Illustrator and Author Louise Mulgrew gives us a little background into the tiny elephant, Tibbo…
“Tibbo all started with an amazing trip to Tsavo National Park in Kenya. I visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and met the orphan elephants as they came charging back to their stables after a long, sunny day in the bush.
Some of the smaller ones were wearing blankets tied around their middles with old tights.
Their blankets are used as protection from the sun – in the wild, young elephants shelter in their mother’s shadow during the heat of the day. At night, they are tucked under their blankets to keep warm. Sometimes blankets are also used to encourage the orphans to drink their milk; the blankets are strung up on washing lines and against the baby’s trunk, it feels like their mother’s tummy.
I also noticed that the elephants in Tsavo were a reddy orange colour! In fact, all eles are naturally grey, but these elephants roll around in the red clay that is distinctively Tsavo’s. They use the clay as sun cream and to keep themselves cool in the strong heat. That’s why Tibbo is brown (and wears a blanket!).
My trip was the starting point for the picture book that I wrote and illustrated for my final Major project at university.
When I began the characterisation for Tibbo, he was originally called Bonsai because I wanted him to be tiny! But he soon became Tibbo, as the Swahili word for elephant is ‘tembo’.
Here are some of my early character drawings.
The storyboarding was the hardest part! Originally it was a story about the relationship between a keeper and his elephant, as the keepers are like the mothers at the orphanage! But the feedback I got from my imagery was that the human could appear hostile, as though the elephants were in a zoo and I couldn’t risk that!!
I quickly became preoccupied with his troublesome trunk, and the fact that baby elephants really do take months to get to grips with using their trunks. With nearing 40000 muscles you can understand why.
I actually did a lot of the illustrations first and wrote the words around them. I had the image of the ants walking along his trunk in my head and once that was on paper I decided it had to be included! 15 storyboards later, I found a good place for it and it became one of the critical parts of the plot as Tibbo sneezes and alerts everyone to the hyena!
It was an amazing opportunity to translate my picture book into an interactive children’s app! The sound effects, music and voice over really bring it to life and I laugh every time Tibbo sneezes!!
On a serious note, as elephant poaching becomes an evermore prevalent issue, with an elephant being killed every 15 minutes, the more awareness that can be raised for these wonderful, intelligent creatures the better.”