The not-so-gentle giant

The not-so-gentle giant

People often ask me how I decide what subject to paint or draw. Most often, my (somewhat boring) reply is simply that a truly spectacular photo caught my eye and I couldn't resist. I follow various photographers' work, and I most often make use of a select group of favourites (both professional and amateur) that never fail to disappoint with astoundingly gorgeous work. On the rarest of occasions, I use my own photos. Never as astoundingly gorgeous, but firm favourites due to the memory that the image evokes.

Elephant bull in Addo Elephant National Park South Africa

A perfect example of a piece inspired by my own reference photo, is my pen drawing of a bull elephant, entitled Gentle Giant. I snapped this photo in Addo Elephant National Park, during a road trip through South Africa with hubby (then boyfriend). As he is a foreigner, I wanted him to experience South African wildlife up close and personal. We braved the park in our teensy little Hyundai Getz (lovingly referred to as our “4x4 Getz” - conquerer of rough terrain and trusty steed in near-death-experiences).


Elephant herd in Addo South Africa

Elephant herd close to car in Addo South Africa

On one of our many game drives, we met a herd of elephants head-on as we rounded a bend. They were marching in a long line down a steep hill. We “ooh”-ed and “aah”-ed as the family marched silently past, disappearing into the dense undergrowth like only a group of humungous pachyderms can. We were so distracted by the fabulous encounter, that we did not notice the giant bull bringing up the rear. Big Daddy. He paused on the top of the hill, as if to emphasize the enormity of his tremendous arrival. I do believe he got the reaction he was going for – we literally stopped breathing for a moment.


Elephant bull in Addo Elephant National Park South Africa

Shocked driver during elephant encounter in Addo South Africa

As he started his descent from his Mount Olympus, one thought crossed my mind: "The bigger they are, the faster they trot downhill”. Slight panic set in when hubby stalled the car... Foul language erupted when reverse was nowhere to be found... We must have been ash-white by the time we managed to politely (and rather quickly) remove ourselves from his path. As he benignly followed the herd into the deep vegetation, I could swear I heard him snigger...


I take great pride in all my work (although, like many artists, I often struggle with self doubt). There are some very special occasions when I can really see myself – my personality; emotions; spirit – in a completed piece. These moments are when I feel like a Real Artist and not just someone who makes pretty pictures. Gentle Giant makes me feel that way. I like the style; I enjoyed drawing it; and pen has been a long-standing favourite medium that doesn't drive me up the wall like watercolour so often does. But it is the adrenaline-packed, anything-can-happen memory of that terrifyingly giant beast galloping down the hill towards us - trunk a-swinging, ears a-flapping, a cloud of dust rising at its feet – that I see when I look at it. To me, it's ALIVE. Probably still somewhere in Addo, tearing through the undergrowth and harassing the tourists...


Realistic wildlife pen portrait of bull elephant in Addo National Park South Africa

This original pen drawing, entitled Gentle Giant, has already found its loving, forever home (all the way in Germany!). I do, however, have limited edition, archival quality prints available in my shop.

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