Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Teylers Museum: back in time

Remember the way in which museums used to be stereotyped? Dusty, darkened corridors rammed with dry old specimens, shuffling schoolchildren being reluctantly herded from place to place by grim-faced adult minders, and the occasional tweedy man squinting at a nondescript lump of rock. In an effort to break away from such a stuffy image, many museums resorted to child-friendly interactivity, minimalist signage, video displays and shiny, swishy things.

But some people liked the old way (for one thing, there weren't so many bloody kids and terrible dinosaur toys). Teylers Museum is for them...for us.

Teylers Museum is located in Haarlem, (the) Netherlands, and dates back to the 18th century. Built as a showcase for the art and science of the time, it continues to preserve and display an unusual and highly varied collection to this day - and devotes considerable space to fossils. Which I thought you lot might be most interested in, for whatever reason. Best of all, it remains thoroughly old-fashioned in approach, with beautiful Victorian-style display cabinets chock full of the good stuff.

There's a decent mix of material here, much of it from the Netherlands and Germany, but there's a great deal from further afield, too. Due to the nature of many of the specimens (pressed flat), not to mention space concerns, you won't find many skeletal mounts here. However, those that you do find - like the above cave bear - can be viewed from any angle you so desire, with nary a glass panel to get in the way.

The first room is dominated by a gorgeous display of marine reptile casts, including the crocodyliform Steneosaurus (top), alongside the cave bear and elephant skulls, among other bits and pieces. To add to the very Victorian air, one will also find skeletal diagrams by everyone's favourite scraggly-bearded, hyper-competitive 19th century palaeontologist, Othniel C. Marsh.

The second fossil room is undoubtedly where you'll find the most exquisite material. Here, stacked high in row after row of cabinets, are stored any number of specimens from the Jurassic limestone of Europe, including Germany's famous Solnhofen. There's even an Archaeopteryx specimen...

Admittedly, it's not as spectacular as some of the others, but it's still very important in its own right.

Among the material from outside Europe, it's possible to find - stuffed in an easily-overlooked spot at one end of the long display case in the middle of the room - these brachiosaur bits, attributed to "Brachiosaurus sp." and hailing from 'east Africa' (presumably Tanzania or thereabouts). Of course, European Jurassic limestone provides by far the most beautiful and intricate specimens, just a few of which are below. It's enormous fun to scour the cabinets for fascinating fossils, including a number of holotypes (such as Atoposaurus), neatly presented like the open pages of a catalogue of prehistoric life. The name 'H. v. Meyer' crops up rather a lot, as one would expect!

There's a lot more to Teylers than fossils, mind you, and that is the museum's most unusual and wonderful aspect - it's like visiting three or four museums at once. Alongside marvelous displays of historic scientific instruments, there's an art gallery of considerable size displaying works from the Dutch Romantic and later schools, among others. The museum also possesses a remarkable collection of work from Old Masters, such as that recently showcased in a temporary (but highly impressive) Raphael exhibition.

Haarlem is a lovely city, and if you're ever in the Netherlands it's well worth taking the time to visit, quite apart from the fact that Teylers is located there. It's even a conveniently short distance from Amsterdam, should you so happen to be staying in the capital, and benefits from a glut of museums and historical landmarks, not to mention a lack of drunken tourists on a rampage. Teylers is but the icing.

Finally, apologies for this post being a little bit light on the content - it took me long enough to extract a digit and produce just this, and I really wanted to get the photos published at least (they say a thousand words apiece, you know). If you want to read more about the museum, do check out their official website and Wikipedia page.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fuzzy Sauropodlet

Well, perhaps a juvenile rather than a 'sauropodlet', but I hope that got your attention, at any rate.

Brian Switek (who surely requires no introduction here) commissioned this highly speculative fuzzy little Apatosaurus from me for his forthcoming book, My Beloved Brontosaurus, to 'visualize a point' and to 'shock readers a little and then explain the image'. It is reproduced in greyscale in the book, but this is the original drawing. I had Brian's permission to share this a while ago, but quite forgot to do so here (chiefly because I still feel ill-qualified as a contributor. Sorry, folks). It is perhaps timely that I chose at last to post this today, since it also happens to be Brian's birthday. I hope you'll join me in wishing him many very happy returns.

