Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Elephant No. 304: Fabric Marker on T-Shirt

A few months ago, one of my friends commented that one of my continuous line elephant drawings would make a cool t-shirt. So today I thought I'd try drawing something with a fabric marker on a plain white t-shirt.

I bought a couple of special fabric markers, but it occurred to me that I may have been able to use simple permanent markers. I just wasn't sure if garden-variety permanent markers would bleed.

I also pulled out the permanent markers I used for my marker bleeds on silk, just in case.

I already had a bunch of v-neck white cotton t-shirts, so I used one of those. If you buy a new t-shirt to try this, make sure to wash it first, without fabric softener, to remove any sizing it might have.

I put a plastic craft sheet inside the t-shirt, lined it with waxed paper, and used binder clips along the side to make the surface somewhat taut. I didn't stretch it too much, as there's always a danger of deforming the surface. I didn't want to end up with an elephant that looked like an anteater or something when I was done.

I wasn't really sure what kind of elephant I wanted to draw. The continuous line drawing elephant would have been interesting, but I didn't feel very skilled today. And using a photograph didn't feel quite right, either.

Then I remembered the Etch A Sketch elephants I'd done a few months back. I was pretty hopeless at Etch A Sketch, but there was one elephant I kind of liked, so I decided to use that as my inspiration.

I started by making a very faint pencil sketch on the t-shirt, using only the most obvious outlines from the elephant above. Then I went over the lines with the black medium-point fabric marker.

The first thing I noticed is that you don't necessarily get thick, saturated lines. I actually liked this effect a lot, because it allowed me to create soft lines and shading. As you can see, I was pretty tentative.

I added purple next, using the broad-point purple fabric marker. They warned me in the art store that it's a bit like a small bingo dabber, and so it is. To get saturated colour, you need to squeeze the marker as you move it across the fabric. Not being terribly confident with fabric markers of any kind, I preferred to squeeze the marker before applying it to the t-shirt, then ran it across the fabric to create shading rather than bold lines.

This seemed to work out okay, so I added more shading. One thing I noticed was that, if I ran the purple marker over black lines, the black was reactivated and blended with the purple. This would have been fine if I had expected it, but it annoyed me the first time. I'm sure I'll figure out how to use the blending to my advantage at some point.

I liked the purple and black well enough, but I thought it needed some other colours, so I added a few touches of yellow, using permanent markers. Surprisingly, the permanent markers didn't bleed. In fact, they were remarkably unwilling to bleed or blend at all.

Not content with this, I added several more colours. What I really wanted was a nice green, but the green permanent marker with a sort of apple-green cap was actually a dark green. Rats.

Because I didn't like the bland background, I added some purple dots, using the fabric marker as, yes, a bingo dabber.

To balance things out, I added additional dots in the other colours I'd used: pink, yellow and turquoise. I also added heavier shading in a few places.

The final t-shirt is a bit wrinkled, partly because I didn't think to iron it before I started, and partly because it's still too damp. Although I heat-set the markers with a hair dryer, it needs to dry for a couple more hours before I can iron it. Ironing will set the markers more permanently, and allow it to be laundered without fading.

I liked this activity a lot, although I'm not sure I love my final t-shirt design enough to wear it in public. I did learn a lot, however, about how the various materials work. For example, fabric markers work far better for blending, but permanent markers work better for precise lines.

I will certainly try this again—next time being a little bolder and more graphic in my drawing. And I'm definitely buying more real fabric markers, especially the weird bingo-dabber style.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although today's t-shirt is by no means high fashion, elephants are sometimes used in fashion shows and photo shoots. And indeed, some of the most iconic fashion photographs—with or without elephants—were taken by Richard Avedon with the model Dovima.

Dovima with Asian elephants, Cirque d'Hîver, Paris, 1955.
Photo: Richard Avedon

Dovima with Asian elephants, Cirque d'Hîver, Paris, 1955.
Photo: Richard Avedon

A few years earlier, there had also been a fashion show during a performance by the Ringling Brothers Circus in New York's Madison Square Gardens. A series of elephants paraded around the ring, wearing models on their heads. Each model had been decked out in an ensemble created by one of the star designers of the day, including Adrian, Claire Potter and Omar Kiam.

Then there was the Bruce Weber fashion shoot for W magazine in 2004. This time, it would be the elephants themselves wearing high fashion.

The idea came from photographer Weber, who pitched the idea to the magazine's creative director, Dennis Freedman. Unfazed, Freedman agreed that it was a great idea. In no time, a dozen fashion designers—including Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs, Helmut Lang, Nicolas Ghesquiere and even shoe designer Manolo Blahnik—were on board.

The scope of the project was indeed Jumbo-sized. Working with sets of measurements provided by the elephants' owners, each designer proposed an outfit or accessory for one of seven elephants.

Helmut Lang's sketch for the elephant Tai.

Karl Lagerfeld needed more than 82 metres (90 yards) of tweed to make a pair of Chanel suits. The hats that went with them had to be shipped in crates that were 1.5 metres (5 feet) high. Lagerfeld even included elephant-sized earrings. Dolce & Gabbana sent a hot-pink corset; Nicolas Ghesquiere designed a metallic cloak with loops of tiny chains; and Louis Vuitton sent an evening gown.

Silk cape with chains by Nicolas Ghesquiere.

Dressing the elephants in high fashion was no mean feat, either. It took nine people and a pair of ladders to outfit the seven elephants in the shoot. Surprisingly, there was no diva-like behaviour. Because they are such highly intelligent animals, elephants like to be given tasks and like to work, and proved quite willing to be kitted out in high fashion.

This didn't mean that they were always ready for their closeups, however. Rosie, for example, didn't appear to like displaying herself in the hot pink corset, and Tai seemed worried about tearing the hem of her evening gown. This, according to Weber, made the elephants, "kind of better behaved than most models."

Chanel suits by Karl Lagerfeld, including hats and earrings.

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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