Gentle Giant

Available as a Fine Art Print and Greetings Card

Original Painting Medium: Graphite Pencil
Scientific Name: Loxodonta africana
Region: Africa

Elephants are one of my favourite mammals. Gentle, strong, intelligent, and tactile are just a few of the words to describe this beautiful African Gentle Giant.

The elephant is inextricably linked with his surroundings and the survival of so many other species.

As elephants migrate in search of food and water they alter the landscape to suit their needs, sometimes in quite a seemingly destructive manner. Large elephants will topple trees with ease in order to make it easier to access the fruits, leaves, or seed pods; making this food more accessible for many herbivorous animals, such as impala, gerenuk, and black rhinoceros.

Nature’s water-diviners, elephants also use their huge tusks and forefeet to excavate water holes up to 4ft deep into which the much-needed water can percolate. When they have had their fill and ambled away other animals are then able to quench their thirsts.

Elephants also have strong family bonds and demonstrate their tenderness and gentleness in the ways in which they care for one another, especially the young. An elephant’s need for physical contact is very strong and it uses its trunk to satisfy this tactile need.

My pencil portrait of an elephant was portrayed from a photograph taken in Etosha National Park, Namibia by Andrew Watts. The elephant was in a long-distance shot among other animals. I chose to portray my Gentle Giant at close quarters, in order to convey his size and power. Wishing also to produce a bold image, I used a graphite pencil to accentuate the softness and ruggedness of his skin.

My first contact with an elephant was whilst working for Friends of the Earth in the late ’70s. I was involved in a survey on captive animals and during that period a well-known circus ‘came to town’. I dislike circuses intensely and knew I was going to have to visit. I walked around the cages and enclosures that imprisoned the long-suffering inhabitants. As I stepped around the back of the marquees it was strangely silent. Chained to the dusty ground and quite restricted, I had found them, the elephants.

I will never forget the feeling that swept over me – sheer sadness and emptiness enveloped me as I looked up into the eyes of my very first elephant.  As we looked at each other time seemed to stand still. Probably only seconds passed but I was transfixed and I remember hoping with all my heart that she would know I was a friend. As I walked away, I wondered what sort of friend though. I felt absolutely helpless and also felt I was betraying her; as I was leaving her there.

I feel very strongly that nothing is learned from seeing an animal in a concrete enclosure, or behind glass, or bars, or from watching wild animals perform ‘cruelty-induced’ tricks, for human entertainment. I still support the campaign for a change in the law regarding animals in captivity. Elephants are magnificent and gentle creatures and they deserve so much better than this. We can learn a lot from them.

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