Posts Tagged 'palaeoart'

Interview with Steve White

Typical isn’t it, you wait six months for a new palaeoart interview and then two come along at once. Today’s entry is Steve White. Steve may not have the profile of some of his colleagues but has produced some beautiful artworks. Most importantly perhaps, he is the editor of a soon-to-be-released book on the palaeoart of dinosaurs and featuring new works and words from an absolute hatful of artists, many of whom have featured here over the years and will no doubt be of great interest. Anyway, back to Steve and his art and as per usual please do not take or reuse these without permission and my thanks to Steve for his generous loan of his work:

Continue reading ‘Interview with Steve White’

Interview with Wayne Barlowe

It’s been a good while since we’ve had a new art interview, but I’m pleased to report that Wayne Barlowe has kindly pitched in. While Wanye has not been especially productive in this line of art, he has made some major contributions and his work has turned up in plenty of dinosaur books over the years. As per usual all images are on loan here and should not be reproduced without his permission etc.


How long have you been an artist?
I’ve been working professionally since 1977. Spent two years at Cooper Union and began to get called to do science fiction illustration for magazines and paperbacks. In the mid ’90’s I embarked upon a pleasant, albeit short-lived sojourn into the world of paleo art.

How long have you been producing palaeoart?
Well, the truth is, I haven’t actually done any paleo art in some time. When I was doing nothing but, I probably spent a total of 4 – 5 years immersed in that world. During that time, along with doing a few paintings for myself, I rendered the color paintings for THE HORNED DINOSAURS and AN ALPHABET OF DINOSAURS both authored by Dr. Peter Dodson – somewhere in the neighborhood of forty or so paintings.

What first got you interested in dinosaurs and art?
I had a deep and abiding interest in paleo art and paleontology, in general, since I was a child. My parents, both nature artists, had the full set of Augusta/Burian volumes and those acted as perfect catalysts for my young imagination. They actually served as something of an inspiration for my SF nature book, EXPEDITION.

What is your favourite piece of palaeo art that you have produced?
I am generally hyper-critical of my own work. With that said, a few of the paleo pieces still work for me. I’d probably point to JURASSIC SIESTA – a pair of satiated ceratosaurs – as my favorite.

Who is your favourite palaeoartist or piece of palaeoart?
While I happily admire many of the pieces I see being produced today, I’d have to say that Zdenek Burian’s approach has never really been beaten. He was a painter first and a paleo man second. For me, his dinosaur and early mammal paintings are Art. The brushwork, the atmosphere, the composition all bespeak an Old World tradition and sensibility. There is much to learn and admire in those works, despite the advances in understanding of the Mesozoic world. For nostalgia reasons, his classic T-rex and hadrosaur painting has to be my favorite.

What is your favourite dinosaur / archosaur?
I’ll always have a soft spot for ceratosaurs. So baroque and interesting.

Is there any animal you would like to paint but have not?
Given my short tenure in the paleo art world, the list is way too long. Apart from some the newly found feathered dinosaurs, I love flying reptiles – the whole idea is really too fantastic – and would eventually like to do a serious painting of one of them. I’m a big WW1 airplane buff, so these two interests might dovetail and find some expression in a pterosaur painting.

What do you think is the most important part of good palaeoart?
Integrity. Integrity towards the composition, towards the world being depicted, towards the spirit of the creature being shown.

More from the studio of Luis Rey

I spent yesterday with Luis Rey, catching up after far too long and helping him out as he wanted to start a blog. We had some computer problems, but eventually got things working and stuck up a bunch of posts. Luis has produced or modified a lot of pictures over the last couple of years that no-one has seen but now they’re starting to come online. If you want to check it, out, drop into his blog here.

The last time I visited, Luis let me take a bunch of photos of his studio and that led to the first of the palaeoart interview series. It’s packed with casts, models, sculptures and paintings and includes a good number of commercial pieces that Luis has retouched or repainted. Once again he was kind enough to let me snap away so enjoy some more of his bits and pieces.

Horniman pterosaurs

Yesterday I put up some photos of the gloriously anachronistic dinosaurs at the Horniman museum. As you’ll have already deduced from the title that they also had a couple of pterosaur models. While presumably hailing from the same era (and perhaps even that same artist) they are not quite as inaccurate, though this is, I suspect, more to do with the fact that our ideas of pterosaurs have changed less over time (or in some cases returned to an earlier idea), rather than any greater level of detail being paid to the pterosaurs.

While there are (inevitably) some mistakes, the only really standout one is the neck of the Pteranodon. It’s absolutely tiny and makes it look like the head has just been welded onto the body. Given that one of the defining characteristics of the pterodactyloids is the long neck, and that in Pteranodon it should be about half to two-thirds of the length of the skull, this is far from a good representation of a pretty basic bit of anatomy.

