Thursday, June 2, 2016
elephants and oliphaunts
I've not been having an easy time these past months actually finishing pictures. I'll get so far and then stop for some (or no) reason. The one above is a case in point. My first plan was to draw an old fashioned circus parade with animals and people in all their finery gaily tramping along a modern street while a distracted child looked elsewhere - maybe at his hand held game machine. After several tries the background buildings looked boxy and boring and the kid made me sad.
Next, I drew an elephant that I liked just to see if that might inspire me to continue. He was okay but the adult riders just looked too strange, maybe I didn't draw them well enough. Then it occurred to me to place a howdah on the elephant's back with a little girl riding inside, the image you see here in it's initial stage. I liked the idea of her waving at someone and the little boy holding flowers appeared in a sketch - and what's a little boy without a dog? You can see I was venturing far along the path of childhood fantasies here.
Anyway, there I was with some main elements and preparing to draw in the background - probably an old village street or a cottage doorway, something bucolic. Then I came across some stories about how badly elephants are treated in Thailand and other countries in SE Asia where hundreds of them are rented out to carry and generally entertain tourists. In particular, I read that elephants can only safely carry 150 kilos (330lb) on their backs, and howdahs alone weigh 100 kilos. More than that can make them suffer debilitating back injuries. I read more awful things as well that I won't tell you but the end result was I didn't feel like working on this picture anymore.
It seems to me there are things that are fun to imagine that don't work out quite so well in the world as it is. We've all watched chase scenes in movies that have kept us so caught up with excitement we didn't allow ourselves to realize that if this had happened in the real world then we just watched passively as a whole bunch of people were maimed or killed. I'd like to think that somewhere a little girl can ride inside a howdah and wave to a little boy who has brought her flowers, or that people can ride on elephants without hurting them, or that somewhere lions are lying down with lambs. In the meantime I'll put that particular image on the back burner while I think of something even more fantastic.. and much less painful for any of our fellow creatures.
On a happier note, last month The Ringling Bros circus sent its performing elephant troupe into early retirement with their friends and relatives in Florida.