202. Draw!

As a painter, my “canvases” are limited to interior walls and woodwork.  And using only latex paint.  As far as drawing skills are concerned, I might be able to portray a stick man if you really use your imagination.

So who can blame me for resenting what I saw on this video, forwarded to me by granddaughter Arden. How come an elephant can do that, and I can’t?


Turns out this elephant – he’s a teenager named Paya – got a year of training before he could paint the picture.  He’s responding to the tugs and prods of his mahout (trainer).  Because elephants are color-blind, the mahout is also choosing the colors.  And when Paya needs more paint on the brush, he hands it to the mahout who dips the brush into the paint.

After the movie went viral in 2008, Newsday did a feature about it. Click here to watch it.

Today, lots of African elephants are taught to paint and the paintings are sold to make money for the zoos or habitats they live in.  They don’t always “draw” the image.  Sometimes, they just stick their nose in the paint and smear it around.  Or they spit the paint at the canvas.

African elephants are said to be very smart and easy to train.  Even without training though, some elephants have been observed idly drawing designs on the dirt with a pebble or other object.

Here’s some more examples of elephants’ paintings.

This one is by an elephant named Ruby. She  was born in Thailand,  probably in the summer of 1973, and was shipped to the Phoenix Zoo in February of 1974. Her painting career began when her keepers saw her scratching in the dirt of her enclosure with a stick, and offered her a brush and paints.

She died in 1998 as the result of an disastrous pregnancy.  Her stillborn male calf died in the womb but ripped her uterus as a result of its size – 320 pounds, twice the size of a normal newborn elehant.

Ruby was euthanized immediately and her death triggered an outpouring of grief throughout the Phoenix area. When the Phoenix Zoo announced a free-admission day in honor Ruby’s memory, 43,000 people attended, nearly triple a normal day’s attendance.  Her most expensive painting sold for $25,000.

Lucky is another female found orphaned, wandering the brush near Mornambrae, Cambodia. She was brought to the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center near Phnom Penh in 1999.

Lucky began painting in 2003. From the beginning, she demonstrated great artistic talent.  She often creates circular patterns combined with striking beats of the brush on the canvas. Once she starts on a painting it is hard to stop her. If she ever happens to drop the brush while she is working, she immediately picks it back up and finishes the work. She would also hand over a brush after finishing with a color and immediately grab the next brush so as to begin painting again with a different color. Lucky is extremely enthusiastic about painting and always has a smile on her face.

This one’s by Lakshmi from Sri Lanka.  She started painting after only three days of training. She holds the brush by wrapping her trunk around it, then twisting it this way and that to produce her beautiful compositions. She very much enjoys her time painting but especially likes the banana she gets at the end of her sessions.

A new painter, Rani was a bit slower in developing a distinct style. It took a few attempts before discovering that Rani painted best with a modified brush that allows her to wrap her trunk around a piece of bamboo which kept the brush straight out in front of her. Once she got the idea of touching brush to canvas, she began to create intricate and varying marks. She creates beautiful compositions but would seemingly be happy to continue working on the same painting forever as she is reluctant to let go of the brush when it is out of paint.

The “art” usually sells for up to $600 per painting with the proceeds going to the support of the habitat.  You can read more about it and the elephants who practice it at this very interesting website.

Finally, here’s a wall mural by Renee, a 31 year old from the Toledo Zoo. She’s expecting right now, due to deliver in late spring or summer.

Darn.  Why can’t I do that?

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One Response to 202. Draw!

  1. Susy says:

    PLEASE go and watch this special story from PBS. It is in two parts. You will not regret it. The final scenes are heartbreaking and beautiful. The love these elephants display brought tears to my eyes. Susy


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