Friday, September 10, 2010

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Susan Swan

Spinosaurus Twins
Two spinosaurs chat about good fishing spots. Illo by Susan Swan.

Vintage Dinosaur Art posts have been heavy on the historical stuff lately, but now that I've got a new scanner and it's hooked up and humming, I'm digging into the stack of old dinosaur books I have sitting on my ancient CPU. One of the reasons I started this series was to bring light to artists whose body of work isn't defined by prehistoric worlds, who may have only dipped into dinosaurs for one or two titles.

Susan Swan is a good example of this. Dinosaur Mysteries, published in 1980, features a lot of her artwork. The highlights are her watercolor scenes of Mesozoic life. Here's a good example: A Tyrannosaurus takes an ankylosaur's tail club right to the kisser. My sympathies lie with the tyrant king here - it looks like he was about to ask for a cup of sugar, and he seems quite nonplussed by his counterpart's high bludgeon*.

Ankylosaurus gives Tyrannosaurus something to think about

The book is, of course, dated. See the image from the top of the post, which comes from a time when Spinosaurus was known from only fragmentary material. Still, there is plenty of information that fits in with modern conceptions of dinosaurs. In 1980, the dinosaur renaissance was gaining good speed, and the text reflects it, dealing with questions of dinosaur metabolism and feathery adornment. Deinonychus, that key figure in the dinosaurs' PR makeover, receives well deserved space, though it's not so radical as to suggest the iconic dromaeosaur may have been feathered. Still, there's no mistaking that it was seen as a vicious little beast.

Deinonychus attack!

Swan's color palette combines muted earth tones with warm oranges, pinks, and yellows, with pops of color bringing dimention to the diorama-like composition of her mesozoic scenes. This one, from the Late Cretaceous, really drives home the idea of how much the world was changing. The bright pink flowers, set against neutral greens and browns, hint at how much they were changing the course of evolution.

Parasaurolophus and Tyrannosaurus

I suspect that this Susan Swan is the same as the prominent illustrator who works in cut paper, but she doesn't feature any watercolors on her site, so there is a chance that this is just a coincidence. For more watercolors from this title, hop on over to the Vintage Dinosaur Art Flickr pool.

* LOL.


  1. These look like they're heavily influenced by the work of Roy Andersen. The technique copies his Nat. Geo illustrations quite closely.

  2. I never would have expected these illustrations to pop up at this late date - I remember spending quite a long time researching (a very different job in those days without the internet!) At that time I worked in several different media but now almost exclusively in cut paper. Thanks for the mention.

  3. Susan, thank you for stopping by! This is actually a first for this series. Your cut paper work is exquisite, and I'd love to see your take on dinosaurs in that medium. If only I had clout...


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