6 Realistic Elephant Drawings in Pencil

This is my collection of realistic elephant drawings, all drawn from my own encounters and experiences traveling through Africa and Asia over the last few decades.

Through this selection, I aim to share my fascination with these remarkable animals. I share a few personal stories, and offer some insights into my creative process.

If you are into realistic drawing, wildlife travel, or just adore elephants, I think you’ll enjoy this article.

I won’t waffle, you want to see the drawings, right? Let’s crack on.

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'Jumbo Family' A Pencil Drawing of Mother and baby Asian Elephants
‘Jumbo Family’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

‘Jumbo Family’ A Drawing of an Asian Elephant With Her Baby

I witnessed this scene at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka. The piece features a mother elephant with her calf, capturing the tender relationship between them.

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is one of the highlights of any trip to Sri Lanka. It’s home to the largest herd of captive elephants in the world. My visit there was an unforgettable experience that provided rich inspiration for this drawing

The orphanage was established to care for abandoned and orphaned elephants, and it’s since become a major tourist attraction. What makes it special is the opportunity to observe elephants in a more natural setting than in a typical zoo.

One of the most remarkable aspects of visiting Pinnawala is witnessing the daily march of the elephants. Twice a day, the entire herd – around 40 elephants when I visited – walks through the local village down to the river for bathing.

It’s an incredible sight to stand aside as these magnificent creatures amble past, their keepers guiding them along the familiar route.

At the river, you can watch the elephants bathe and play in the water. It’s a joy to see them spraying water, rolling in the shallows, and the younger ones frolicking under the watchful eyes of the adults.

This is where I took the reference photos that inspired this drawing.

Another local NGO worth Checking out is the Millenium Elephant Foundation

Drawing ‘Jumbo Family’:

As is often the case with wildlife photography, I ended up with a series of imperfect shots. However, each captured different elements that I wanted to incorporate into my drawing. The mother elephant looked great in one photo, while the calf looked better in another.

I combined these elements, placing the calf beside its mother in a composition that felt natural and touching.

I made a conscious decision to keep the young elephant’s raised trunk and give the mother a flapping ear. It added a sense of movement and tenderness to the moment.

My Source Photos For drawing 'Jumbo Family' in the Pinnawala Elephant Rescue Center
My Source Photos For ‘Jumbo Family’

This drawing is not as detailed as my later work. I drew it before I’d honed the skills to draw photo-realistically, yet it has been my bestseller for 25 years. Just goes to show, that fancy pencil skills alone do not guarantee sales.

'Balancin Act' A realistic pencil drawing of a playful baby elephant by Kevin Hayler
‘Balancing Act’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

‘Balancing Act’ A Realistic Drawing of a Playful Baby Elephant

This drawing captures a delightful moment I witnessed in Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa. It’s a perfect example of how patience and observation can lead to unique opportunities in wildlife art.

I was on a self-drive safari in Addo, known for its significant elephant population. As I waited quietly in my vehicle, I noticed a small family of elephants in the distance. Among them was a young calf that caught my attention with its playful antics.

What made this scene special was the calf’s behavior. For quite some time, I watched as this young elephant attempted to balance on three legs, much like a child might practice standing on one foot.

The calf wobbled back and forth, clearly enjoying this self-imposed challenge. It was a beautiful display of the playful nature of young elephants, something not often captured in typical wildlife art.

In ‘Balancing Act’, I focused on conveying the joy of this playful moment. The challenge was to capture not just the physical act of balancing, but also the sense of fun and experimentation evident in the calf’s behavior.

I played around with the positioning of the head, and after some adjustments, I decided to use another photo in the sequence and transplant the better head shot onto the body.

My source elephant photos for  drawing 'Balancing Act'
My Source Photos for ‘Balancing Act’

I used mechanical pencils to render the texture of the elephant’s skin, paying particular attention to the seamless join around the head and shoulders.

Addo National Park

I should mention that Addo Elephant National Park is a testament to successful conservation efforts. Established in 1931 to protect the last 11 elephants in the area, it now boasts a population of over 600 elephants.

It now boasts a thriving elephant population and has recently seen the reintroduction of the Big 5. What’s more, the park is surrounded by private game reserves. This is a conservation success story.

'Family Life' A realistic Pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler
‘Family Life’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

‘Family Life’ A Drawing of a Family of Working Asian Elephants in India

This drawing captures elephant life in Kaziranga National Park, Assam, where semi-wild working elephants play a crucial role in both conservation and tourism.

