Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Elephant No. 303: Hopscotch and Escargot

A few days ago, I was editing a text on children's games and came across "escargot". While I knew this was a form of hopscotch, I'd actually never seen a picture of it before, and was surprised at how different it looks from a traditional hopscotch grid. So my big idea for today's elephant was to try combining hopscotch and escargot.

The modern version of hopscotch may have originated in Ancient Rome. The story goes that training for Roman soldiers included a series of hopping exercises designed to improve their footwork. Roman children supposedly copied the soldiers, scratching out a similar pattern in the dirt and making up a set of rules.

The first recorded references to hopscotch in England date to the late seventeenth century, when it was called "scotch-hop" or "scotch-hoppers". The "scotch" in the word "hopscotch" actually has nothing to do with Scotland. Instead, "scotch" means "incised line or scratch".

A modern hopscotch course is either scratched out in the dirt, or drawn with chalk on a sidewalk or street. Some are even permanently embedded in sidewalks and playgrounds. Although designs can vary somewhat, the grid usually consists of  squares laid out in a straight line, intersected with pairs of squares side by side.

The game can be played either alone or with a number of players. The player tosses a rock or other marker on the first square, then hops across the board, jumping over the square with the marker in it. At the end of the pattern, the player turns around and hops back through, picking up the marker along the way.

Traditional British hopscotch grid.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

There are a few other rules, of course. The player must hop on one foot in single squares, and land on two feet in squares placed side by side. More importantly, if the player lands on a line, or lands outside the square, or falls over, he or she must miss a turn.

North American version of
hopscotch. The French words mean
"earth" at the bottom and "heaven"
at the top.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

Escargot (French for "snail) is also known as marelle ronde (round hopscotch). This French variation on hopscotch is played on a spiral course—shaped, as the name suggests, like the shell of a snail. This version requires multiple players, each of whom hops through the course to the centre, turns around and hops back.

Each player also marks one square with his or her initials. From then on, that player can place two feet in the initialed square, while all others must hop over it. The game ends when all squares are marked, or no one can reach the centre. The winner is the player who "owns" the most squares.

Student playing escargot, Marymount International School, Rome, 2011.
Source: http://www.marymountrome.org/media_play_gallery.

Today, hopscotch is played in various forms around the world. Most countries play a version based on squares; although many French-speaking countries also play escargot.

In the British Isles, the game goes by many names, including Hop-Score, Peevers, Peeverels, and Pabats. In India, the game is often called Ekhat-Dukhat, meaning "one house, two house". In Spain it is Rayula, and in Latin America is is called Golosa. In Italy it is called campana ("bell") or mondo ("world"). In Persian it is Laylay, and in Malaysia TengTeng. In Mexico it is called bebeleche meaning "drink milk", or avioncito meaning "little plane". In Russia and Poland it has names that mean "classes", and in Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia, it is "školica, meaning "little school".

No matter what it is called, hopscotch and escargot have been played by children in all countries for centuries. It has also become part of popular culture—sometimes describing someone who bounces from activity to activity, and sometimes as a shorthand in films and books to imply innocence and childlike behaviour.

For today's elephant, I started by trying to figure out how to combine the games of hopscotch and escargot in an elephant shape. I thought a partial escargot spiral might be interesting for the trunk, but I wasn't sure how to work the squares of a hopscotch grid into an elephant body.

It took me a few sketches, but this is what I came up with. Yes, it is the paper napkin school of drawing—or in this case, the charity-notepad-with-puppy-and-kitty school.

Now I had to find a place to draw it onto a sidewalk. The trunk/escargot section makes it a rather wide pattern, so I needed a wide sidewalk. The one outside my house that I used for my sidewalk chalk elephant wasn't wide enough. I also didn't dare draw it on the road itself, as this is an urban area with heavy traffic.

I packed up my collection of sidewalk chalk and went looking for a reasonable sidewalk or parking lot—preferably one where I wouldn't be yelled at by passersby or city officials. Although the city has kindly determined that hopscotch is not graffiti—I'm not kidding; they had to think about it—a couple of years ago they made people remove a permanently painted hopscotch grid in a trendy neighbourhood because it was "distracting to pedestrians." So I decided to be stealthy rather than bold today.

