Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Vintage Dinosaur Art: I Can Read About Dinosaurs

Late update: David covered this one before! Be sure to read his take. I try not to go over the same ground, but mistakes happen.

The 1970s are a particularly rich source of popular/children's dinosaur books, fuelled no doubt by the Dinosaur Renaissance, the fantastically cheesy B-movies of the time (the seminal example When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth appeared in 1970), or some combination thereupon. I Can Read About Dinosaurs (1972, illustrated by Judith Fringuello) is very typical of kids' books of the era; although the restorations are still old-fashioned in outlook, they're a lot more lively than they might have been back in the Zallinger days. It also features a very cool, nicely composed cover. Just check out those heroically posed Sexy Rexies, nonplussed by angry mountains and demonic, wraith-like pterosaurs. Aw yeah.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mesozoic Miscellany 73

In the News

Meet Carnufex carolinensis, a new Triassic crocodylomorph that hit the web with a splash last week. Described by Lindsay Zanno and team in Scientific Reports, C. carolinensis was a massive, top-of-the-food-chain predator nicknamed "The Carolina Butcher." Co-author Susan Drymala discussed the find with BBC Radio's Up All Night. Brian Switek wrote about it over at Laelaps. Chris DiPiazza also whipped up a fantastic illustration of the new beastie. The Guardian published a report as well. Good to see this one getting so much press, and more on that a bit later in this post...

In ichno-news, Lisa Buckley has written a great post about a new set of lower Cretaceous trackways: ornithopod, non-avian theropod, and a newly described avian ichnotaxon, Paxavipes babcockensis. The bird tracks are notable, Buckley writes, for their unique orientation of toes, which reminds her of our extant Killdeer. Also check out the paper in Cretaceous Research.

Hațeg Island continues to produce oddballs: this time, evidence of a new short-necked azhdarchid. Mark Witton discussed the research at his blog, while teasing that a complimentary publication relevant to Cretaceous pterosaur evolution is on its way. Nab the PDF here.

A new Pachyrhinosaurus bonebed has been discovered in the Upper Cretaceous Wapiti Formation. As the abstract says though, there's more here than the title of the paper suggests. "About 88% of vertebrate remains are ceratopsian, and dromaeosaurid, hadrosaurid, troodontid, and tyrannosaurid remains have also been identified." It's also notable for being the farthest-inland bonebed yet discovered, at almost 300 miles (450 km) away from the coastline of the ancient sea.

In other bonebed news and other Triassic news, squeaking in just as I wrap this post up, a new Triassic species of Metoposaurus, M. algarvensis, has been described in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology by Steve Brusatte and team. Coming from a new Portugese bonebed, this monstrous temnospondyl offers up new details of skull anatomy that will assist in further phylogenetic work on the metoposaurids. And the reconstructions released with the news are terrific, too. Read more at Live Science.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

Back to Mark Witton, as he has been putting out a ridiculous amount of beautiful work lately. Witton has been revisiting some of his older pieces to incorporate changes in his thinking as well as his artistic technique. Check out his recent posts on his reclining Torvosaurus, pigeon-like Therizinosaurus, and a pair of controversial ceratopsians.

At his New Views on Old Bones blog, Paul Barrett republished his guest post at Dave Hone's Guardian blog on the process of the NHM acquiring their stunning new Stegosaurus, Sophie.

Speaking of Stegosaurus, Matt Martyniuk has written a wonderful, thorough post on the evolving look of the iconic taxon over the years.

Dean Lomax and Nobu Tamura collaborated on a recent book on British dinosaurs, and Darren Naish has an in-depth review for us.

Darren also reviewed Matt Martyniuk's gorgeous recent Beasts of Antiquity: Stem-birds in the Solnhofen Limestone.

At Extinct Monsters, Ben Miller writes about famous mounts that share an origin in the Carnegie quarry, though they may be stars of distant museums now.

Always a good time to talk about Mary Anning, and Fernanda Castano wrote a tribute to her at Notes from Gondwana.

