Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Elephant No. 296: Water Pistols at Dawn

Okay, not really at dawn, because I don't do dawn, but water pistols, anyway. Super-soaker-type water guns, in fact.

Although I've never used super-soaker water guns before, I thought it might be an interesting thing to try for today's elephant. I actually wanted to try a paintball gun, but I'm not sure where I can get my hands on one of those, so water guns it is.

Water guns, squirt guns and water pistols are, as the name implies, toy...er...waterarms. Designed to shoot water, their primary purpose is to soak an opponent.

The earliest known water pistols used a rubber squeeze bulb that drew water into a metal gun. The bulb was then squeezed, forcing the water out through the gun's nozzle. There were obviously limitations to this design, because it relied on the force a person could exert on the bulb, and the fact that the bulb had to be refilled after every shot.

Modern reproduction bulb-style water pistol.
Source: http://www.danefield.com/data/displayimage-23-3617.html

The next type of water pistol used a trigger mechanism similar to the ones used in spray bottles. Water was drawn into the pump from a small reservoir, then forced through the nozzle by squeezing a trigger. Because the mechanism is so simple and takes up so little space, almost the entire body of the gun can be used as a reservoir. This design is still in widespread use for small, inexpensive water pistols. In the water arsenal I had today, the red pistol uses this design. Oddly enough, the large yellow and green gun in my arsenal uses a variation on this design as well, albeit with a very large pump-style trigger.

Another common design still used today is a "syringe" or "piston" water gun. In this type, the pumping mechanism takes up most of the gun, meaning that the reservoir is usually located outside the main body. These water guns involve a syringe-like mechanism, which draws the water into the pump when the end is pulled out. The water is then forcibly ejected when the handle is pushed in—somewhat like a bicycle pump. The power of the water depends primarily on the user's strength, and the amount of water required by these guns usually requires a water source such as a large bucket. In the water arsenal I had today, the tube with the frog head uses this design.

During the 1980s, motorized water guns were particularly popular. Often made to look like sub-machine guns, they had a small motor and crankshaft that drove a little pump like those in the small squirt pistols. Although they weren't terribly powerful, the motor made it unnecessary to pump the gun physically. Their main drawback was that the batteries wore out quickly. Their demise, however, was ultimately due to the fact that they looked too realistic, causing several children to be shot for brandishing them at police. As a result, water guns must now be produced in bright colours, so that they can't be mistaken for actual firearms.

And then there are the big guns, which require a pressurized air chamber. In this type of gun, a pumping action is used to drive air into a partially filled reservoir. The more air that is pumped in, the more the air compresses, in turn compressing the water. As soon as the valve is opened via a trigger mechanism, the water is pushed out in a strong, continuous burst. The beauty of this design is that the pressure can be stored up and used as needed. The drawback is that you need a large number of strokes to create enough pressure for a large reservoir. The multicoloured gun in my water arsenal uses this design.

Super Soaker CPS 4100—Hasbro, 2005
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Super_Soaker_CPS4100.jpg

There are several other variations on water guns, including some pretty exotic and slightly over-the-top versions. For more on water guns, see this Wikipedia page.

For today's elephant, I bought a bunch of water weaponry from the dollar store. Because I didn't know how anything but a water pistol worked, I thought I'd better be prepared. The photograph below shows my arsenal.

I tried all four, but the only one I actually liked was the little red pistol. So I guess I didn't really use super-soaker guns today, after all.

I started by tacking up a large plastic drop sheet to part of my back fence.

Next, I tacked up a used sheet of bristol board to see how each of the guns worked. This is how I discovered that I only liked the red pistol. If you decide to try this activity, I recommend a test-firing range, as different types of guns appear to have very different properties.

One of my first challenges was finding a consistency of paint that I could use with my pistol. If it was too thin, it just ran down the bristol board, and was so light that it hardly showed. If it was too heavy, it clogged the pistol something fierce. I ultimately discovered that I could use cheap bottled acrylic paint in a proportion of about 80% paint, and 20% water. It was also really important to shake the gun hard in all directions to mix the water with the paint. It's also a good idea to have somewhere to spray the dregs before you start spraying your painting surface.

This is what my first two colours looked like. These were created with the yellow and green gun, which sort of splatted paint at the surface. I liked this effect, but it was too unpredictable to use for drawing.

What I liked about the pistol was that it offered a fairly consistent stream of paint, allowing me to sweep it across the surface. As I went along, however, I did find it irksome that the paint couldn't be made thick enough not to run. I did think about putting the bristol board on the ground and shooting down, but I thought I should stick to using a water pistol as though I were wielding a weapon, rather than pretending to shoot off my own toes.

At one point I didn't like anything about this painting at all, so I emptied my pistol of all paint, and sprayed water at the areas I wanted to thin out. Unfortunately, I didn't reckon with my own stupidity, and when I sprayed water above the elephant, it ended up washing down through the elephant, taking a lot of paint with it.

I compensated for this by spraying yet more paint at the surface, essentially redrawing the elephant. This is much harder than you'd think. Although I could sweep my hand across the surface and create paint arcs sort of where I wanted them, some shots went wild. Sigh.

Eventually I'd had enough. And it looked like it was about to rain anyway. This activity took me a whopping two and a half hours, mostly because of the testing phase, and the constant refilling and unclogging of the gun.

A few tips if you decide to try this:

1. Use the thickest paint you can force through your chosen weapon. It will drip less.

2. Rather than rinse out the gun every time you change colours, use colours that can blend. For example, I went from purple to blue to green to yellow to orange to red before rinsing, which gave me some interesting blends.

3. Cover a much wider area with plastic than you think you'll need. This activity wasn't as messy as I expected, but the finer spray went a lot farther than I thought it would.

4. Consider using jets of water to spray away what you don't like in your design, but remember that if you spray water above the main design, it's going to drip all the way through to the bottom.

The final piece is highly abstract—kind of like what I expect would happen if you made artist Francis Bacon paint only with a water pistol. The elephant's eye looks like a cat's eye, as you can see in the photograph below, and the final piece looks nothing like I expected, but I don't hate it as much as I thought I would. It's sort of like a cross between the Surrealist techniques of bulletism and movement of liquid down a vertical surface, which I ultimately found somewhat interesting.

I didn't love this activity enough to do it again anytime soon, but it was worth a try. It also gave me a rather interesting water arsenal that will surely come in handy the next time a robber tries to kick down my front door.

Elephant Lore of the Day
At a couple of wildlife facilities in the United States, African and Asian elephants have been trained to provide a unique service to visitors—a car wash.

The idea behind the service is more than a novelty for visitors; it also provides important training and mental exercise for elephants. The training is relatively simple: elephants are taught to blast water at windows, and to use sponges as they might use a tool such as a scratching stick or even a paintbrush. They are given lots of praise and treats while they work—and they seem to enjoy the activity, if the videos below are anything to go by.

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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