Circus Memories

Circus Elephant On Ball With Balloons Watercolor Painting Illustration

For our prompt of “Circus” today, I thought back to when I was a kid. So, we have a little baby elephant on a ball with some colorful balloons. Today, these elephant acts are thankfully a thing of the past, but back when I was young, I just found it all quite incredible. Each time the circus would come to town when I was a kid, my parents would take me to visit. It was such a fantastic atmosphere with lights shining in all directions and the smell of popcorn and cotton candy thrilling my senses. As a little kid, it was practically overwhelming and I remember staying very close to my parents as we entered the auditorium. Indeed, our seats were always the least expensive ones that were closer to the back. So, the three rings where the acts were performed could all be seen at once, but looked a bit small. That’s probably what made the elephants seem so impressive as their size made them the easiest thing I could see clearly. But, I didn’t mind the view. I’d entered a magical world were the impossible was suddenly made possible.

While I never wanted to be in the circus when I grew up, I did have dreams of performing under those lights. It all just seemed really cool. And I loved all of the color and spectacle of it all. It was a brilliant display and, as a kid, definitely seemed like the greatest show on earth. Even after seeing the same and similar acts year after year and knowing what was coming next, I was still always on the edge of my seat with excitement. Indeed, when the trapeze artists were swinging through the air, it wasn’t impossible for one of them to take an early tumble into the net waiting below. I remember the audible gasps from the audience each time it happened, even though the net captured them safely every time. It was sad to hear the announcement a few years ago that after 146 years, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus was closing for good. This was the same one I attended as a child. The original concept of the circus has been replaced with more successful shows like Cirque du Soleil, which is truly impressive in its own right.

So many things from my childhood still exist today, but I get a bit of extra nostalgia for the things that simply don’t exist anymore. I still have my memories as long as those last and that’s a wonderful thing indeed. In truth, what I remember is far more grand than it actually was. There’s something about being small that makes everything seem larger than life. Those childhood memories have a special magic all their own. And, indeed, over the years as I grasp for them, I’m quite certain I’ve added little embellishments along the way. It’s less a documentary and more of an epic adventure. A wild and wonderful experience where over forty clowns piled out of a car just as forty elephants came marching out of a gigantic red curtain. Next, twenty monkeys came out riding bikes, followed by a gigantic bear on the tiniest unicycle as the ringmaster announced the arrival of hundreds of lions and tigers. Yeah, that didn’t happen quite like that, but I’ve learned there’s something even more magical to be found in those circus memories.

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Circus Elephant On Ball With Balloons Watercolor Painting Illustration Sketchbook Detail
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31 Comments
  1. Sandra Strait 4 weeks ago

    I’m such a coward that I could never enjoy the circus. I was so afraid someone would get hurt that I spent most of the time with my eyes closed. And the clowns were spooky!

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 4 weeks ago

      Hehe! I agree on the clowns… I found them spooky as well! But the rest was a grand show! 😃💕

  2. Mary Roff 4 weeks ago

    Wonderful post, Charlie! I vaguely remember going to the circus with my Dad when I was 4 or 5. I have been to the Circus Museum at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota and that is an incredible museum. There is so much to see there and my favorite part is a miniature 3/4″ to 1 ft. scale model of a circus, A man named Howard Tibbals(?) has been creating this incredible display for years. The display is more than just the 3 rings…it’s trains and wagons and camp sites…everything to do with a traveling circus and the display is huge. It is really a work of art and a labor of love.

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 4 weeks ago

      Thanks so much, Mary! 😃💕 Oh wow!! That museum and the scale model sound absolutely amazing!! So cool! We have a toy and miniature museum here that I love visiting!

  3. Marisela Delgado 4 weeks ago

    I was sad about the circus shutting down for good also. It was all so splendid and, at that age, really was the greatest show on earth. I remember one year when my mother took me and I purchased a full-size poster of the circus elephant. Of course, it was also the only souvenir that we could afford. I would sit and admire it. Oh, those were the good ‘ol days. 💜 Such a sweet painting, Charlie, and wonderful memories.

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 4 weeks ago

      Thanks so much, Marisela! 😃💕 So happy this prompt back good memories! I’m jealous of that poster… I only got cotton candy! Which was awesome, so I’m not complaining. But an elephant poster sounds SO cool!!

      • Marisela Delgado 3 weeks ago

        If only I had known to save it, Charlie! I wish I had. Not necessarily for monetary reasons, but as a unique souvenir of a by gone era. Well, I was a kid. Who knew?

  4. Karen Fortier 4 weeks ago

    Wonderful Charlie! I agree, childhood memories are the only place for circus animals. I think that they only came to our area once. They came by train. My husband is older and grew up in the next state but same train tracks. He remembers the circus coming to his town and not being anything special. It was likely a sad affair. To a child who had never seen an elephant it was amazing. Tent went up, show went on, tent came down and they moved on.

