25 Realistic Animal Drawings: The Wildlife Art of Kevin Hayler

Welcome to my personal collection of realistic animal drawings. I’ve had the opportunity to draw a wide variety of animals over the years, many of which I’ve observed in the wild, while some others I’ve sourced in zoos and wildlife orphanages.

My golden rule is to photograph my own subjects and work strictly from my own reference photos. I want to maintain the integrity of my work and make them a unique and authentic record of my first-hand experience.

Everything you see was hand-drawn without any AI assistance. This is the real thing.

You’ll see some of my drawings are far more detailed than others. That’s what happens over time. My style changed and developed to the point where I was achieving photorealism.

I could hardly progress much further. It was at that point I chose to back-track and reintroduce a sketchier, looser feel.

Everything’s a journey, right?

If you like realism and the time and talent it takes to produce such life-like drawings, you’ll enjoy these pictures.

Scroll through and see for yourself.

N.B. These are my own pencil drawings. They are NOT AI-generated.

'Bamboo Breakfast' and realistic pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler. The subject is of two panda bears stitting upright and eating bamboo
‘Bamboo Breakfast’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin hayler

Two beautiful giant pandas feeding on bamboo. Not a scene you’d likely see in the wild. For one thing, panda bears are solitary creatures, and for another, getting to see a truly wild panda is next to impossible. I did the next best thing and visited the Chengdu panda breeding and research center in China.

Realistic Pencil Drawings of Animals

Wildlife art and realism tend to go together and most wildlife artists strive to capture the wonder they feel about the natural world.

Wildlife art tends to be a romanticized version of the truth.

Art allows you to glimpse a contrived moment, one that reflects how you want nature to be, but rarely as you find it.

Wildlife doesn’t pose, they are glimpsed from afar or disappear before you can ever take a snapshot. Frustration is the name of the game and the briefest glimpse is your reward. It’s a dopamine hit

Pleasure and pain in equal measure.

.A Waiting Game' A Pencil Drawing of a wild cheetah by Kevin Hayler
‘A Waiting Game’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

This is a wild cheetah. One of 3 brothers I saw on a trip to Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. They were far off and lying up in the long grass. Two sat up and I took the shot. This one was posed nicely. I played around with the background.

I’m an opportunist.

I get as many of my subjects as I can from the wild, which requires expensive kit, long-haul travel, and stacks of time. It’s for that reason very few wildlife artists are in the position to be purists. They can’t afford it.

They must inevitably find their subjects where they can, and that includes, in zoos, orphanages, rescue centers, and the rest.

You never know when the opportunity for a great photo will arise. It’s easier these days now that phone cameras are so good.

Some of my bestselling drawings are derived from point-and-shoot cameras. You don’t need a fancy kit if your drawing/painting skills are proficient enough to compensate.

I am not a real photographer

People assume I’m a wildlife photographer, but I’m not. I have a bridge camera, it’s good enough for reference photos and that’s about it. They are usually badly exposed, poorly composed, and out of focus!

I make wildlife and animal illustrations from the material I’m able to gather. I mix and match, recompose, and sharpen my subjects by eye. Indeed, before photo editors came along, I had to human-photoshop everything myself.

'A Close Encounter' A pencil drawing of a great white shark by Kevin Hayler
‘A Close Encounter’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

One of those bucket list moments, I got to cage dive with great white sharks off the coast of South Africa. This was probably a female, she was BIG, about 5m (15ft) long. This was the moment she broke the surface as she tried to grab a chunk of tuna, dragged from the boat.

I’m not rich.

Some people assume that I must make a fortune to be able to travel to all these far-off places. That’s not the case. I’ve had good years for sure, but we are only talking about an average yearly wage. Nothing special.

I travel on a budget and arrange everything when I arrive in a place. I don’t do package trips. Actually, I have to be independent to claim the expenses.

The only way I can afford to do these things is by being self-employed and offsetting the costs against my tax bill. That’s how it works. Plus I travel for months at a time. If I had a ‘normal’ life, I couldn’t do half this stuff.

It’s fair to say I’m a bit of an obsessive and that helps. I’m committed to this way of life. In fact, it’s been so long now, I wouldn’t know what else to do.

I love looking for wildlife around the world, and art has enabled that passion.

Keep scrolling through my drawings and I’ll add a few thoughts at the end.

'Cat in the Cool' A Drawing of a snow leopard by Kevin Hayler
‘Cat in the Cool’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

I know where to find a wild snow leopard. It’s in Hemis National Park in India. Unfortunately, the best time to see them is in winter. Can I deal with −30 °C (−22 °F)? Nope, but I could handle chilly nights. This cat was in the snow leopard breeding project in Darjeeling, India.

'Daydreams' A realistic Pencil Drawing of a giraffe by Kevin Hayler
‘Daydreams’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

Considering how many times I’ve seen wild giraffes in my life, it’s ironic that I chose to draw this young giraffe in Singapore Zoo. As I said, you get your images where you can, and besides, Singapore Zoo is one of the best in the world, definitely the best in Asia.