I ultimately found a place that I thought fit the bill. It was located on a quiet side street, next to a community centre with summer programs for children, so it seemed perfect.

It also had chalk drawings at the front, including what I think is a woolly mammoth. This seemed like a good omen.

I used the same set of chalk I had before, minus grey, which I used up in my previous sidewalk chalk drawing.

I started by sketching out the squares. It's been decades since I've drawn a hopscotch grid, so it was a bit wonky. The part with the spiral was even more awkward. However, since sidewalk chalk is virtually impossible to erase, it would have to do. Next, I added the numbers.

After this, I began adding blue outlines for the elephant. This was not as easy as I had originally envisioned. Because I wanted to use the edges of the squares as some of the elephant's outlines—or at least as partial shaping for the elephant—the proportions were decidedly odd.

After I'd roughed in a lot of the blue, I added a little blanket in the gap above the number 4, along with a couple of flowers.

After this, I added a different shade of blue, and more colour to everything else. I also did a lot more smudging to smooth out the colour and make it appear more saturated. I'd forgotten how much I dislike chalk on my fingers.

To finish up, I added a white tusk, an eye, and some pink for toenails, mouth and inner ear.

While I was working, almost no one walked by, which was great. Oddly enough, as soon as I'd finished, all kinds of people walked by, although most stepped around the elephant. One young couple remarked to one another that it was a hopscotch grid, but that was about it. This was quite different from my previous experience with sidewalk chalk, which was more like a public event—including a peanut gallery.

The final drawing was incredibly difficult to photograph, and it's very weird-looking, but it was an interesting exercise in combining hopscotch and escargot. It rained an hour or so after I got home, so parts of it may have washed away already. I've discovered, however, that it usually takes more than one rain to remove sidewalk chalk, so it should probably still be there tomorrow for a few kids to play on.


Elephant Lore of the Day
Because today's elephant was a playful kids' game, today's elephant lore is simply a commercial featuring a dancing elephant.

Elephants can't really dance, and will never spontaneously bust a move in the wild. When elephants perform movements that look like dance—such as swaying, bowing, or moving a leg from side to side or front to back—they've either been trained to do so, or are trying to alleviate boredom while chained or enclosed in too small a space.

Obviously then, real elephants don't dance, but it's still cute in the video below.


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

Monday, 30 July 2012

Elephant No. 302: Fauvism

I had a passing acquaintance with Fauvism from an art history course years ago, but it's something I've never tried, so I thought I'd give it a go for today's elephant.

Fauvism is the style associated with a loose group of artists known as les fauves (French for "the wild beasts"). Characterized by bright colours in unusual juxtapositions, Fauvism was influenced by the work of artists such as Van Gogh, Gauguin and Seurat, all of whom used blocks and dots of pure colour.

Although the Fauvism style began around 1900, and has endured in various ways to the present day, the movement itself lasted only from 1904 to 1908, and had only three exhibitions. Led by Henri Matisse and André Derain, the movement also included artists such as Maurice de Vlaminck, Raoul Dufy, Georges Rouault and Kees van Dongen.

Charing Cross Bridge, 1906.
André Derain (1880–1954)
Collection of the National Gallery of Art
Source: http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/andre-derain/charing-cross-bridge-1906

The main characteristics of paintings produced by the Fauves were bold brush strokes, garish colour, and simplified forms and subject matter. Much of Fauve art employs some of the principles of colour theory—in particular, the juxtaposition of complementary colours. This juxtaposition sets up a visual vibration along the border where, for example, purple and yellow, red and green or blue and orange meet, making the work vaguely enervating.

Matisse was the first to develop the principles of Fauvism in his work. As an art student in 1896, Matisse went to study at the home of artist John Peter Russell in Brittany. Russell was an Impressionist painter who had been a friend of Vincent Van Gogh, and Matisse had never seen an Impressionist painting firsthand before.

Apparently Matisse was so shocked by Impressionism and its requirements that he left after ten days, commenting, "I couldn't stand it anymore." Despite this, he returned the following year. This time he stayed, studying with Russell and ultimately abandoning his previous palette of earth tones for the bright colours of Impressionism.

