May 30, 2013

How the Elephant Got Its Paint

And now, as promised, all the details of the saga of the paper mache elephant!

It was Misha's excellent idea, and honestly I was not all that sure that it would work as well as it did - so hear, hear for the visionary! We started with an armature made of two beach balls. This was the easy part - the hard part was figuring out the legs. After some deliberating, we went with two plastic cups stacked bottom to bottom, and for extra stability and to move the elephant's center of mass downward, a bunch of rocks in each of the upper cups.

Those spur-type things cut out of the top of the legs are to attach the cups better to the round beach ball. (Oh, also, a strong recommendation here for this brown packing tape as an adhesive for this kind of thing - better than duck tape, I'd say.)

Still, the rocks-in-the-cups thing didn't solve the balance issue entirely. The elephant was front-heavy and would only get more so when we added the paper mache. The solution? A fifth point of support: namely, an extra-long trunk made out of a pool noodle threaded with wire to make it bend:

Next, the paper mache awesomeness. We just ripped up pieces of newspaper, dipped them in a very basic water and flour mixture, and laid them in an overlapping pattern.

Then we flipped the thing upside down to do the legs and underbelly.... and then disaster struck. The big balloon somehow popped and started deflating! And along with it, all the wet paper mache! Not to toot my own horn too much here, but I am  pretty proud of the fact that I did not panic at the sight of the horrible implosion of our hours and hours of work. Instead? With the help of a bicycle pump, a hairdryer, and my awesome mom, the elephant was saved. I think we ended up with about 3 layers of newspaper? In this picture, the inside balloon has once again collapsed, but once the paper mache was dry it no longer mattered whether the armature was intact or not:

Originally, the plan was just to leave it as is and have the kids paint over the newspaper. And then I suddenly took a closer look at what we'd been using as our mache pieces. Um, it was ads for escort services and 900 numbers. Thanks, Philly City Paper! So, off to the hardward store for some flat white paint I went.

The morning of the party, we put the elephant in the backyard on a tablecloth, and I poured a bunch of washable paints into paper cups and set out a bunch of foam brushes. I decided against bristle brushes in the hopes that the foam ones would be a little less likely to poke holes in the thing.

And here is the final product!

It lived in our backyard for a couple of days, and then sailed off to its resting place on trash day. Misha really wanted to somehow preserve it for posterity, but realistically I think it would have to have been dipped in resin or something to survive. Instead, we decided to think of it as a beautiful piece of ephemeral art.

Next year, a pair of giraffes?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That is outrageous and creative and I want one every party!