A little more on making Fedexia

Back at the end of last year, buried in the huge mass of posts based on my superb trip to the Carnegie in Pittsburgh, I covered this lovely little display about the creation of palaeoart, based on an animal named Fedexia. The artist responsible, Mark Klingler, was kind enough, not only to supply me with the means to get hold of his DIY Quetzalcoatlus, but also provided me with some of his files on his reconstruction to show the process rather more clearly. My thanks to him for these.

Key to the above collection:
A 1–3. Fossil skull: Dorsal View, Diagram, Lateral view

B. Reconstructed skeleton as it may have looked

C 1–11. Reconstruction process to create the look of Fedexia
C1. original pencil drawing with #2 mechanical pencil on Bristol board
C2. color overlay with color pencil on vellum
C3. scanned in pencil, contrasted in Photoshop
C4. overlay C3 over C2 in Photoshop
C5. scanned in pattern outline, original in pen & ink on vellum, and filled pattern dots in Photoshop
C6. knocked out areas outside pattern dots
C7. addition of purple form midtones
C8. addition of sky blue highlights on bumps of skin
C9. shadow overlay added to Fedexia
C10. highlight overlay added to Fedexia, later lightened in transparency
C11. final Fedexia striegeli reconstruction

D 1–6. Reconstructed environment for Fedexia; 2H pencil, mechanical pencil on vellum
D1. Thumbnail sketch layout
D2. Place Fedexia in for size
D3. Final pencil Pennsylvanian time period, some 300 m.y.a., plants include:
• Calamites carinatus (after Hirmer 1927)
• Psaronius (tree ferns from Stidd 1971)
• Fallen lepidodendron trunks
• Walchia (conifer, after Moret)
• Asterophillites equisetiformis
D4. Color overlay, color pencil on vellum
D5. Assembled pencil background contrasted in Photoshop with Fedexia reconstruction
D6. Assembled colored background with Fedexia reconstruction

Reconstructing Fedexia

Today’s sign is a bit of a different one. It comes from the Carnegie’s superb family gallery that lays out a fun and informative A-Z of museums, what they do, how they work, and why they are important. Here is a lovely display about the reconstruction of a fossil taxon by noted artist Mark Klingler.

While I have seen a number of signs and exhibits about producing like reconstructions of fossil animals, but these tend to focus on fleshing out skeletons and issues of colour patterns, but here it’s devoted more to the art itself. Sure those issues are present here as well, but there’s things about composition and structure. It’s a level of depth I don’t think I have seen before for this subject and it was well presented, especially in a gallery of the museum focused at a younger audience.

Want to do some dinosaur art?


I am genuinely interested in palaeoart and the act of reconstructing representations of dinosaurs as living animals from the fossil record. Indeed for me it’s the final extension of what I do as a palaeontologist in trying to produce the information that allows us to bring these long dead animals back to life.

However, I’m well aware of the fact that a great many of my friends in this field struggle to make a living, and despite their willingness to produce works on my behalf (and those of others) they are often not renumerated to the degree they should be. This makes me feel exceptionally guilty, but there’s not much I can do about it. I simply don’t have the money available for such things and all I can do is showcase their works and talent. A number of other people have generously volunteered their services at various times and have been kind enough to produce work that links to my research. Even here though, I feel I’m picking on the select ‘few’ when I know there are many people out there (and a large number who read this blog) would have liked a crack at whatever new thing in being described.

Bearing all that in mind, I though it time to open something up to anyone. A chance for any person who is interested to get a jump on a project and produce something in relation to it. I have an interesting specimen which is being written up for a paper and I’m giving people the chance to illustrate this. If you want to join in, all you have to do is e-mail me, or add a comment below and I’ll send you what you need.

The ‘rules’ as such are as follows:

1. The images etc. I send are private and should not be published or sent around etc. to anyone until the paper is out. Nor for that matter should you publish any sketches etc. Sorry about this, but the research should be kept private and of course the museum that owns the specimen and the curators who looks after it have their rules too about such use. It’s pretty much normal practice though.

2. You should discuss this work only with me, or another person you know to be illustrating this. I’m not that secretive about my research, but equally I can’t control a disparate group of people either, so the easiest and ‘safest’ thing to do is this.

3. Any submission I get will be published on the Musings (credited of course) when the paper is out (assuming you want that!). If you have done something and it’s ready in time I will post it.

4. Assuming we get media interest in this, I will make all images available to the media (credited of course, and with your permission) and thus may get some serious online interest.