As usual, please open the image in a new tab for best viewing!


Monday, February 18, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Dinosaurs

William Stout! Now that I have your attention, please bear with me while I relay a little autobiography. The good stuff's coming, honest, but I need you to know where I'm coming from, see. (Note: while these have all been scanned from The New Dinosaurs, I have chosen to focus only the old material, as befits Vintage Dinosaur Art.)

Growing up in the cruel, desolate hinterlands of...England, an awful lot of important palaeoart passed me by as a child. My local library stocked a solitary Greg Paul book that I would borrow on occasion, but other than that the palaeoart of my formative years consisted partly of British artists like John Sibbick, but mostly of second-tier material published in the likes of Dinosaurs! (which frequently ripped off Sibbick). As such, I'm only just now catching up on the work of a great many artists who induce a warm, nostalgic feeling of fondness in the scientists and enthusiasts of my generation (and the generation before).

Mention William Stout to one of them, and they'll raise a hand to their forehead and swoon while frantically fanning themselves, like an Edwardian lady. However, coming to his work completely afresh, I must confess that my initial feeling was...revulsion.

Since I can already hear your grinding teeth and smoking nostrils from all the way over here, I should point out that on further examination I've been won over. Mostly. From a modern standpoint, I'm sure you can see why I found Stout's dinosaurs to be pure horrorshow at first. His '70s and '80s creations frequently make Eleanor Kish's rather skinny saurians look like the prize-winning pig at the fair. The Deinonychus in the above image are typical - little more than skeletons dressed in a waffer-theen layer of skin, with sunken skulls that apparently lack any muscles to speak of. The gnarly stylisation applied to many of his creatures does little to help their rather dessicated, almost decaying appearance. And just when I thought his dinosaurs were skeletal...along came his pterosaurs.

Good grief.

Having got all that out of my system, I can move on to explain how I've been converted. Mostly. Above all else, Stout was innovative. Even if the more extreme shrink-wrapping of his '70s and '80s creations would not be met with approval today, his unique style and experimentation in composition and depicting speculative animal behaviours certainly would. Taking his cue from the illustrators of the Golden Age, and with frequent nods to a more comic-book style, Stout's early work was bold and daring in a way that few other people were attempting at the time.

The above illustration, depicting a group of pterosaurs performing some impromptu dental work on a tyrannosaur, is typical of his approach not only in aesthetic style - how many other artists present palaeoart in a circular frame? - but also in daring to be novel in its depiction of symbiotic behaviour. Stout's work was very much a product of the Dinosaur Renaissance, and he clearly wasn't content with having his dinosaurs doddering around, occasionally stopping to bite and prod each other, as they had done in previous decades. He wanted them to be really alive - fighting, yes (see above), but with disease as well as each other, growing up in a hostile world, herding, and interacting with other animals in their environment. And taking a shit now and then.

There's probably a good reason why so few palaeoartists choose to depict dinosaurs passing waste, but again, it's a perfect demonstration of how Stout was breaking new ground, although not half as much as the following:

Depictions of diseased dinosaurs remain vanishingly rare, but this skin-sloughing Stout Triceratops dates from 1981. The animal shows good attention to anatomical detail (an area where Stout has sometimes been found lacking), but this piece is notable most of all for its stunning stylisation and use of black; the stark monchrome, the onset of darkness as the dying creature wheezes its last. It's unsettling, but intentionally and effectively so, and is definitely one of my favourite Stout pieces.

Stout's attention to composition is perhaps best displayed in this painting of a Camptosaurus sheltering from a storm behind a convenient, enormous boulder. Such a rock formation, extremely smooth and resembling a gigantic wedge of Goudse kaas, might seem a little silly, and perhaps it is (although I'd argue that far sillier formations exist in reality). However, what this piece does - a feat also achieved in the work of Doug Henderson and Ely Kish - is depict a reasonably sized dinosaur as being fragile and vulnerable to the forces of nature, and dwarfed by the ecosystem it inhabits. And all of this is without mentioning how beautifully the flying foliage and battered trees have been depicted.

