Sketching Wolves!

I spent a couple of blissful afternoons this week sketching wolves up close at the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) in South Salem, NY. The center is home to four ambassador wolves who educate the public about wolves, and to red wolves and Mexican gray wolves– both critically endangered species. The WCC participates in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) and is involved in the captive breeding and release programs for these endangered wolf species. Because some of the red wolves and Mexican gray wolves may potentially be released into the wild someday, they have a minimum of exposure to people, and I haven’t seen or sketched them.

The ambassador wolves are gray wolves.  Atka, the oldest at 14 years old, is an Arctic gray wolf. The other three are Canadian/Rocky Mountain gray wolves. Alawa and Zephyr are five and a half year old littermates. Nikai, their younger brother, is two and a half. Atka lives by himself in his own very large enclosure, and the other three live together next door to him. Today I especially enjoyed observing some of the dynamics between Alawa, Zephyr, and Nikai, and I took notes and did some sketches showing just tail carriage. One of my longer term goals is to learn more about wolf dynamics and body language by watching these three younger wolves.

One thing I’m interested in seeing is how my sketches change and (hopefully) improve as I keep going back and sketching. I haven’t been very experienced with wolf sketching, and their proportions are a bit different than dogs, so I have some learning to do (which is always a good thing!).

Here is a sampling of my sketches from yesterday, some fairly quick, some a bit more detailed when the wolves were still for longer:

napping wolf sketch
Alawa on the rock
Wolf naptime

Below are some of my sketches from today. I started out with graphite pencil (usually my medium of choice), but after a while it started to rain, and graphite doesn’t work on wet paper, so I switched to an indigo watercolor pencil, which was very happy with the large raindrops on my paper. I also tried capturing some wolves running– a challenge, but fun to work at.

Wolf body language and tail carriage
Running wolf sketches
Howling wolf sketches
Atka the Arctic gray wolf and Nikai Canadian/Rocky Mountain gray wolf
Napping wolf

Of Woodchucks and Titmice…

Yesterday I saw three cute, little woodchuck babies emerging from the brush pile at the edge of our yard. They wandered around, climbed on some fallen limbs, and foraged in the grass. This afternoon I took a camp chair and sketching supplies down to the path where it goes into the woods near the brush pile, settled myself more or less comfortably, and waited. For a while there was no sign of the woodchucks, so I watched and sketched a vociferous House Wren who tirelessly spills his son through the woods nearly all day long.

After a half hour or so, I saw Momma Woodchuck’s head appear from the hole under the brush. She stayed motionless, just her head showing, for a long time, while I ever so slowly lowered my binoculars, avoiding any sudden move that would alert her to my presence. After a while I saw an adorable little baby woodchuck appear under Momma’s chin, then another baby on the other side of her. They looked around briefly, then lacking the highly suspicious nature of their mother, they emerged fully and began to climb on the piled up branches. Momma remained motionless and alert. A third baby appeared beside Momma, then ducked under her chin and began nosing at her mouth. She still didn’t move, and finally Baby #3 moved away to forage in the weeds. At that point I noticed a fourth baby approaching from the direction of another hole I’d noticed. Maybe Baby #4 is more independent and had decided to make his own way out into the world?

I sat as still as possible, only barely moving my right hand to sketch the woodchucks, occasionally glancing down to see my page. Suddenly I heard a whirr of wings behind my head, then again, this time so close I could feel the air moving against my hair. And then I felt a bird land on my head! I resisted the temptation to move, and the bird began yanking at my hair. I felt a couple of hairs get pulled out, and from the corner of my eye, I saw one of my white hairs floating to the ground. At least whoever it was had the decency to pull out white hair and leave my few remaining dark hairs.

I continued sketching the woodchucks and the bird continued to yank at my hair for a little while, then seemed to be trying to rearrange my hair with much twisting and scratching, but no more yanking. I was a little concerned he was checking out my head as a potential nesting site, since obviously that would prove disappointing for him, but after perhaps five minutes he hopped off my head and onto the back of the chair beside me. I turned slightly, curious to see who this was who so appreciated my hair, and he took off, landing in a nearby tree– a Tufted Titmouse.

