Chada the elderly Himalayan Brown Bear

watercolor painting of elderly Himalayan brown bear coming out of her cave


I searched for “elderly endangered animals.” I found this Instagram post. Notes on the post: The bear in the video is “Chada,” an elderly Himalayan Brown Bear. “She was born in 1998, exploited by a circus, left in a small cage for seven years. Finally in 2019 she was sent to the White Rock Bear Sanctuary in Kyiv. (I checked the sanctuary page recently [May 20, 2024). Chada is still listed as a resident. She has her own webpage in Ukrainian, but you can see more photos there and a video that has English subtitles.) “She has very poor eyesight and almost no teeth.” Himalayan Brown Bears are critically endangered, with only about 300 remaining individuals estimated to be in the wild.

I captured two different views, one of the bear standing and one crawling from her cave/tunnel.

anticipated challenges & strategies

  • use the crawling view
  • challenge: painting straw
  • challenge = painting fur
  • contrast comes from the shadows around her

creation/session log:

  1. FINALLY got started this morning. It’s already the 13th. I’ve had trouble making time with helpers. I started putting in the outline of the bear in gray. It’s difficult to reach the center third of the paper. I don’t know anything to do to fix that. It was cool to see the head and shoulders of the bear beginning to emerge, even though I only have a few marks on the paper. Checking my calendar, I discovered I have three or four more sessions and then I need to be done. Seems possible.
  2. It’s slow going. Today I tried to indicate more of the bear’s head and arms. I’m realizing I have painted her further forward in the cave then she is in the photo. I had trouble getting the paint to adhere to the paper. I’m not sure what was going on. I started to indicate the cave in purple. I added some tan for the ground but stopped short of the edge   to allow some white space. On Monday, I want to work again on the bear’s face, shadow and forearms and perhaps complete the background. Then if I have another chance to paint, I can concentrate on bringing things to completion. I have energy for about one hour per session.
  3. I worked a little bit on the chest, ear, and forearms. Working with gray is difficult. It seems to either go on too strong or disappear completely. I brought the sides of purple cave down and used black around the bear for contrast. Next time: add black to the nose, possibly add shadows to the straw, and finish composition.
  4. What constitutes overworked? Today, I did everything I planned to do. The nose went in a bit uncontrolled, but there it was. I worked with black to bump up the contrast. Made one unfortunate painting stroke near the muzzle, but it wasn’t a horrible mistake. I repainted the purple. I’m calling it finished.


  • Using gray is probably not the best choice. Ditto black. I want to do some research about this.
  • Possibility: do a sample painting to find out where I can easily reach and not reach. That will help me set a composition so I’m not struggling as much.
  • Watching Chada play in the water (8:45 minutes into the video) is a lesson. She doesn’t appear to be holding a grudge over her treatment by the circus or moaning about not being able to see. She is enjoying the water. (See Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things)

Posted on

May 27, 2024


  1. Warren

    It was delightful to see Chada emerge, translated by your eye/mind/heart from the photo to the painted page. She is, indeed, an aging bear who doesn’t hold a grudge and knows how to frolic — hmm, a good lesson for me.

    • Kate

      thank you, Warren. Maybe we can each add “frolic” to our calendars (r put it on the agenda for a family zoom session) and see what happens…

  2. Kitty W-P

    Love meeting Chada, Kate, first in your portrait of her and then on both the rescue website and Youtube.
    You’re right: she is an expert at savouring the moment. Your painting of her is lovely — the purple cave edge embracing her, and the golden straw bedding balancing its curve. Her softly rounded posture harmonises touchingly with the cave-shelter, expecially in the warm hollow of her chest-fur above the shadow of her head with its sweet expression. That chest-fur ‘makes’ this piece for me.

    Always a treat to read of your process and the unfolding of your inspiration; always.

    • Kate

      Thank you, Kitty, for your kind words. I’m honored that you spent time with this painting. your very specific feedback helps me quiet the critical voices in my mind.


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