So Stout's a talented artist. Clearly. In addition, the anatomical issues that afflict his dinosaurs (less so these days, it should be noted) are nowhere to be found in his illustrations of modern animals, and even prehistoric mammals. The above image shows the right half of a double-page spread, and while the packed assemblage of all these different species is somewhat fanciful (as is their overt resemblance to modern forms), they are each stunningly beautiful and add up to a jaw-dropping whole (I love the borders, too). Then there's the left half...

The Corythosaurus aren't actually terribly skinny - svelte, perhaps but there's nothing wrong with that, necessarily. That is, except for their heads of course, which appear alarmingly sunken - little more than skulls-with-eyeballs. This particular Stoutian quirk has persisted into his more recent work, even as his dinosaurs overall have bulked out, and in spite of his clearly excellent understanding of the anatomy of modern animals. It would be very interesting to speculate as to why, although it seems as if he has an occasional tendency to feed his dinosaurs through the Monsteriser, which while making them visually arresting subjects can also have some alarming, rather twisted-looking results... seen with these baby tyrannosaurs, which remind me of nothing so much as mummies. Which brings me back to where I started - feeling a little queasy about it all. However, it's important to take the long view with Stout. He's had a hugely important role to play in the development of palaeoart, particularly in terms of breaking ground through unusual stylisation and moving away from stereotyped, staid depictions of dinosaurs. In short, he helped make dinosaurs cool again.

I must admit - I'm still not a terribly big Stout fan. But I can see why so many people are, and he has a truly impressive catalogue of work to his name. Hopefully, the lovely bugs below will make for a fitting finale.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Marvel Breaks a Trend

I never thought I'd see the day when there would be actual feathered dinosaurs on the cover of a Marvel comic. (Devil Dinosaur, of course, stands proudly naked, as befits a reptilian overlord, and Sauron and Stegron are both mutated humans and don't really count.) So imagine my surprise when I found this little tidbit on the cover of the preview for Avengers #12, by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Deodato. Dustin Weaver provides the cover.

Nice, isn't it? Very idyllic. I believe this marks Therizinosaurus' Mighty Marvel Debut, and in the pages of Marvel's flagship super team, no less! Of course, he will need a code name. If only there were some kind of precedent for irascible, three clawed characters being in the Avengers. Animal themed characters. With names beginning at the lower end of the alphabet. 

...I'm sure they'll think of something.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mesozoic Miscellany 58

Robert Krulwich of Radiolab fame wrote a bit about how wild and woolly dinosaurs have become in the last couple decades, featuring illustrations by the likes of Csotonyi, Tamura, and Bogdanov, among others. It's a nice surface overview of how the popular view of prehistoric life is changing due to fossils bearing feathers and other integument. To pick a nit, maybe next time don't call Dimorphodon a dinosaur? Pardon me as I duck the rotten fruit hurled my way by the Pedant Patrol.

Katrina von Grouw's The Unfeathered Bird is at the top of my wishlist of books right now, and James Gurney took a look at it on his blog recently.

Trish Arnold loves The Dinosaurs, the old PBS paleontology doc, especially for its focus on the science of paleontology as it's done.

At TetZoo, Darren Naish wrote about a new pterosaur, Eurazhdarcho. It's another beast from Transylvania, and Darren was on the team to describe its remains, which while very fragmentary are still the most complete azhdarchid remains from Europe.

Australian paleontologist and science journalist Paul Willis wrote about his passion for prehistoric crocodiles at his RiAus blog. Willis also hosts a vodcast, A Week in Science, the most recent episode of which I shall embed here for your viewing pleasure.

A Week in Science with Paul Willis - 8 February 2013 from RiAus on Vimeo.

Marvelling at the diversity of the dinosaurs, Mark Wildman wrote about some notable specialists within their niches at Saurian.

If you're into puzzles, the Lyme Regis museum has a real doozy for you in eighteen pieces.