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 4 weeks ago

      Thanks so much, Karen! 😃💕 Yeah… it was always magic for me. Like it was impossible that it could appear and disappear so quickly! The elephants used to march through the city from the train tracks here to get to the show. I think people enjoyed lining up to watch that parade even more!

  5. Fascinante, Charlie

  6. Lisa 4 weeks ago

    I have only been to a circus once in my life. Not sure why, but I suspect my father didn’t like them. Wisconsin is a huge circus state. We have Circus World Museum here, and many of the circus acts wintered over in towns around here.

    A popular attraction in the 1800s and through much of the twentieth century, over 100 circuses were started in Wisconsin. Founded in Delavan, Wisconsin in 1881 following the merge of two older circuses, the Barnum and Bailey’s Circus went on to become one of the largest in the world. Delvan is a small town, but in the 1880s it was the winter home to as many as 26 circuses and their crews, thanks to its available farmland for grazing the animals and timber for heating and building.

    Btw, I hate clowns. 😂

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 4 weeks ago

      Aww that’s such a cool piece of history!! What a fun and interesting lineage for Delavan! 😃💕 It’s definitely an era that’s passed and passing, but it was so magical. Yeah, the clowns, though… I had mixed emotions there. hehe

  7. Mireya 4 weeks ago

    I loved the circus. It made me imagine and wonder. I love animals and hearing the greatest show on earth . Sea World too but I realize now about the animals.

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 4 weeks ago

      Yeah, it was a lovely experience to see all of those animals. 😃💕 Indeed, it’s not always the best one for the animals. But now, zoos have become conservation parks and sometimes the only way for some animals to continue on. Which is a good thing indeed!

  8. Zertab Quaderi 4 weeks ago

    What a cute elephant!

  9. Mugdha 4 weeks ago

    Hello Charlie,

    How alive today’s baby elephant is! For a moment, I expected him to roll right off my phone screen and onto my lap! Ooooh that’d be lovely! I’d rescue him from the circus. 🙂 And yesterday was a super crazy day but your Doodlewash of pancakes and blueberries had kept me going. That was a scrumptious stack and poor Phineas looks so adorable, wishing he could get to the table. Finally, the last few lines of your post, starting with 40 clowns, is a small story in itself! Please look at it again, you might find more of your book waiting there. 🙂

    Love,
    Mugdha

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 4 weeks ago

      Thanks so much, Mugdha! 😃💕 I’m so happy these posts are helping you through even the craziest of days. Pancakes can really make anything better! hehe And glad you liked those last lines… I do like the idea of story taking place in the imagination of a child.

  10. Fatima Chamkha 4 weeks ago

    Beautifully done Charlie!

  11. Gary Middleton 4 weeks ago

    Brilliant doodle, Charlie. I loved the circus as a child. I too am glad they don’t animal acts now.

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 4 weeks ago

      Thanks so much, Gary! 😃💕 Yeah, it’s the end of an era, but probably for the best in the end!

  12. LoriCtoo 4 weeks ago

    I love this!!! As you know, I am a big fan of elephants. I too was sad to see the Ringling Bros Circus shut down. Another part of my childhood gone. Luckily I can still watch The Greatest Showman. (No real animals were used in it.)

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 4 weeks ago

      Thanks so much, Lori! 😃💕 Yeah, it’s always a bit bittersweet when things from childhood disappear. Yay for movies and shows to take us back there. Yeah, both The Greatest Showman and the One and Only Ivan showed up recently!

  13. Iisa Ebenstein 4 weeks ago

    Love the kitten. Great work with the colors again, warm and fuzzy and the background is just perfect.

  14. Priscilla DeConti 4 weeks ago

    Much simpler times..I too was saddened by the closing of the circus. An institution for me growing up and for me taking my children…and although I have heard cirque de soliel is good…I don’t think it will replace the memories that were made when the circus came to town…Love your painting!!

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 3 weeks ago

      Thanks so much, Priscilla! 😃💕 Yeah, Cirque de Soleil is cool, but nothing replaces the good old-fashioned circus.

  15. Bird 3 weeks ago

    What is it with your drawings? 🙂 Every single one of them has brought back childhood memories. I grew up not far from a ringmaster (hope that is the right word) / owner – the old kind who was also part of the show. The front door of his house had two door handles, one on each side. A real one and a fake. He was a friendly old man and used to hand out prizes at the school’s sporting events at winter time. At summer he was of course on tour with his sircus.

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 3 weeks ago

      Oh wow! What a cool neighbor to have indeed! 😃💕 That’s so awesome!! Glad this brought back good childhood memories!

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