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
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
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.
giant but gentle stroke of the trained elephant artist begins his
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
art tools that are used by the talented elephants to produce paintings are
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
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.
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.