Elephant Painting in Thailand

By | October 17, 2013

Elephant Painting in Thailand

The concept of Elephant painting in Thailand was actually perfected following trials undertaken at the Toledo Zoo in Ohio, U.S.A. using Asian elephants back in 1995.

Elephant painting in Thailand actually started in 1998 following the successful training of elephants at four different locations around Thailand.

 Until relatively recently, the role of Elephants in Thailand culture was that of being either the patrons of power (The Royal White Elephants) ,or that of being the “work-horse” & main mode of transportation for the removal of logs from the dense jungles that covered most of Thailand’s landscape.

This all abruptly ended in 1989 when the Thai government declared a nation-wide ban on ALL logging concessions inorder to try & protect the heavy de-forestation that had taken place across the country. Almost overnight the total population of trained Asian elephants & their mahout trainers were made redundant, many resorted to roaming the streets of Bangkok, Phuket & Chiang Mai begging with their elephants for a livelyhood, some were just abandonded, others were sold to zoos & camps. 

Elephant Painting in ThailandWhen it was discovered thatelephants could be relatively easily taught how to paint, this openeda whole new world for them.Elephants, particularly the Asian breed, already have the innate ability to express themselves.

An Asian elephant in captivity will reach out for a stick or a pebble and will doodle on the floor of its enclosure. Therefore, elephantsonly needed the guidance and to be taught to use this talent with the use of a brush and a piece ofpaper.

Some elephants have been taughthow to paint when they had become unemployed. There is a growing number of elephants, however, that are now being taught how to paint at an earlier age.

Elephant calves are separated from their mothers when they turn two years old, and begin their new lives with their mahouts or trainers. Their mahouts will then teach them performing skills, basic commands and possibly, how to paint as well. Most elephant artists are between four to ten years old and only a few elephants beyond this age bracket can paint.


The elephants are first taught how to hold a brush correctly with their trunks, which may take the young elephants at least a month to be taught this. Some mahouts will make bamboo extensions of the brushes to help their elephants hold the brush properly. After the elephants are able to hold the brush successfully, they are then taught to put paint on a piece ofpaper. Elephant Painting in ThailandInterestingly, elephantpainting art is different depending on the Thai region. Northernelephants such as at the Maesa Elephant Camp make use of bold, primary colors in their paintings and their brush-strokes are broken and curvy.

Elephant painting in the Central region as can be seen at our friends at Elephantstay tends to paint from edge to edge of thepaper and use much darker colors like forest green, black and violet. Southern elephant artists mix colors on the paper and typically use tertiary colors like plum, mustard and magenta. Calling elephant painting an art form is heavily disputed by those people who believe that only human work can be considered to be “art” !, personally I feel there are many elephants who express themselves better than their human adversaries, and some of their “art” is far more distinguisable than the human efforts!!.

Whatever it is about elephant painting, many people are ardent followers, over the last few years there have been numerous “art” exhibitions showcasing elephant painting, with many pieces being sold for a king’s ransom, and as with every other piece of handmade art, no two paintings are the same!!.

If you have any great elephant painting in Thailand stories, or alternatively any questions regarding elephant painting, please Contact Us by simply clicking the link.

You might also enjoy these……

A visit to the Elephant Nature Park
A visit to the Patara Elephant Camp