5. I will attempt to provide such scientific guidance and feedback for the work as far as possible to help this on it’s way, though of course I can’t necessarily give tons of help if I have a dozen (or maybe even many more) people to deal with.

Edit: 6. Following the first few comments I realise that just to cover myself in case of any eventuality I reserve the right to have to change these rules and especially limit the number of participants. I simply can’t help / handle dozens of people, so if *everyone* signs up I may have to cut this down / hold a lottery / something. I hope it won’t come to that, but understand that 100 people could sign up and I can’t offer the time to help them all and I’d be uncomfortable sending out this stuff to such a huge number of people.

What I really hope this is, is a chance for people who want their work to be seen and to work with me on a project (getting some real help about anatomy etc.) and, well, have their work seen and recognised. What I hope this is not and I’m trying hard to make sure it isn’t, is exploitative. I know loads of people out there simply want to paint and draw dinosaurs and rush to be among the first to do so when something new comes out. If that’s happening anyway, then here’s a chance for you to do that with the researcher in question and get a headstart and real feedback on the subject (even if there’s a whole bunch of people in the same position).

I should add at this point that the paper is really not much more than a sketch right now and I don’t expect to finish the writing for a good few weeks or even a few months and then of course there are reviews etc. I’ll be surprised if this is formally published in the next 3-4 months, and it could easily be twice that (and more if there are big delays or bad luck). Either way, time is on your side, so don’t feel you have tyo go mad and get scribbling, but be warned that I have only limited control over when the ‘deadline’ will be. The paper is not about a new species but deals with dinosaur behaviour.

So, if you still want in, drop me a line or add a comment below. In a couple of weeks, I’ll put together a package of photos and files and send them out and let you get started.



Interview with James Gurney

Today’s palaeoart interview comes courtesy of James Gurney (there’s lots more in the palaeoart section). He’s almost certainly most famous for his enormously popular series of Dinotopia books (an island where the dinosaurs survived the KT and live alongside humans), but James also does more traditional-type palaeoart. My thanks for him not just for agreeing to do this, but for getting back to me in just a few hours! Right, I’ll shut-up and let him take over. As ever all images etc. are courtesy of James, and oh yeah, do check out his blog too. We’ll start with a familiar pair of crania….

How long have you been an artist?
I’ve been drawing and painting since I was thirteen, and supporting myself as an artist since I was in high school. Back then I was doing calligraphy and pen and ink illustration. But I was drawing animals all along, especially our family’s dogs.

How long have you been producing palaeoart?
I was an archaeology major at UC Berkeley. My first taste of paleoart came in the late 1970s when I was in college during an undergraduate course on paleontology taught by J.A. Robinson, the plesiosaur expert. She had to leave class in the middle of the term to fly down to investigate that rotting carcass that the Japanese fishermen had pulled out. There was a rumor it might be a plesiosaur carcass, but it turned out to be a long-dead shark. We were all pretty excited, and then disappointed.

Anyway, in her class, I did a summer field workshop digging up extinct mammals on the Black Hawk Ranch. For my school project I drew charcoal drawings of all the fauna we found.

What first got you interested in dinosaurs and art?
I came at dinosaurs through a fascination with lost worlds and archaeology. I had been working for National Geographic all through the 1980s painting archaeological reconstructions for them, while also painting paperback covers in the science fiction genre. I combined those interests with my love of Jules Verne by coming up in my spare time with a series of lost world panoramas. One of them was called “Dinosaur Parade.” The idea was to reimagine dinosaurs not just as monsters or dull sluggards in the swamp, but to pick up on what Bakker and Horner were proposing about caregiving and warm bloodedness. One of the first paleontologists to help me out was Mike Brett-Surman of the Smithsonian, who, like many scientists, shared my love of both the science and the science fiction. Later on I was thrilled when Mike curated the Dinotopia exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History.

What is your favourite piece of palaeo art that you have produced?
I’m always a bit dissatisfied with my own work, but one that really came together was a painting of Titanoboa for the National Wildlife Federation (shown above). It was a tough challenge because it’s hard to convey the amazing size of a 10 meter snake without any obvious scale references. If I could have painted him eating a Wall Street bank executive, it would have been easier. The key to both scale and drama was to imagine him wrestling with a crocodylian. There are some YouTube videos of caimans and alligators in similar match-ups, but the action usually takes place underwater. I had to model the whole scene in miniature to figure out the dynamics and the lighting. I was moving fast on that one, and only had about five days from start to finish. I was thrilled when it was used as the poster for the recent exhibit “Focus on Nature,” which includes a lot of work from the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators.