They carry a maximum of 4 people for a one-hour early morning walk in the park, there are two rides a day. The elephants are also used to patrol the park.

At the end of their shifts, elephants are turned out to graze.

Although there is a large wild elephant population in the park, they are hard to see unless they step into the open ground or cross the road. For that reason, I took some photos of these working elephants.

In ‘Family Life’, I focused on the composition showing adults in protective stances around the calf. It illustrates the strong family bonds that exist among elephants.

The calf is the focal point, and it was fun making tiny adjustments and tweaks to create more interest in the scene.

You can see how I’ve played around with the head, removing the wet patches above the eyes and adding flapping ears.

You can also see how I’ve expanded the composition to include extra legs. It just goes to show that an artist doesn’t have to take award-winning photos to do a good job.

My source photo for drawing 'Family Life' . Elephants in Kaziranga
My source reference photo for ‘Family Life’

Working Elephants and Welfare Concerns

I’m well aware of welfare issues in other parts of Asia, but honestly, these elephants were doing fine. I saw no evidence of mistreatment, and the workload was well-regulated.

Plus you must appreciate the terrain in which they are working. Kaziranga is covered in elephant grass which is 10 feet tall. Set aside how difficult it would be for tourists to see the famous one-horned rhinos, how else could wardens safely patrol and protect the park?

Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park is renowned for its successful conservation of the Indian one-horned rhinoceros, as well as it’s significant elephant population. It is also home to a large population of Bengal tigers. This park is amazing.

During my visit, I took a morning elephant ride for rhino spotting. It was an incredible experience that allowed me to observe rhinos, deer, and buffalo in perfect safety and without presenting any threat to the wildlife.

Spotting wildlife from such a unique perspective was amazing, and the icing on the cake? I was on the last elephant following the other tourists when the mahout pointed back and there was a tiger watching us as we passed by!

'Bottle Fed' A hyperrealistic drawing of a baby elephant drinking from a bottle
‘Bottle Fed’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

‘Bottle Fed’ A Hyperrealistic Drawing of an Orphaned Elephant

This is a hyper-realistic drawing of a young orphaned elephant at Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage near Nairobi, Kenya.

It is an example of my perfectionism but also highlights the importance of the work carried out by the Sheldrick Trust.

I took the reference photo during the public viewing time at the orphanage when visitors can observe the young elephants bathing and being bottle-fed. Napasha, the subject of this drawing, had learned to hold her own bottle and feed herself.

My source photo for drawing 'Bottle Fed'
My source photo for ‘Bottle Fed’

This is unusual for me, in that it’s a direct copy of my photo and I pushed myself to capture every detail in this study.

You can see the eyelashes, and the bristles around the budding baby tusk, and around her trunk. If you carefully you can also see the tiny hairs and all the veins around her ear.

I’ve drawn every crease and wrinkle making sure to retain the reflective sheen from the strong African sun.

I had to compensate for the bleached-out bottle, but that was easy enough.

Last but not least, you can see the milk dribbling down her chin. Bless

Creating this level of detail was incredibly time-consuming. I spent hours on each small section, constantly referring back to my reference photo to ensure accuracy.

The challenge was not just in rendering each tiny detail, but in bringing them all together to create a cohesive, lifelike image.

'Best Foot Forward' a pencil drawing of a baby elephant by Kevin Hayler
‘Best Foot Forward’ A Pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler

‘Best Foot Forward’ A Pencil Sketch of a Baby African Elephant

This was my next elephant drawing from the Sheldrick Center. This time I decided to backtrack and loosen up my drawing style. If you think about it, there is only so far you can go with photorealism.

I retained my attention to detail for the main focal point. The head and trunk are super realistic and the wet shiny skin is convincing.

The body is drawn in a much looser and sketchier style. I have broken the hard edges using the ‘lost and found’ technique. It’s a contrivance that adds a more painterly feel to the drawing.

You’ll also notice that I’ve also removed her from the pool and suggested that she is running through the bush. It works I think.

The cross-hatching in the background adds drama, movement, and contrast to the scene.

All in all, I’m happy with the outcome, and fun to draw.

My source photo for drawing 'Best Foot Forward'
My source photo for ‘Best Foot Forward’

The Sheldrick Trust.

Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage is world-renowned for its work in rescuing and rehabilitating orphaned elephants, many of whom have lost their mothers to poaching or human-wildlife conflict.

By portraying these young elephants prospering in their new life, I hope to raise some awareness of their plight, in my own small way.

