Sunday, 2 September 2012

Elephant No. 336: Coffee Mug

I found a little do-it-yourself paint-a-mug kit in a dollar store a few days ago, and decided to buy one for this blog.

The first known mugs date from around 10,000 B.C. Discovered in China and Japan, these are the earliest drinking vessels to include a handle. They were made of pottery, and were shaped by hand, with the handle added afterwards.

Following the invention of the potter's wheel sometime between 6500 and 3000 B.C., mugs became more common. The biggest disadvantage of these early mugs was that they had very thick walls, making them difficult to drink from. Metalworking allowed for thinner walls in drinking vessels made of silver, gold and lead, but metal mugs couldn't be used for hot beverages. It wasn't until the invention of porcelain around A.D. 600 in China that thin-walled mugs suitable for hot and cold drinks became possible.

Mugs are made with thicker walls than teacups, primarily to insulate the drink from cooling or warming too quickly. Similarly, most mugs have a slightly concave bottom, or an extra ring, also intended to prevent heat or cold from leaching out through contact with the surface on which the mug is placed.

Materials used for mugs are also chosen with thermal insulation in mind. Earthenware, glass, porcelain and bone china all have low thermal conductivity, as do the travel mugs and double-walled thermal mugs introduced in the 1980s.

This is the little kit I bought for two dollars. It includes a stoneware mug, and five markers that are supposed to be permanent on the glazed surface, as long as the final piece doesn't go into a dishwasher or microwave oven.

It's always a bit tricky for me to draw on a surface that's not flat, so I thought I'd work from a photograph. This is the photograph I chose. Because I wanted two elephants on my mug, I also flipped the photograph around to help me in my sketching.

African elephant.

I was actually a bit nervous about this. I'm never great at working in the round, and these markers are apparently not very forgiving of mistakes. It says in the instructions on the box that you can "erase" mistakes by washing them off immediately with soap and hot water. I'm assuming that this means the whole design washes away at the same time. Also interesting: the decorated mug is not supposed to be used for hot foods. I guess I'll be using it to hold pencils, then.

I started by making a rough elephant outline. This part actually took me over an hour. The sketch itself wasn't all that difficult, but the placement was really tough. I either put the design too close to the handle or too close to the middle. The ideal position for any design on a mug is one side or the other of the handle, so that you can see it when you hold the mug.

In washing off my sketches at least four times, I discovered that the markers do indeed bond quite well to the surface almost immediately. I managed to scrub the design off, but it was a bit of a pain.

Eventually I managed to draw two somewhat similar elephants on either side of the handle, each facing towards the middle.

These outlines looked pretty dull, so I added some red bits for highlighting. I hated the red so much that I forgot to photograph it in my haste to fix the ugliness.

This is where I discovered a surprisingly nice feature of the markers. I had chosen yellow to add some more lines as highlighting, but suddenly found the yellow marker reactivating both the blue and the red to make some very nice colour combinations. Lavish use of the yellow marker produced an effect almost like watercolour paint, and I started to like the process very much.

I played with this until I felt I was in danger of overworking the whole thing. I also stopped myself before I began trying to add additional designs throughout the background.

Although I was underwhelmed by my first sketches and the bits of red, once I added the yellow marker and saw what this process could really do, I was actually quite thrilled. I like the final mug very much, and think I might have to go back to the dollar store and buy up a few more of these kits—or at least some white mugs—to try this again.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although they have adapted to some of the hottest climates in the world, elephants often suffer from severe dehydration. Sometimes it is due to a lack of available water. Sometimes it is due to an overdose of mineral salts. And sometimes it is due to elephants being overworked and not watered consistently.

A few weeks ago, a bull elephant wandered onto a farm in southern India and collapsed of dehydration. Farm workers and local villages sprang into action, quickly erecting a shelter over the elephant to protect it from the heat. The elephant was then rehydrated over a period of several hours.

A shelter being erected over the fallen elephant, August 2102.
Photo: M. Periasamy

When it was determined that the elephant was well enough to stand, another elephant was brought in. This elephant was tied with a rope to the fallen elephant, and urged backwards as a means of encouraging the weaker elephant to stand. The fallen elephant angrily refused, perhaps preferring the shade and constant infusion of water and treats.

A small backhoe was brought in next. The shovel was placed against the elephant's side, and began to nudge the animal gently. Eventually, the elephant rose reluctantly to its feet. This imposition had clearly displeased the elephant, however, because he turned around and attacked the shovel, pushing at it repeatedly before he decided to turn around and head back into the forest.

The revived elephant turns around and attacks the backhoe, August 2012.
Photo: M. Periasamy

To Support Elephant Welfare


  1. Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your further write ups thanks once again.
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