Gareth Monger wrote a nice post about his process of rethinking his own Rhamphorynchus reconstruction, showing how he's improved on it since its conception and considering the possibility of showier color schemes than his earlier work.

Extant Theropod Appreciation

Some wonderful news from Colombia: the Blue-Bearded Helmetcrest (Oxypogon cyanolaemus), thought extinct, has been rediscovered. Its ultimate survival, however, is anything but guaranteed, as its habitat is threatened by livestock grazing and fires set for agricultural purposes.

Palaeoart Pick

It's not every day that an ancient crocodylomorph makes international news, but props to Zanno, Drymala, and team for achieving such coverage for The Carolina Butcher. One of the reasons for this must be the stunning restoration included in the press release. The work of one Jorge Gonzales, this fantastic piece is one more example of how important good palaeoart is. I've said it before, and I'll probably never stop: There is no palaeontology outreach without palaeoart.

Carnufex carolinensis, © Jorge Gonzalez, from the press materials distributed by NC State University.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Mammoth is Mopey, a paleoart alphabet book

I am excited to announce that the children's book Mammoth is Mopey, written by my wife Jennie and me and featuring 26 of my original illustrations, is close to publication! It has been a labor of love for the last few years, and I'm on pins and needles as we work on the crucial last step. What's the book about? This Venn diagram is a good place to start.

At its heart, Mammoth is Mopey is simply a fun celebration of prehistoric life. Written as an alphabet book, it features 26 animals spanning 500 million years of Earth history. Some are familiar - Ankylosaurus, Velociraptor, and the title character for example. But most of them are not household names, from Permian synapsids to recently discovered non-avian dinosaurs to a terror bird and a temnospondyl. They're whimsical and cartoony, but they are thoroughly contemporary, with the kinds of integumentary variety and other anatomical details we are accustomed to nowadays, and that we wish the mainstream pop culture would embrace more quickly. Emily Willoughby wrote eloquently on this angle of the book in a wonderful post at her Things With Feathers tumblog. Mark Witton also gave it a big thumbs up at his blog.

Not that I'm seriously suggesting therapsids were either bipedal or nattily dressed...

...or that ankylosaurs fancied painting the occasional still-life.

Another reason for the book is to provide a fun way for adults and children to learn about these amazing animals together. Each spread includes information about when and where each critter lived, and pronunciations produced with help from Mike Keesey. Big and small readers can learn the names together and talk about the emotions and actions of the animals.

Our funding campaign via Indiegogo has two goals. First, we want to print an initial run of 1,000 copies of the book. We're not skimping on it. After much deliberation about materials, we settled on doing a solid casebound hardcover format with a thick, uncoated interior paper stock. It will be a sturdy little book.

Second, we are raising money to fund an art exhibition to be held this June at Wonderlab. As part of their larger "Science A-Z" programming over the summer, prints of every one of the book's animals will be displayed on their gallery wall. Wonderlab will also have signed copies of Mammoth is Mopey for sale in their gift shop, provided we can fund it.

We would greatly appreciate any support, and to sweeten the deal, we have all sorts of excellent perks for people who donate to the campaign. Physical copies of the book come with donations as low as $15, and there are 1" buttons, character prints, posters, and even custom illustration commissions at higher level. Want an illustration of your daughter riding a Postosuchus or you giving Futalognkosaurus a hug? I'll do it! Of course, tweets and Facebook shares are all appreciated as well, if you're not able to donate.