Skeletal diagram master and all around sharp fella Scott Hartman was interviewed at Jersey Boy Loves Dinosaurs.

Jaime Headden has written a series on the muscles of oviraptorid jaws, wonderfully illustrated. Oviraptorids had crazy skulls. Bonkers. Parts 1, 2, and 3 at The Bite Stuff.

The Prokopi Tarbosaurus smuggling case has progressed, with him finally surrendering his rights to the fossils. A great New Yorker article prompted a response from Victoria Arbour at Pseudoplocephalus. Donald "D-Pro" Prothero also vented his spleen at Skepticblog.

At the RMDRC Paleo Lab blog, Anthony Maltese shared images of a newly completed Protostega mount. Poor guy seems to have attracted the attention of a hungry mosasaur.

The fund drive for Dave Hone's Project Daspletosaurus marches on! Get in on the ground level of this exciting opportunity to reveal the dastardly, cannibalistic ways of the Tyrant Lizards by donating to Hone's Microryza site or purchasing a garment, post card, or sticker from my Redbubble shop. If you have ordered anything from the shop to support the project, feel free to let me or Dave know. If you send a photo of yourself wearing it, I'll even post it so you can let the world know what a cool customer you are! I recently sent the proceeds from the first batch of orders to the Microryza site, and it felt goooooooood. I'd love to do it again.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: De Oerwereld van de Dinosauriƫrs - Part 3

We haven't finished with De Oerwereld yet - not while I can still harvest more posts from it. Before proceeding, be sure that you've already ogled Part 1: Theropods and Part 2: Sauropodomorph Boogaloo. This week it's the turn of assorted ornisthichians, starting with a stunning work of art that was turned into one of the best-loved palaeo-posters since before time began (I'm in an '80s sort of mood, you see).

Mark Hallett might just be my favourite palaeoartist, if not of all time, then definitely of the hyper-detailed, 'photorealistic' school. Plenty of artists have produced mind-boggling works that are technically superb, but can often feel rather staid, stately and a little lifeless. Hallett's true skill, beyond his already highly impressive technical ability, is in avoiding this. Although extremely detailed, there is a boldness, an energy in his work that is often missing from that of other 'photorealistic' artists. This hugely popular painting, of two fighting Triceratops, is certainly among his very best work - I can but apologise for only being able to provide details here, rather than the whole thing.

In such an action-packed scene, it's easy to miss the enormous care that Hallett has taken in detailing not only the animals, with their highly lifelike expressions and carefully researched anatomy, but the surrounding environment. In a Hallett piece, there will always be splashing water, crumbling earth, and vegetation being twisted and snapped. Like the other artists in this book, Hallett's work has aged remarkably well, and often any historical errors are virtually insignificant. In this case, for example, I'm pretty sure that the uniting of Triceratops' digits into a single elephantine 'paw' would be frowned upon these days...if anyone noticed.

Doug Henderson's work is frequently distinguished by its expert use of elaborate foliage, so it's interesting to see a piece like this, in which two drowned centrosaurs appear (at first glance) to be suspended in an ethereal void. There is a wonderful dreamlike quality here - we are strangers in this alien world, which belongs to the plesiosaur, itself heedless to the dramatic sight of the giant animals' bodies drifting idly by above. Equally, there is a beautiful melancholy, as in so much of Henderson's art...

...Like this, for example. In a lot of palaeoart, the animals will practically be jumping down our throats, as if they're putting on a show for us (it's almost possible to smell the popcorn). Instead, Henderson offers us furtive glimpses through the thick underbrush of a world that is as lush and filled with life as it is hostile and unwelcoming. Dinosaurs, so often depicted as the lords of the Earth, are typically hopelessly dwarfed by their surroundings. There's something so very real about it all.

Of course, it's not all Hallett and Henderson - there are also shots of superb models sculpted by Stephen Czerkas, which have themselves been remarkably influential (for example, check out some of Raul Martin's earlier stuff). Handily presented from every angle, it's possible to see that Czerkas has accurately given the animal sauropod-like columnar 'hands', something that people have seemingly never been able to get right.

