In this spotted hyena watercolor, I made a conscious decision to add more habitat and landscape features, rather then just concentrating on the animals, as I often do. One morning, driving in Kruger National Park in South Africa, we came across this spotted hyena lying right next to the track, with its head resting on its forelegs. It was too good an opportunity to miss so I started sketching.
Knowing that the hyena was likely to move its head, I started sketching from the back end. With the body and front legs sketched out, I had the opportunity to watch the hyena and choose whichever head and neck position I preferred. As I watched, a small group of impala appeared, browsing their way through the bush, probably heading towards the nearby river for a morning drink. The hyena turned its head to watch them and that was the pose I chose to sketch. A few moments later the impala spotted the hyena, barked in alarm and moved away. The hyena got up and casually walked right up to the car until its nose was just inches from me, at which point I did my window up! Then it walked around the car, stared in the windows on the other side and walked away.
Spotted Hyena watching Impala, 11×14″, US$300 by Alison Nicholls
Before we drove on, even though the hyena and impala were gone, I added some more details of the bushes behind the hyena, and drew the simple shapes for the impala. Paint was added back at camp (without photo or video reference), as you can see from this short video of my spotted hyena watercolor.
You can learn these sketching and painting techniques from me on an Africa Geographic Art Safari in South Africa. There’s nothing quite like sketching from life in the African bush. But don’t take my word for it – come and see for yourself!
Purchase Spotted Hyena Watching Impala.
The whoop of the spotted hyena is one of the most recognizable calls of the African bush. My favorite memories of sitting around the campfire at night include many occasions spent listening to distant hyenas, then being startled by a response from very close by. I have also been only feet away, eating dinner by the fire, when a huge clan of spotted hyenas ran down a track through the middle of Savute campsite at night. And on one occasion realized to my consternation that a particularly brazen hyena was sitting in the shadows behind my camp chair, waiting for us to go to bed so he could see if we had left any edible scraps in our campsite.
Several of my recent African field sketches include spotted hyenas, but these were sketched during the day, so I wanted to try painting a nocturne (night scene) of a spotted hyena foraging. My first thought was how I would cope without all the vibrant colors I usually use? Well, it turned out to be easy, because I mixed all the greys and browns in the painting from combinations of 3 lovely colors – Naples yellow, Anthraquinone blue and Quinacridone burnt orange. Its amazing what you can do with only 3 colors, used in different proportions, and many of my studio paintings make use of such a limited palette.
The hyena in this painting is using its amazing sense of smell to test the air and locate food. You can see her strong neck which is necessary to anchor the huge muscles which give the hyena such a powerful bite. Their fictional reputation may be as cowardly scavengers but this is not at all accurate. Spotted hyenas are successful predators in their own right, are essential to the health of their environment, are a fascinating species, and are one of my favorites to watch and sketch.
Spotted Hyena – Night Scent is an original framed acrylic on canvas, 20×16″, priced at US$1800. Please whoop if you’d like further details!