One day back in May I was going through the bathroom cabinet looking at my jar of tiger balm and for some strange reason I got the urge to paint a tiger in my next project, whatever that would be. Perhaps I needed to be inspired by its strength or courage, I don't know. Funnily enough, the project that came along in my MATS class at the time was to draw roses. What followed is a mini gouache painting of a tiger chilling in a rose garden.
Actually, he kind of reminds me of another tiger who likes to smell the roses, Hobbes :)
Then the "big assignment" came along, which was to design a journal cover with roses and any quote from the historical garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. She was also an artist and writer, and said things like "the love of gardening is a seed once sowed that never dies", or "a garden is a grand teacher... above all it teaches entire trust." Tigers were entirely optional, but I really wanted to fit one in.
When stumped I love to read about symbolism... I guess cause it gives me a different angle. So, I got out my big book of symbols and looked up tiger.
"In dream images such as great cat prowling in the house or backyard, psyche warns us that physically or affectively we are identified with big cat libido and need to get some distance.
To respond to such urge by killing, caging, or degrading the great cat is to brutally repress one of nature's most extraordinary incarnations of creative aggressiveness and sovereign instinct. The resolution seems to be in balance and boundaries."
- Taschen, Book of Symbols
That scary tiger in the Japanese painting by Kishi Ganku kind of reminded me of Richard Parker in the life of Pi. The dangerous tiger that helped Pi fight for his life and survive his ordeal, the one he feared yet left him heartbroken when he disappeared without a goodbye.
Why would Pi feel this way? I think maybe Richard Parker was a side of him that needed to be expressed but came out in a dangerous state. And conditioning it into submission with food and seasickness only made the tiger leave once freed from the boat. So what was Pi to do? What would be the balance and boundaries that would make him a helpful friend able to sticks around?
I got no direct answer to these questions, but instead an accident pointed me toward an idea for my design... opening my book at a random page I saw this intriguing image of a garden with a rose growing inside the symbolic container of the Grail.
"In this simple, elegant form, the artist of some five centuries ago has conveyed the ideas of wholeness, center, vessel, and source."
"While the Grail has often been portrayed as a cup, it can take many forms... [it] participates in the symbolism of the night-sea journey, the treasure hard to attain and the alchemical stone that is elixir and panacea."
- Taschen, Book of Symbols
Maybe you'll think that image has nothing to do with a tiger, but... if I want to put a tiger in that garden I will find a way! And I did... in my imagination the container became the tiger itself. And that way he is wrapped around the roses by choice, not because he is forced to.
I let my color choices be inspired by the trend board given in the class (which had no yellow), and the cool thing about that is in the dark the tiger took on a blue color. Blue is the color of trust, and reason. In that way he's more reasonable than Richard Parker, able to distance himself from his wild side.
Since he's not Richard Parker, I wondered what could be a good name for him. Well if Parker is a "keeper of the park", then his last name could be Gardner, as he takes care of the roses. And one famous Gardner from history is Martin Gardner, a math and science writer who also had a lifelong interest in magic. Perfect! Cause a blue tiger is also kind of magical, isn't it?
You may have noticed I dropped the Gertrude Jekyll's quote. I do agree with her that a garden teaches entire trust but, can't help it, I like to come up with my own words.
In the light version I gave the tiger his regular yellow color... which I guess means he's not always so reasonable. For instance he likes to play tricks, though always in good fun. He might have a bit of Tony the tiger in him, but he's a Gardner too, so let's say that makes him Tony Gardner.
I found two Tony Gardner in real life. One is a makeup and special effects designer, and the other is an actor and doctor. Both are great, so it's hard to choose, but remember... all this started because of my tiger balm jar!