Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Mysterious World of Dinosaurs - Part 2

In the first part of our examination of The Mysterious World of Dinosaurs, we came upon chubby, oily-looking tyrannosaurs, alarmingly carnivorous-looking stegosaurs, and Godzilla. However - and as the title implies - this book goes beyond the eponymous archosaur clade, taking a look at various other Mesozoic monstrosities. Bring on the zombie-pterosaurs!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The TetZooCon was on

So, TetZooCon 2014 happened, and you won't hear a bad word said of it among those of us who attended. The event was a spin-off of the incredi-popular Tetrapod Zoology blog, authored by fish-hating mega-brain Darren Naish, and also the similarly named podcast, hosted by Darren and partner in tapir in-joke crime, John Conway. I'm sure neither will need an introduction around these parts; suffice it to say, the event reflected the incredibly diverse range of topics discussed on the blog and podcast, ranging from Dougal Dixon future-bats to false azhdarchid head nubbins, and from mermaids made from papier maché and string to having a seabird land on one's head. And there was a quiz. And it was bonkers. But more on that shortly. (All photos by Niroot.)

Darren Naish

Monday, July 14, 2014

Interview: Paleoartist Maija Karala

"Forest Green." A dandy paravian, © Maija Karala and used with her permission.

I'm always excited to see new work pop up in Maija Karala's DeviantArt gallery. A Finnish biologist and writer, her enthusiasm for biology also finds voice through her illustrations, which range from fleshed out scenes to charming sketches. I can't remember exactly when I began following Maija's illustrations, but I do remember being particularly struck by her Tarpan fending off a lion.

"Don't Mess With Tarpans." © Maija Karala and used with her permission.

Maija writes:
Here, a young cave lion is about to learn why one should be careful with tarpans. It's July somewhere close to the edge of the ice and the steppe-tundra is blooming. The plants depicted include Betula nana, Viscaria alpina, Rhododendron lapponicum, Orthilia secunda, Pedicularis sceptrum-carolinum and Dryas octopetala. Yes, the latter is the plant that was so common at the time at gave its name to the Dryas climatic periods.
It's a great example of the qualities I admire in much of her work: a sense of drama, subtle and naturalistic color, dedication to research, all wrapped up in an eminently approachable aesthetic. I was happy when Maija agreed to do an interview for Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs, so I could ask her more about how she works.

What is your background as an artist? Is it your profession or hobby?
For me, art is mostly a hobby. I make my living as a science writer, mostly writing for newspapers and magazines. I do paid illustrations whenever I get a chance, but it's not very often. I'd love to do more of it, but the fact that I always thought it as just a hobby now hinders me a bit. As I haven't really practised my skills systematically, I only became good at the things I like doing.

"Hamipterus." © Maija Karala and used with her permission.

Do you get many opportunities to cover paleontology in your science writing?
I get to cover paleontology fairly often, though not as often as I'd like. A few articles per year or so. On my blog (which is unfortunately in Finnish, but can be found at http://planeetanihmeet.wordpress.com/) I do write a lot about paleontology and use my own illustrations as well.

Do you plan on continuing to do illustration as a hobby, or do you have professional aspirations?
I'm working to become a better artist, and I'd love to do more professional illustrations too. Though writing is probably still going to be my main occupation.

Was illustrating extinct animals always something you did or did you come to it later in life?
I drew dinosaurs as a kid, like everyone else, but stopped somewhere in my early teen years and only started again when I began my university studies, seven years ago (I studied biology). During the gap, I mostly drew fantasy creatures, dragons and elves and stuff. I think the main reason I started making paleoart was to find sort of a compromise between drawing fantasy creatures and being a science student. Illustrating extinct animals is firmly rooted in science, but also lets you use your imagination in a way not really possible with bioillustration.

"Eye Contact." Anurognathus ammoni, © Maija Karala and used with her permission.

At what point in an illustration do you focus on the eyes? It's often a striking element in your work, whether fantasy or paleoart.
I have never really thought about that. I do tend to think the eyes and expressions as the most important part of my drawings, as that's also what I pay the most attention when looking at live animals (or people, for that matter). Though I have no idea if everyone else does that too. After making a general sketch on what I want there to be and where, the eyes (or the facial areas in general) are usually the first thing I focus on.

