Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Elephant No. 366: Photo Mosaic

Today is the last day of this yearlong project, and I couldn't think of anything better than making an photo mosaic elephant using images of all the elephants that have gone before.

Today's elephant accordingly features a tiny photograph of every elephant I've created over the previous 365 days. On some days I barely squeaked out one image; on others I produced as many as a dozen for a single post. And for my elephant photo essay, there were nearly two dozen. They're all here—all 586 of them—and visible, if you were to take a magnifying glass to it.

The hardest part for today's elephant was gathering all the feature photos from all 365 blog posts. As for the actual photo mosaic, there are free software packages that take care of assembling everything. This was a great relief to me, because the very idea of having to figure out something like this on my own was more than I could wrap my mind around.

To find the software, just do an online search for "photo mosaic software" and you'll have multiple options, whether you use a Mac—as I do—or a PC. This was produced using the MacOSaix program, and it really is dead-simple.

The first thing you need to do is choose a baseline photograph: the image that will be reconstituted from all your other images. I chose the image below, which was one of my favourites from the past year.

Asian elephant in a poster that reads, "This Lord Ganesh festival, save the elephant,"
produced for the Jopasana Wildlife Conservation in India.
Source: http://www.sunilshibad.com/2010/09/jopasana-wildlife-consevation-this-lord.html

Next, you import a file of photographs. I discovered in a test-run a couple of days ago that it's better to have far more photos than you think you'll need. In my first attempt, I used about 100 photos, and it wasn't nearly enough.

Now all you have to do is let the software do its work. The MacOSaix package is extremely easy, but I'm sure most of them are similarly simple. It took about 20 minutes to generate the final image, and it took me reloading the folder ten times, for a total of 5,860 photos for the software to play with. It didn't use all of them, mostly because I stopped the process when I liked the way it looked, saving it before it was quite finished "optimizing placement".

So now I'm done with this yearlong extravaganza. It's been an interesting experience, and the response has been great. The blog has been viewed more than 100,000 times, by people in more than 130 countries, in every part of the world. There have even been several works of art and craft inspired by some of the posts—and many kind words from friends and strangers along the way.

I actually have no idea if 100,000 views is good for a blog like this, but it's a nice milestone. My sincere thanks to everyone who encouraged me, offered ideas and inspiration, and kept me going. It's been a marathon, to be sure. It was fun, if exhausting—particularly when real life had the nerve to get in the way—and I learned more about elephants than I ever expected to know. More to the point, when I started this blog, I didn't really know how to draw an elephant, and now I can draw them in my sleep—and often do.

If you decide to try a yearlong project like this, here are some of my top tips:

1. Make sure your house is clean and organized before you start. It's only going to get worse.

2. Make sure you have a cooperative, long-suffering spouse. Mine was a star, putting up with bits of stuff everywhere, a very distracted me, and glitter that never quite went away.

3. Choose subject matter you like—or at least think you'll like—because you're going to be stuck with that theme for a year. On the other hand, it might even work if you don't love the original subject matter. For example, I don't really warm to bugs or snakes, but I bet if I'd drawn, painted, built and researched them for a year, I might end up feeling differently.

4. Have three or four days' worth of concrete ideas banked in advance. There's nothing worse than finding yourself in the middle of the day without a clue about what you want to make. I actually created a spreadsheet at the beginning of the year with about 100 possibilities. I only produced about 50 things from that list, but it was a good brainstorming tool.

5. Keep your eyes open constantly for quick things to make—I found dollar stores, toy stores and art stores to be the best places for this. There is definitely going to come a day—perhaps several—when you really, really don't want to make anything. Having simple activities and projects on hand will be a lifesaver.

6. Speaking of which, nothing will take as little time as you expect, although there may be a few projects that take far less time than you think. Do the happy dance on those days and thank your lucky stars.

7. The closer you get to the finish line, the harder it's going to get. The past two weeks were the hardest of all for me, because the end was in sight, but it was still nearly 15 days away. It was a little like being in a cartoon desert and seeing the mirage of an oasis that's actually miles in the distance.

8. Make sure to have fun. I often made ridiculous things, just to please or amuse myself. Sometimes it was simply trying techniques I was curious about, and sometimes it was drawing something that made me laugh. In a similar vein, it's not a bad idea to make things you don't mind looking at, because they're likely to be around for a while.

I'm taking a few days off, but I may return to elephants in the near future. With all I've learned about elephants over the past year, I'm not sure I can fully abandon them—or their welfare. Like the best of us, they are inherently sensitive, intelligent, hardworking, brave, and loyal. Unlike us, they are in serious danger of disappearing from this world forever.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Rather than write about a specific elephant or specific elephant characteristics for this last official blogging day, I thought I would share a few things I like that have been written and said about elephants.

"By a sweet tongue and kindness, you can drag an elephant with a hair."
—Persian proverb

"In the divine Scriptures, there are shallows and there are deeps; shallows where the lamb may wade, and deeps where the elephant may swim."
—John Owen

"Not that I think much depends
On how we treat our feathered friends,
Or hold the wrinkled elephant
A nobler creature than my aunt.
It's simply that I'm sure I can
Get on without my fellow man."

—Ogden Nash, À Bas Ben Adhem

"The torn boughs trailing o'er the tusks aslant,
The saplings reeling in the path he trod,
Declare his might — our lord the Elephant,
Chief of the ways of God."

