Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Elephant No. 234: Smudge Art

When I first thought of trying a drawing with nothing but smudges from my fingers, I was sure I'd find all kinds of similar examples online. I actually didn't find a single one. I did find many, many examples of art created by smudging charcoal or pencil once it's been directly applied to paper. I also found an astonishing number of references to "smudge art" that described how to use the smudge tool in a computer paint or drawing program.

This concerned me, because I thought there might be something foolish about trying to draw by chalking up my fingers, then smudging it into paper. The effect I wanted, however, was more like my experiment with fumage than the harder edges I'd get if I drew on the paper first.

I decided to just go for it, and see what happened. I've added smudges often enough by accident that I thought it might work to deliberately layer finger smudges. One site I read suggested that smudging your drawings with your fingers is bad art practice. Since my entire drawing was going to be finger smudges, this was going to be particularly bad art practice.

I was expecting the final effect to be relatively dreamlike, so I thought I'd at least start with a realistic image. This is the photograph I chose:

Asian elephant.

I used my set of coloured Conté crayons as the drawing medium. They're firm enough to allow some control in the amount of colour I applied to my fingers, but soft enough to smudge nicely. And they come in lots of pretty colours. For paper, I used some inexpensive sketchpad paper, because it's important to have paper with a bit of tooth for an activity like this.

I started with magenta, rubbing the Conté crayon lightly over my fingertips.

I then applied this to the paper, sketching in some of the most obvious areas of the design. I hadn't tested this anywhere first, so I was a bit tentative at the beginning.

This seemed to work out well enough, so I added more.

I kept working with the magenta until I didn't think that I could make it much better with that colour alone.

Next, I decided to add a bit of purple. Still using only my fingers, I added purple in some of the darker areas, as well as in a few lighter areas.

It was starting to look pretty good, so I finished up by adding some royal blue, mostly in the shadows. I also added a light sweep of blue in a few of the highlights, just to pull the drawing together and add a bit of modelling.

This was a quiet, meditative sort of activity, and certainly not difficult. The most important thing is an ability to see tonal values, somewhat like mass drawing.

In terms of technique, I learned fairly quickly how to use my fingers. Rubbing hard will blend the colours nicely, of course; it also helps in distributing the colour. In other words, with rubbing you can keep the colour fairly localized, or you can sweep it around. For finer lines, I used the side of my baby finger or index finger, applying the colour with a sort of sharp, firm stroke.

Using additional colours helps to add depth and modelling, and it doesn't hurt to concentrate on the darkest areas throughout the process. But it's virtually impossible—at least, I found it virtually impossible—to create crisp lines. The beauty of this kind of drawing is going to be in the soft contours and the play of shadows and highlights.

This took me about 45 minutes, and wasn't particularly messy or difficult. I thought about adding even more colours and continuing to work on it, but I was afraid I'd overwork the drawing if I did that. It's actually quite pretty as it is, soft focus and all, so I left well enough alone.

I like the final piece a lot, but I think I would like it just a little more with a few slightly sharper lines. That being said, this is still something I would try again, perhaps working the drawing a lot longer, just to see what happens. And phooey to anyone who says you should never smudge with your fingers.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Captain Thomas Williamson, who was stationed in India in the early nineteenth century, told an amusing story about an elephant named Pangal.

Pangal appears to have been a particularly clever elephant. He had decided that there was only a certain amount of weight he should be expected to carry on a march, and refused to carry more. If a heavier load were added, he would simply pull off the excess and throw it on the ground. Pangal was by no means unwilling to carry things; he just had a very specific idea about what was fair.

Pangal was quite consistent in his behaviour, and one day the quartermaster of Williamson's brigade lost his temper at the elephant's obstinacy. He threw a tent peg at Pangal's head, yelled at the animal, and stomped off.

A few days later, as Pangal was walking from the camp to a waterhole, he passed the quartermaster. Seizing the man in his trunk, Pangal lifted him into a large tamarind tree that overhung the road. Pangal then calmly walked away, leaving the quartermaster clinging to the branches until members of his brigade came to help him down.

Asian elephant cow, Millennium Elephant Foundation, Sri Lanka, 2011.
Photo: Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)

No comments:

Post a Comment