Doug Henderson did stegosaurs too - of course he did. They're just way over there, and you'll have to clamber through the forest to catch a glimpse of them. One is reminded of forest elephants gathering at a lakeside clearing - big animals with an unlikely aptitude for remaining hidden. Here, the trees seem testament to the destructive power of a herd of huge herbivores - be they the stegosaurs themselves, or their considerably larger neighbours. Why, the dinosaurs are quite literally framed by the very destruction they leave in their wake. The background stegosaurs, exposed to the sun's glare, take on a ghostly and elegant quality that seems quite at odds with their lumbering, cumbersome appearance.

Speaking of lumbering and cumbersome...and thyreophorans...the book includes Hallett's rendition of the famously spiny ankylosaur, Saichania. It doesn't quite appear flat and wide enough, but is nevertheless imbued with Hallett's scarcely matched lifelike quality. Much of this is owed to the texture work - the animal's thorny armour glints and gleams menacingly, while its gnarled head appears solid enough to touch. It's possible to imagine running one's hand over its knobbly surface, right before having one's head stoved in by a high-velocity bony lump.

Much of the longevity of Hallett's work is owed to the fact that Hallett restored his animals in a way that was anatomically rigorous, while also avoiding the worst excesses of the 'dinosaur streamlining' that went on in the '70s and '80s. In fact, and while it's no William Stout zombie-o-saur, his Hypacrosaurus is unusual in having a rather shrink-wrapped head and pencil-thin neck. Nevertheless, it's very difficult to deny that it is an absolutely stunning piece of work, as per bloody usual. Bah.

And finally...the work of some upstart named John Sibbick. Here, some moronic Ouranosaurus are trying their very best to make a racket and upset Old Man Sarcosuchus, a world-weary soul who would just like to get some rest before he sets out once again to do battle with Suchomimus and what have you. Really, though, this is a lovely scene, with a beautifully well-observed river delta and an exquisitely painted gharial-zilla.

De Oerwereld van de Dinosauriƫrs will return! There's an awful lot of Palaeozoic art in this book that's begging to be shared, including some seldom-seen Sibbicks, alongside Henderson works so beautiful they'll move you to muted tears accompanied by a sad string soundtrack. We'll be back.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Speculation Sketchbook

I've been somewhat productive of late, artistically speaking, and to distract from my failure to get that Gwangi writeup finished in anything approaching a timely manner (I'll get to it, I promise) I thought I'd follow David's lead and show some bits and pieces of recent art. What follows are three scenarios inspired by modern animal behaviors, along with some speculation best read in the voice of Sir David Attenborough. Let his dulcet tones wash over you as you read on.

It's well known that several species of bird use flying as a means of attracting or wooing a mate. A lot  of these behaviors involve synchronized dances or flight patterns, where both partners maneuver around each other in a beautiful duet of motion that seal their love.

That is not what is going on below.

In the Early Cretaceous of nowhere in particular, a male Pterosaur launches into flight after a bland little female, hoping to woo her with his bright blue wings and ostentatious little head crest. Unfortunately, she's uninterested in his attempts, and the little pterosaur gambles about in the air to no avail whatsoever. Perhaps he is a younger male intruding into a larger, more established territory, or perhaps this hypothetical Pterosaur lover is participating in a mating lek. Either way, it won't be a long attempt on his part; this type of flying is energyy expensive, and if he's getting nowhere he'll soon drop back into a branch and wait for another female to fly over.

I will shamelessly admit that this is a fairly generic little pterosaur, primarily because I wanted to restore something with a standard body plan so that the speculative features would really pop. Here we see on both male and female crest made of keratin, as well as a mane of golden fur and inflatable sacs on the male's head. Like many species of bird, he is quite colorful compared to the slightly drabber female.

Meanwhile, in the shadows of the forest below (again, in a location lost to the very mists of time) an act of reproductive perfidy is in the process of taking place.

A female Ornithopod arrives back at the nest, bearing the mangled remains of a small lizard she found whilst rooting about in a rotting log. Her hatchlings are growing fast, and need a constant supply of seeds, insects and meat to keep them healthy. One of the hatchlings is a little needier then the others. Fuzzier, too. And its teeth are quite a bit sharper.

