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

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