Wildlife Art – Realistic Graphite Pencil Drawing – The Lake

Wildlife Art – Realistic Graphite Pencil Drawing – The Lake

Realism, wildlife art and composition. All of these more often than not begin with habitat. In my blog where I discussed my thoughts behind my Great Horned Owl drawing, I wrote <Sometimes though a subject’s beauty calls for it to stand alone, with just a suggestion of habitat if at all>.  Well, the opposite is also true.  Sometimes the landscape or habitat is in fact the star of the show and the animals are the supporting cast.  The Lake is such a composition.

LSpino _The Lake
LSpino _The Lake

When I was growing up we spent many of our summers at the lake.  The lake wasn’t very big and our house wasn’t very fancy but these were the happiest days of my childhood.  There were great memories of chasing frogs and eating berries in the fields and woods and of having our toes tickled by the minnows in the lake and then there are the memories that are part myth part truth.  I vividly remember hearing the story of the “ducks” that landed on the lake and stayed a few days.  Now, I don’t think there was a grasshopper that passed by our house that I wasn’t aware of and probably named so how did these ducks sneak in without my seeing them!!  I may have been too young to remember, or asleep whenever they came (the Santa principle), or my Dad may have told us the story because he knew we’d love it. Whatever the origin of the story is, a picture formed in my mind that I’ve kept all of my life.

“The Lake” is my homage to that that story.  Today I live near a river and Canada geese are part of my life.  One day when I was walking by the river I heard a splash behind me and as I turned, camera in hand, I quickly snapped as many pictures as I could as a goose was lifting off.  I captured several wing positions and used those pictures of the same goose to compose my drawing.  I used strong sunlight filtering through the trees to create a path through the drawing.  I’m happy to be able to offer prints of The Lake.

Below is a short time-lapse video of of the work-in progress for this drawing.  Hope you enjoy it!

If you have any comments or questions at all, please let me know!

Wildlife Art – Realistic Graphite Pencil Drawing – Dance for Joy

Wildlife Art – Realistic Graphite Pencil Drawing – Dance for Joy – Chinese Goose

Dance for Joy holds a special place in my heart. In previous posts we have covered compositions based on mood, based on a careful study of habitat and natural history, compositions that are completely fictional but quite plausible for that species, and portraits which rely on the beauty of the subject. This one was based on pure emotion.

LSpino _Chinese Goose
LSpino _Chinese Goose

As I was walking near a lake in a park near my home, several chinese geese as well a some mallards swam to shore.  I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to take some reference photos but little did I know what I was about to witness.  Most of the geese and ducks simply shook the water off their backs and wings and began eating but one goose seemed completely immersed in enjoying the warm sunshine.  He hopped and flapped and honked and seemed to be in a world of his own!  He seemed to be dancing for joy!

I quickly set about composing a simple piece showing the goose in a field of grass just as I had seen him however something changed the course of the drawing.  Just as I was beginning the drawing I received an email informing me that one of my drawings  (“Mallard”) had been selected for publication in North Light Books’ Strokes of Genius 6.  This was my first publication and I felt like I was dancing on cloud 9.

Well, with all that dancing going on, I changed the background to have it seem as though the little goose was floating on air.  The title “Dance for Joy” was inspired by the goose’s emotions as well as mine and he became my website logo!  Prints of “Dance for Joy” are available here.

Once again I’ve put together a short time-lapse video for you.  Hope you enjoy it!

All comments and questions are welcome!

Wildlife Art – Realistic Graphite Pencil Drawing – Great Horned Owl

Wildlife Art – Realistic Graphite Pencil Drawing – Great Horned Owl

Often when we think of compositions for our wildlife art subjects, we naturally associate the subject with a certain habitat. I once read that wildlife art is actually landscape art that just happens to have an animal subject in it! Sometimes though a subject’s beauty calls for it to stand alone, with just a suggestion of habitat if at all. Owls I believe fall into this category.

LSpino _Great Horned Owl
LSpino _Great Horned Owl

Trying to depict the intricate patterns we see in an owl’s feathers is a labour of love that is worth every moment!  Every species has its own elaborately detailed pattern.  The markings are exquisite.  Combine that with those large intelligent eyes and magnificent heads and you have an ideal subject.  In the case of older male snowy owls that have lost most of their spots, it’s the absence of pattern that makes those huge golden eyes stand out.



