Sunday, 10 June 2012

Elephant No. 252: Fabric Crayons

I came across a little pack of something labelled "fabric crayons" in a discount store last week for $1.50, so I bought them. Even if it turned out to be a stupid purchase, it would be a small stupid purchase.

When I bought these special crayons, I wasn't sure how they differed from regular crayons. According to a video I found, however, it appears that fabric crayons transfer much better than regular crayons, which don't seem to transfer at all. One explanation I read suggests that crayon manufacturers took the permanent fixative out of regular crayons to keep them from staining children's clothes. The fabric crayons certainly don't smell like regular crayons. In fact, they have a distinct dry-cleaning-fluid smell to them.

The method for using these crayons is simple: draw on paper with fabric crayons; place face-down on fabric; iron to set the design.

This was the pack of crayons I bought. I figured the brand name "Singer" (the sewing-machine company) might mean that these would actually work well on fabric.

I decided I'd try drawing something relatively realistic, even though I was using crayons, so I drew from a photograph. This is the photograph I chose:

African elephant.

For paper, I used inexpensive sketchpad paper, partly because it's no great loss if it doesn't work, and also because it has a lot of tooth, meaning that it drags and holds a lot of crayon pigment.

This was my final drawing.

I made the crayon marks pretty heavy throughout most of the drawing. It turns out, however, that it doesn't really matter how heavy you make the lines. Some colours will print darker than others, no matter how light the lines are. Not that any of the colours print all that dark.

I layered some paper towels on my ironing board, and laid a piece of unbleached muslin on top. I flipped the drawing face-down on the fabric and ironed it using the cotton setting. I was going to use the highest setting I have, which is "linen", but I wasn't sure if it would scorch the paper.

This is what it looked like from the back. You can see that some of the wax bleeds through the paper, so be sure to clean the iron afterwards by ironing it over paper towels or something. According to the instructions on the back of the crayon package, it's a good idea to leave the iron more or less in one place at a time without gliding it across the surface. I didn't do that, but it didn't seem to make any difference.

When I lifted the paper away, I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed by how faint the colours were. They were pretty, but also quite faded. On the plus side, as you can see in the photograph below, the drawing was more interesting and saturated after it had been ironed.

From other examples I've seen online, fabric crayons don't really make a vivid design. The reds and purples print better than the other colours, but even if you crayon like an angry child, the heaviest areas don't print much darker than lighter sketched-in areas.

Although I was disappointed in the final result, it would be a good technique to use if you wanted something that had the faded look of a flour sack or quilt that had been washed many times. On the plus side, I can see using fabric crayons to make drawings that look like retro colour lithography—with the fabric being discarded, rather than the paper original.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although no one is quite sure what colours elephants see, studies suggest that they may have the same kind of red/green colour blindness as some people.

In studies carried out on the eyes of deceased elephants, Dr. Shozo Yokyama and colleagues at Atlanta's Emory University discovered that elephants have identical sets of visual pigments to some colour-blind humans. Whereas most humans have three pigments in the retina's photoreceptor cells—red, green and blue—elephants and colour-blind people can detect only two primary colours: blue and yellow. They do not see intermediate colours, and when blue and yellow are mixed, they see white, grey, blue or yellow, but not green. Humans with normal colour perception see four "primary" colours—blue, green, yellow and red—as well as millions of intermediate shades.

It is thought that elephants have this two-pigment colour vision because they are equally active during the day and at night. To allow them to see well under both lighting conditions, it is thought that elephant eyes have traded off some colour vision for better sight in the dark.

Elephants at night in Sri Lanka, photographed with a Starlight Camera, which uses both
infrared and light-enhancing technology. Interestingly, these are probably the types of
colours most elephants see.
Photo: Nature Picture Library/Rex Features

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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