Monday, 28 May 2012

Elephant No. 239: Metallic Watercolour Pencils

I happened upon these pencils in the art store today, and couldn't resist them. Sparkly colours and a water-based medium all in one. What's not to like? Well, I suppose I'll find out if there's anything not to like once I try them.

I've covered the history of pencils and coloured pencils before, so I'll just describe today's activity as it unfolded.

This is the set of pencils I bought. They didn't come as singles, so I bought the set of 12.

The instructions on the tin say that black paper works best, so I bought a couple of sheets of black paper with a bit of tooth. The tooth will allow the colour to collect nicely on the paper, meaning that I'll probably end up with more pigment to paint with when I add water.

I thought I should try drawing something realistic with such an oddball medium, so I chose this photograph:

African elephant.
Photo: Ucumari

I started by making a light pencil sketch, not really trusting myself to start right in with metallic colours.

I began by adding a sort of pale silver and a golden bronze for my first colours. As you can see, I was somewhat tentative until I got a feel for the pencils.

I wasn't sure how much I liked these pencils at this point. I had a feeling I'd have to use them much more heavily to get any kind of painterly effect, and I didn't know if I wanted to draw like that. I also found silver and bronze a bit boring, so I added all the other colours in the tin.

I liked this look, so I decided to try painting various parts of the drawing to see what happened.

As I suspected, I needed to basically scribble in a lot of colour for the painting thing to work. Wherever I used a light sketching hand, the lines remained. If I coloured things in heavily, I could paint. Also, the metallic effect is more pearlescent than truly metallic. But that was okay.

I added more colour, more shading, and some additional sketching lines. I didn't think I wanted to colour the whole thing in, so I concentrated on certain areas, without putting too much pressure on myself to create a metallic-watercolour-pencil masterpiece.

I painted over some of these areas as well, but didn't paint everything this time. I actually began to like the effect of a few sketchy lines mixed in with brushstrokes.

At this point, I felt that there wasn't much more I could do to this drawing without filling everything in, so I added a few more heavy pencil lines in lighter colours, painted a tiny bit more, then left well enough alone.

I enjoyed working with these pencils, although the final piece looks nothing like the iridescent drawings on the tin. The pencils create a nice, soft glow against the black paper, but it's not terribly saturated, as you can see. If I'd worked much smaller, I might have gotten a heavy iridescent effect, but it would have taken hours to fill in today's drawing, paint to blend the colours, draw some more, blend again, and so on.

The final effect is interesting, and I like having these pencils in my repertoire of things to use, but I think I would use them more for highlights than an entire drawing next time.  That being said, I like the final piece, which has a sort of mad Francis Bacon-meets-William Blake look that rather appeals to me.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Among the Samburu people of Kenya, elephants are said to have once been human.

The legend goes that a newlywed bride was ordered by her father not to look back as she left her childhood home. The bride, however, was so sad as she followed her husband that she couldn't resist a final look over her shoulder.

The god N'gai was furious that the girl had disobeyed her father, and decided to punish her. That night, in her new hut, the girl began to swell and grow taller until she burst through the roof of the hut, turning into a great, grey elephant beneath a starry sky.

All elephants are said to have descended from this first elephant girl, making the Samburu related to the elephants by blood. Because of this, when the Samburu pass an elephant skull, they pick up some green grass, spit on it and push it inside holes in the skull. Green grass is a symbol of peace, and spit is a symbol of rain, and together they represent a blessing on the soul of the dead creature.

Similarly, it is believed that elephants will place grass and leaves upon the graves of dead humans. Samburu and Maasai hunters tell stories of seeing elephants cover dead or sleeping people under a pile of branches. One hunter even reported waking up to find an elephant gently placing twigs and long grasses across his body as he lay under a tree.

There appears to be some corroborating evidence for this, as other sources have suggested that humankind is the only other species which elephants will honour in death.

Elephant mother and calf in Samburu National Park, northern Kenya.

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

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