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.


  1. I like the lines on the elephants, a lot. Realistic, attention to detail, all that stuff.
    Nice going.
    I an as happy as you at the demise of what we called circus....the wonderful substitute, which has been around for years, is for example "The Pickle Family Circus"....and "The San Francisco Mime Troupe". Known both for years, Ruth Mankin introduced me to the Pickles, they taught me how to juggle, hence the career in medicine.....etc.

    1. I quite liked the elephant too, Mike. Thanks :)

      I know careers in medicine involve a lot of juggling so it's good you learned the skill from experts. I love unusual and funny acts too. Do you remember the Flying Karamazov Brothers? Now those guys could juggle.

  2. Replies
    1. Tell me said the elephant
      Tell me brothers if you can
      Why all the world is full of creatures
      Yet we grow in fear of man
      Tell me said the elephant
      Tell me why this has to be
      We have to run from man and hunter
      Never safe and never free


      People kill without regret
      Although they fly by jumbo-jet
      Let the word all may remember
      Let the children not forget.

      Gentle is the elephant
      Pulling loads and everything
      We love to hear the children laughing
      When we, re in the circus-ring
      Happy was the elephant
      Happy was his jungle life
      And then they came, the cruel hunters
      With their rifle and their knives


      Listen, please listen, said the elephant
      If we want the world we know, to stay alive
      Then man and beast, we must work together
      And together we will survive

      Listen said the elephant
      It is conservation time
      So take the warning when we trumpet
      For the future of mankind

  3. Hi Susan,
    Nevertheless v/nice images you have created, that reminds me when as a child when saw elephants from a circus walking to the showground just above our street. Our dog was eyeing them warily until one, turned slowly to gaze in our direction. That was enough to set off alarm bells as he promptly bolted only to return later when all sight and smell had long since vanished.
    Thankfully the attitude towards animals is improving as more people become aware of the extent of the cruelty and mistreatment at the hands of humans. Mighty beasts such as elephants could never be subject to the absolute control of a human master unless thoroughly brutalised as youngsters when their spirts broken to be shadows of their former selves and enslaved for life. We can only hope as more is publicised about these horrific practices of torture inflicted on young elephants tourists will refuse to engage.
    Best wishes

    1. Hi Lindsay,
      Your story goes to show that in many ways dogs are smarter than people. At least they exhibit some caution in the face of power.
      Yes, I share your hope that things will change for the better now that we're better informed.
      All the best