Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Elephant No. 269: Verdaille

I came across this technique a few days ago, and thought it sounded interesting. I've heard of grisalle before, which involves painting solely in various greys; but painting in shades or tints of something other than grey was new to me.

Verdaille is a painting created entirely in green. Unlike other colourwork, in which a single hue is either tinted in lighter tones or shaded into darker tones, verdaille can involve many different hues.

Verdaille originates in the stained glass made for Cistercian monasteries in Europe. The use of colour was prohibited in Cistercian art in A.D. 1134, resulting in paintings that were painted entirely in grey. This style is still used in stained-glass windows in churches to this day. In addition to grisaille and verdaille, there are other forms such as brunaille (brown) and cirage (yellow).

A Chinoiserie Procession of Figures Riding on Elephants with Temples Beyond,
18th century.
Jean-Baptiste Pillement (1728–1808)
Collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art, Hawaii

I decided to paint from a photograph today, and gave myself permission to use as many colours of green as I wanted. It was quite likely that I would stick fairly close to a single green with variations in tone, but it's nice to have options. This was the photograph I chose:

Elephant eating greenery, Addo Park, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa.
Photo: William Lorenz

Since I had planned to use watercolours, I started out with a very faint pencil sketch of the main outlines on a piece of mid-range watercolour paper. I then went over the most important lines with a sort of dark viridian green called "deep green" in my set of Grumbacher cake watercolours.

Although I'm not particularly confident with any kind of watercolour technique, this was relatively painless, so I added more.

It was sort of strange to use only one colour in various dilutions. It makes painting more like drawing, because you don't have to make decisions about colour. I had originally thought I would use several types of green blended with yellow or brown or even blue and purple, but once I saw how freeing it was to use a single colour, I decided not to blend any colours at all.

I found it easier to build up layers of light green rather than try to figure it out all at once, so I primarily jockeyed between full-strength paint and highly diluted colour, layering all over the place.

When I felt the elephant was more or less finished, I turned my attention to all the greenery in the background. This was surprisingly tricky to deal with. Unlike the elephant, which was fairly monochromatic in the photograph, the greenery was yellow, brown and green, as well as light and dark. It was also very dense in parts, and very loose in others. In the end, I opted for a mix of swirls in various shades from light to dark, as well as a few lines and dots.

I wasn't sure if I'd like this kind of painting when I started, because I'm usually drawn to lots of colour. I don't even really like green. But I actually enjoyed this exercise. It forces you to think in terms of tonal values, as well as how to translate various colours into green. And it makes life so much easier when all you have to do is dip your paint in a single colour and a bit of water, rather than fuss with how well colours mix, and whether that really is the precise colour you wanted.

This took me less than an hour from start to finish, which surprised me, as I thought it would take a couple of hours at least. I also like the final result very much, and can even see trying all the other variations on this technique—brunaille, grisaille, cirage, and whatever else I can make up—at some point in the future.

Elephant Lore of the Day
A couple of months ago, I wrote about a mother elephant who head-butted a train after it knocked down her baby. Although the news report didn't mention what happened to the baby, it did say that the mother elephant knocked the train out of commission for over five hours.

A similar incident in northeastern India in 1998 had much more serious consequences. Following the killing of a baby elephant by a train in the state of Assam, a herd of about 60 elephants ran amok in a nearby village.

The elephants appear to have bided their time for a few days before launching their attack. They also seem to have called in reinforcements, since the local herd numbered far fewer than 60. During their rampage, the elephants trampled five people to death, four of whom were children. They also destroyed dozens of houses.

Villagers claimed that the elephants were probably drunk on a locally brewed rice beer. Although forestry officials have expressed concern over the elephants' taste for beer, they also felt it highly unlikely that the elephants were on a drunken spree. Grief and revenge over the baby's death were far more probable.

The state of Assam has some 5,500 elephants, making it home to one of the largest elephant populations in India. An average 50 people are killed by elephants in Assam each year.

Herd of Asian elephants.

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
Answer to yesterday's word puzzle: ENDANGERED SPECIES

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