A few years later, another Fauve painter, Maurice de Vlaminck, encountered Van Gogh's work at an exhibition. He was so moved that he famously declared that he loved Van Gogh more than his own father. Vlaminck's style changed almost immediately, to the extent that he often squeezed strokes of paint directly onto the canvas, essentially using the tube as a brush.

Picking up Deadwood, 1906–1907.
Maurice de Vlaminck (1876–1958)
Collection of the Courtauld Gallery, London, U.K.
Source: http://echostains.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/maurice-vlaminck-e28093-

The first exhibition of Fauve art was presented in 1905 at the Salon d'Automne in Paris. It was at this exhibition that the movement got its name. Nestled amongst more staid works of art, this new style of painting created a sensation—and not in a good way. Critic Louis Vauxcelles described their work as "Donatello au milieu des fauves!" ("Donatello amongst the wild beasts!"). This was because their work shared a room with a famous Renaissance sculpture by Donatello. Vauxcelles' comment may also have been influenced by the fact that a jungle painting by Henri Rousseau, The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope, was located nearby.

 Woman with a Hat, 1905.
Henri Matisse (1869–1954)
Collection of the San Francisco Museum of Art
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Matisse-

Another critic commented, "A pot of paint has been flung in the face of the public," and, in general, condemnation was more the rule than the exception. The painting that came in for the most criticism was Matisse's Woman with a Hat. Matisse went into something of a depression following the scathing reception of his work, and it wasn't until Woman with a Hat was purchased by collectors Gertrude and Leo Stein that his spirits improved.

Today, many artists create work using the principles of Fauvism, and some create in a distinctly Fauvist style. These works are usually characterized by garish and unrealistic colour and simplified forms.

Self Portrait by Nashaath.
Source: http://nashaath.deviantart.com/art/Self-Portrait-

For today's elephant, I decided to work on canvas for the first time in a while. I was going to use oils, but I didn't really feel like dealing with the clean-up part of oil painting, so I decided to use acrylics.

Because Fauvism is so unrealistic in the final result, I decided to start from a photograph. This is the photograph I chose:

African elephant.
Source: http://fullhddesktop.com/2012/03/big-elephant/big-elephant/

I planned to use mostly the elephant's head for my painting, and I thought I might add a hat in a sort of homage to Matisse's much-maligned painting. The photograph below shows my initial pencil sketch on the canvas.

I started by mixing some garish colours of paint. These were mostly full-strength acrylic colours, jazzed up a bit to make them pop a little more.

Obviously a brownish elephant wouldn't be a very good Fauvist painting, so I started with purple and acid yellow.

I added red and green next, as two more complementary colours.

And then blue and orange, as the final pair of complementary colours.

I found this incredibly gaudy and unappealing, but I figured it might look better when I'd filled it in some more. I continued using the same basic six colours, sometimes blending them a bit with one another to create new shades. I decided to stick to the same six colours, even while blending, assuming that this might give the final piece more visual cohesion.

Still a bit too gaudy for me, but I was beginning to suspect that this was more or less what I was going to end up with. I added more touches of colour wherever I thought they might look nice, until I had filled it in about as much as I was going to.

I liked this well enough, but I thought it needed a bit of definition, so I mixed some purple with a touch of black to add a few fine outlines here and there. I also added a few more touches of colour throughout. The next few photographs show some of the details, to give you an idea of how the colours are juxtaposed and overlaid.

This was one of the easiest paintings I've ever produced. Because the colours are completely unrealistic, I could slap on paint anywhere I liked. I did try to lay complementary colours next to one another, and I did pay a bit of attention to tonal values, but mostly I just put colours wherever I wanted.

This is also the craziest painting I've ever produced. I see why early critics thought Fauvism looked like paint had been thrown at the canvas, and I had a hard time leaving well enough alone towards the end.

I liked it enough to try it again, but it does take some getting used to if it's not your usual style. And, despite his bowler hat, this elephant definitely seems rather wild to me.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Some of the most colourful sights in Asia are festivals involving elephants. Painted, dressed up, and carrying everything from huge umbrellas to full-sized howdahs, festival elephants are certainly impressive to behold.

