Tuesday 3 September 2013

An Elephant a Day 2.0 is Now Live!

It's been nearly a year since I made the last elephant in this first yearlong 366-day blog. I thought it would be a few days before I started blogging again, but it took me a lot longer to get over making something every day than I thought it would.

For those of you who followed me throughout the original year, and those of you who have joined more recently, you can see the first entry in the new blog here.

In the rebooted blog, I'm also inviting people to contribute their own elephants. If you've created an elephant—in any medium or art practice at all—or want to tell the world about a handcrafted elephant you've acquired along the way, I'd love to hear about it. And if you don't have any elephants to share, but have a story about an encounter with elephants, or an elephant anecdote, or even news from the world of elephant conservation, that's great too. To share your stories and creations, send me a message via Facebook here.

I'll be featuring as many submissions as possible on the blog—with proper credit, of course—so don't be shy. I 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. Almost everyone I meet loves elephants, or knows of someone who does, so I'm sure there's lots of great content out there.

And if you still feel you don't have a "worthy" elephant to share, have a wander through the posts on this original blog. There are some crazy experiments, as well as some true duds—upholstery foam, anyone?—so pretty much anything goes.

And if you're really keen, feel free to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, check us out on Pinterest and look for a short version of the blog on Tumblr.

Thanks for your support over the past year—I look forward to meeting you online soon!

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

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)

Sunday 30 September 2012

Elephant No. 364: Kaleidoscope

I've loved kaleidoscopes ever since I was little, and have a small collection of at least three different types.

The word "kaleidoscope"—from the Greek kalos (beauty/beautiful), eidos (shape) and skopeo (to see/observe)—was coined in 1817 by Scottish inventor Sir David Brewster, who developed the device as an outgrowth of his experiments on the polarization of light.

His first design consisted of a tube with a pair of mirrors at one end, translucent disks at the other, and beads sandwiched in between. The kaleidscope was an instant success when it hit the market in 1817, with Brewster and his manufacturing partner Philip Carpenter selling 200,000 kaleidoscopes in London within the first three months. Realizing that they would never be able to keep up with the demand, the men licensed other companies to produce kaleidoscopes.

Toy kaleidoscope, ca. 1965.
Photo: Sheila Singhal

Kaleidoscopes were originally produced as a science tool, but were soon being made in cheaper toy versions. Most kaleidoscopes today consist of a tube, a trio of mirrors formed into a triangle, and a selection of beads, bits of coloured glass and shiny shapes, floating freely in a small receptacle at the opposite end from the eyepiece. As light enters the receptacle end of the kaleidoscope, and the user turns the receptacle, multifaceted and ever-changing patterns are created.

In addition to the typical mirrored tube, there are also liquid versions. Tiny coloured pieces suspended in a thick liquid drift past a mirrored tube, creating the pattern.

Inexpensive liquid kaleidoscope.
Photo: Sheila Singhal

And finally, there are teleidoscopes. These also employ mirrors; however, instead of having integral coloured pieces, they reflect objects outside the tube, producing a similar multifaceted effect.

Teleidoscope, ca. 1960.
Photo: Sheila Singhal

Although the vast majority of modern telescopes consist of inexpensive cardboard tubes, plastic mirrors and plastic beads, there is also a high-end market for kaleidoscopes produced by artists. Many craft galleries carry artisan kaleidoscopes and teleidoscopes, and they are a popular item at craft fairs.

For today's elephant, I bought this kaleidoscope kit, made for children.

And this is what it contained.

I didn't like the purple flowered paper provided for the outside of the tube, so I decided I would paint elephants on the outside, using a sheet of canvas from a canvas pad.

I cut the canvas into the appropriate sizes for the main part of the tube, the receptacle, and the little band dividing the two, and drew some elephants on all three pieces.

I painted everything next, bearing in mind that there would be a small overlap when everything was glued.

I glued all of the canvas pieces to the tube with a glue gun. I glued only the seams at the back, but made sure to smooth the canvas tightly around the tube before glueing the overlap.

Next, I assembled the mirrors. The kit included special tape to hold them in the requisite triangle formation. I then inserted the assemblage into the tube.

I planned to use many of the coloured bits that came with the kit, but I thought there should be at least one elephant shape in the mix. I didn't have any coloured plastic handy, so I bought this plastic food container for a dollar, then cut out three small elephant shapes. This was probably the hardest part of the whole activity, because the plastic was a bit thick, and wasn't very forgiving, splitting and cracking at will.

I put the elephants in the little plastic receptacle that goes in the bottom of the kaleidoscope tube, and added a bunch of other beads from the selection that came with the kit. When I was happy with the mix, I pushed the cup into the tube.

Now came the fun part. The three photos below show my best attempts at capturing my three pink elephants. You have to squint a bit, but at least I know they're there.

If I hadn't decided to redesign the decoration on the outside of the tube, and if I hadn't decided to cut out little elephants, this would probably have taken an hour or so. As it was, it took me most of the afternoon.

That being said, I really like the final result, and think it will make a nice little addition to my existing collection.

Elephant Lore of the Day
In 1887, Toby the elephant was added to Moore Park in Sydney, Australia. For many years, she was a great favourite with the public, performing a wide range of clever tricks. She could remove her keeper's hat when asked, take a handbell in her trunk and ring it, and ride an elephant-sized seesaw.

