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)


  1. Congratulations Sheila! Enjoy your time away from the everyday blog. I think 100,000 views is fantastic!

    P.S. Thanks for the information on the photo mosaic software. That may come in handy some time.

  2. Thanks so much, Barb! Your encouragement along the way has been fantastic! By the way, your own blog is wonderful!

    Have fun with the photo mosaic software. I was surprised at how easy it was.

  3. I only joined quite late in the project but enjoyed it immensely. It has been an inspiration to me. Congratulations! Well done!

  4. Thanks, Kerstin! What a lovely thing to say—you made my morning!

  5. Just stopping by from 365 Make Something, I really adore what you have done with this project. I too love elephants but 365 or in this case 366 WoW!

  6. Thanks so much—that's very kind of you. You made my day!

  7. Wow, Sheila, I wish I'd known about your blog before. Fascinating stuff! Congrats on finishing the year with a bang!

  8. Thanks, Leah! I just checked out your site as well, and love your work—such fun! I'll be looking for your book for certain...

  9. Hi Sheila!
    I just came across your blog. It is wonderful to see how committed you've been to this project! I love how you saw these creatures in sometimes the silliest things. I look forward to a new blog/project by you!
    --A fellow elephant admirer :)

  10. Thanks, Aparajita! You're very kind. It was a fun project, to be sure. And also a bit crazy, haha! Glad you enjoyed it. :)

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