Elephant dressed up for Jaipur Elephant Festival, 2009.
Photo: Brij Khazanchi
Source: http://www.shutterpoint.com/Photos-

Although it can take up to a year to create the elaborate headdresses, umbrellas and other accoutrements an elephant bears, it usually takes only a day or so to decorate and dress the elephant itself.

For most elephants, preparations start with a good scrubbing. This is probably the elephant's favourite part of the exercise.

Once the elephant is clean and dry, painting can start. All painting is done with non-toxic water-based paints. In most parts of Asia, thick tempera is used, although acrylic paint is often used for harder-wearing areas such as toenails.

While the elephant is being painted, it is also being dressed. This may be as simply as a headdress and blanket, or as elaborate as blanket, headdress, bells on legs and neck, howdah, and sometimes even fairy lights. If the elephant is particularly tall, scaffolding is sometimes set up around the elephant to help make painting and dressing easier. Most elephants are used to the process, and are also kept happy with snacks of sugarcane, bananas and other fruit throughout.

Elephant with scaffolding, Surin, Thailand, 2011.
Photo: Dan Koehl
Source: http://dankoehl.blogspot.ca/2011/11/preparation-of-elephants-before-surin.html

The video below shows a Canadian artist painting an elephant in preparation for a wedding. At one point, you'll see the elephant curl its trunk to smell the paint on its trunk—probably wondering what it is, and whether it might be tasty.

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

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Elephant No. 301: Thread Painting

A couple of months ago, one of the women at my fibre arts guild showed us a piece of art made entirely of thread stitches. It looked a bit complicated, but I tucked it away in my mind to try for this blog. Since I have a bit of time today to fool around with something new, I thought I'd try thread painting for today's elephant.

Thread painting can be done in a number of ways. Some artists stitch over a preprinted design on fabric, or paint something themselves that they then stitch over. Others draw a design on water-soluble material, lay it on top of fabric, and stitch through both layers. The water-soluble material is then removed. A third type involves stitching through water-soluble material onto tulle, in order to create delicate lace. Almost all forms of thread painting use a sewing machine.

Thread painting by fibre artist Jan Rickman. This piece is stitched onto a
hand-dyed background.
Source: http://www.janrickman.com/Jan_Rickman_Contemporary_

Although much thread painting is similar to machine embroidery on fabric, the type I decided to try for today's elephant involved stitching directly onto a water-soluble material. Once the design was complete, I would soak the piece in water to remove the backing, leaving me with fabric composed entirely of thread. That was the plan, anyway.

This was the brand of water-soluble material I bought, which feels a bit like non-woven interfacing. I remembered someone telling me that there are certain brands that rinse away more completely than others, but I wasn't sure if this was one of them.

Because I'd never tried thread painting before, I looked up a couple of tutorials online. I found this set of printed instructions useful, and these. A "thread painting" search on YouTube turns up a number of helpful tutorials as well. My favourite was a Nancy Prince video called "Stitches with Attitude", but it wouldn't upload here.

I started, as all the instructions suggest, by putting a piece of the water-soluble material into an embroidery hoop—upside-down to how I'd normally use it. The hoop apparently makes it easier to manoeuvre the piece of embroidery around in the sewing machine.

Next, I drew a loose rectangle and sketched an elephant shape onto it.

I decided to tackle the background first, which I thought would look interesting in multiple shades of green. The stitching method is rather weird, to be honest. For those of you who sew, you don't use the presser foot or pretty much any other kind of guide or tool. The needle just sort of goes up and down and floats wherever it wants, unless you're fairly careful to guide it with your hands. I didn't like this rather chaotic approach. Then again, if you use a presser foot, you can't see what you're doing at all.

I started with a forest green, making a bunch of loose vertical lines.

Next, I layered over these with an olive green. I really had no clue what I was doing, but I did like the interplay of colours. I was less fond of the way the water-soluble material stuck to the needle sometimes.

I also discovered that the water-soluble stuff has a marked tendency to tear if it's subjected to any strain at all. The elephant actually began ripping away from the background. This made me think that it might be a good idea to start laying in the elephant—if for no other reason than to secure the elephant and background to one another.