Please check out our campaign page and learn more about the book at, which will be dedicated to the book and its supplemental content in the eventuality that the campaign is successful!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs (BBC Fact Finders)

After our sojourn to the 1960s in the last post, I'm afraid it's back to 1990 for this one, with all of the Sibbick rip-offs that that tends to entail. Part of the BBC Fact Finders series (other titles included Egypt, Weather, Seashore and Nutkins on Pets, which presumably featured stalwart children's TV presenter Terry Nutkins, or else has a very baffling title), Dinosaurs is a very typical book of the post-Normanpedia, pre-Jurassic Park era (the Sibbickian?). Greg Paul-type dinosaurs haven't yet taken over here, and the illustrators freely cobble together copies of different artists' work into the same piece, which leads to some wonderful juxtapositions. And a funky-looking Triceratops on the cover.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Baker's Dozen Dinosprites

In December, I was commissioned to create a pixel art illustration for an ad campaign. It was a good fit for me, as I've long wanted to delve into the style. It fits in well with my love of 8- and 16-bit video games and chip music. It was inevitable that I would also bring my love of dinosaurs into the fold. I began experimenting with pixel saurians, trying different methods, various scales at which to draw my subjects, and with that, different levels of detail. I wrote about the first few in a December post, and then announced the series I'd whipped up. Fittingly, these posts sandwiched my interview with the Saurian development team. Digital dinosaurs of retro and modern realms coexisting side by side.

The 13 Dinosprites have now all been shared, so I'd like to wrap them all up in this post. This was an experimental series in which I explored another way to distill saurian forms to bare essentials, but it's definitely stoked my interest in trying other ways to use pixel art dinosaurs in projects. They beg to be animated. And I can imagine some of the educational palaeontology websites I've been kicking around my head for years being brought to life with pixel art.

But wait, there's more! All of the Dinosprites are available on merchandise in my on-line store, anything from mugs to pillows to tees and hoodies.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Robinson Requests: LOOK at ceratopsians!

Mark Robinson is a long-standing reader of the blog who has contributed a great many very...amusing comments over the years. In his latest, he noted his disappointment that I failed to include any ceratopsians from the so-so '60s children's book LOOK at Dinosaurs in my VDA post. Well, damn it Mark, I hope the following will suffice for you. While (as you correctly pointed out) I just don't have the time to scan every single page of these books, here's every single ceratopsian illustration from LOOK. All three of them!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Vintage Dinosaur Art: LOOK at Dinosaurs

As I'm sure I've mentioned before (for how many years have I been writing these, again?), it's always a joy when a truly vintage dinosaur book finds its way into my clutches, as opposed to I Can't Believe It's Yet Another 1980s Dougal Dixon Dino Book or somesuch. Which isn't to say that the post-Dino Renaissance stuff can't be interesting - far from it - but there's an awful lot more of it about. The illustrations in LOOK at Dinosaurs (1962) aren't especially remarkable, but they're another glimpse into a long-lost scientific world - that of the bloated, lizardy, phylogerontic old swamp farts of Osborne-era palaeontology.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

'It's your turn now.' Dippy and the Blue Whale

'It's your turn now.'
Ink on watercolour paper, 202 x 100mm.

Scarcely had I mentioned how well Sophie the Stegosaurus complemented the presence of the beloved Diplodocus at their respective entrances to London's Natural History Museum than news of the latter's planned retirement emerged, apparently splitting the public and experts alike into 'Team Dippy' and 'Team Whale' across social media.

Of course I'm sad -- very sad -- to see 'Dippy' retire (no, I don't much care for the name either, but that's another story).  For me as for so many others, it has been the museum's de facto mascot and symbol for as long as we can remember. And lest our readers forget, sauropods are among my favourite dinosaur groups. My own 'saurian portrait' is a Diplodocus, for heaven's sake.

 'However, change, or its refusal, is not within our gift.' I welcome the blue whale with happy, if subdued, acceptance. Of the many voices in its favour, Michael Rundle of Huffington Post UK encapsulates it best for me, not least because he puts forward the case with great respect and affection for both without any of the unnecessary aggression and derision I've seen accompany some arguments ('Dippy is fake! A lie!'). My illustration above attempts to reconcile this change in the same vein. The title of 'It's your turn now' speaks both of the whale skeleton's place in Dippy's stead and of the blue whale's fragile existence being celebrated now. I wanted to avoid that dreaded word, 'relevance', much bandied about in this case. Nevertheless, highlighting the blue whale's significance doesn't seem to me to signal a disregard for the Diplodocus. But perhaps I'm not cynical enough on that score.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

1990s-style saurians: the winner!

