William Grill and The Wolves of Currumpaw

Can you say something about your background and any other experiences that have fed into your work?

I grew up in a rural part of Hampshire, so spent a good deal of time outdoors making dens and the like, I think that’s why I’m now so interested in stories that take place in wild places. My parents weren’t particular artistic, but they were into travelling as their background was both geography. I hate to admit it but I probably looked up to my older brother as he’s always been artistic and a few steps ahead.

 Who are your influences?

Influences change all the time but a few consistent influences would be some of the Fauvist painters, Eric Ravilious and Saul Steinberg.

 What inspired you to write the story of The Wolves of Currumpaw ?

I picked up a 1904 year old copy of Seton’s classic Wild Animals I Have Known on a whim and after reading Lobo’s tale I couldn’t put it out of my mind. The story seemed so timeless and relevant to today that I was surprised it wasn’t more well known, this combination was enough to convince myself to try and adapt it visually for a modern audience.

Who was Lobo?

Lobo was one of the last ‘outlaw wolves’ that terrorised a handful of ranchers and cowboys in Clayton, New Mexico in the 1890s. To the frustration of many men he evaded capture and poisoning countless times earning him the title ‘The King of Currumpaw’.

Tell us about Ernest Seton.

Ernest Thompson Seton was a talented artist, writer and naturalist. He was also a skilful hunter who knew how to catch wolves better than most, he even wrote a manual for doing so.  After his encounter with Lobo however his life changed and he never killed a wolf again, and in fact he spent the rest of his life trying to protect wildlife. Apart from lobbying for wildlife protection laws, Seton realised one of the best ways to do this was through education, this is how the Boy Scouts of America was formed. You could argue he was one of the first conservationists.

Tell us a little about your experience spending time at a wolf sanctuary. 

I spent a week volunteering at the wolf sanctuary helping out with odd jobs (mostly weeding) so that I could fill a sketchbook with observational drawings of the wolves.  The drawings were done in the morning when the wolves were having breakfast as that’s when they’re most active.  The best moment was hearing all the wolves howl in chorus at dawn and dusk, worst moment was finding a black widow spider in my jacket. I wished I could have stayed longer, just as I was getting to know the place and the people I had to leave, hopefully I’ll pay them another visit soon!

You use sketchbooks widely.  Do you also use photographs when working on the finished work?

I try to use my own reference as much as possible, however sometimes you need to use photos for specific details and imagery you’re not able to see first hand.

You run an art club at a local school.  How did this come about?

It came about through Twitter funnily enough; the school’s year 6 were due to study Shackleton (Shacketon’s Journey – Grill’s 2014 book & Winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal 2015)  through a reading programme created by CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) where one or two children’s books are used to base their study upon. I helped out on occasional days and even went to see their school play based on Shackleton’s expedition! After that I was sad it came to an end so proposed an afterschool art club!