and fifteen minutes from beginning to end, and I rather enjoyed it. Not having enough sand in certain colours was a challenge, but I would definitely try this again.

Elephant Lore of the Day
The paint company Farrow & Ball has recently brought out a series of colours from previous decades—including one called "Elephant's Breath".

The colour originated sometime in the 1950s with the interior decorating firm Colefax & Fowler, which was run by the headstrong Nancy Lancaster, and the equally headstrong John Fowler—a man credited with creating the English country house style that dominated for half a century.

A typical Fowler interior, David and Evangeline Bruce's apartment, London.
Source: http://www.architecturaldigest.com/architecture/archive/fowler_article_012000

Although the two had a mercurial professional relationship, they also had their own private language when it came to colours. Fowler had a fondness for colour names such as "dead salmon" and "mouse's back", to which Lancaster added the highly evocative caca du dauphin and vomitesse de la reine.

It is unclear which of the two first named "elephant breath". Some credit Fowler; others say that Lancaster once ordered a decorator to paint a wall "the colour of elephant's breath".

Elephant's Breath by Farrow & Ball.
Source: http://us.farrow-ball.com/elephant%27s-breath/

No comments:

Post a Comment