Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Vintageish Dinosaur Art: An Alphabet of Dinosaurs - Part 2

Because Wayne Barlowe's an awfully talented sort of person, may I present a handful more of his dinosaur paintings, as featured in An Alphabet of Dinosaurs. On no account should you miss part 1 if you haven't seen it yet. Forward, Barlowe!

One of the more striking aspects of Barlowe's work, coming as it does from the 1990s, is how much it presages certain trends in today's more, shall we say, avant-garde palaeoart. Of course, he also takes many cues from Kish and Henderson - I'd wager on the former being particularly influential - in presenting dinosaurs more as animals than slavering, bloodthirsty, hardcore superanimals. Barlowe also follows Kish in painting dinosaurs that blend in with their environments, often in a quite literal sense, as in the above camouflaged Wannanosaurus. I posted this one on Facebook ahead of this post, and some people described it as being rather creepy-looking, the possible result of Barlowe's background in science-fiction illustration. I don't find it particularly creepy, but I will counter that there's nothing especially wrong with a (subtly) creepy dinosaur - I'm sure a great many of them really were so unnerving, what with their glassy, birdlike stares. Besides, this is a beautiful piece - one of my favourites in the book.

This portrait of Leptoceratops is quite similar in depicting a cryptically camouflaged animal acting all casual in a beautifully lit scene. The fallen log definitely reminds me of Henderson, although as the animals are so small, it needn't be quite as huge as many of Henderson's are suggested to be. While the viewer is drawn to the animal in the middle - with its observant, orange eye - careful inspection of the scene is rewarded with a lovely, peaceful moment of interaction between two very different animals to the left of the scene. (I should point out that, as my scanner cuts off some of the page, these images aren't entirely true to the original compositions. But I do my best.)

In fact, such interactions are a recurring theme in the book. In a fashion entirely befitting All Yesterdays, Barlowe here portrays tiny, prehistoric mammals observing and interacting with giant dinosaurs, rather than scurrying away or being snapped up by them. For their part, the stegosaurs, while a little on the lean side (hey, it was the '90s), are carefully researched; notice the two large claws on the columnar hands. There is something quite touching about this scene - a reminder for palaeoartists that, while nature can indeed be an absolute bastard, it doesn't mean that animals are all gits, all the time. We can only hope that the Stegosaurus didn't decide to be all trendily omnivorous shortly after this was painted (FOR THE PROTEIN!). Snoozing stegosaurs meet mammals in the moonlight - lovely. I can only apologise for the page tear - not my fault!

Another such interaction occurs in this scene depicting Fabrosaurus and a scorpion, although the scorpion looks distinctly unhappy about the situation. As is often the case, Lesothosaurus...uh...Fabrosaurus takes on a particularly lizardy air in this piece, helped in no small part by the spines running down its back and the excellent scaly skin texture (and those five-fingered hands which, of course, it did have for reals). I should perhaps also explain that, as it is so fragmentary, restorations of Fabrosaurus have tended to be based on Lesothosaurus; some people have proposed that the two are one and the same. Of course, that wouldn't do for this book, what with 'L' being occupied by a particularly nice Leptoceratops painting.

Naturally, not all of Barlowe's depictions of dinosaurs interacting with other animals are interspecific love-ins. Here, the early theropod Herrerasaurus is shown attacking a rynchosaur, presumably for the crime of looking rather ridiculous. The right leg is a little uncomfortably straight, but Barlowe's fine detailing on the animal's musculature and skin texture in particular is highly impressive. The eye may be a little too large, but the animal possesses a beautifully blank-faced gaze. Wonderful skin patterns, too.

Baryonyx is also shown partaking in a spot of predation although, of course, it's a heavy-handed (arf) attempt at fishing. This painting is perhaps notable as the worst example of shrink-wrapping in the book, approaching near Kishian levels of terrifying skininess; just look at the worrisome noodle neck, or the way the right hand appears to have no flesh on it whatsoever (note the digit with the famous claw). Brrr. All the same, this is a fantastic piece of art - the water is simply gorgeous, and the whole affair looks like it could have emerged from some impossible edition of Life Before Man. Keen collectors of dodgy early attempts at Baryonyx will also observe that Barlowe had the right idea with the snout and hands; no 'I can has 3D references?' twin crests or weird Captain Hook appendages here.

