Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Elephant No. 199: Hatching and Cross-Hatching

Today I felt like drawing, so I thought I'd try cross-hatching. The last—and I think only—time I tried this was for a sad-looking mountain landscape in a first-year studio class, so I had no idea how well a cross-hatched elephant would work.

Hatching is a drawing technique used to create shading by drawing (or even engraving or painting) parallel lines. When the lines are placed at right angles to one another, it becomes cross-hatching. The idea is that the number, thickness and spacing of the lines changes the tones and modelling of the image, creating an illusion of shape, angles, and so forth. The more the lines, the darker the area.

Hatching originated in Europe in the Middle Ages, developing into cross-hatching by at least the fifteenth century. Albrecht Dürer was a particular master of cross-hatching, and today many artists use the technique in drawing and printmaking. Interestingly, comic book artists are often modern masters of this technique.

Sechs Kissen ("Six Pillows"), 1493.
Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528)
Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

For today's elephant, I was working a bit against the clock. Today was an insane work day, so I came to this blog activity quite late. I decided it would be best to work from a photograph, to give the final image some semblance of realism. This is the photograph I chose, although I thought I'd probably only have time to do his head:

African elephant in South Africa.

For paper, I used artist-quality bristol board, and for ink, I used a fine-point marker. If I'd had more time, I would have gotten out my drafting pens and ink, but I'll save that for some other activity.

To start, I made a faint pencil sketch, knowing I'd get totally lost in fine lines if I didn't have something to guide me. I told myself that I couldn't make any outlines, and that everything had to be hatched or cross-hatched in some way.

Because I'm woefully out of practice (if I was ever even in practice), I started by cross-hatching even the edges of the elephant, which gave me a sort of furry outline. Not the effect I had in mind at all, but I knew I wasn't going to have time to do the background in order to form an outline, so I stuck with this weird technique for a bit longer.

As you can see below, I also decided to cross-hatch the heck out of the darkest area early on. This helped give me a bit more feel for how the technique works.

I tried various ways of hatching and cross-hatching in different parts of the drawing, until it suddenly occurred to me that I could simply draw a series of parallel directional lines, based on the directional lines I saw in the elephant itself. This is probably obvious to anyone who draws for DC Comics, but it was a revelation to me.

In the next three photographs, you can see that I was starting to get the hang of it. I also began to quite enjoy it, as it was a freer process, and less fiddly than I had thought it would be.

I continued on, becoming even more free with my lines. I began to like looking for the elephant's contours, adding a few slashing lines wherever I saw something interesting. To shade some of these areas, I simply went over the first set of lines at a complementary angle (or two), spacing my lines widely for lighter areas, and closely together for darker areas. I think the darkest areas had four sets of intersecting lines.

I was pretty proud of myself, in the end. I honestly didn't think the final drawing was going to look good at all, but I'm quite pleased with it. This only took me about 45 minutes, despite the fact that I thought I might be in for a long evening. I suppose I could have done more to it, but I have a tendency to overwork things, so I quit while I was ahead.

I'm not sure a purist would think this was any kind of good cross-hatching, as my lines are uneven and a bit amateurish in parts. But I quite liked this activity, and I'm definitely adding it to my drawing repertoire.

Elephant Lore of the Day
In the early 1970s, circus elephants Shirley and Jenny had formed a strong bond. Jenny was a calf when 30-year-old Shirley adopted her as a surrogate daughter, and for a number of years they performed together. Sadly, their friendship was shortlived when Shirley left the circus and Jenny remained behind.

For the next 23 years, Jenny continued to perform with the circus. When she became injured in an unsuccessful breeding attempt, however, she was no longer of use, and was unceremoniously dropped off at a shelter for cats and dogs. Not only was the shelter woefully ill-equipped to keep an animal the size of an elephant, but they were also completely unable to address Jenny's medical needs. An animal rights activist eventually contacted The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, and Jenny was transferred there in 1996.

By an amazing coincidence, this was the same sanctuary where Shirley had been taken years before. Although Sanctuary policy was to isolate elephants when they first arrived, Jenny was so miserable that staff decided she should be with the rest of the herd.

Jenny and Shirley recognized one another right away, trumpeting happily and bumping their bodies together affectionately. They soon became inseparable, roaming the sanctuary together, often in company with two other elephants, Bunny and Tara. 

Jenny and Shirley at The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee.

Tragically, Jenny became ill in 2006, likely due to her previous injury. She eventually became too weak to walk long distances, and one day lay down and couldn't get up. Although Shirley kept trying to urge Jenny to her feet, Jenny could stand only if she leaned on Shirley. When Jenny finally lay down again, it became clear that she was dying.

Shirley remained with Jenny, using her trunk to help her ailing friend change position. When the end was near, however, Shirley appeared unable to watch any longer, and left to grieve. Jenny trumpeted gently as Shirley left, which brought Bunny and Tara running over. For over three hours, Bunny and Tara gently stroked Jenny with their trunks, trumpeting whenever she moaned.

Jenny died that night. Bunny and Tara remained with Jenny's body until the following morning. Shirley, meanwhile, remained in the hills, dragging her trunk along the ground and refusing to eat. Shirley was only consoled by the arrival of a lively elephant named Misty, who eventually became Shirley's new friend.


  1. Love this! I pinned it on my Pinterest for future reference! TFS!

  2. Thanks, Anna! Glad you liked it. If you haven't tried it before, you definitely should. I'm sure you'd be great at it.