May 312014

My big brother celebrated a round number birthday recently, and I wanted to make him something to commemorate the transition from one decade to the next.

You know how some people have a favorite creature or spirit animal? And sometimes you wonder whether friends and family members latched on to the one moment in time when that creature was said person’s favorite, and then it’s nothing but iterations of the same animal year after year, gift after gift? I worry I might be one of those people, having pigeonholed my brother into a love of elephants. And yet he’s always appreciative, and so the uni-creature cycle is reinforced!

Seven years ago I knit this little guy for my brother. He promptly named the elephant and sent me a (long-lost) photo of him and his ladyfriend posing with the newly-dubbed Freddie.

Knitted elephant, circa 2007

Knitted elephant before his cross-country journey, circa 2007

Since I had taken care of the fiber medium long ago, I turned to paint for this gift. I followed this tutorial for creating a watercolor elephant silhouette. Using an exacto knife, I cut around a photo of an elephant and then traced around the cut-out onto canvas. Adding ground for the elephant to stand on gave some weight to the piece.


Pardon my lighting, and the stray dog hair…

The painting felt a little unbalanced, partly because the colors were so subtle, and partly because of the composition. What else could I add? Hmm, maybe the elephant wants to say something…


I printed up a few quotation bubbles with different phrases – using the Elephant font, natch. I enclosed a little packet of quotes and blue painters’ tape so my brother could change the elephant’s message at whim.


Things I’d try differently next time:
-Saturation. This was my first time using watercolor on canvas, so the washes came out much lighter than I anticipated. Next time I’ll use more pigment to try for a saturated effect.
-Attachment method. I’d like to try making the quote attachment a design feature. That way you could have the creature say nothing at all, but still have something of interest in that spot. Like a yellow velcro sun, or a magnet for metallic talkie bubbles. Laminating the bubbles and including a blank one with a dry erase marker would make for great reusable customization, too.

How would you attach the quotes? I’d love to hear your ideas!


Overall, this was a fun quick project, and better yet, my brother reported that he loves the piece (“did you make the whole thing yourself?”). He even took it with him on his birthday trip to Yosemite. Birthday crafting success!