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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.