Who is your favourite palaeoartist or piece of palaeoart?
Somehow, I missed Charles Knight when I was young, so Z. Burian was the paleoartist I first looked at. I loved the paintings he did in the Time/Life book Evolution, and like Mark Hallett said of Knight, I assumed that they were some form of photos. Although the scholarship has moved on since his day, his paintings have a sense of mise en scène that still holds up. Of course I admire all my fellow paleo painters and sculptors of today, but I also draw inspiration from wildlife and bird painters such as Raymond Ching, Robert Bateman, Carl Brenders, and Lars Jonsson, as well as the great animal painters of the past such as Rungius, Barye, and Landseer.

What is your favourite dinosaur / archosaur?
I love Mei long, and wanted to use my painting of the little sleeping dragon on the cover of my newest book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter. I spend a lot of time looking at photos and videos of birds, and sketching chickens and ducks at a nearby farm, and watching my own parakeet for clues about their non-avian cousins. I always wondered why I never saw renderings of small theropods sleeping on one foot. My friend Mick Ellison already owned the sleeping position, so I decided to try the standing pose, basing the color and light in my painting on photos I had seen of spoonbills and flamingos (pictured above).

Is there any animal you would like to paint but have not?
I was thrilled to get a chance to paint Sinornithomimus recently for Scientific American. There are a bunch of creatures I’d love to paint, such as Concavenator, Anchiornis, Xixianykus, or Raptorex. I’m equally interested in mammals, fish, and invertebrates.

What do you think is the most important part of good palaeoart?
Naturalism. Believability. It’s a sum total of the morphology, the surface covering, the lighting, the color, and the composition. I feel it’s just as important to spend time painting landscape studies and sketching living analogs in zoos as it is to study the skeletal morphology. Animals have to fit naturally into their environment, and behave convincingly with each other. I’m always trying to go beyond the obvious scene of the dinosaur running with their mouths open across dry lake beds (OK, I’ve done my share of those, too). I’m also interested in going against the knee-jerk media marketing of dinosaurs as ruthless monsters. There haven’t been enough images of dinosaurs hidden in camouflage, or sleeping, or regurgitating food, or preening, or playing, or scratching an itch. The best paleo paintings haven’t been done yet, and maybe a high school kid reading this will be inspired to paint an epic image that hasn’t yet been seen.

Zhuchengtyrannus art II

So in the last couple of days we have had Bob Nicholls talk about his beautiful vignette of Zhuchengtyrannus and an interview with artist Brian Choo. Now we can sort of combine the two. As Brian is based at the IVPP he soon found out about the upcoming description of the new tyrannosaur and excited by the new taxa being discovered he went away and produced this:

Continue reading ‘Zhuchengtyrannus art II’

Interview with Brian Choo

Today I’m pleased to bring to you an interview with artist (and researcher) Brian Choo. I first became aware of Brian’s art with his image of a very early fish giving birth based on a spectacular find of a fossil embryo from the Devonian. Brian himself works on fish so much of his art is based around his own research and that of his colleagues, but his love of dinosaurs and the fact that he’s Australian means he has a nice tendency to produce images of Auzzie taxa that tend to get overlooked when people tend to go for Allosaurus or Diplodocus. Brian is now installed in my old stomping ground at the IVPP so I ran into him recently when I was back there and managed to persuade him to add the latest in my palaeoart interviews. Here then is his interview and there’s a special bonus I’m saving for tomorrow so stay tuned.

Continue reading ‘Interview with Brian Choo’

Guest Post: Illustrating Zhuchengtyrannus:

Yes another guest post and yes we’re back on the tyrannosaurines again. While I’ve already talked somewhat about the impact of the artwork (that by now everyone is familiar with) I’ve not talked process. Here is a chance to make that up as Bob Nicholls returns to the Musings again (see here, here and here for starters!) to talk about how he created this piece. My thanks once again to him for his superb work:

Being the first artist to illustrate a new species of extinct animal is a great honour.  The series of events that are required to successfully fossilise a dinosaur and for that individual to be revealed to the world millions of years after death is an epic story.  In brief, the dinosaur first died in a location where its remains were covered by sediment rapidly.  The animal’s remains then hid within the Earth and lay undisturbed for a length of time we cannot imagine.  During this vast period the dead creature’s species will evolve out of existence and new life forms will survive catastrophes to colonize our planet.  Eventually a species of energy hungry ape developed an interest in investigating planet Earth’s history and against the odds our fossilised dinosaur was discovered. One of the apes, let’s call him Dave Hone, then decided to reveal the dinosaur to his entire ape species and asked a friend, let’s call him Bob Nicholls, to illustrate the wonderful discovery.  It may sound like a simple tale, but if you really think about it, it is astonishing.  To be a small part of it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  There is no greater honour for a palaeontologist than to be the first to show the world what a long extinct animal looked like.  Especially a tyrannosaur!