—Rudyard Kipling

"'Smelling isn't everything,' said the Elephant. 
"'Why,' said the Bulldog, 'if a fellow can't trust his nose, what is he to trust?' 
"'Well his brains, perhaps,' she replied mildly."
—C.S. Lewis

"When an elephant steps on a trap, no more trap."
—African proverb

"I meant what I said, and I said what I meant
An elephant's faithful, one hundred percent!"
—Dr. Seuss/Theodore Geisel, Horton Hears a Who

"Nature's great masterpiece, an elephant, 
The only harmless great thing."
—John Donne, The Progress of the Soul

Photo: Andrew Styan
Source: http://twistedsifter.com/2010/12/elephant-facts-

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

Monday, 1 October 2012

Elephant No. 365: Door Hanger

Technically, today marks the end of a calendar year's worth of this blog, but since 2012 is a leap year, I ended up with 366 days.

But because it's almost the last day, when I saw a plain wooden door hanger in a discount store, I thought it might be perfect for today's elephant.

A door hanger is generally rectangular in shape, with a cut-out to allow it to slip over a doorknob. The most common form of door hanger is a "Do Not Disturb" sign, hung over the outer handle in hotel rooms, classrooms, bedrooms, and so forth. They are also often used as a form of advertising, or as a means of leaving delivery notices.

Some people use do-not-disturb signs on their hotel rooms to make thieves think that the room is occupied. In other instances, do-not-disturb signs have been blamed for concealing evidence of a homicide or other crime. In some hotels, instead of a do-not-disturb sign, a privacy button can now be triggered from inside the room, lighting up an indicator on the outside of the door.

For today's elephant, I thought I'd make my own do-not-disturb sign, since the minute I finish tomorrow's blog, I'm taking a few days away from anything remotely like blogging.

This was the wooden door hanger I bought. It came in a package of two for a dollar, which I thought was a pretty good deal.

I started by painting the whole thing red on both sides with acrylic paint.

Once both sides were dry, I sketched an elephant on paper. I didn't really want to sketch too much on the painted piece, because an eraser might leave marks.

I began by painting right on the door hanger, using my sketch as inspiration. I did do a bit of sketching once I'd painted the head, just to keep me on track. I roughed in the head first, then the yellow pyjamas, then the bits of arms and legs peeking out. I then added a little stuffed bunny, rather than the pull toy from my original sketch.

It took about six coats of yellow in total to give me a surface I liked, which probably distracted me a bit, because I forgot to photograph any of the other stages in between. To give you an idea of how I proceeded, however, I added pink to the ears, trunk and toenails, as well as the bunny's nose. Then I added all the blue dots on the pyjamas, followed by eyes and tusks. To finish up, I wrote "DO NOT DISTURB" in gold paint, added dots of gold for the crown, and picked out the edge of the entire thing in gold dots.

It took me about an hour in actual working time to paint this, along with about half an hour to let the red dry, and about half an hour to build up enough layers of yellow. It wasn't particularly difficult, however, and the final piece is quite nice in real life.

I think it will also look very nice on my study door at the end of the day tomorrow.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Lin Wang is thought to be the oldest elephant who ever lived. Born in 1917, Lin Wang was an Asian elephant who also served with the Chinese Expeditionary Force during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), and later with the Kuomintang in Taiwan.

During the war, when the Japanese began attacking British colonies in Burma, Chiang Kai-Shek formed the Chinese Expeditionary Force, under General Sun Li-jen. After a 1943 battle near a Japanese camp in Burma, Lin Wang and twelve other elephants were captured by the Chinese. The elephants had been used by the Japanese to haul large guns and other supplies, and were pressed into action by the Allies for similar purposes.

In 1945, the Expeditionary Force was recalled to China. The elephants and their handlers marched out along the Burma Road, but six elephants died on the difficult journey. By the time they arrived in Guangdong, the war was over. The elephants' wartime service was not over, however. They were used to haul building materials for war monuments, and in 1946 also performed in a circus to help raise money for famine relief in Hunan province. Four of the elephants were sent to four separate zoos, while Lin Wang and the two others were sent to a park in Guangzhou.

In 1947, General Sun was sent to Taiwan to train new troops, and took the three elephants with him. One died while crossing the Taiwan Strait; the two others were used to haul logs and perform other labour near a military base. In 1951, another elephant died. The zoo elephants had also died over the years, leaving only Lin Wang of the thirteen original elephants.

Lin Wang and General Sun, 1947.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lin_Wang_and_Sun.jpg

In 1952, Lin Wang was sent to the Taipei Zoo, where he joined the female elephant Malan. Lin Wang soon became the most popular and famous animal in Taiwan. In 1983, the zoo threw a birthday party for his sixty-sixth birthday, and continued throwing parties for him every year until his death.

In early 2003, Lin Wang developed arthritis in one of his hind legs. Lacking the companionship of Malan, who had died some months earlier, Lin Wang stopped eating. He declined rapidly, and died on February 26. His memorial at the zoo lasted several weeks, and was visited by tens of thousands of people, many of whom left cards and flowers. He was also posthumously made an Honorary Taipei Citizen by the Mayor of Taipei. Taiwan's President even sent a wreath with a card to "our forever friend, Lin Wang."

Today, Lin Wang has become part of Taiwan's national identity, and children and adults alike remember him as "Grandpa Lin Wang". In 2004, the Taipei Zoo erected a life-sized monument to him, and an animated film about his life is currently in the works.

Monument to Lin Wang at the Taipei Zoo.
Source: http://lang-8.com/237451/journals/1141852/

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