It’s been a while since I shared my works in progress on my blog. As I near the end of my latest big piece I thought it was about time I gave you a glimpse into the making process and my inspirations behind it. 

I’ve been working on this piece for some months now on and off. I originally wanted to created this to show the emotional lives of elephants, and drew inspiration from one of my favourite books “When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals” by Jeffrey Mason. 

I first read this book in the summer of 2009 when I was preparing to start my first undergraduate course in Animal Science at Plumpton College.  As a child I did not have a lot of contact with animals, our only pet being “Goldie” the gold fish. My parents would take me to the city library every week, and every week I would take out a book dedicated to my new “favourite animal”. I would spend hours staring with absolute fascination at all the pictures, wondering what it would feel like to be an otter, a beaver, a bat, or a hippopotamus. It only felt right to read about the emotional lives of animals before starting a rigorous scientific course which for the most part was in the Rene Descartes and Thomas Aquinas thought wave of the “autonomous animal”. I always believed that science taught us quite the opposite: that the responses to environmental and social stimuli proved an emotional sentience as much as a base survival instinct. Elephants, to me, define this theory perfectly. Elephants caress the bones of deceased counterparts, shed tears, and have strong familial bonds that often reflect our own. I wanted to capture a tentative moment between two animals, in a simple gesture. Two elephants with entwined trunks captivate an audience. It is as simple a gesture as two old lovers holding hands, as close a physical connection as a hug, and yet as subtle as eye contact between family members sharing years of memories and understanding. 

In making this piece I studied many different photographs and video clips of elephants, settling on two photographs to form the basis of its composition. It was a very difficult composition to work with, primarily due to the elephant on the right being not quite profile and not quite portrait either. The second difficulty was working with a section of oak that had a stunning grain but that could cause the two elephants to merge together to much or distort the depths and shadows of their faces and skin. It was also the first time I had attempted to draw an image of elephants that had only a fragment of an ear. Elephant ears are ideal for giving perspective and allowing the artist to form the correct proportions of trunk, face, and ear. As such, the faces had to be stand alone representations of the elephants form.

For the first month I only worked in pencil. I outlined the basic shape and composition, working out where the grain would be best utilised and how I could work with and against the grain to give depth and texture. It was at a chance encounter at one of my pyrography demonstration at the Christmas Artists Open Houses Exhibition that I had a breakthrough thanks to a visitor. We were discussing the piece when she pointed out all the parts that I was desperately unhappy and frustrated with. It then came to light that I could no longer work directly from photographs, and that the medium required me to ad-lib sections in order to best use the limited space I had available to me. For me this was very scary because it meant my photograph safety net had to go. With a new-found enthusiasm for the challenging piece, I began working on it again shortly after Christmas. I spent the next few weeks putting all my other work aside and focussing solely on the two elephants. 

 

Month One: Pencil outline, later altered to give a less photo-accurate but more proportionally pleasing form.

I applied a base layer of dotwork to the right-hand elephant face to give me a better indication of the elephant form. I later altered the top left ear and the bottom of the right ear.

I used the oak grain to draw the viewer into the shape and length of each elephant face. The grain gave directionality as well as texture.

 

 

Giving myself breathing space with it’s creation with an injection of time was exactly what I needed. It certainly wasn’t going to get finished in the rush of other deadlines and artistic projects. If anything, it was a challenging piece in scale alone. The pyrography tip I use for all my pointillism pieces is a small wire nib with a very small (0.5mm) ballpoint. At over 2.5 x 1 ft, it was a lot of space to dot! With the weather getting increasingly colder too, I had to limit my dotting time to avoid flare ups of arthritis and repetitive strain

During the Christmas-New Year period when I was working on this piece, I read some very exciting news. China announced that it is invoking a ban on domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017. This further inspired me to dedicate all my time to completing the two elephants. I have as such, deliberately burned only a faint outline of their tusks. These ghost-like tusks, combined with entwined trunks, represents the importance of this monumental decision. 

At this stage of it’s creation I am almost happy that it is finished. I say “almost” because I won’t know for sure for the next couple of days at least. Having “finished” the burning, I now have the piece placed in my periphery vision in my art studio. This is how all my artwork begins and ends. At first I select oak that interests me. I place it in my studio whilst I work on other projects, until one day I wake up and just know what it is that is meant to be burned into it. Now that I have the elephants, I will place them in view until I know what final touches it needs (or not). I will then hand buff it with wax to give it a protective finish before adding it to my website ready for sale. 

Burning complete (for now). I will now leave it for a few days, before coming back to it with fresh eyes and possibly add some finishing touches.

 

 

I have really enjoyed creating a piece that portrays the emotional lives of animals, and I hope that I have done a good enough  job to evoke an emotive response from my audience. I aim to continue the emotional theme with my next works, though I am unsure what they will be at this stage in time. I need to come up with a name for this one first!

 

If you would like to purchase this as yet unnamed piece, or would like to book a bespoke commission, please contact me and I will do my best to get back to you within two working days. 

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