Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs - A Picture Dictionary


Today's featured book is 1990's Dinosaurs: A Picture Dictionary. Featuring evocative artwork by Tessa Hamilton, it features a welcome variety of animals due to its alphabetical imperative - an organizing theme which also forgives some temporally and geographically questionable pairings of animals. It also just so happens to be the book I chose for Mike Keesey as his prize for his second place showing in the LITC All Yesterdays contest.

It begins with a brief introduction to dinosaurs, set against a landscape populated by some of the usual suspects, as well as an odd theropod that may be Monolophosaurus, as it had been described not long before this book was published. Or maybe it's just an oddly rendered Allosaurus or Ceratosaurus. Since the fauna has been run through a temporal blender, it's hard to tell; what seems at first to be a Jurassic scene is confused by what seem to be ornithomimosaurs in the distance, an anachronistic assortment of pterosaurs, and what may be a dead Corythosaurus. My favorite bit is the elasmosaur carrying a huge turtle in its mouth as it glides through the lagoon. Don't let its scrawny profile fool you. This is the strongest elasmosaur ever known (reminds me of this old Mohler rendering, use over at Oceans of Kansas).

Jurassic scene

I especially appreciate Hamilton's color treatments throughout the book. Expressive but not outlandish, the artwork reflects the livelier dinosaurs that were becoming more and more acceptable in the late 80's. In the below spread, typically drab Pachycephalosaurus bears a vibrant diamond pattern. It's also a good example of the sidebars employed throughout the book, here sticking to the alphabetical scheme.

Pachycephalosaurus & friends

They may not get the colorful garb of Pachycephalosaurus, but a welcome inclusion is the oft-overlooked Nodosaurus. Here, the supplemental material strays from the alphabetical order to show a variety of other armored ornithischians, including the dubious Palaeoscincus and a lively Scutellosaurus. The lavender flowers in the background are a nice touch. One of the common bugaboos in Mesozoic illustrations is the depiction of grasses as in this and other scenes in the book. Though there were some grasses around in the latest Cretaceous when Nodosaurus shuffled about, they were probably not present in wide areas as depicted here.

Nodosaurus & friends

Hamilton's skill is well-demonstrated in the closer views she gives us of many of the animals, displaying fine detail of skin texture and coloration. I love her Lambeosaurus in its mud and clay colors, barely tolerating the annoyance of a Lesothosaurus, seemingly leaping into frame, demanding to be given attention in a popular dinosaur book. Hypsilophodon is given a similar treatment with bright green scales and a humorous "bag" under the eye that reinforces the grim expression on its face created by the prominent brow.

Lambeosaurus & Lesothosaurus


More obscure denizens of the Mesozoic get time in the foreground, such as Leptoceratops and Heterodontosaurus. I appreciated the inclusion of the line art rendering of the latter's skull, as it illustrates the varied dentition which gave the critter its name. These lateral portrait views invite the reader to imagine that these are puppets, with human arms cropped out of the frame.

Leptoceratops & friends


The "E" spread offers more thyreophoran fun in the form of Euoplocephalus, which is quite well-done in its arrangement of knobs and spikes (though Victoria Arbour has written a bit about the popular ankylosaurid lately which begs your attention). Edmontosaurus is similarly well-rendered, though it does sport the odd human-style hands so often drawn by uncertain illustrators. The noggin is suitably elongated, though. Elasmosaurus is a bit of a stretch, curving its neck in what appears to be a painful contortion. It looks like it saw a pile of discarded fish on the shore and decided it simply could not leave them be.

Edmontosaurus, Elasmosaurus, & Edmontonia

"C" gives us a familiar trope, somewhat modified. The famous "bird-hunting" Ornitholestes part here is played by Coelophysis, evidently modeled on the "robust" form of the animal. Her hands are almost right, with a reduced fourth digit which should nevertheless not be visible to the viewer. Coelophysis is accompanied by Compsognathus and Coelurus, fulfilling the "not all dinosaurs were huge" requirement of the book. To drive the point home, a single forelimb of Camarasaurus just barely enters the frame on the left, elephant toes and all. The delicate treatment of the flora make this spread one of my favorites in the book.

