Elephants Don’t Paint by Jodi Thomas

Jodi Thomas, Elephants Don’t Paint, acrylic on canvas.


‘Elephants don’t paint’ is the title of this acrylic on canvas image. This piece reflects the fractured existence of captive elephants. The elephant has both male and female attributes and is disjointed, blinded and broken emotionally and physically. With this piece I wanted the viewer to feel the emotional trauma that elephants experience as a result of human encroachment and influence on their lives. The elephant is a victim of circumstance. Our human greed has orchestrated their living nightmare.

I make art to help fight depression and stay sane. I feel it is my duty to make art as I was lucky to be given this gift and I must make good use of it. For many years I took my gift for granted and did not put my ability to good use.

I am an empath as well as an Animal Activist. My head and heart are heavy with the knowledge of extreme abuses inflicted upon innocent beings.

I have worked for elephants for over 13 years and have witnessed and learned much that disturbs me deeply. Things are not always as nice behind the scenes as they are advertised – to put it lightly. In my opinion an animal’s well-being should be considered first and foremost but sadly big business mentality often gets in the way. It is always the animal that pays the price. Being immersed in this environment can be very emotionally draining. After many, many years of complete devotion to elephant care, not allowing much time for painting or other art mediums, I became overwhelmed and disillusioned. My memory bank was overflowing with horrific images, sounds and stories. I could not take any more.

Out of desperation I once again turned to painting. Coinciding with this period was a chance meeting with the incredible Vegan Artist/Activist Sue Coe. She was just the inspiration I needed at this time. She was a reminder that my art didn’t have to be pretty and didn’t have to please everyone all the time. I had so many stories to tell, so many images in my head that needed to be released.

Art making is a healthy outlet for me. Now that I am back to honouring the Artist within me, I realise how important it is to make sure that being creative is a daily practice, one I cannot do without. Making art keeps me in balance and revitalizes me.

I decide what I will create next rather impulsively. Whatever seems to need to get out the most urgently is what comes next. I try not to plan too much, I want it to just come out organically and emotionally raw. I try to evoke the feelings I absorb onto the canvas or other substrates with mixed mediums. I have learned to enjoy the process, not have any expectations and work intuitively.

Jodi Thomas

Born in 1964 in Detroit Michigan, Jodi Thomas is a mainly self-taught artist.

In 1989 she began a tattoo apprenticeship under Suzanne Fauser of Creative Tattoo in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 1992 she opened her own shop, Ink for Life Tattoo Studio in Ypsilanti Michigan which was in operation for 19 years.

Always a lover of animals and nature, around 1996 she read Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation which prompted her to go vegetarian (and later vegan) and turn towards Animal Activism.

Early artistic inspiration came from underground comic artists, psychedelic rock poster art, Japanese wood block prints, Georgia O’Keefe, Vali Myers, Judy Chicago, Susan Seddon Boulet, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst among others.

For many years the responsibility of tattooing full time and caring for many companion animals, left virtually no time for recreational/therapeutic art making. In the year 2000 she journeyed to Raiatea, an island in the south Pacific for a tattoo convention. This experience was very enlightening and brought out a desire to travel more. In January of 2001 she ventured to Thailand, Burma and Cambodia – a trip that would change her life.

After multiple trips back to Southeast Asia, she finally settled outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand in 2003 and for the next 13 years devoted her life to caring for captive elephants who were handicapped, blind, orphaned or mentally unstable.  When time was available she painted images of elephants, mostly in acrylics on canvas and auctioned them to help raise funds to support their care. During this time, writing became her primary creative outlet. She wrote stories about the elephants whom she lived with for a newsletter and for activity updates for foster programs. She found that she greatly enjoyed ‘painting a picture with words’. Sporadic tattooing was her primary source of income. She lived a simple life in a small bamboo hut, with elephants being her primary focus.

In 2015 depression and disillusionment with her surroundings weighed heavily on her heart. To cope with these emotions, she returned to the brush and canvas. A fateful meeting with vegan Artist/Activist Sue Coe was a critical turning point during this time. Another critical influence at this time was good friend and fellow artist Lily Cheung. Visiting Lily’s place on the weekends and being surrounded by her art inspired Jodi to want to paint again. Lily encouraged her to start painting in her space each weekend.

Since that time Jodi has not stopped creating. Thanks to Lily and Sue, Jodi’s passion for expressing herself creatively has been fully reignited; the flame now burns bright. She has created more works of art in the past two years than in all year’s previous combined (not counting tattoos).

Her most recent artistic influences are vast; from Picasso, Van Gogh, Marc Chagall, the Abstract Expressionists, Kathe Kollwitz, Frida Kahlo, Emily Carr … and … there are many current artists she has discovered via social media who have been a big part of her recent artistic growth including Amy Maricle, Mystele Kirkeeng, Whitney Freya, Connie Solera, Lisa Sonora, Deb Rolig, and Tracy Verdugo.

Deeply influenced by nature and animals, Jodi hopes to accomplish with her art a sense of understanding, awareness and empathy for all creatures’ great and small as well as our blessed Mother Earth. She works on found wood board (often trod upon by elephants), canvas, press board and a variety of papers. She works primarily in acrylics but enjoys collage, mixed media, drawing and many other mediums.

Her work graces the walls of animal lovers the world over, though she has yet to be included in any exhibitions.

Follow Jodi on Instagram @jodesignseleart