Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Elephant No. 205: Inkblots

A few weeks ago, I came across an inkblot video for the Star Wars Identities exhibition. When I posted the link on Facebook, one of my friends suggested that I try inkblot elephants sometime. I know inkblots are generally supposed to be random, but if Darth Vader can be an inkblot, so can an elephant.

The use of "ambiguous design" to assess personality dates back to the Renaissance. Artists such as Sandro Boticelli and Leonardo da Vinci enjoyed playing with the technique. In fact, da Vinci once famously remarked that anyone could interpret the image made by throwing a sponge at a wall.

The interpretation of inkblots later became a parlour game that remained popular well into the late nineteenth century, and inkblots even sometimes served as a form of inspiration. German doctor Justinus Kerner, for example, published a book of poems in 1857, each of which was inspired by a random inkblot. 

The most common use of inkblots—usually known as a Rorschach Test—relates to psychological testing. The test is named after Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach, who invented the technique. Before producing his 1921 book, Psychodiagnostik, Rorschach studied 300 mental patients and 100 control subjects. After experimenting with several hundred inkblots, he selected ten that he felt offered the best diagnostic value. By the 1960s, inkblot testing was widely used as a means of determining various psychological conditions.

Inkblot testing is fairly straightforward. Subject and tester sit beside one another at a table, with the tester slightly behind the subject. The subject is presented with each of the ten official inkblots—five of which are black, two of which are black and red, and three of which are multicoloured on a white background.

Once the subject has seen and responded to all ten inkblots, he or she is asked to point out where the image is in each inkblot, and what makes it look like that. Various other methods are involved, including rotating the cards, turning them upside-down, and so forth. The tester writes down everything the subject says and does, analyzing the data later.

Although the Rorschach test is the original form of this type of testing, the Exner scoring system—developed in the 1960s by Dr. John E. Exner—is the standard means of interpretation today. This system is more complex, and takes into account such things as linguistic and cultural differences, while also bringing together a number of disparate inkblot diagnostic systems.

Today, inkblot testing is sometimes regarded as "pseudoscience". This is largely due to the difficulty in arriving at conclusive results that can be duplicated, as well as questions about the skill and impartiality of the tester. As a means of identifying certain psychoses, however, inkblot testing is still considered both valid and valuable.

For today's herd of elephants, I used inexpensive sketchbook paper that I cut into pieces measuring 21.5 cm long by 14 cm wide (8.5 x 5.5 inches), then folded each of these in half.

For ink, I started with a red Bombay ink, but quickly switched to black India ink.


As I mentioned above, I started with a test using red ink. I've never made an inkblot before (I know, shocking), so blobbed quite a lot of ink on half of the paper in a vaguely elephant shape.

And this is what the unfortunate creature looked like once I folded the paper and smoothed it out.

Even I can't see any kind of elephant in this—and I see elephants everywhere these days.

I decided that: a) the ink was too runny, and b) I'd used way too much ink. I also didn't like the red, so I switched to black. For the rest of these, I'll just show what each looked like wet, followed by the final unfolded, dry version. Some of them were definitely more successful than others.

A few tips if you feel inspired to try this:

1. Use a heavier ink such as India ink. Lighter inks will work, but they aren't really sticky enough to imprint nicely.

2. Use a reasonable amount of ink, but not so much that it will smear a lot when you fold the paper in half. It should be shiny and wet, but shouldn't look like a bunch of ink puddles—unless smearing and spreading is the effect you want.

3. A more porous paper such as sketchpad paper will absorb the ink quickly and allow you to create a more precise design. Many sources suggest bristol board or cardstock. That will certainly work, but the ink will slide and smear more. The up side is that cardstock is heavy enough to take a lot of ink without buckling.

4. It's a good idea to think in terms of mirror images and to make your design along the fold in the paper, but it doesn't matter if you go over the fold, as it all smooths out when you fold it in half.

5. When you fold the paper, press rather than smooth the paper, unless you want the areas with larger amounts of ink to smear. I did both—and because I could see the general outline of the ink through the paper I used, I could adjust how I pushed the ink around between the folds.

I rather enjoyed making these, once I got the hang of it. I like the fact that they're not completely uniform on both sides, and I liked being able to smush the ink around. I know inkblots are supposed to be random, but it was way more fun to make elephants.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Speaking of perhaps seeing things, this story comes from the yeti-sasquatch files.

For years, rumours have abounded regarding the possibility of otherwise extinct mammals such as dinosaurs wandering the wilds of Siberia. In February 2012, a Russian government engineer took some video footage of what looked like an elephant wading across a river in the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug region.

A surprising number of people pounced on the video as evidence that prehistoric pachyderms might be alive and well in the Russian wilderness. Much was made of the colour of the creature, whose red-brown appearance could represent the characteristic colour of a woolly mammoth's fur. Others commented on the swinging of an apparent trunk as the animal crossed the river, as well as what might have been white tusks.

The grainy video makes it impossible to verify whether this is an actual sighting of any kind of elephant ancestor. Some have suggested that it is far more likely to be a Russian bear, dragging a large fish from one side of the river to the other. Most telling, perhaps, is the fact that the engineer who took the footage promptly went into hiding, and refused to say anything about the brief clip.

To see the full—and very short—clip, click here and scroll down.

Possible woolly mammoth crossing a river in Siberia, 2012
Photo: © Michael Cohen/Barcroft USA
Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2098733/Is-proof-prehistoric-elephant-



  1. We've had a lot of satisfied customers in 2012; we plan to close out the new year by offering some really cool stuff Ink Blot Masks.

  2. The masks are fantastic! What a cool idea...