Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Elephant No. 255: Upside-Down Painting

I've seen this technique in action a few times on television and in videos, so I thought I'd try it for today's elephant.

The artists who specialize in this kind of art make it look easy, but as I watch them producing their paintings, I can never see the final result in the upside-down daubs along the way. This made me think that it's probably a lot harder than it seems. The video below shows one of these paintings being produced.

Because I've never tried this before, I decided to use inexpensive sketchpad paper, and inexpensive acrylic paints. I thought about drawing from photographs, but decided it might be more challenging if I tried to draw without anything to guide me.

Before I started, one of my greatest expectations was that the final images would be distorted with a slight anamorphic effect, similar to what I experienced in my sidewalk chalk drawing. That didn't really happen, but I was prepared to try and overcome it with various visual cheats if need be.

Since this was a bit of a discovery process for me, I'll just show each painting as I painted it upside-down, and then what it looked like right-side up.

I'm not sure I got any better at this as I went along, but I found it easier than expected to visualize an upside-down elephant. It's an interesting way of retraining your eye to see in a more abstract way; however, since the shapes are not in their normal relationships to one another, it's still a bit disorienting.

Each painting took me about five minutes, and I found that the less I thought about it, the easier it was. This inclines me to think that upside-down painting may be a process best suited to splashy, large-scale works. On the other hand, maybe I'll try a detailed upside-down drawing sometime, just to see what happens. I'm guessing spontaneous, unintended Cubism.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Elephants tend to form strong bonds of friendship, particularly with other elephants. Sometimes this can result in unexpected behaviour.

In the early 1920s, a female circus elephant named Tillie became deeply attached to a small elephant named Queenie. Tillie was highly protective of Queenie, and would rush to Queenie's side whenever Queenie made a noise of any kind. While this sounds rather sweet, it sometimes had dangerous consequences.

One day, while Tillie and several other elephants were rehearsing in the centre ring, Queenie squeaked from somewhere outside. Tillie's ears perked up immediately and, right in the middle of the rehearsal, she dashed out of the ring and back to the animal enclosures, the rest of the herd in tow.

Although the elephant handlers took this to be an anomaly, during a performance near Cincinnati, the same thing happened again. Tillie and a group of elephants were in the middle of a delicate balancing act when Queenie trumpeted. Tillie stopped immediately, wheeled around and ran out of the ring. Following their matriarch's lead, the rest of the elephants panicked and stampeded after Tillie. The audience panicked as well, streaming into the performance area, while the elephants charged through the crowd—miraculously, without harming a single person.

After this, a keeper was always set to guard Queenie during the elephant act, ensuring that she remained quiet until the act was over.

Elephants with the Ringling Brothers Circus.

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Wildlife Trust of India


  1. You really made the picture of an upside-down elephant falling from above, especially your second drawing (the one with red ink) and sixth drawing (the one with blue and purple ink). Good job!

    1. Thanks so much, Mauri! It's fun to try drawing upside-down, but a bit confusing to the eye, to be sure!