Stitching the elephant part just about made me toss the thing in the corner. I had mistakenly used inexpensive thread, which wrought havoc on my sewing machine's ability to stitch anything sensibly. It skipped stitches, broke the thread more times than I could count, and both bobbin and top thread became hopelessly tangled at least a dozen times.

When the elephant was roughed in, it was so lumpy, ugly, and stringy-looking that I began thinking I should have had a backup plan for today's elephant.

After a restorative cup of tea, I decided that I'd had enough of the freeform-no-presser-foot business. Accordingly, I put the presser foot back on, and began running lines of stitching all through the elephant. This tidied it up considerably. The downside was that I couldn't clearly see what I was doing most of the time.

Once I'd more or less repaired the grey of the elephant, I added a couple more shades of green to the background. I stuck to a vertical pattern, except around a few tricky corners. I also had the sinking feeling that the vertical lines might not overlap enough to keep them from shredding apart when the water-soluble stuff was rinsed away, So I added a few sweeping lines of green across the background.

To finish up the elephant, I added a bit of pink in the ears and mouth, a bell and necklace, and an eye. I also thought it needed a bit of definition in a couple of places, so I added a few single lines of black stitching.

This is what it looked like when it was still dry.

I was tempted to leave it at this and just clip off all the white stuff. But since I'd gone to all the trouble and trauma of using the water-soluble material, I decided to soak the piece in a bowl of hot water.

The instructions for the water-soluble material say to launder it. That was not going to happen with this particular piece, because I just knew I would end up with an unrecognizable wad of coloured thread.

I left it to soak for about an hour, occasionally rubbing off a bit of the water-soluble stuff, which becomes a bit like wet paper when soaked.

Eventually I'd had enough of that as well, and began running the piece under hot water. This still didn't remove every last shred of the water-soluble material, but it was at least presentable now.

The whole thread-painting process was highly irritating at times, but the result is interesting enough that I'll probably try it again. The final piece isn't as pretty as I'd hoped, but I may remedy that by adding a few beads and maybe a bit of hand embroidery, or even machine-stitch some darker grey to add a few shadows.

A few tips if you decide to try this:

1. Work on background and main design at the same time, or the water-soluble material will tear all over the place.

2. Keep extra bits of the water-soluble stuff on hand to lay under torn areas, then stitch over them.

3. Use good thread and sharp needles. The needles will become dull quickly, and the frustration of frayed thread and skipped stitches isn't worth the money you might save on cheap thread.

4. Make sure you have lots of thread on hand in your desired colours. My final piece measures only about 10 cm (4 inches) by 7.5 cm (3 inches), but I went through the combined equivalent of two 500-metre (550-yard) spools of thread. This activity is, however, a good way to use up weird colours you may have lying around.

5. Be prepared for your shape to deform along the way. Despite the fact that this was secured in an embroidery hoop, the water-soluble material is very fragile, with a tendency to shred and stretch. In my case, I went from a rectangle to something that looks like a template for a tiny lampshade.

This piece took me hours, so there is no way I'm trying it again anytime soon. On the other hand, I learned enough that I'm sure I will use this technique at some point. Next time on something even smaller, and with top-of-the-line thread.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Elephants are known for their intelligence, but not much is written about their ability to assess a problem and find a solution.

In 1922, W. Henry Sheak, who had worked around elephants most of his life, wrote about a large female Asian elephant with the Ringling Brothers menagerie. This particular elephant was often used as a "pushing elephant", manoeuvring wagons into place with her head.

One morning, the assistant superintendent of the menagerie used the elephant to push a heavy wagon across a muddy lot. At one point, the wagon got hopelessly mired in the mucky ground. Unfortunately, the more the elephant pushed, the deeper the wheels sank.

The elephant pushed for a minute or two, then stopped, stepped back and eyed the vehicle. To Sheak's astonishment, the elephant then stepped forward and reached down with her trunk. Heaving one of the wheels free while pushing with her head, she freed the wagon in no time.

Asian elephant pushing a wagon in Australia, ca. 1908.
Source: http://circuszooanimals.blogspot.ca/2011/04/princess-alice-

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