You seem to be especially drawn to feathery theropods. Is this due to a bird interest or is there some aspect of their form that is especially fun to draw?
I think it's a bit of both. I like birds, sure. I also like drawing small and pretty animals. And feathers are always fun. Anyway, the main reason is probably that there's plenty of references and easily accessible knowledge available on feathered dinosaurs. It was an easy place to start back when I started making paleoart, and once I was familiar with them, it was also easy to continue.

Lately, I have been moving on to other critters as a part of trying to learn new things. My DeviantArt gallery is now starting to have more things like fossil mammals and non-dinosaurian archosaurs than feathered theropods on the first pages.

When illustrating an animal that has been covered by other illustrators, in what ways do you try to make it your own?
I always try to find other sources of inspiration besides other people's depictions of the same animal, sometimes actively avoiding looking at them when planning to make my own reconstruction. I often look up modern animals with somewhat similar ecology and use their soft tissues and behaviour as inspiration, but try never to directly copy anything. I mostly avoid using the most obvious colour themes or soft tissue ideas. That's not to say I never stumble on paleoart memes, but I do try to avoid it.

"The Feathered Yeti." Xiaotingia zhengi, © Maija Karala and used with her permission.

How much do comments on dA influence your work? For instance on your "Feathered Yeti," the comments get into some serious detail about integument. When posting work do you post with the expectation that you'll receive critique on areas you're not sure about?
To be honest, DeviantArt comments have probably been the most important thing pushing me to get better at making paleoart. These days I usually do my research before drawing, but especially earlier it was a great motivator to make embarrassing mistakes and get someone tell it to me. I'm pretty sure I never made the same mistake twice.

As I have mostly learned paleontology and anatomy on my own (for years, I had no paleontologically oriented friends nor any education on either subject), the criticism has been invaluable. I still greatly appreciate all the experts who go through the trouble to nitpick on amateur drawings.

"I Immediately Regret This Decision." Thalassodromeus attempting to eat Mirischia, © Maija Karala and used with her permission.

So, who are some of your favorite expert paleoartists? Is there a particular piece of advice or critique you received that has stuck with you?
I really like the works of people like Alain Bénéteau, Ville Sinkkonen, Carl Buell and Mauricio Anton, just to mention a few. My favourites are the people who can combine an expert understanding of science with truly beautiful art and get the animals to really come to life. I also really like Niroot's style. And John Conway's. And... ok, I'll stop here before the list becomes ridiculously long.

I don't think there's any particular piece of advice that has been especially memorable. It has been more about the general message that I need to know more. It's something I simply didn't get elsewhere for most of the time. As nobody I knew personally had the expertice to tell me the feet of my Quetzalcoatlus are wrong, most feedback was more like "oh, a nice dinosaur. What do you mean it isn't a dinosaur?".

Thank you to Maija for answering my questions - and patiently waiting for me to have time to put the post together! I hope you'll stop by her DeviantArt gallery and leave some support and constructive criticism on her illustrations. Also check out the recent post at i09 featuring Maija's Protoceratops/ Griffin illustration.

"Go Home, Evolution." Atopodentatus, © Maija Karala and used with her permission.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Mysterious World of Dinosaurs

Contrary to the beliefs of some - who seem to think that I collect these books by holding a net out of the window and reciting an arcane incantation until obsolete illustrations start falling from the clouds - I do actually physically own the vast majority of the books I review in Vintage Dinosaur Art. As time goes on, finding fresh old books and not paying through the nose becomes increasingly difficult. Praise be, then, to the Amnesty International book shop in Brighton, which is where I happened to find this gem of a book on sale for a single quid. Stumbling across something like this, and being able to walk out of the shop with it in my clutches, is a real joy. And believe me, this book is a corker.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Mighty Giants

Welcome back to the wonderful world of old-school dinosaur books - hey, it's been a while. The Mighty Giants - part of the Dinosaur World Pop-Up Books series (which ran to at least two books, apparently) - was published in 1988, but for all its scientific infidelity, it might as well have been published in 1978...or 1968. Yes, it's one of those. Hold on to your pear-shaped tyrannosaurs and oddly uniform teeth, everyone!