The decision was, as ever, a very difficult one, but in the end I just had to plump for Jessica R's Archaeopteryx. It was a perfect fit for the brief, and I loved Jessica's explanation, particularly as she flipped my advice for entrants on its head:
"...You said that naked maniraptorans would be pretty obvious so I decided to throw you for a loop with a feathered maniraptoran...Archaeopteryx with pebbly head and wings with hands, dry cracked earth underfoot, and a single cycad."
It's well observed too (even without colour), getting a number of Urvogel tropes just so; the ground-dashing roadrunner incarnation became increasingly prevalent in the '80s and '90s* (as opposed to the previously ubiquitous arboreal version), and the 'palaeobotany is for losers' approach to foliage is strongly reminiscent of a lot of early '90s art. The earlier issues of Dinosaurs! certainly gave me the impression that the poor beasts lived in a permanently parched, arid environment. Like Tatooine, only with Triceratops roving around in place of distinguished, bearded, bitter Shakespearean actors.

Well done Jessica! Please send a message to the LITC Facebook page to claim your, er, prize (or if you can't do that, leave a comment below and we'll work something out). Proost!

*Having arguably been popularised by Ostrom - John McLoughlin was also ahead of the curve, as he often was. In fact, McLoughlin's 1979 Archaeopteryx rather resembles Jessica's...

Monday, February 9, 2015

Mesozoic Miscellany 72

In the News

Early snakes have been in the news, with a press push and gorgeous Julius Csotonyi artwork accompanying the publication of a paper in Nature Communications. In their new paper, Michael Caldwell et al have described four ancient snake species dating to the mid-Jurassic, including Diablophis gilmorei. Read more at Laelaps. This is another fine example of why art is central to palaeontological outreach.

That iconic ambassador of American sauropods, Dippy the Diplodocus, is ceding the main hall at the Natural History Museum in London to a new blue whale skeleton. Paleontologist Steve Brusatte is all in favor of it, even though public consternation has sparked a #SaveDippy hashtag. Read more from Brian Switek at Dinologue.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

Our own Asher Elbein has written about Alabama's deep history at Atlas Obscura.

Liz Martin offers a great overview of Canadian pterosaurs at Gimpasaura.

Sci-art legend and stalwart artist's rights proponent Glendon Mellow shared some of his amazing tattoo commissions at Symbiartic, including Brian Switek's new Torvosaurus.

At Tyrannosauroidea Central, Thomas Carr continues to offer valuable insight into the ethics of the fossil market, weighing in on the Naturalis Museum's obtaining of a Tyrannosaurus rex specimen from a private landowner.

Speaking of the Tyrant Lizards, Mark Wildman writes about The Lost Tyrannosaurid of Kazakhstan at Saurian.

Check out Rebecca Groom's amazing plush Velociraptors, preparing for shipment.

For practical advice for those looking to pursue a science career and be good community members as well, look to Lisa Buckley at Shaman of the Atheistic Sciences.

Dino-fights! At his blog, David Prus offers up his favorite fictional dinosaur battles.

Garth Monger designed a cute papercraft Aquilops anybody can print and make.

Mark Witton revisited two of his iconic ceratopsid illustrations, but this is no George Lucas/Special Edition situation. The changes are definite improvements to my eye, and clearly show Mark's steadily improving skills.

Extant Theropod Appreciation

At the great Window to Wildlife blog, photographer Jim Edlhuber captured a great sequence of photos of a Red-Tailed Hawk nabbing a vole. I'm especially enamored of the fourth image in the series.

Paleoart Pick

Fuzzy wuzzy ceratopsids may yet be a stretch as far as fossil evidence goes (and some people have really negative reactions to them), but I appreciate them. Following the post about Mark Witton's ceratopsian pieces above, here's a super-quilly, porcupine-influenced Bagaceratops by DeviantArt member Azraelangelo.