While the mother was away from the nest, relying on the cryptic coloration of the eggs to keep them safe, a small theropod crept in and laid its own egg alongside the others. The hatchling is growing faster then its clutch-mates, and may well soon devour them or drive them away. Nest Parasitism, as this behavior is called, is fairly well known in certain birds. Species like the Cuckoo and the Cowbird have found that pawning off their own fast growing, voracious offspring on other birds is often an extremely successful strategy, and there's no reason to think that that dinosaurs might not have practiced similarly deceitful tricks. Ornithopods may not have been the sole victims--it's equally possible that some were the perpetrators of such schemes.

Finally, from the Late Jurassic comes a scene that may appear unbelievable.

A subadult Torvosaurus is wandering its satiated way through the scrub hills, the late afternoon light playing on its flanks. As it climbs up a slope, it comes upon a pack of resting Dryosaurus. The herbivores are wary, but not frightened--they can tell by the body language of the predator that it isn't hunting. They keep an eye on it as it passes and move out of its way, hooting to each other. Soon the disinterested predator is gone, and the Dryosaurs settle back into silence.

Predators and prey are not constantly at each other's throats, and occasionally seem to show no interest in each other. While it's unlikely that both parties were this nonchalant, the illustration is offered as a slightly different perspective on what a more peaceable dinosaurian encounter might look like.

Anyway, that's what I've been working on for the past little while. Now, of course, it's time for me to start working on my own entry into the LITC All Yesterdays contest. I'm thinking Art Nouveau...

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Shrink Wrapping in an Extant Archosaur

Fitting after Marc provided us another excellent analysis of Ely Kish's work: Christoph Hoppenbrock called my attention to this photo he took in the Philippines. Case study in what shrink wrapping looks like in a real animal, and why the world of paleoart is better for having abandoned the trope. An ailing saltwater crocodile.

sick saltwater crocodile

No issues with paleoartists depicting sick animals, but when you've got an entire environment populated by them, it sure looks like a Mesozoic plague is happening!

Christoph was kind enough to point me to some photos of healthy crocodiles from the same Philippine farm. These are Mindoro, or Philippine Crocodiles, and Christoph notes that our poor, sick, friend above may be the same.

Crocodile Farm (Puerto Princesa)
Photo by Roberto Verzo, via Flickr.

Quite a dramatic difference, and a powerful example of how far we've come in allowing our prehistoric subjects to bear the muscle, flesh, and fat they would have surely had.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: An Odyssey In Time: The Dinosaurs of North America - Part 2

It's high time for some more Eleanor Kish, as brought to you in partnership with palaeontologist and author Dale Russell. If you missed the first part, then what on Earth were you thinking? I mean, really, are we supposed to believe that you actually had something better to do? Anyway, go and check it out. On with the show.

As noted last time, scanner-related limitations mean that I am forced to present mere details from some (OK, almost all) of the pieces. As such, this Stygimoloch should be imagined as part of a far wider forest scene, presenting the animal as part of an enormous and complex ecosystem, as is par for the course with Kish (and a few other artists, notably Doug Henderson). Its wonderful colour scheme (chevron tail!) demonstrates a typically Kishian affinity and aptitude for cryptic camouflage. It may appear horrendously shrink-wrapped today, but it's possible to appreciate the careful painting of the animal's hide in the dappled light, and the beautifully naturalistic appearance of its poise. It's possible to imagine stumbling upon this creature as it skulked through the forest, with the animal giving the viewer a cautious glance before continuing on its way.

A similar impression can be gleaned from this painting of 'a fabrosaur' (modeled on Scutellosaurus). It is similarly peaceful, dominated by impressive foliage and depicting an animal pausing to drink from a stream. The eye is immediately drawn to the animal in the foreground, and it's easy to let the mind fill in the blanks as regards the forested background - however, closer inspection reveals a surprisingly alien flora, as it no doubt was back in the Early Jurassic. The water here is particularly impressive, I feel (then again, I'm easily impressed by a pretty reflection).

