Friday, 27 July 2012

Elephant No. 299: Googly Eyes

I usually hate googly eyes on anything, but when I came across some packages of eyes in a discount store, it occurred to me that I could make some kind of elephant with them. Exactly what kind of elephant I wasn't sure, but I bought them anyway.

Googly eyes are made up of a round white base, a clear plastic bubble, and a small bead or disk trapped inside. Most of the time, the inner disk or bead is black, although colourful variations also exist. The free movement of the disk or bead inside is what gives the eyes a sense of life. Googly eyes range in size from a diameter of 4.8 mm (3/16 inch) to nearly 18 cm (7 inches). 

Each of the googly eyes in this package measures almost
18 cm (7 inches) in diameter.
Photo: © Archie McPhee

No one seems to know when googly eyes were invented, although there were dolls called "googlies" as far back as 1912. These dolls did have moving eyes that glanced to the side, but they weren't the kind of googly eyes we think of today. In fact, I think I'd find it deeply creepy to be faced with a room full of these.

German googly doll dressed as rabbit.
I think I'd find it deeply creepy to be faced with a roomful of these.

Perhaps influenced by these early dolls, a song was written in 1923 called "Barney Google, with the Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes." The song was based on comic strip character Barney Google, who made his debut in 1919. In my opinion, Barney Google generally bears a striking resemblance to a googly doll and its sideways glance.

Barney Google sheet music, 1923.

No matter when or by whom they were invented, by the middle of the twentieth century googly eyes could be found on everything from inexpensive dolls and toys to erasers and even "pet rocks". Today, googly eyes are still found on inexpensive items and are widely used in crafts. They have also entered popular culture, however, and are often used ironically or for comic effect.

"Déjà vu" Shoes with googly eyes, by Christian Louboutin.

I decided that, since I had so little time today, I would simply arrange the googly eyes on a piece of green bristol board in some kind of elephant pattern.

These were the packages I bought.

And these are the sizes of eyes they contained.

I started by laying out a vague head shape and a bit of the body. There was a significant difference in size between the largest eyes and all the other sizes, so I decided to reserve the large eyes for the body and a couple of legs, and use the others for everything else.

Once I had a general shape in mind, I more or less just continued filling in the head and body. If there were big gaps between googly eyes, I filled them in with smaller eyes, but I wasn't slavish about filling every square millimetre with eyes.

There were a few things I found a bit irritating about the process. The first was that these things have a lot of static charge, making them prone to sticking to one another, and to my fingers. The second was that the tiniest eyes had a tendency to land upside down and were really hard to wrestle right-side up if they landed in the middle of the design. The third was that, if I was the least bit hamfisted, the eyes slid apart, deforming my design to a certain extent. I could push things back into place, so it wasn't catastrophic; but it did slow me down.

When it came to inserting an eye, I had a bit of a dilemma. How do you indicate an elephant's eye on a design made entirely of eyes? My bright idea was to turn one of the smaller eyes upside-down so that the white base showed, then place one of the tiny eyes on top. Not sure it works perfectly, but at least it sets the eye apart from the, well, eyes.

I finished by filling in more gaps, adding the other toe legs, a tail, and toenails on each leg: four on the two forelegs, and five on the two hind legs, just as on a real elephant.

I thought the final piece might end up looking vaguely disturbing. There are so many googly eyes, however, that they stopped looking like eyes at all, and ended up looking more like a series of dots—at least to me.

This took me a little less than an hour and, aside from the irritation of stuff sticking to my hands, it was really easy. And I actually think it turned out rather well in the end, if I do say so myself.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Assam, India is home to one of the largest populations of Asian elephants in the world. Many are wild, but there are also a significant number of domesticated Asian elephants in the province. 

When massive floods recently hit the region, most of the province's wild animals, including elephants, were able to make their way to higher ground. The race was on, however, to ensure the safety of Assam's domesticated elephants.

Luckily, elephants are excellent swimmers. They also have a built-in snorkel, allowing them to negotiate murky floodwaters as well as any boat—and obviously much better than a vehicle.

Sadly, floods like this—which in this case killed at least 30 people and displaced a million more—also present a perfect opportunity for poachers. Less able to range across wide territories, large animals become clustered together, making them metaphorical sitting ducks for poachers. Most at risk this time were the region's rhinos, but elephants are never far behind on a poacher's hit list.

A mahout moves his elephant to higher ground as villagers padddle with their
belongings through flood waters in Assam.
Photo: Biju BORO/AFP/Getty Images

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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