This great horned owl struck a classic pose for me when I was taking photos at a rehabilitation center. I just had to imagine it snuggled within the branches of a great oak tree to complete his portrait.  I like the idea that the leaves mimic some of the complex feather patterns on the owl.  Prints are available here.

As has become my custom,  I prepared a short time-lapse video of of the work-in progress for this drawing.  Hope you enjoy it!

If you have any comments or questions at all, please let me know!  I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.

Wildlife Art – Realistic Graphite Pencil Drawing -Blue Phase Snow Goose

Wildlife Art – Realistic Graphite Pencil Drawing – Blue Phase Snow Goose

Often when we strive to depict realism in wildlife art we can be surprised by the result because of the seemingly endless variety of creatures and habitats in our natural world. Sometimes the challenge is to depict a scene that is ephemeral but completely within the realm of possibilities. That is what happened to me when I composed this drawing of a blue phase snow goose.

LSpino-blue phase snow goose
LSpino-blue phase snow goose

The story starts with a walk in a local park in Canada late one autumn.  I saw a beautiful goose with a white head resting in the grass.  I had no idea what I was seeing but I took lots of reference photos and did a little research when I came home.  The head was typical of our snow geese but normally only the very tips of the wings are black, and these can only been seen in flight.  Many otherwise all white birds have black feathers on their wings or black wingtips because feathers that contain melanin are stronger and more resistant to wear (ref: The Cornell Lab), but this goose had blue-black colouring on its neck, back, wings and tail!

It turns out that blue phase snow geese are actually not that uncommon.  Every goose is different in that the colour can appear anywhere on the body and can be quite irregular.  This individual was strikingly beautiful and I started imagining how those feathers might look against a new snowfall.  Snow geese migrate of course, but they return on their spring migration  beginning in late March when snow storms are quite common.

I had a photo reference of a frozen stream after a fresh snowfall that I had taken several years earlier.  There were beautiful reflections of trees on the ice and I always wanted to use it in a composition.  This was my chance!

I struggled with creating believable shadows so that the goose fit into the landscape and I hope I succeeded.

As I did in my last two posts, I prepared a short time-lapse video of of the work-in progress for this drawing.  Hope you enjoy it!  As always, all comments and questions are welcome.


Wildlife Art – Realistic Graphite Pencil Drawing -Red-Tailed Hawks

Wildlife Art – Realistic Graphite Pencil Drawing – Red-Tailed Hawk couple

Any attempt at realistic wildlife art requires careful study of anatomy and textures such as feather, fur and scales especially in the case of portrait art, but it also requires a study of natural history if the subject is to fit believably in its environment. In other words, it must tell a story and it must be credible.

LSpino _Red-Tailed Hawks
LSpino _Red-Tailed Hawks

My red-tailed hawk composition had a bit of a bumpy start!  I originally intended to do a study of faces only.  I may still do that one day, but thanks to Mike Sibley a wonderful graphite artist, teacher and mentor who challenged me to come up with a more interesting composition, the final drawing is one of my favourites!  Mike also generously supplied the reference for the standing hawk.  “Red-Tailed Hawks” was selected for inclusion in Strokes Of Genius 7: Depth, Dimension and Space, North Light Books.

LSpino_Red-Tailed Hawks - combo1
LSpino_Red-Tailed Hawks – Strokes of Genius 7

I started studying all I could about the behaviour and life history of the red-tailed hawk and slowly a story started to form in my mind.  A good composition is one that tells a story so this is a good start, but the challenge was just beginning!  These are the facts that supplied the inspiration:

  • Although they migrate, their winter range is from southern Canada to Central America, so snow is OK
  • They’re monogamous remaining with the same mate for life, so pairs can be sighted outside of nesting season
  • Like all raptors females are larger than males but there is overlap in the size range therefore I chose to draw them at about the same size.  Their plumage is similar
  • Mated red-tailed hawks commonly hunt together, cooperating to capture their prey
  • A common hunting tactic is to find a high perch and scan for prey.  
  • Colour variations depend on range.  Almost all of the eastern North America population is light-morph, with a white under plumage and solid brick-red tail feathers.

A winter scene formed in my mind of a red-tailed hawk pair hunting on a cold and frosty morning, their prey just out of sight of the viewer.  Luckily, being Canadian, references for snowy forest landscapes were readily available!!

Here’s a short time-lapse video of of the work-in progress for this drawing.  Hope you enjoy it!

If you find this kind of background information useful, or if you have any questions at all, please let me know!