HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Chiang Mai’s talented elephants become fashion designers


Chiang Mai’s talented elephants become fashion designers

A group of elephants was first trained to paint seven years ago by using their trunks in Chiang Mai. At first, all elephant arts were created in abstract styles. In 2002, paintings by elephant were developed from abstract to realistic style as can be seen from painting of flowers, bamboo and bunch of grapes for the first time in the world. In 2003, paintings by Thai elephants were firstly exhibited at Kawamura Memorial Museum of Arts in Japan. The exhibition gained overwhelmed success and arts by Thai elephants were successfully promoted at international levels.

Anchalee Kalmapijit, Director of the Maetaman Elephant camp wearing an elephant painted design and Tossapol Petchrattanakool, the elephant art trainer.
In the same year, the exhibition entitled ‘1st Elephant Arts Exhibition’ was on display in Chiang Mai. In February 2005, a group of eight elephants obtained recognition from the Guinness Records for their creation of a painting entitled ‘Cold Wind, Swirling Mist and Charming Lanna I’. The elephant group’s painting is published in the Guinness Book of Records 2006 and available for a purchase internationally.
Thai elephant arts have built recognition towards Thailand and triggered an increase in the number of tourists visiting Chiang Mai. Since then, elephant arts have expanded into wider ranges of tourist attractions and simultaneously developed to other forms to gradually attract tourists. Currently, the largest number of elephant artists is residing in Thailand. The survey shows that Elephant Conservation Center, Lampang is home to 19 elephant artists while Maesa and Maetaman Elephant Camp have 17 and 7 artists respectively. Chiang Dao and Mae Taeng Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai and other camps in Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son are also homes to elephant artists. In total, Thailand probably has up to 100 elephant artists and can be recognized a home to the largest group of elephant artists.

Anchalee displays another elephant work of art, some that will be shown during next years New York fashion week.

In 2007, seven elephant artists at Maetaman Elephant Camp including Haad, Hong, Libby, Somjai, Somboon, Boombim and Jab and their arts trainer, Tossapol Petchrattanakool, in cooperation with Salah Lanna Club have created painting on textiles. The arts project was initiated in early 2007. Their creation has built a new recognition to elephant arts in an international level. Paintings which engage innovative materials, equipment and techniques have attracted The Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project (AEACP), United States. AEACP introduces the paintings to the world’s top designer to use in tailoring costumes and present the creation in New York Fashion Week 2008 - Spring Collection in February 2008 in New York, USA. Seven elephant artists have been practicing on textile from New York and the finished paintings will be sent back to New York. After a few period of practice, elephant arts were latterly tailored as clothes and other products such as scarves, bags, pillows as well as curtain by Thai designers to assess the quality of Thai elephant arts. Apart from being transformed as attractive products, the emerging elephant arts have highlighted practical use in daily life as their arts are transformed to be belongings.

The giant but gentle stroke of the trained elephant artist begins his masterpiece.
Elephant arts deserve appreciation, as they reflect the effort of these gigantic mammals that, beside a long symbolic animal of Thailand, are on the edge of extinction. Therefore, their work in arts contributes a new definition and a key to its existence.
New techniques, invention of equipment and materials are introduced to facilitate painting by elephants. Some elephants are familiar with formerly existing equipment such as brush, paintbrush and white square-shaped paper. Canvas is more flexible than paper in terms of size. It is also thicker and more pliable than the clothes that are being presently tested. The previous form of elephant arts is only suitable for interior decoration, while the new one can serve daily usage as clothes, scarf, hats, bags, curtain and cushion.

The art tools that are used by the talented elephants to produce paintings are sold worldwide.
It is apparent that elephant arts on textile are totally different from arts on canvas. At first stage, the art trainers have to work in coordination with designers in planning the painting on textile together as each piece of cloth will be used for different purposes. An ideal team should comprise of artists, elephant artists, mahouts and designers. The concept of art should be set prior to the preparation of equipment and tools. The most important aspects are to design and set the color schemes of paintings. Quantity of the paint used is the second priority. Sometimes, elephants work on over 10 meters of textiles and therefore require calculation for duration spent and selection of skilled elephant artists. What is more difficult is how to control their emotion to ensure continual and smooth lines and colors on the textile. Arts trainers have to determine whether each piece of work requires more than one elephant artist to finish the work on time. It is more challenging if the work is scheduled to completion within one attempt and one day.

A human touch and lead is needed to prepare the proper colors.

In the first attempt, dark satin cloth was used as canvas but the paints were fast absorbed and faded away into the cloth. The types of paints were changed and provided better results; the color became prominent on the clothes. The paints still leave noticeable textures that can be felt on the clothes. When using a black satin cloth, the paints change because they were absorbed into the cloth layer quickly and the colors ‘drop’ or become not prominent. When using silk as canvas, the paints, mixed in appropriate formula, will provide satisfying results. Paintings on silk can be tailored as clothes and remain prominent and beautiful while featuring soft texture even after laundering.

Elephant art trainer Tossapol has spent years with the intelligent elephants as he patiently watches another painting in the works.
The first obstacle encountered in introducing elephants to painting on textile is the adaptation of materials and equipment. Even though test on the formula of paint was carried out by skilled artists, when used by elephants the paints do not yield satisfying results. To solve the problems, the equipment used is improved for several times to facilitate the painting. The second problem is the introduction of new techniques to the elephants and mahouts. Elephants were puzzled with new styles of painting and were disoriented by new painting techniques. Mahouts needed to train the elephants until they were comfortable with painting on textile. Some textiles used are extremely thin and the painting requires great care especially on control of the weighty stroke of the trunk. The painting might be torn or damaged, if the elephants fail to control its trunk weight while painting. Elephants had to get acquainted with new equipment including pink or red sponges, which are used instead of brushes. When the elephants started to embrace the new equipment, elephants and mahouts learned to use the equipment together and find their mutual styles of painting in order to create pleasant works. It took several months to solve these problems. The team of trainers had to work on the problems continually to ensure perfect results. An important obstacle in training the elephants is to remain calm and encourage artistic feeling. Prior to a painting session, the elephants need a rest, a bath and a meal. If the elephants show their ignorance, the painting should be assigned to other elephants or elephant’s attention should be temporarily changed to other aspects. After completion, rewards should be given to the elephants such as bananas or their favorite food to teach them the value of good coordination.