'Chestnut Tree and Tawny' A Pencil Drawing of a Tawny owl by Kevin Hayler
‘Chestnut Tree and Tawny’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

There is a zoo, not too far from where I live, called the Wildwood Trust. It specializes in breeding and rescuing British and European wildlife and is involved in some interesting reintroduction projects. This tawny owl was in their collection.

'Happy Face' A Pencil Drawing of a dolphin by Kevin Hayler
‘Happy Face’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

Sometimes you do the wrong things for the right reasons. I visited the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences way back in the 90’s to photograph dolphins. I was taken in by the science bit. Now I think it’s just a resort with a 2-acre enclosure. But I did this drawing and I’m pleased with it. The water looks really transparent

'Looking For Lunch' A Pencil Drawing of a gray squirrel by Kevin Hayler
‘Looking For Lunch’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

There are grey squirrels in my local park (UK) and they are so tame they’ll feed from your hand. They aren’t native, nor are they native to South Africa where I photographed this one. I had to lie down to get this shot and I felt a bit self conscious if I’m honest

'Heat and Dust' A Pencil Drawing of a white rhino by Kevin Hayler
‘Heat and Dust’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

One of my favorite drawings. This is a relocated Southern white rhino in a holding pen in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. It’s a private reserve and working cattle ranch in Northern Kenya. I visited on a day pass by hiring a local taxi cab for the day!

'Looking Good' A Pencil Drawing of a giant tortoise by Kevin Hayler
‘Looking Good’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

I drew this giant tortoise after visiting the Galapagos Islands. If I have a good year, I can afford to travel to more expensive places, this was one of those seasons. It was all tax deductible, but you’ve got to earn it to offset it, right? I drew this tortoise when I was pushing photorealism to my limits.

'Leaps and Bounds' A Pencil Drawing of a Jaguar by Kevin Hayler
‘Leaps and Bounds’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

I’ve produced quite a few drawings from my several visits to Singapore Zoo. This is one of them. I took a photo at the right time when the keepers threw titbits in the water. Jaguars love water. I’d prefer to visit the Pantanal in Brazil to see wild Jaguars for myself, but I’m still waiting for a good enough year to pay for it!

'Push and Shove' A Pencil Drawing of African Penguins by Kevin Hayler
‘Push and Shove’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

How about wild penguins on a sunny beach? I saw these guys at Boulders Beach on the outskirts of Capetown, South Africa. You catch the local train to Simonstown, walk through the town, along the waterfront and there they are, nesting and swimming around. You can go to the public beach and swim with them.

'Tiger in The Grass' A Pencil Drawing of a Sumatran tiger by Kevin Hayler
‘Tiger in The Grass’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

I drew this before I’d seen wild tigers. It’s a contrivance, call it artistic license. This is a Sumatran tiger from London Zoo. It had an expression made for portraits and I envisaged it stalking through the grass. I copied the tiger carefully and made the grass up to create the scene. It‘s one of my early drawings.

'Sitting Pretty' A Pencil Drawing of a Siamese cat by Kevin Hayler
‘Sitting Pretty’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

I’m nothing if not an opportunist. This was the owner’s cat in a guest house in Thailand. It’s a real Siamese cat, although not a purebred by the looks of it. This is a classic pose that anyone who loves cats will appreciate. She was an expectant mum but you wouldn’t know from this angle.

'Monster Croc' A Pencil Drawing of a Nile Crocodile by Kevin Hayler
‘Monster Croc’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

Crocs don’t do much. For the most part, they just wait it out. That’s why I got excited seeing this huge Nile crocodile get up and slide into the water. I was in Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, on a cruise up the river. On the way we passed a bank of crocodiles waiting for any unfortunate prey to be swept over the waterfall. Easy pickings.

‘Stripes’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

I love this composition. It’s so simple and made out of nothing. I took a picture of the three zebras in Kruger National Park in South Africa. Nothing special until I cropped out the third zebra. I do this often. I rarely have a standalone photo I can use off the bat.

'Portrait of a Polar Bear' A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler
‘Portrait of a Polar Bear’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

This is Inuka, a much-loved polar bear that lived in Singapore Zoo for 27 years. He lived in a climate-controlled enclosure with a huge pool. Seeing him swim underwater was quite a sight. As far as I’m aware, the zoo didn’t replace him. This is the drawing I made after he’d been for a swim.

'Best Foot Forward' A Pencil Drawing of a young elephant by Kevin Hayler
‘Best Foot Forward’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

If you ever visit Kenya, you must visit the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. It’s an orphanage on the outskirts of Nairobi. It’s famous for rescuing wildlife, especially baby elephants. When the youngsters are old enough they are moved to Tsavo National Park where they reunite with former residents living wild within the park. It’s inspiring.

'Pride and Joy' A Pencil Drawing of a lioness and her cub by Kevin Hayler
‘Pride and Joy’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

There are lions everywhere in Masai Mara Game Reserve, or so it seems. I saw my first crossing the dirt road on the way to the park, I was on a local bus and it was wandering across the road. We stumbled upon this family group within the reserve. A nice intimate scene.