The 'soft tissue light' approach can often produce some startling results. The animal on the right, for example, looks so radically different from the chunkier renditions that we're used to that, unless you're familiar with the skeleton, it's hard to tell what it is (I may well have said something similar about Maiasaura last time). In fact, this rather sad-looking creature is an unusually cheek-and-Deinonychus-less Tenontosaurus. Again, it may look a little emaciated, but seeing this animal without an accompanying troupe of merrily jumping dromaeosaurs is rare even today, so much so that a fairly conventional-looking John Conway Tenontosaurus simply strolling about made it into All Yesterdays. Granted, there is a theropod here, but it's a rather unthreatening Microvenator (an oviraptorosaur). Contrary to many depictions of this animal in which the focus is on blood and guts and fangs and claws and blood and fighting and blood and death, here Tenontosaurus is virtually upstaged by the glorious forest behind it. The plants will take back palaeoart, in the end!

In a similar vein, here are some Hesperornis sitting in front of a fantastically beautiful pine forest. They don't appear to be anywhere near awed enough by their surroundings. I posted this photo on Facebook, and Matthew Inabinett noted that this environment was an unusual one for these particular animals to be shown in. Indeed it is - although they are not depicted in palaeoart too frequently, these loon-like swimming birds are typically shown chasing fish in a very definitely marine habitat. However, my exhaustive research that certainly didn't consist of a cursory glance at Wikipedia confirms that Hesperornis remains have been found in freshwater formations. Once again, Kish has taken a substantial break from palaeoart convention - and all those years ago.

Kish's Triceratops piece has graced the hallowed pages of LITC before, way back when David - aged just six at the time - was the solo author. It's an older work, dating from 1975, and the animals actually appear notably less shrink-wrapped than they might have done had they been painted in the '80s. Those sprawling forelimbs are a rather unfortunate anachronism, but it's a superbly painted piece that is still uncharacteristically anatomically rigorous for the time. If I wanted to sound especially plummy, I might even call it 'splendid'. But I won't be doing that.

And finally...when I previously bloggerated about this book, I assured concerned commenter SciaticPain (lovely) that I'd comment on Russell's writing this time around. Unfortunately, I'm a filthy, lazy liar, and you should probably lock me in the stocks and pelt me with rotting fruit - for you see, I've hardly read any of the text at all. (To be fair to, er, me, these posts are mostly about the art - I'd require a whole other series for the text.) However, what I've looked at is, as SciaticPain (oh dear) rightly said, a very good read indeed. I was struck by its pertinence from the off, when Prof Dale touched upon an issue that has affected every dinosaur enthusiast, from the museum-clogging child to the wizened academic in his office filled with undergraduates' half-arsed essays:
"'Dinosaurs? They're extinct! You can't feed dinosaurs to hungry people, and there are more important things for youngsters to learn in order to prepare for life...'

Perhaps the names of those of us who could make the foregoing comment our own are legion. Why is it not the same with our children? ...They dream about dinosaurs, draw them...Dinosaurs are a touchstone that separates the mentality of children from that of adults."
It is common for an interest in prehistoric life to be viewed as an irrelevant, childish frivolity. In An Odyssey In Time, Russell goes to highly impressive lengths to show that this is not so, and to tie such an interest in with a broader view of the history of life on Earth. In fact, in his closing chapters, he encompasses no less than the entire cosmos. In such a context, it seems plain mean to produce a photo of that 'Dinosauroid' thing, so of course I won't. I'm a kind and charming soul really.

Whatever you might think of Old Greeny Bug-Eyes, this is a remarkable book that deserves the utmost respect, both for Dale Russell's impassioned writing and Eleanor Kish's ground-breaking palaeoart. It's well worth searching for.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sketchbook: An Alvarezsaur in Blue and Green

While volunteering at Wonderlab, our local children's museum, for their science and art night recently, Jennie and I were stationed at a table with some colored pencils. I ended up with this sketch of a brightly colored little alvarezsaurid of uncertain affinity.

I also attempted a Baryonyx, but I won't embarrass myself by posting it.