Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Elephant No. 1: Keith Haring Elephants

A new blog . . . and new elephants . . .

After nearly a year of making no elephants at all, it felt like time to start again. If you're familiar with the original blog, you'll find the format for An Elephant a Day 2.0 very similar: lots of elephants made by me, along with elephant lore and links to elephant charities. This time around, however, I'll be including elephants made by others—in other words, elephants made by you.

Show the world what you can do, no matter how silly you think it is. If you need reassurance that your idea isn't too weird, you'll feel better when you see some of the bizarre things I've made.

If you don't want to make anything, consider sharing one of your elephant treasures with the world, and tell us the story behind it. And if you do want to make something, but your talents don't lend themselves to the visual arts, send music or video clips, or tell the world about your encounter with an elephant, or relate an elephant story you've heard, or even update us on elephant conservation efforts around the world.

To share your work, send a message via the Elephant a Day Facebook page here. I'll be curating the selections I receive—giving credit where credit is due, of course—and may edit written material slightly for length or content before posting it on this blog. But the idea is to open up the blog to the wider world. I have yet to meet a person who doesn't love elephants, so I'm betting that there's a lot of great content out there.

In the meantime, here's my first new elephant. When I asked several people what they'd like to see in this rebooted blog, I gave them two main options for my own contributions: an elephant a day in the style of a different artist each time, or more elaborate elephants that took me longer than a day. Opinion was more or less evenly split between the two, so I'm doing a combination of both. Today's elephant is inspired by pop/graffiti artist Keith Haring.

Pop  Shop IV—Series of 4 Prints by Keith Haring (1958–1990)
Source: http://www.artnet.com/artwork/426222152/425490280/

Haring's art is characterized, first and foremost, by bold lines and bright colours. Although in later years he would often fill in his figures and backgrounds with a welter of almost mystical lines and symbols, he never lost his love of line, colour and deceptively simple shapes.

Today I produced two different Haring-style elephants. For materials, I used cheap acrylic paints, straight from the bottle; two mid-range paintbrushes—one fine, one medium; and two inexpensive canvas boards. The three-colour elephant is on a 5 x 7-inch (12.7 x 17.8 cm) board; the two-colour elephant is on a 9 x 12-inch (22.9 x 30.5 cm) board.

Keith Haring rarely, if ever, sketched anything out, so I bit the bullet and "drew" with my paintbrush. This sort of thing always gives me the heebie-jeebies, because I'm not particularly confident or bold in style. The other hard thing was keeping a relatively uniform line, because I really, really like to vary the weight of my lines when I draw or paint. The photos below show my two basic outlines. 

Because Haring used bright, solid colours, I knew I wouldn't be able to shade anything. This is also something I find hard to avoid. It was difficult for me not to want to use brushstrokes to shape the paint at least a little. But I forebore. This is what the elephants looked like with the colours blocked in.

The final touch was adding the little lines of movement and radiance that were so characteristic of Haring's work. This is not as straightforward as you'd think. If you're really trying to channel Haring, do you show movement around all four limbs? How many lines at each spot? Do you vary the length of the line everywhere? When are there enough lines? When are there too many?

For this first elephant in the new blog, I didn't choose Haring because I thought he'd be easy, but I also didn't think he'd be quite so complicated. Speaking of which, I have a running argument with a woman of my acquaintance who doesn't believe it necessary to learn the basics of any technique. She would likely take one look at Haring's work and declare it simple enough that any child could do it. And she would be wrong—well, unless she considered Haring a particularly, er, Radiant Child.

To follow an abbreviated version of this blog on Tumblr, click here.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Early on in the previous blog, I wrote about the seriously endangered Sumatran elephant and the spectre of its looming extinction. A few weeks ago, however, the World Wildlife Federation posted a story about a baby Sumatran elephant born to the WWF Flying Squad.

The biggest problem facing Sumatran elephants is conflict with humans, as elephants often stray into populated areas, or onto plantations. Enter the Flying Squad. The Flying Squad is actually a group of trained elephants and their mahouts, serving as a "thin red line" between wild elephants and humans. The Flying Squad—created by the WWF and the Indonesia Ministry of Forests in 2004—essentially heads wild elephants off at the pass, thus preventing them from coming into conflict with humans. In Sumatra, this is critical, as three wild elephants have been killed already this year, and 12 were killed in 2012. Almost all were poisoned.

Although a rise in the wild elephant population would be even greater cause for celebration, any increase in the Sumatran elephant population is fantastic news. You can read the full story here.

Female Sumatran elephant calf born August 9, 2013
in Tesso Nil National Park, Indonesia.
Photo: © WWF-Indonesia/Wishnu Sukmantoro
Source: http://www.wwf.ca/?13601/calf-born-to-indonesias-elephant-flying-squad#

To Support Elephant Welfare
Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary (Thailand)
Wildlife SOS (India) 
The Elephant Sanctuary (Tennessee)


  1. I am certain Lady Cath... er... your acquaintance should have been a great proficient if she had ever learned. Nice job.

    The elephants of the world are lucky to have such a dedicated champion as you Sheila.

    I have advised all my family, who each own a piece of my my grandmother's massive collection of elephants made of china, glass, wood, bronze and vinyl (my contribution when I was a toddler) that you are looking for stories and images. I will start the ball rolling soon.

    Well done and thank you.

  2. Thanks, Tom! And I love the Lady Catherine quotation, clever man. I look forward to contributions from your family—including your vinyl elephant, of course. :)

  3. Nicely emulated Haring here, & what a start to the blog for the sensational elephant.

    Now I revisit to peruse at last, I see so many unique, colourful, joyous elephants.

    All obviously made with love.
    -Oh how they please visually, & touch the heart.

    Such a beautiful project, & a very special selection thus far of inspirational artwork ( a lot of work - though I trust it is highly enjoyable too :)

    Thanking you very much, I look forward to seeing more.
    Bless the creativity Sheila* :)

  4. Thanks so much, Terena! Your encouragement means a lot. :)