Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Painting Harapan, the elephant.

Hi, I'm Rebecca Sutherland, and I have designed and painted Harapan for The Elephant Parade.

I usually design things that can be scanned, photo-shopped and attached to emails. And although a life-sized baby elephant was never going to fit on my scanner, it was probably one good reason to say yes to this project. It was going to be BIG, three dimensional and extremely unusual. How hard could it possibly be? Paint elephant - job done.

Throwing myself into the project I worked out the design and ordered lots of paint and brushes, then waited. I wanted the design to reflect the endangered elephants and orangutans along with the habitat that links them. As the ele/tree trunk pun was arrived at, the rest followed easily. SOS were originally allocated a sitting elephant, however after measuring both front door and side gate, it was clear it wasn't going to fit. The Elephant Family took pity and found us the slimmer standing variety - which was great. The next problem was where to put it.

When the elephant arrived I was excited. There he was, clean and white, just like the weather outside. We stood him in the centre of our unheated glass box conservatory, and I soon found out that to work out there was akin to working in the garden. A blow heater blasted air at me as I made the first brush strokes. Half an hour later I was driven back by the cold. So behind glass doors the first badly rendered vines caught my eye as winter stubbornly kept its grip on February. Never mind, I had plenty of time.

On into March, and I acclimatised to conditions. And as the weather warmed I'd like to say I painted away oblivious to everything, mixing away on my plates then standing back to admire my progress. But daylight hours were still short and I had a full workload of other projects on. The only solution was to get up early and work late into the night. Progress was made slower by my complete ignorance of painting with acrylics, so I discussed my feeble efforts at length with my arty friends. Ultimately it was time and practice that taught me.

Four weeks later and I was only halfway up the legs, and with one week to go it didn't take a genius to figure out I wasn't going to make it. Yet my old friend fear drove me on. Then as my deadline was extended I breathed a sigh of relief, just before more work that needed my undivided attention fell on to my lap. An illustrator never turns work away, and I was determined to get it all done.

Legs, trunk, back, tail, eyes and orangutan were all eventually underway, but it wasn't until I began the background that I actually began to relax and enjoy what I was doing. I'm like this on every piece of work, not sure of what I'm doing and willing to let the autopilot of experience get on with it. Art and design looks easy, but can be as hard as writing an essay or doing a maths equation. And when that step back moment comes and I take it all in, I know if my work is good or, well, not so good.

Thankfully Harapan was good - I liked him.

Before I started this project I remember telling Helen Buckland I wanted the SOS elephant to stand out like a jewel. Well he certainly became a bit of a local attraction here, with even my window cleaners loving him. One said he reminded him of Goa where he'd seen their festival of colour. That's what I was wanted to achieve; a festival of colour.

Finally, Harapan is Sumatran for hope, a wholly appropriate description of what SOS represents. For all the difficulties encountered Harapan was certainly worth it. Because the reward is riding on the front of him, as the eye-catching and fabulous orangutan we all hope to save.

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