'Trunks and Texture' A Pencil Drawing of two African elephants by Kevin Hayler
‘Trunks and Texture’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

‘Trunks and Texture’ A Drawing of Two Wrinkly African Elephants

In creating ‘Trunks and Texture’, I set out to capture the complexity of elephant skin. The result, if I succeeded, is a drawing that invites viewers to marvel at the skill level required to recreate the texture.

Every crease, every fold, and even the dry caked-on mud are all meticulously drawn.

The play of light and shadow across the elephants’ skin is the central focus of this piece. Strong lighting casts deep shadows, highlighting the texture beautifully. This interplay adds depth to the drawing and makes it look 3D.

My source photo references for drawing 'Trunks and Texture'
My source photo references for ‘Trunks and Texture’

This is one of my earlier attempts at photorealism. I drew it before I discovered mechanical pencils. It’s OK but the least successful of this selection.

Why? Because firstly I was taken in by the great light and didn’t think through the composition, and secondly, they were only in a zoo and that’s a bit boring.

Save the Elephants is a respected Kenyan NGO

One of the most significant challenges in creating a drawing like this is knowing when to stop. As I worked on each wrinkle and fold of skin, I found myself continually discovering new details to add.

When do you finish?

This drawing exemplifies the balance between adding enough detail to create a sense of realism and knowing when further additions start to ruin everything. It’s a tough call, and sometimes you get it wrong.

'Kindred Spirits' A Pencil Drawing of Pygmy Elephants by Kevin Hayler
‘Kindred Spirits’ A Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

‘Kindred Spirits’ A Pencil Drawing of Three Pygmy Elephants

This striking pencil drawing captures the joyful scene I witnessed of pygmy elephants on the banks of the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Borneo.

We came across three pygmy elephants, playing in the mud and splashing in the water from just a few feet away from our boat. One of those lucky moments in life.

The composition is purposefully arranged, with the three elephants forming a tight-knit family group. Their bodies overlap and intertwine, creating a sense of close intimacy.

The central elephant’s trunk is raised in mid-motion during play, adding a dynamic element to the cameo.

I used my pencil drawing skills to render realistic muddy skin texture. Every wrinkle, fold, and subtle variation in the hide is captured in detail, giving a lifelike quality to the subjects.

The ground beneath them is lightly suggested, providing context without distracting from the main focus. Likewise, the background is empty allowing the elephants to stand out prominently against the white space.

I regard this drawing as one of my best. Not only because it’s taken from my own experiences watching wild elephants, but because I successfully manipulated the composition to recreate the encounter.

My source photos for drawing 'Kindred Spirits'
My source photos for ‘Kindred Spirits’

This is a truer rendition of my experience than my reference photos would suggest. This recreation is not a straight copy of a photograph. No, it’s a recreation of what it felt like to be there at the time.

The Kinabatangan River

What comes to mind when you think of Borneo? You’d be forgiven for imagining its endless tracts of steaming Jungle. Not anymore.

When I was growing up in the 70’s, the rainforest still covered most of this giant island. It was said that an orangutan could travel from one side of the island to the other without ever touching the ground.

Back then, the Kinabatangan River would have wound through the deepest darkest Borneo. Now all that remains is a strip of riverine forest and small patches of forest.

Kinabatangan river from the air
Drone shot of the Kinabangan River from Alan, my boatmate

I saw these pygmy elephants on the riverbank because behind the strip of forest, there is nothing but palm oil plantations for as far as the eye can see. Where else can they go?

Sobering isn’t it?

The banks are teeming with wildlife, for all the wrong reasons. It’s a tragedy.

Yet all is not lost.

Most of the remaining forest is protected, a thriving eco-tourism industry has built up, NGOs are purchasing blocks of remnant forest, and the locals are on side.

Hutan is a local NGO

Elephant numbers are increasing

If you are ever in Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo, I urge you to arrange a trip along the river. You can turn up and arrange things for yourself, or go on an organized tour. Your support will help the local communities and help to protect this amazing place.

6 Realistic Elephant Drawings: My Final Thoughts

For over two decades, my passion for drawing wildlife has taken me on exciting journeys around the world. I’ve seen and observed elephants many times. All over Asia, East and Southern Africa.

I’ve been fortunate to observe these magnificent animals in their natural habitats. Each drawing in this collection represents not just a realistic elephant drawing, but a personal encounter and a travel memory.

By selling prints of these works, I’ve been able to fund my travels and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share these experiences through my art, and to continue my journey as both an artist and a travel addict.

'Family Life' a framed pencil drawing of a family of elephants by Kevin Hayler
‘Family Life’ A Framed Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

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6 realistic elephant drawings in pencil

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