CREATING AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Karen Hollis, is an artist who specialises in floral paintings, so it is perhaps not surprising that her elephant, Lily Pepper, reflects her interest in flowers and plants.
Her elephant is covered in a mass of Oriental Lilies, which she says were chosen because they symbolise beauty and serenity. But look closer and you’ll see at the heart of each is a chilli pepper stamen, which, Karen says she chose to represent “the dangers of life because of their “fiery nature”. She adds: “This seemed an apt design to signify the life of an Asian elephant, calmly travelling the country but often facing hidden dangers”.
This is the second time that Karen has designed an elephant for Elephant Parade. She said designing and painting anything on this scale is a challenge, though one she relishes.
“We made space in the kitchen for Lily Pepper in advance. And on fine days I have been able to take her onto the patio and work outside.” She adds: “Because she was in my home, not a separate studio, it really felt like she was part of the family. You get quite used to having an elephant in your kitchen for a couple of months, and it’s a real loss when they go on the Parade. It’s like when you take down the Christmas decorations, and everything suddenly looks empty.”
It isn’t just the scale of the design that can challenge artists working on Elephant Parade. Karen says in her case she had to get used to using completely different materials. “Usually I paint with oil on canvas but for the elephants I have to use acrylic paint on fibreglass. I can’t use oil paint as it takes about 6 months to a year to dry completely.
“These differences make you push your own boundaries. It is one of the things I love about projects like this.”
Karen says one of the challenges with Lily Pepper was getting the colours absolutely right. “Yellow isn’t an easy colour to work with, particularly when you are covering such a large area. I wanted a really bright and sunny yellow.” She said the easiest thing would have been to pick an off-the-shelf colour, used straight from the tube. But instead she chose to mix her own shade. “The first coat started off with an acidic green tinge, which didn’t seem right. In the end I went for more of a buttermilk yellow because it’s a lot friendlier and then I added green to the shaded parts of the lilies to give them a softer feel.”
It wasn’t just the colour of the lilies that changed. Karen says that Lily Pepper’s toe-nails had six coats of paint before she hit on the right shade. “I thought of her as a teenager, so perhaps it was not surprising that there seemed to be a few disagreements over nail polish!”
Karen Hollis started her working life as a graphic designer, but her work as an artist was transformed when she went on an oil painting course four years ago. “I loved it and have been working in this medium ever since.”
She works from photographs of plants that she takes herself. Often she will take in excess of a 100 photographs for one painting just to capture the moment the sunlight falls across the flower. She then uses her graphic design skills in Photoshop to construct the composition and select the colours. From here on it’s all paint and canvas.
Karen said it was a colleague, who is a wildlife artist, who put her name forward initially to Elephant Parade. “It has been a huge privilege to be part of such a prestigious event. On an artistic level it helped give a whole new dimension to my work, and it connects you to so many people.” She said she is delighted that this year, Lily Pepper, and the other elephants in the parade will be touring the country, rather than remaining in one city.
“It’s great to see them out and about and helping raise awareness of a really important cause. Elephants are such wonderful animals. And there’s been the school initiative as well this year, which has sparked a lot of interest.”
Lily Pepper herself did her own tour of Manchester with intu last autumn, putting in an appearance at both of the Manchester football grounds (Old Trafford and the Etihad stadium) as well as visiting the Blue Peter Gardens, the University of Manchester and China Town, before joining the rest of the herd at the intu Trafford Centre.
Karen added: “Elephant Parade is a fantastic project and this event is a great way of getting people involved. It’s wonderful to see how people interact with these elephants. They take photos of themselves next to them, pat them, stroke them, even hug them sometimes. It’s very different to the way they react to a piece of art in a gallery.”
After the Parade all of the elephants are sold to raise money for the charity, The Asian Elephant Foundation. Some are bought by individuals or organisations that still keep them in public places.
Involvement with Elephant Parade has led to Karen being involved in a number of other public art projects. She also regularly attends art and craft fairs.
Karen also has free postcards of Lily Peppers travels around Manchester more details of which are available on herblog.