Sketch for the life reconstruction of Zhuchengtyrannus. Courtesy of Bob Nicholls.

The illustration of Zhuchengtyrannus took me about eight hours in total, from the first preliminary drawing to e-mail delivery.  The first sketch was a satisfactory pose but four re-draws were required to make small adjustments to the teeth, snout, nostril and eye.  When Dave was happy for me to render the colour artwork I painted it with acrylic paint on illustration card.  I chose to paint the colour scheme of a show-off male with an eye stripe and blood red patches for impressing the tyrannosaur ladies.  I wish Dave and I could have worked on the piece a little longer but it was an excellent and most enjoyable day’s work.  Zhuchengtyrannus is dead, long live Zhuchengtyrannus!

Zhuchengtyrannus life reconstruction by Bob Nicholls

The art of Zhuchengtyrannus

Zhuchengtyrannus life reconstruction by Bob Nicholls

I have my longtime Musings friend Bob Nicholls to thank (well, we did pay him too) for the superb art of Zhuchengtyrannus that has accompanied the release of this work into the media. The original and Bob’s pencil sketch will soon hang proudly on the wall of my office (they’re being framed right now).

What Bob has produced is, I think, quite beautiful, but there are a couple of features in there which the sharp-eyed (or overly nit-picky) may have spotted that are worth discussing as they illustrate some of the issues of producing such a work and how things can be done to highlight certain issues or produce an effect for the reader. While much can, and has, been written and discussed about the various aspects of palaeoart (or palaeontography if you prefer) this is a nice opportunity to go a little further.

First off there is one too few teeth in the dentary. This is basically my fault (or if you want to be more generous to me, that of the authors collectively). We originally misinterpreted the broken small tooth socket at the front of the dentary, that many tyrannosaurs have, as being part of a very large first tooth. That is, the first and second sockets were smushed together and we thought they were just a single large one till a referee correctly spotted this error and we corrected it in the paper. By this point Bob had already turned in his work and it was too late to do anything about it. To be more accurate, we never told him! So if you’re reading this now Bob, feel absolved of any blame, but I didn’t tell you because I felt guilty and didn’t want you to have to go to any trouble to correct it and assumed that no-one would know or care (though I’m rather destroying the first notion by writing this).

Of course, if anything the teeth are too correct in that (first dentary tooth apart!) they are all there. Theropods shed their teeth quite regularly and it would be normal for one or two to be broken or only half exposed in the jaw rather than a nice neat row as seen here. This of course introduces the main point I wanted to make in this post: this artwork (like many others) is supposed to be illustrative. It’s created to communicate something about the animal as a living organism to people based on the fossil bones. Many people seeing this would likely be hindered, not helped, by such details and would be wondering why the teeth were uneven and oddly positioned. This artwork, (with the Musings being the only likely exception) will not be accompanied by expert commentary on theropod anatomy and physiology and was destined for consumption by the general public so keeping things simple was the order of the day. (Though for the record, Bob and I never discussed this, his draft had the teeth like this and I thought it fine to keep them like that).

Zhuchengtyrannus maxillary sculpting. From Hone et al. in press

Similar to this, the sculpting on the maxilla (seen here) is particularly prominent, and while this is a common feature of adult tyrannosaurines, to my eye at least, it’s a little bit more pronounced than I’ve seen in other tyrannosaur specimens. As such I asked Bob to emphasise this in the artwork. In reality, the muscle and fat layers and even the skin itself were probably thick enough that looking at the living animal this would be invisible, or at least rather more subtle than seen here. But again, the point here was to emphasise a characteristic of the bones in the art – to provide an obvious point of reference for someone who knows nothing of dinosaurs to make the connection between the bones and the life reconstruction.

I can see that not everyone might be happy with this. But my take would be that you have to tailor the picture to the audience and the level of information that can go with it. In emphasising the sculpting and keeping the teeth regular there is nothing especially odd or outlandish about this. It is accurate and reasonable (plausible if not probable if you like) and deviates only a little from what you might consider a perfectly accurate or perfectly probably reconstruction (this after all, is not what a human looks like – it’s informative, but not necessarily realistic as such). If I were to get this done for a dinosaur book where I could wax lyrical over several pages or include key notes and labels then I’d probably actively want to add missing teeth and reduce the sculpting to emphasise these very points, but in the circumstances this was the best way to convey the maximum information with the minimum amount of confusion.

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