Coelophysis & friends

Not much of a surprise when we visit "T," is there? Torosaurus gets to do the dirty work here, and seems to be doing a competent job of scaring the tyrant lizard off. Triceratops hangs out in the background, its frill proportionately smaller than Torosaurus's. While the head of the Tyrannosaurus is clumsily rendered, reminding me of a carcharodontosaurid, its coloration is beautifully done, with lurid splashes of orange mingling with contrasting greens.

Torosaurus v. Tyrannosaurus

Hamilton is not well-represented on the web, though you can see a few of her illustrations for Tales of the 1,001 Nights. Her nuanced artwork is a nice match for a title that aims to give more than a red-in-tooth-and-claw look at the Mesozoic, taking time to point out evolutionary trends and present dinosaurs that are too often forgotten in a way that gives them equal footing with the superstars of the era.


  1. I quite like this artwork, the scales look neat-- bright and colorful. :)

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  3. No mention of all the cribbing from Sibbick's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs work, over and over and over again? And the Allosaurus on the cover is yoinked from a John Gurche painting:
    Fun stuff as always!

    1. I noted the Dilophosaurus, Chasmosaurus, left Nodosaurus, Hypsilophodon, Edmontosaurus, Euoplocephalus, Coelophysis, right Compsognathus and the Triceratops (in the back of that last one) as being Sibbick cribs (from Norman's Illustrated Encyclopedia). The T. rex is harder to pin down, but its head looks influenced by the main T. rex illustrated in the same book.

    2. @Nathan

      Not only that, but the Torosaurus/T.rex fight seems to be a knock-off of Skrepnick's Triceratops/T.rex fight in "Ranger Rick's Dinosaur Book".

    3. Here is the fight scene in Ranger Rick's book

    4. I can't admit to having all of Sibbick's stuff committed to memory (both for my attention being devoted to school over the last couple years and my naturally lackluster memory), so thanks for pointing all of these out. I shall make amends with my next VDA post, I hope.

      The cover image I feel so dumb for having missed, but I'm so taken by the Stegosaurs that I just didn't see it.

      Concerning this book, I am mainly taken by Hamilton's style - especially her color treatments - and the general quality of the title, so I didn't have the "spot the ripoff" switch in my brain turned on. I'm good if it's something I happen to be very familiar with, but if it requires me doing a lot of research to find sources for derivatives, I don't really have the time to put into it.

    5. I agree. The artwork is beautiful and different enough that I don't mind the borrowing of poses.

    6. I agree. The artwork is beautiful and different enough that I don't mind the borrowing of poses.

  4. That *Leptoceratops* looks like it has its eyes located where its nostrils should/could be. Is it me or is the *Coelophysis* strongly inspired by Sibbick's one in 'The Illustrated Encyclopedia to Dinosaurs'? That *Tyrannosaurus* also reminds me of a very early (and rather unpleasant) Sibbick piece. I've seen that one appear in a German book, called 'Dinosaurier regierten die Welt'. That book included some pretty interesting and sometimes good artwork, like a pair of mating *Lesothosaurus*.

  5. " well as an odd theropod that may be Monolophosaurus,..."

    Do you mean Dilophosaurus because I think that's what it's meant to be.

    I'm guessing that the theropod on the cover will be the antagonist in the upcoming JP IV film, the result of some sicko evil dude grafting a T. rex head onto an Allosaurus' body.

    1. Hard to tell if there's meant to be two crests, but I don't think there is, so I didn't go with dilo. Who knows, though.

  6. Now, that's a beautiful cover (apart from the goofy-looking Allosaurus), I love the Stegosaurus pup hiding under its mother. Stegosaurus fighting off Allosaurus is nothing unusual, but that's a nice little touch I really hadn't seen before. Now, if only the poor Stegosaurus could see its attacker over that hump...

  7. I use some illustrated materials for my Teaneck High School and Saddle Brook High/Middle School classes. The topic of paleontology is one of the most difficult for my students, so I use some help, these guys can do your paper for you or make a prototype version of the comics.


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