Monday, 20 August 2012

Elephant No. 323: Painted Canvas Tote

I found a blank canvas tote bag in a discount store last week for less than two dollars, so I thought I'd paint it for today's elephant.

Since the tote is canvas, I assumed I could paint on it with acrylics, rather than having to spring for fancy fabric paints. Since the canvas is not primed, however, I thought I'd better check online, just in case. There are numerous tutorials on painting a canvas tote bag with acrylic paint, so I guess I'm good to go.

This is the tote bag I bought, which measures 45.7 x 33 x 10 cm (18 x 13 x 4 inches).

Since this is a long horizontal surface, I thought I'd use one of my favourite elephant images, which I've used before for a watercolour painting, a silhouette and a cinderella stamp.

Asian elephant in a poster that reads, "This Lord Ganesh festival, save the elephant,"
produced for the Jopasana Wildlife Conservation in India.

I started by making a very faint pencil sketch on the bag. My intention was to paint the elephant in crazy colours, so the sketch was largely just an outline.

I started by sketching the general outlines in purple.

I added some shading in purple next. I quickly discovered that the more watery the paint, the better it looked on the canvas—at least to me. I ended up with something that looked almost like watercolour, despite the fact that it was acrylic.

I liked this look so much that I almost stopped here. But I'd already figured that I was going to use at least all three primary colours and all three secondary colours, so I continued. I added red and yellow next.

Although the added yellow and red actually looked better than it does in the photograph, I added blue, then green.

As my final colour, I added orange. I also added some additional shading, darkened some of the purple, added dots in the elephant's ear, and so forth.

I liked this, but I thought the background was a bit stark. It would have been fine if I'd left it like that, but I decided to add dots of various sizes, using the six colours I'd used to paint the elephant itself. I scattered them across both the front and the back.

This was a surprisingly fast activity. The paint went on easily, soaking in and drying quickly. I think I spent a total of about an hour and a half from the time I made my pencil sketch on the bag, to the last dot on the back.

To set this, I'll probably use a hairdryer on it. That will not only set the paint, but will also make it washable. 

For an investment of less than two dollars (since I already had a lot of acrylic paint on hand), this is a great thing to make as a gift—although I think I'm keeping this one for myself.

Elephant Lore of the Day
As elephant-conservation efforts become more successful, and elephant populations rebound, a new problem arises: where do you put them all?

Even fifty years ago, elephants were more or less free to roam the African continent in search of food. Today, however, they are confined to smaller and smaller slivers of land, as the human population around them also grows.

In 2005, the problem came to a head in Kenya's Shimba Hills National Reserve. Because of active conservation, and laws that forbid culling of elephant herds, the elephant population had risen unchecked to 600 animals on a reserve measuring only 190 square kilometres (74 square miles).

This was not nearly enough room to support that many elephants, and they began to spill out of the park into nearby villages, where they were wreaking havoc. The elephants trampled fields, destroyed buildings, and were gobbling up crops at the rate of about 250 kilograms (550 pounds) per animal per day.

Because it is illegal to kill elephants in Kenya, conservationists chose a different strategy: they decided to drug 400 of the animals and transfer them to Tsavo National Park, also in Kenya. Tsavo—located about 320 kilometres (200 miles) from Shimba Hills—is much bigger at 39,000 square kilometres (15,000 square miles), and able to support larger elephant populations.

Transferring elephants is no mean feat, however, requiring an army of Kenyan Wildlife Service rangers, veterinarians and scientists.

Spotter planes first track down elephant families, which are always relocated together. Adult male elephants, who normally live alone, are taken separately.

Once the target elephants are sighted, the plane radios back to base, and a helicopter is sent up. The helicopter team includes a marksman carrying a rifle loaded with tranquilizer darts. But bringing down a fully grown elephant is no easy task. The tranquilizer has to be powerful enough to put the animal to sleep quickly, before it can panic and hurt itself—but not so powerful that it might endanger the elephant's life. In this case, the anaesthetic is so powerful that a single drop on a man's skin could kill him.

Loading a sedated elephant onto a flatbed truck for relocation, Rift Valley, Kenya, 2009.

As soon as the elephant is tranquilized, the helicopter lands nearby. A small stick is placed in the end of the elephant's trunk to keep it open, and the elephant is liberally doused with water to keep its skin wet. The elephant is then hauled onto the back of a huge all-terrain vehicle by crane. Vehicles containing other members of the elephant's family group are located nearby.

A small stick is inserted in the sedated elephant's trunk to keep it open for breathing during
relocation to Tsavo National Park, Kenya.

The main concern at this point—other than the animal's welfare—is the possibility of the elephant awaking too quickly, in which case it is likely to become angry and confused. An angry and confused elephant is an elephant that is highly dangerous to both itself and anyone and anything in the immediate vicinity.

Once the elephant is in the vehicle, its ears are pulled over its eyes to prevent it from waking up early. An antidote to the tranquilizer is then administered. When the elephant arrives at its new home, it is removed from the vehicle and set free. To help the elephants adjust in Tsavo, rangers had previously dug wells to ensure that the new arrivals would have something of a head start.

Baby African elephant leaving crate following relocation to Kissama National Park, Angola, 2001.
Photo: The WILD Foundation

In previous years, elephant relocations in  Africa have sometimes done more harm than good. If matriarchal groups are broken up, the families often try to make their way back to the herd, which may be impossible to find. There have also been problems with young male elephants that have been relocated without any role models to teach them how to behave. This has actually led to gangs of elephant juvenile delinquents running amok, attacking other wildlife as well as humans.

By late 2006, 150 elephants had been successfully relocated from Shimba Hills to Tsavo National Park, with plans to relocate the remaining 250 in the months ahead.

Baby elephant leaving crate following relocation to Kissama National Park, Angola, 2001.
Photo: The WILD Foundation

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary (Thailand)


  1. Hi Thanks for great posting in conserving elephant. May I also ask you which discount store you got the blank canvas bag from? Is it daiso? Thank you!

  2. Thank you for your very kind comment! I got the canvas bag at a store in Canada called "Dollar It". The bag was made in China, but I'm not sure of the brand. It has been a long time since I've been able to find them here. If you happen to find a source, I'd love to hear about it.