In those days, Australia's circuses and menageries often travelled by sea. And Toby, like all elephants, had a very good memory. On one voyage, a deckhand fed Toby an orange loaded with hot pepper—a rather cruel thing to do, considering the sensitivity of an elephant's trunk and mouth. On a much later voyage, the same deckhand happened to be passing by, when Toby grabbed him with her trunk. She tried to dump him overboard, but the man landed in the rigging and was saved.

Over time, as do many other performing elephants, Toby became more sour and less reliable. Sold to the Wirth Circus, she continued to perform, but was prone to tantrums. In July 1904, in a fit of pique, she broke free of her chains and rampaged through the grounds where the circus was encamped. She broke the pole holding up the main tent, the curtains and a stage, then dashed across the grounds, pulled down some fencing, and trampled a few trees. She only came to a stop when she happened upon an interesting snack consisting of a sack of wheat and a half-dozen loaves of bread. This restored her temper, and she was safely led back to her enclosure.

Toby continued to perform with the Wirth Circus until about 1914, when she collapsed on a bridge, holding up horse-drawn traffic for twelve hours. Although she recovered, she collapsed again about a year later, dying in April 1915 after an illness lasting about three days. It was suggested at the time that she was close to eighty years old—which would have been exceptionally old for an elephant. It is more likely, however, that she was born in 1877, making her only 37 or 38 at the time of her death.

A picture of Toby from a newspaper article.
Source: http://circuszooanimals.blogspot.ca/2011/11/

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

Saturday 29 September 2012

Elephant No. 363: Party Blowout

I didn't actually know the name of this type of party favour—and I'm still slightly suspicious that "blowout" is a made-up descriptive name—but since I'm almost done with this yearlong project, a party favour seemed like the thing to make for today's elephant.

Also known as party horns, blowers, noisemakers, jolly Jonathans, squeakers and fizoos, party blowouts consist of paper cones attached to paper tubes that are flattened and rolled into coils. Most contain a coiled metal strip to make the tube retract again, as well as a small diaphragm, so that when you blow into the mouthpiece, it makes a noise.

The most familiar type of party blowout is the kind with a simple tube and a plastic mouthpiece. When I was little, they always had a small feather on the end as well, which fluttered when the tube was fully extended. Although I don't usually keep these, I did keep a rather unusual blowout with three extending tubes, brought back from India by my father.

Triple-tubed Divali noisemaker from India.
Photo: Sheila Singhal

There are also blowouts with novelty faces attached, which is the kind I'll be making for today's elephant. I had actually forgotten about the face version, until I saw this package in the party supplies section of a discount store. None of the packages contained an elephant face, which seemed odd to me.

This was dead simple to make, of course. All I had to do was disassemble one of the blowouts from the package, and use the headpiece as a template.

I traced around two of the animals on a piece of artist-quality bristol board. It obviously didn't matter which one I used as a guide, because it was going to be altered, anyway. To hedge my bets, however, I chose two different shapes and superimposed them. The main thing was to get the general size right, and to get the openings in approximately the right spot.

Once I'd traced around everything, I expanded it to add the elephant's features, obviously sans trunk.

This looked a bit like a vampire bat, which worried me, so I cut it out and fit one of the plain blowouts through the opening before I went to the trouble of painting it.

It looked okay, so I painted everything with gouache. I thought about painting the tube, but the harlequin pattern already had grey in it, and I didn't know what might happen if I added paint. I feared I might end up with a dissolving paper mash, so I left well enough alone.

To reassemble this, I simply slipped the new face over the basic blowout. And voilà!

And this is what it looked like in action. The squeaker on this blowout was eccentric, so I added my own sound effects.

This was very simple, and might make an interesting party activity for children—or adults, for that matter. In fact, I might try to coax some friends into trying this sometime, just for the fun of seeing what they come up with.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Elephants use their trunks to make a wide range of sounds, from loud trumpeting to a squeak said to be as tiny as that of a mouse. As far as I can tell, this is the general repertoire of trunk noises:

Loud trumpeting: Anger or fear. In a bull elephant, loud trumpeting—said to be "loud enough to bring down the walls of Jericho"—is often an expression of dominance. In a female, it is often an expression of anger, or warning to anyone foolish enough to get in between a mother and her calf. In both genders, it can also be a signal to flee.

Medium trumpeting: This is the most varied type of trumpeting, and can be used as a form of greeting between elephants, a means of saying goodbye, or even a way of expressing excitement and pleasure, as at feeding time. Elephants will also trumpet to express moderate displeasure, or to tease their human keepers.

Squealing: Baby elephants squeal partly because they aren't yet equipped to trumpet. They also squeal when feeling anxiety or distress. Never get between a squealing baby and its mother.

Screaming: This is, as in humans, an out-and-out distress call. Elephants scream when attacked by predators, poachers and snakes. They scream when frightened or cornered. They scream to let other elephants know there is an extreme threat in the area. They scream as they flee.

Squeaking: Even the largest bull elephant can make a tiny squeak. This is the sound many elephants emit when unsure, nervous or slightly anxious.

When elephants rumble, it doesn't involve the trunk at all, but a vibration in their vocal chords, just as we use ours to speak or sing. Many rumbles are at the infrasonic level, inaudible to human ears.

Trumpeting elephant, Tanzania, 2005.
Photo: Matt Lindop
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pod0/24250869/

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