Netsuke - Elephant & Man in the form of a Seal

Today I am carving 'Elephant and Man in the form of a Seal' while listening to Katy Payne talk about elephants. Katy is a researcher in the Bioacoustics Research Program at the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University and has spent 35 years closely studying the behaviour of elephants. In conversation with Krista Tippet from the On Being podcast. 

Katy Payne & Elephants

Katy Payne talks about her first encounter studying the behaviour of elephants in Portland Oregan Zoo. She spent a week observing the elephants and after a while being in close proximity to the elephants she noticed "a throbbing sound in the air".

There is a sound below the pitches of the sound that human beings can hear and low and behold we discovered there was a whole other communication system there that no one had known about; it was just below the frequency that humans can hear.
— Katy Payne with Krista Tippet from Onbeing


Katy's recordings led to the discovery of infrasonic communication in elephants. After years of research in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Namibia she founded the The Elephant Listening Project

ELP has been listening in on the sounds of the forests of Central Africa, applying Katy’s insights to further the conservation of elephants. Projects have been located at numerous different sites from Gabon and Cameroon in the west, to the Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo to the east.
— The Elephant Listening Project


Elephant Print no.2



I initially made a sketch of this elephant at the Royal Festival Hall from "Netsuke - 100 Miniature Masterpieces" by Noriko Tsuchiya. The drawing is much more graphic and flat than the sketches I made from life in the Bristol museum study room. The plus side being that the lines are clearer and easier to follow with the Hangito.

Carving and Stretching

I'm more focused today and managing to keep all the lines I want intact without cutting off a toe or or trunk. Giving myself more space and time and I am more in tune with the wood and my body - I am still getting pains in my elbows from carving and have tried techniques learnt from Paul Furneaux's woodblock printing workshop but I find it very hard to hold the Hangito in the traditional way. It feels more natural to hold it like pencil. As I haven't resolved this yet, for now, as soon as my arms ache - I stop and stretch out my entire body, letting the blood flow back into all the places that have been holding tension. As I think about the tension I wonder about this man trying to tame and chain this beautiful elephant. These animals are such free spirits and it is so good to hear about the wonderful work Katy is doing. I am so inspired by her passion. She is making people aware of the sensitivity and tenderness, the joy, the sadness, the playfulness, the love, the connection, reminding us all of the importance of these wonderful creatures and the delight and beauty that they exude.

Elephant Prints

I make six prints. While the wood is only lightly damp, I mix nori paste with Japanese carbon ink giving the lines more definition. (Elephant Print no.2) After a few prints the wood builds up more moisture and I use less nori paste which produces a more mottled watery texture. (Elephant Print no.6)

Elephant Print no.6



I apply too much pressure with the baren on other prints, overprinting the ink where there should be white space. So I have three prints that I'm happy with, each with their own unique quality which reminds me of Katy's heart warming story of the elephants holding memories close to their hearts.

We recorded the voice of of an old matriarch, Rosie, who happened to have a grand daughter also in the herd - some 10 years later - Rosie had been dead for several years - Her granddaughter Sunshine was still alive. When we played these calls the elephants went into paroxysms of groaning and roaring - they were recognising that voice - there’s a real memory and voice is a part of it
— Katy Payne with Krista Tippet from Onbeing

I lie on the floor and stretch out my limbs. Taking more breaks and stretching has been good practice today and I'm honoured to have spent time 'In the Presence of Elephants'.

If you would like to donate to The Elephant Listening Project, please click the the link below which will direct you to  Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website. 

Listen to more inspiring interviews by Krista Tippett at Onbeing.org

Netsuke at the Royal Festival Hall

The train is sighing and heaving and trees blur behind rain scratched windows. I'm drinking a hot take-away tea while reading a book 'Names for the Sea, Strangers in Iceland' by Sarah Moss. My fingers seem to take longer to thaw as I hold the book of ice. It was glorious sunshine yesterday. I'm heading back into the city of London as the clouds darken. The rain is persistent.

100 Miniature Masterpieces

The first and last stop is The Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank. It's too wet and too cold to keep trekking through puddles and be rain soaked without an umbrella or raincoat. I stay here to keep warm and dry. I was hoping to draw netsuke at the V&A today but instead I'm drawing from the book I bought yesterday at The British Museum. 'Netsuke 100 miniature masterpieces from Japan' by Noriko Tsuchiya. I flick through the book containing photographs of netsuke in human form, immortals, ghosts, masks, animals and manju. I am interested in the animals and pick out one of the oldest netsuke in the museum (about 1700). 'Elephant and man in the form of a seal'. The photograph of the netsuke is at least three times the size than an original netsuke making it so much easier to draw and kinder to the eyes. I don't have the option to turn the netsuke and view it from a different angle but I can take as long as I like as there is no time restriction here.


Drawn with Music

I feel relaxed drawing the netsuke while listening to music on my headphones. The Royal Festival Hall is buzzing with people working and chatting and the music doesn't shut it out, it just softens the edges. A one-to-one language course is in full flow at the table behind me. A couple on the far table are in deep conversation with paint pots, brushes and paper and lunch all piled up together. A man sits with his smart phone, a woman with her lap-top. Two woman with pads of paper and paper cups also in deep discussion. Downstairs people are piled in the cafe. The rain continues to fall as I move on the 'Reclining Goat' by Kaigyokusai Masatsugu. Then 'Horse' - unsigned, 'Hare with Loquats' signed by Yamaguchi Okatomo and lastly 'Sleeping Cat' - unsigned.


When I've finished I look back through the sketch book and compare drawings. These are much larger than the ones I drew at the British Museum. It will be fun to carve them and see how they print. I pack up my books step out into the rain and head for the tube.