How to Draw Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life (authored by Marit Claridge, and illustrated by Val Biro, Philip Hood and John Shackell) is a richly-illustrated little book crammed with basic drawing advice for children. As the cover suggests, the styles range from the 'realistic' to the cartoonish, and it's a very entertaining mish-mash. Admittedly, there are far too many cavemen, which feels a little like cheating (we're not here for humans!) and which I've chosen to ignore because, well, we're all about dinosaurs here. In addition, there's precious little on the specific details of particular animals; the advice on offer tends to be broader, as befits the target audience. While this did frustrate me a little as a kid, things like accommodating for muscles and flesh, making sure the centre of gravity is in the right place, and giving your creations a suitable sense of mass are all fundamentally important to ensuring that your artwork does not end up on the Palaeofail tumblr.
By way of example, the above spread offers sage advice on restoring a creature's outline based on a skeletal diagram - note the large thigh muscles, which one didn't necessarily see in earlier 'serious' palaeoart (flatly contradicting the fossil evidence). The skull segues into oddly cartoonish territory, but I like the way that it gets kids looking at the bare bones as a foundation, and the plateosaur-like skeleton is an excellent choice (as it's a fairly basal, not overly-freaky or specialised animal). Given all this, it's a little disappointing that some of the advice given elsewhere is so retrograde.
Yes, it's a fat, grey, wrinkly Diplodocus, dragging its tail through a swamp - an image mirrored on the opposite page. Admittedly, this sort of depiction remained quite commonplace in popular books back in 1990, but it's still an unfortunate contrast with the far more dynamic and active cartoon dinosaurs (which have actually aged rather better, at least in that respect - but more on them shortly). Far more interesting than this bland, Zallingerian depiction is the playful experiment in perspective going on at the foot of the page. One can't help but wonder if Luis Rey was reading...
Palaeozoic animals aren't catered for, but Mesozoic non-dinosaurs make an appearance, at least. The only pterosaur given the 'serious' treatment is Pteranodon, and unfortunately it's a straight-up Burian knock-off (complete with greedy, dinky-crested clifftop baby).
The marine reptile scene is much more interesting, not only for being far more action-packed (copious volcanic activity! Moodily lit sky! Epic sea beastie battles!), but also for boasting a number of entertaining palaeoart tropes. Elasmosaurus duly shows off its Combat Craning Neck action, with Ichthyosaurus (anachronistically) standing in for the more usual mosasaur opponent. There is a mosasaur present here, mind you - it's just that it's having some time off from primordial battles to the death in order to munch a few fish. The crocodilian body armour on the mosasaur is rather odd, but it's not half as strange as the dinky Dunkleosteus lurking in the lower right-hand corner, presumably brought here by accident down the back of one of Nigel Marven's wetsuits during a CGI-laden time-travelling escapade.
As far as Cenozoic animals go, the usual mammoths, sabre-tooths, wooly rhinos and the like are all present. But they're all stinkin' mammals, which is why I'd much rather focus on the sole Cenozoic dinosaur present - the terrifying-looking enormo-bird Gastornis, here depicted in its traditional guise as a ruthless predator of small, cute things. It seems that artists often give this bird blue plumage, and I'd love to know where that meme originated; there's no particular reason that a giant carnivorous (or not - but it was long imagined as such) bird should be decked out in such a relatively exuberant colour. Whatever - I like that it's attacking a lizard here (rather than a proto-horse of some sort), and I'm also fond of the daft cartoon below. Which brings me neatly on to...
...The best part of this book - the cartoons. In contrast to the staid and dull 'realistic' illustrations, the cartoons are lively and full of character, even poking fun at and subverting palaeoart tropes (see the 'timid T. rex' above). The wild-eyed, rampaging Triceratops is especially superb, appearing quite magnificently unhinged; the illustration also avoids leaning too much on making it resemble a mad bull, which would have been the lazier approach.
And finally...perhaps my favourite spread in the book features a parade of dinosaurs, all running from a grinning, crocodile-faced T. rex. There's an emphasis on giving each creature an immediately recognisable character, based on perceived traits of the real animals. The idea that Diplodocus 'had little defence' against large carnivores is balls, obviously, but its nervous, twitching eyes and bright pink hairy conk make it look amusingly dimwitted. I also like that the hadrosaur, just for once, is allowed to appear confident and swift, rather than as gormless theropod-fodder (shades of Niroot's 'Cretaceous tortoise and hare'). However, my absolute favourite is the ankylosaur, who is just as extremely cross as I always imagine those squat, spiky fellows to have been (admittedly, it's probably got a lot to do with the endless depictions of them giving tyrannosaurs a damn good thrashing). There's just something about that adorably frowny face. Can't someone please make a plushie version?
That's all for now. Except...I'd like you lot to draw some dinosaurs again, so I do declare that it's COMPETITION TIME!!!! Your task: draw me a 1990-style dinosaur. The sort of thing that wouldn't have looked out of place in Dinosaurs! magazine or any of the very many slightly lazy, Normanpedia-inspired books of the era. Naked maniraptors are allowed, of course, but are kinda obvious, so extra kudos will be given for trickier picks. The winner will receive a copy of How to Draw Dinosaurs, which I happen to have acquired recently for whatever reason (plus I'll throw a nice card in, as usual). Please enter by way of a comment. Cheers!