Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Elephant No. 318: Soft Pastels

I have oil pastels, Conté crayons, and pastel pencils, but I've never used soft pastels, so I thought I'd try them for today's elephant.

I covered the pastel medium in my post on pastel pencils, so I'll just describe what I did in today's post.

I found this set of 24 soft pastels at an art store for twelve dollars. They're obviously not top-of-the-line, but sixty-five dollars seemed a bit much to spend on a medium I wasn't even sure I'd like.

I thought it might be interesting to use these on black paper, so I also bought a pack of black paper made for pastels.

Because I was planning to use crazy colours, I thought I should work from a photograph, at least to start. This is the photograph I chose:

African elephant in Tanzania.

I started by making a rough sketch with a medium-turquoise pastel. These are definitely a lot softer than Conté crayon, and somewhat softer than pastel pencil. But they didn't explode in a puff of pastel dust, as I had vaguely expected.

It looked a bit like an elephant wearing a First World War gas mask at this point, but I pressed on, adding a darker blue and some white for the tusk.

I added a bit more colour, then thought I should try blending with a blending stump, since these pastels are supposed to be so blendable.

I wasn't sure I loved the look of the blending, but I did like the way the colours stood out against the black. I was actually a bit surprised that even the darker colours showed up against black.

I had originally concentrated on shades of blue, but now decided to add other colours, mostly just to experiment. By now, I had gotten into a rhythm of blending and drawing at the same time.


It looked a bit strange with all these colours showing as a top layer, so I began toning them down by adding back the original shades of blue over top.

To finish up, I added some shading and fine lines with black. I also added some fine green lines for the elephant's mouthful of grass.

This drawing took me about two hours, which was about what I'd expected. It's a slightly messy medium, but it's manageable as long as you blow any dust away, and keep something handy to wipe your fingers.

One thing I didn't like is that it's not easy to make fine lines with soft pastels—although I promise that the black lines look finer in the actual piece than in my photographs. In retrospect, I think I should have left more of the black paper showing through, rather than adding black afterwards. But for truly fine lines, I could have used pastel pencils or Conté crayons. I just didn't want to mix media.

In the end, I quite liked soft pastels. I don't say that lightly, because I usually hate having chalky fingers. Mostly, I think I just liked the way the colours popped against the black. In fact, since I now have a whole pad of black paper and a bit of extra time, I might just play with these a bit more tonight.

Elephant Lore of the Day
One of the most important things to an elephant is water. A fully grown elephant requires about 225 litres (50 gallons) of water a day, which can be a challenge during Africa's dry season. Trekking across desert sands, dry riverbeds and rocky landscapes, elephants will travel many kilometres in search of water.

Although we most commonly think of elephants drinking at waterholes, elephants are the only animal in Africa that will actually dig for water. Burrowing their trunks several feet into the ground, elephants will drill down until they hit an underground spring.

Once they hit water, they suck it up through their trunks and spray it into their mouths. They will drink up to ten litres (two gallons) at a time. When the elephants finish drinking and move on, other animals will rush forward to drink at the open wells left behind.

It is thought that elephants teach one another about the most likely places to find water, making the loss of an older elephant's knowledge catastrophic. When older elephants are killed, the younger members of a herd can often be left rudderless, leading to anti-social behaviour as well as a lack of survival skills.

African elephants crossing Damaraland, Namibia, 2007.
Photo: © Michael Poliza

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)