I may have mentioned before that I often have the TV on while I’m editing. It has to be the right kind of show; something I can mostly listen to and just glance at periodically, it has to be interesting without being too engaging. I end up watching a lot of documentaries, nature, science and history shows. I also catch a lot of shows about the paranormal; I love stretching my imagination entertaining the ideas they present whether or not I think they might actually be true. Often these shows have a benefit beyond simply enhancing my editing time; I learn new things, I expose myself to new ideas. And sometimes I learn about problems in the world and I want to do something to try and help fix whatever is wrong.
I’ve known for some time about the terrible future the wild lions in Africa are facing. Poaching and habitat loss have killed off about 80% of their population in the last 20 years. Sadly, the traits humans find most beautiful about lions are also the things that make them genetically stronger, which means not only are people driving lions to the edge of extinction, but the lions which are left are weaker and less able to survive.
There are approximately 20,000 wild lions left in the world now. This is a drop in the bucket from 450,000 about 30 years ago. If nothing changes, lions could become extinct within the next decade.
Can you imagine a world without lions? The fragile ecosystem which would be thrown into chaos by their loss? A world where children would grow up never seeing the majestic animals? Where lions would seem as unreal to them as dinosaurs? Telling your child that yes, these animals all once roamed the land, but now they are gone forever.
And it is because of humans that lions are teetering on the edge of this chasm.
If people are the cause of their destruction, we have a moral obligation to try and save them. As my close, personal friend Rustin Cohle would say, we have a debt to pay.
As is my usual first course of action, I decided to address the problem with photography. As I began building the concept in my head, I realized it would fit in well with DreamWorld. While most of the land is beautiful and verdant, there are less lush areas and also touches of actual evil.
It was at this time that I came across Travis Weinand. Travis is a multi-talented transplant from Philadelphia; he models, of course, acts, sings and plays bass in his really great heavy metal band Burden (seriously, I genuinely like their music! Give it a listen!) illustrates and paints beautiful images, he’s been a tattoo artist and has been competing in the last several seasons of American Ninja Warrior. Travis has promised to show me how to make my voice sound evil like I’m singing in a metal band and I’m going to show him how to levitate… in a photo at least :) ANW isn’t something I’d seen much of; I quickly discovered it’s really physically demanding; here’s a short video from Travis to impress your socks off:
Travis’s physical strength, size (he’s 6′ 5″, so anybody seeing us walking together must have gotten a chuckle since I am all of 4′ 11″) and blond hair made him feel like a perfect lion-man. I decided to make a mane headdress, something more symbolic of a mane rather than something that was trying to perfectly replicate what a lion’s mane looked like. I had some really lovely blue and brown metallic yarn that I’d gotten on sale and wasn’t sure what I was going to do with, which seemed like a good place to start. Since Travis has brilliantly blue eyes, I decided to work some blue into the mane; this was a metaphoric mane, I decided I could bend the color rules a little.
It happened that, of course, I got sick again while I was getting ready for the shoot – I think I’ve told you guys this but apparently my body has decided that it’s going to have a cold every 2-3 weeks until I have sinus surgery to stop its evil plan. My surgery is November 4th (wish me luck!) and I am so eager to have it done with. I’m really looking forward to a time when I can go more than a few weeks without getting sick on top of already being chronically sick.
That has, of course, been very draining, but knitting is one of those activities that you can do (if you’re making up your own pattern anyway) without engaging very much of your brain. It’s also quite soothing, the repetitive motions over and over again, and once I got through the really feverish first couple days of the cold it was a relief to have something I could work on and feel a little bit productive about. So a lot of braiding and arm-knitting happened while I was well enough to be bored but not well enough to do much of anything else. Above, you see the braided loops I made with varying amounts of a brighter blue yarn worked into the rest.
Lion’s manes are typically darker close to the skin with the hair lightening as it gets longer. I made the “under-mane” from the original blue and brown yard that had started the whole idea, arm-knitting a general idea of the shape I wanted. I hand-tacked some of the braided pieces around the bottom to hang down decoratively.
The, uh, main mane was also arm-knitted, into a similar shape, but fuller and more expanded toward the bottom. I love this brand of yarn. I want to arm-knit everything right now. It has such a beautifully organic look when it’s finished, even if you’re making it up as you go!
Lion manes are often majestically full right over the center of their chests, so I quickly knit up a couple filler-pieces to give extra fullness to Travis’ mane. You’ll notice that one is a little bigger than the other. The official reason is because it’s natural for there to be a slight asymmetry to any kind of animal markings or fur. The real reason is because I’d run out of yarn and didn’t have money to go buy another skein. Plus, I didn’t think it would really show in the final images, so I didn’t worry about it too much.
I’m including this photo because for one, Aly gave me the unicorn-on-a-stick toy so I wanted her to see it is being used and loved, and also because it just really looks ridiculous :) I needed to build up a shape that was going to let me see how the mane would actually be hanging and my regular foam head wouldn’t nearly do the job. Not only because it’s far too short and becomes unstable if I pile it high on a lot of other objects (I know this from experience) but I needed the mane to spread out so I could really see it. So this is the unicorn-on-a-stick sandwiched between the end of my bed and the blue dresser at the end of my bed, wrapped up with a very fluffy pink bathrobe which is so long that I use it as a blanket. In the next photo you’ll see another bathrobe draped over the unicorn’s head to give it more a human-head shape. There’s a method to all the madness.
And if anyone is wondering, the cardboard box is there for the cats (mostly Maynard) to lay in and the big pile in the background is my Costume/Fabric/Backdrop Pile. I’m working on a better way to store it all. There are only so many hours in a day.
I’d been planning to braid the mane into Travis’ actual hair, which is cut in a very cool undercut style which makes me think of Jimmy from Boardwalk Empire. I seem to be leaving a hole in the middle of the mane; that’s on purpose to allow for Travis’ hair. You can see the under-mane some and I’d started adding extra braided bits which just hung down.
And here it is all done! Braided loops, hanging braids, front ruffs; it’s all there. It’s probably hard to picture how it will eventually look, but don’t worry, you’ll see very soon :)
I had come across some boulders in one of my walks (my doctor’s suggestion of a safe exercise for me right now, which makes me sad when I think about all the yoga, Pilates and ballet I used to do. I like to do the walks in nature since that makes it much more interesting and enjoyable).
The plants around it, which had been brilliantly green in spring were now brown and dying, so it felt like the perfect setting for my Last Lion, as I am calling this new DreamWorld character.
I imagine that the Last Lion had a vast kingdom once where his people thrived. During the Yellow King’s grab for power, his people and land suffered greatly when they stood up against the Yellow King. They are fighters. And though the Yellow King is now banished, he did real harm to the land and its people before he left.
They are fighters. They have been greatly wounded and they could vanish forever and be a mere memory in DreamWorld as the lions could be in our world… but I think they’ll prevail. They have not been beaten yet.
And if you would like to help our world’s lions, look into the Big Cat Initiative. They have a really solid plan of how to get the lions back on their feet while still keeping the farmers and cattle in the region safe, promoting harmony between them. Another very quick, simple yet effective way is to add your name to any or all of the petitions below, all working toward protecting lions from extinction:
Harmony between man and nature. It’s such a common theme in DreamWorld, and one we need more of in this world.
Please enjoy the Last Lion images below and consider signing a couple petitions and joining the Big Cat Initiative!
You can look forward to seeing more of Travis soon! I’m very excited about using his incredible physicality strategically in images; he can do things for real which I’d normally have to rely on Photoshop for. Should be fun! Thanks, Travis! And thanks to all my readers :)