Just as Barlowe's dinosaurs aren't always quite so kind on their non-dino neighbours, so his 'other' Mesozoic creatures can turn on the book's stars. Here, a sinister azhdarchid is shown descending on the nest of a Maiasaurua, no doubt distracted by the army of troodonts and monitor lizards approaching from every other direction (if we are to believe other depictions of Maiasaura nesting sites). It's quite interesting that Barlowe here uses a wrinkly skin texture somewhat reminiscent of Sibbick's work, although not half as interesting as the striking, stylised use of colour - dark green against a threatening red sky. It certainly creates a suitably foreboding mood. There are a few similar pieces in the book, including...

...this painting of an Iguanodon pair. While the primary sense of threat in this painting arises from the bright orange of the volcano interrupting the serene blue, there is a secondary threat in the two giants, hidden in the gloom, bearing down on the tiny Hypsilophodon (itself a vibrant highlight). They are again a little shrink-wrapped, although muscular, but I am a fan of any artwork that emphasises the massive size of these animals - people seem to forget that Iguanodon was positively elephantine. The dewlaps are also a nice touch, and harken back to the earlier, kangaroo-like depictions of these animals, which invariably sported pendulous lizardy neckwear. Naturally, the forearms would also be twisted (or rather untwisted) around these days, but this is still a stunning depiction of Iguanodon.

Next time: something else entirely! Although Barlowe may well have to return...


  1. Also of note in the last two illustrations are the complementary pairings of red & green and blue & orange. Beautifully done. Although that azhdarchid must possess pinpoint accuracy and acrobatic maneuverability to pull off that particular hatchling-plucking trick. Still gorgeous illustration, however -- as are all of them.

    1. To be fair, it does appear to be missing the hatchling. Of course, a modern book would have it stalking on the ground...

  2. I remember there was a painting of a Riojasaurus mired in the mud, and a rauisuchian watching it. As a little kid I thought the rauisuchian was really creepy-looking, but it's been ages since I've seen the book so I can't recall it very well. There were also some Zephyrosaurus running through a wildfire....

    I think I'll have to go look for this book now...

  3. Ha! My youngest grandaughter just made off with my copy of this...

  4. Oh wow, I'd forgotten about that Wannanosaurus picture. It's so good. It looks like the kind of camouflage that, you know, an actual animal would have.

  5. @Mark Vincent

    "As is often the case, Lesothosaurus...uh...Fabrosaurus takes on a particularly lizardy air in this piece,"

    Why is that?

    "Baryonyx is also shown partaking in a spot of predation although, of course, it's a heavy-handed (arf) attempt at fishing."

    I'm surprised no 1 else has mentioned the foreground Baryonyx's striking similarity to a certain model ( ).

    "no doubt distracted by the army of troodonts and monitor lizards approaching from every other direction (if we are to believe other depictions of Maiasaura nesting sites)."

    To be fair, it does seem that Troodon was a major predator of baby hadrosaurids ( ) ( ).

    "bearing down on the tiny Hypsilophodon (itself a vibrant highlight)"

    Very Red Salamander-ish ( ).


    1. Not really seeing the resemblance to the (very ugly) Dinamation Deinonychus, sorry.

      As for the Lesothosaurus/Fabrosaurus looking lizardy, I think it's just its down to the skin texture, spines (as mentioned) and 'lizard lipped' face. All of which the real animal might well have had, assuming it wasn't all crazy fuzzy.

    2. C'mon, you don't see the resemblance in the overall poses, the arms (which are gangly, outstretched, & pronated in both), & the faces (which have creepy shrink-wrapped smiles & small yellow eyes that stare at the viewer in both)?

      As for Fabrosaurus/Lesothosaurus, what I meant was, "Why is it that said dinos are so often depicted as being lizardy?"


  6. It's AMAZING!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you thousands times! long time ago I see some pictures of Barlowe, since that time I looking for his pictures, but just now find)) I can't wait for part 3 ))


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