What's got four legs, a hard shell, and an affinity for bright colors?
It's Ellie, a two-year old tortoise who lives at the Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek. She's quite the painter.
That's right - painter.
Ellie is one of several zoo species who lends her body to creating animal art. Over the past three years, snow leopards, mini-horses, iguanas, parrots, and more have had their appendages dipped in non-toxic paint, and tiptoed, stomped, and stampeded across a blank canvas.
Last week, the small reptile showed me just how it's done. The results were playful yet chaotic - kind of like a four-footed Jackson Pollock piece.
Educator and animal trainer Amanda McFarland helps to facilitate the painting process. It can get a little messy, she says, but is so cute to see. Their haphazard footprints and tail marks help to make for a one-of-a-kind creation.
After the animals finish their work, the results are framed and sold in the gift shop during the zoo’s public visiting season. The revenue goes towards conservation projects and other animal-focused programs.
If you're feeling especially ambitious, McFarland says it could also be a project to try on your own family pet .
"As long as you understand it's going to be a little messy and use nontoxic paint there's no reason you can't put a little paint on your dog's paws and make some art on your own," she adds.
McFarland feels that the animals' artistic abilities can find a home on many a wall, no matter what your taste.
"If you're looking for a single hoof print, some of the bigger animals are good at that. If you want something that's a little more abstract, some of the smaller animals with smaller feet can make it a little more abstract. It just depends on what you're looking for. I think it's one of the most unique pieces of art you can have in your collection. If you love animals and you love art it's the perfect combination."
Their works will be available for purchase Friday at the State Theater as part of Art Hop.