I don’t often say this about my own work, but I’ve just finished a painting I think is bloody brilliant.

If you paint you’ll know that sometimes there is flow and sometimes there isn’t, but when there is, when a painting just comes together almost on its own, the adrenaline and excitement can make hours pass in moments and when you look at what you and creative source produced together, you literally want to jump up and down and run about squealing like a five year old.

I wish it was always like that.

The process was smooth, a liquid combination of an idea seed and a series of actions. With this song by Jonatha Brooke on a loop:

I started with a white canvas, knowing only that I wanted to make a textural painting with a white base, and that I wanted to leave the edges of the canvas bare.

I started with a few squeezes of Quinacridone Red straight onto the canvas, which I smooshed around with my fingers til I had a rough square.

Elephant in progress: red paint and collage

While it was still wet I stuck on some tissue and a couple of stamps, on a whim.

When it was dry I went in with thick globs of gesso and a palette knife, covering all the red but allowing some to show through.

Elephant in progress: gesso

Then some smears of crackle paste, which turned out to be rather old and lumpy, but it just added to the texture.

Elephant in progress: crackle paste

I let that dry overnight and ended up leaving it for a couple of days while I loosely held the painting in the back of my mind to see what would come next.

I knew I wanted a central image, something clean and simple, and for a while I thought it would be a figure, much like the one from my painting ‘Move’, but after rifling through various reference images and sketching a few shapes in pencil onto the painting, I could tell that wasn’t the way to go.

So I flicked through some old magazines I keep just for reference and cutting up, and I almost immediately found a photo of a herd of elephants. I didn’t even think about it, just started drawing.

Elephant in progress: pencil sketch and blue

I knew I definitely wanted a specific shade of blue around the elephant, so I painted in some Cerulean Blue Deep mixed with Titanium White around the initial sketch, and then starting to block in the darks and lights with Payne’s Grey and Titanium White.

Elephant in progress: blocking in lights and darks

It was interesting how I kept having to course correct; I’d find myself trying to get all the lines and lighting exactly right, and then remember that I was more interested in feel than accuracy. It kept it looser.

Elephant in progress: Stabilo all surface pencil outline

I went over the initial pencil lines with a black Stabilo all surface pencil, which I blended with a damp cotton bud. I wanted an outline but I wanted it soft and slightly broken.

Elephant in progress: more shading

I just kept going back and forth with the blocks of shading until I was happy.

Elephant in progress: darker blue around the elephant

Darkened some of the darks, and added a few chalk highlights which pick up the texture, and a layer of slightly darker blue directly around the elephant.

Elephant in progress: final touch ups

I love the texture of this painting, and the way the initial red just peeks through here and there, giving it some depth and background. And the way she is walking out of the painting towards you. I’ve called her Prajna, which means wisdom in Sanskrit I believe. {If I’m wrong about this, please let me know!}


I’ve hung her in the living room; she could easily be finished but part of me wants to see if there’s anything to add to really make her my own, something a little quirky. I’ve got a feeling to add some shimmer somewhere. Or perhaps the lack of circles is throwing me!

elephant hanging

Elephant by Tara Leaver

Elephant by Tara Leaver