'Head of the Family' A Pencil Drawing of proud a Male Lion by Kevin Hayler
‘Head of the Family’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

Africa yes, wild no. I visited the Lion Park near Harare in Zimbabwe. I got this classic pose when another lion roared and this male’s head shot up. I was standing in the right place at the right time. Many people use this drawing to get a tattoo made.

'Rare Bear' A Drawing of an Asiatic Black Bear by Kevin Hayler
‘Rare Bear’ A Drawing by Kevin Hayler

One of those ‘should I, shouldn’t I?’ decisions. This was a captive moon bear in Darjeeling Zoo. I went there to visit the snow leopard project and to be honest, I was surprised that the animals were pretty well cared for. This bear wasn’t pacing, so I decided, on balance, it was OK to draw it.

'Father Figure' A Pencil Drawing of a Silverback gorilla by Kevin Hayler
‘Father Figure’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

This is a wild silverback gorilla. I saw him and his family in Bwindi National Park in Uganda. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I had an hour and it passed in the blink of an eye. We got close up and at no time did I ever feel threatened. A top tip if you ever go there, take a good camera that shoots in low light.

'Rearview' A Pencil Drawing of a young zebra by Kevin Hayler
‘Rearview’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

Most people go on safari in the dry season. It makes sense, you’ll see more, but the wet season has its advantages. It’s lush, green, and beautiful, plus it’s when most animals give birth. I saw this youngster in Kruger National Park in South Africa. It had just been raining and his backside is still wet.

'Lion Country' A Pencil Drawing of a wild lion by Kevin Hayler
‘Lion Country’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

Believe it or not, this is a young male lion. How do I know? Because he had no scarring and was alone with his brother. No pride as yet. I saw them on a visit to Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. It has the highest concentration of large predators on Earth and in a spectacular setting. Sightings are guaranteed.

'Baby on Board' A Drawing of an orangutan and her baby by Kevin Hayler
‘Baby on Board’ A Drawing by Kevin Hayler

You can see orangutans on two islands on Earth, Sumatra and Borneo. I saw these two in Tanjung Puting National Park in Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. They have a renowned rehab program and visitors are welcome. This was a semi-wild rescued female orangutan that came along for some supplementary food. Her baby was wild born.

Drawing Realistic Animals For a Living

Making realistic animal drawings and finding a market for them is a tough call. It can be done, if you do things in a certain way. I have written everything in my guide but if you want a free overview, grab my summary. It’s all you need to get started.

That said, let me tell you how it is. Being a working artist isn’t a romantic life. That’s right, like all things in life, reality gets in the way.

Telling people you are a wildlife artist is as romantic as it gets. I see people almost swoon at the thought. It conjures up a great image. It doesn’t bore people, that’s for sure.

Yet, I’m conscious that it’s a white lie. Great for marketing yourself, but no one sees behind the scenes. They don’t know about the donkey work.

I chose this life when I had no responsibilities, and my future and security meant nothing to me. I was naive enough to give it a go. Luckily for me, I landed on my feet.

It’s a business and there are factors you can’t control.

Who would have thought that a global pandemic and war in Europe would arise? It was unpredictable, right?

Now there are more challenges:

  • The death of high street shopping,
  • AI art flooding the internet,
  • Google’s algorithm attack on independent niche sites (HCU)

Making art for a living is hard work.

It involves making pictures that people want on their walls. In that sense, you must compromise. That’s life.

It’s all very well having integrity and not selling out, but that’s a hobbyist talking. Very few artists win the lottery of being unique and popular. How many Banksys are there?

A serious artist must knuckle down, find a signature style and theme, and apply themselves to pleasing others more than themselves. That’s what I had to do.

I had to draw iconic animals if I was to succeed. I couldn’t draw just what pleased me, I did that occasionally, but obscure animals don’t sell.

Pleasing yourself is an indulgence that most of us can’t afford.

I chose this life when I had no responsibilities, and my future and security meant nothing to me. I was naive enough to give it a go. Luckily for me, I landed on my feet. Many do not.

I started my art business in a property boom. People had cash and were moving houses. I sold a lot of art prints. I didn’t plan that. It was serendipity. Things are different these days.

Having said that, I enjoy pleasing people. It’s a buzz to see someone’s face light up when they love your work. It motivates me to continue. I need approval to validate what I’m doing.

It’s not the money that gives me a kick, it’s the pleasure it gives people. That’s a joy and it’s humbling to think that there are people who actually want to own my art. Not only that, they want to live with it everyday on their wall. That’s amazing really.

'Family Life' A Pencil Drawing of a herd of elephants by Kevin Hayler
‘Family Life’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

Has this post been of any help? If so, you may like to read the following articles:

Keep in Touch

* indicates required

Pin This For Later

Realistic Animal Drawings. A Montage for pinterest

Leave a Comment

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.