Meanwhile, Family Woodchuck continued to roam, climb, and explore, with Momma watching closely. Finally, after I had been sketching for an hour (sitting for an hour and a half), I heard a quick whistle, and all the babies and Momma ran into the burrow. I came in and added color to some of my woodchuck sketches and did a quick memory sketch of a Common Yellowthroat who had landed briefly right in front of me. I had already sketched the House Wren in watercolor, while waiting for the woodchucks to appear.

Field sketches of House Wren and woodchucks (click image to see it larger)

Sketching Wolves!

Gray wolf sketches- Zephyr and Alawa

Turkeys gobbling in the distance, wolves howling right next to me– I had a fabulous morning today! A few days ago I registered for “Coffee with Wolves” at the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, and I’ve been impatiently waiting for Saturday morning to come, so that I could go see the wolves. I usually sleep like a log, but last night I kept waking up to see if it was morning yet. Finally it was 5:30, so I leaped up and bundled up, since it was supposed to be a chilly morning. It turned out to be warmer than predicted and sunny, but still cool enough that the wolves were quite active (active enough to make a good sketching challenge).

Arctic wolf sketches- Atka
Arctic wolf sketches – Atka

There are four “ambassador wolves,” who are there to educate and interact with the public, and then quite a few endangered red wolves and Mexican gray wolves. The red wolves and Mexican gray wolves are not on exhibit, so that they will not become habituated to people, in case they can someday be released into the wild. They are also used for breeding to build up their populations, and this wolf center is in a network of about fifty such centers that cooperate and exchange wolves to maintain genetic diversity.

I sketched the four ambassador gray wolves (canis lupus); three of them Zephyr, Alawa, and Nikai, in one enclosure; and Atka in a separate enclosure. Atka is an arctic gray wolf (canis lupus arctos), almost 14 years old and looking great. Zephyr and Alawa are Canadian/Rocky Mountain gray wolf five-year-old littermates, and two-year-old Nikai is their brother from a subsequent litter.

My sketches are simple and mostly unfinished, since the wolves were active, requiring me to move from sketch to sketch and then back to a previous sketch when a wolf would momentarily return to a previous position. Atka was lying down most of the time, so was easier to sketch than the others, but even so he was alert and shifting position almost constantly.

(Click on an image to view it larger.)

Gray wolf sketches – Zephyr and Alawa
Gray wolf sketches- Zephyr and Nikai

Here’s a watercolor and ink painting I did of Alawa from a photo I took when I was last at the wolf center.

Canadian/Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf- Alawa

Squirrel Sketches

Winter is finally here, with its crisp, clear sunshine; blustery wind; and twittering birds flocking to the feeders to fill their bellies and keep warm. And with the always entertaining squirrels chasing one another in trees and scouring the deck for seeds the birds drop. I’ve had a fairly full schedule recently, so when I’m home, I savor the quiet minutes I carve out to sit, usually with either Petra or Acadia warming my lap, watching the lively world of our deck, and sipping hot green tea (I have a new favorite– Dragon’s Well green tea– yumm! It has a mild chestnut-like flavor, and I love chestnuts.)
As always, I sit with sketchbook in hand (actually balanced on Petra or Acadia, who are remarkably obliging), doing many partial sketches, as my subjects are rarely still for more than a moment. I sometimes spend a few seconds here and there over a couple of days on each sketch, coming back to them as the bird or squirrel is again briefly in that same pose. 
I’m getting to know the three squirrels who regularly visit our deck- a large male, a large female, and a smaller female, who I’m guessing is a late summer baby from last year. The male is here the most, and when the female isn’t here, he spends all his time eating. When the female is here, he spends almost all his time following her around. The youngster is a bit more reddish than her elders, and I’m wondering if that is a factor of her age or if she’s just more reddish by nature. She isn’t here as often as the adults, and she moves away if they approach here. I’ll be watching her over the coming months to see whether she becomes more gray. 

Here I am at about 15 or 16 with Roy, a squirrel with a broken leg that my veterinarian asked me to care for