TetZooCon Approaches!

Darren Naish and John Conway will be hosting the first TetZooCon in eleven short days, at the London Wetland Centre. I have been drooling over the announced speaking lineup since I learned of it, but with an ocean between us, it's just not in the cards for me. The deadline for booking your place at the event is this Friday, July 4. At £40, the price is very reasonable (if only airfare and lodging didn't cost anything).

John opens the conference with his welcome, followed by Darren on speculative paleontology and a Mark Witton talk on the speculative idea of post-Mesozoic pterosaurs. The rest of the day is as wide-ranging as TetZoo itself, covering cryptozoology, paleoart, and good ol' normal everyday extant tetrapods like amphibians and giraffes. The day is absolutely packed, and I can imagine a gaggle of overstimulated convention-goers wandering London babbling snippets of talks.

Darren has also opened up a new Redbubble shop with his illustrations accompanied by cheeky captions. They're pretty funny. Keep in mind that this is a second shop, in addition to the TetZoo podcast shop, so don't get confused and punch your computer monitor or throw your monitor or something. Because then you'd have to replace it, and would have less money to pack into Darren and John's pockets.

And, you know... <filthy lucre>toss a few coins my way too and send me a photo of you sporting one of my tees at the con - maybe one of my new "Society of Palaeontology Fanciers" designs! There's just enough time to place an order and get one before the con... </filthy lucre>

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Turtles, Meet Dinosaurs; or, The Most Accurate Paleoart in 2014 Comics

As LITC's senior comics correspondent, it pains me to say that 2014 has been a fairly forgettable year for dinosaurs in comics. Devil Dinosaur continues to be inexplicably denied an ongoing series. DC's The War That Time Forgot never quite took off, and Brett Booth is busy drawing cluttered superhero costumes instead of elaborate archosaurs. Even Dynamite's relaunch of Turok, a title that should be a showcase for prehistoric mayhem, is saddled with an artist uninterested in creating animals that are accurate, interesting, or well characterized. (It should be impossible to make anachronistic Crusaders riding raptors boring, but apparently miracles happen. Deadly dull miracles.)

Disgraceful. In general, it was starting to look as if we were going to have to wait for the inevitable tie-in to Jurassic World to get our fix. 

And then this happened. 

That's right. The most accurate and energetic dinosaurs of 2014 are appearing in, of all places, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Where fibreglass dinosaurs go to die

One further indulgence in the world of ugly life-sized models before our illustration-reviewing service resumes (Asher's got a corker coming up by the look of it, and I'll probably be able to squeeze a VDA out in the near future, too). Earlier in the year, Niroot and I visited Blackgang Chine to gawp at their newly mobile dinosaur collection. While a few of the old stodgy static models do remain, we did wonder - what happened to the rest, not least that most memorable of mascots, The World's Derpiest T. rex?

Well, Arron Swaffar, aka The Nutters Productions, found out...

One would've thought that Blackgang wouldn't miss out on the opportunity to make a crafty few quid by auctioning off bits of their beloved old dinosaurs, but no - here they are, broken up and heaped on a cliff top out of sight of the public. The film doesn't need disconcerting music and echoing voice samples to shock - for any fan of Blackgang and/or ugly '70s dinosaur models, this is heartbreaking stuff.

By the way, there really is an abandoned house in an area owned by the park - long since left behind in the face of unstoppable coastal erosion. And now it's haunted by a caveman family. Brrr...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Rise of the Robosaurs at Marwell

Marwell Zoo is a marvellous (Marwell-vellous?) wildlife park located in Hampshire, in the south of England. Its vast, open acres are home to perhaps the widest variety of (very happy-looking) exotic ungulates in the UK (and much more besides, of course). For me, at least one visit per year is a must, but this summer the park has also installed sundry robo-saurians about the grounds as part of what it's calling 'Rise of the Dinosaurs'. To quote a famous delivery boy: "Just shut up and take my money!"

Photos mostly by Niroot (marked NP)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dinosaurs of Brussels

Brussels is an intriguing city - home to the European Parliament, breathtakingly stunning buildings, more recent, butt-ugly buildings, fantastic beer, busy but untalented graffiti artists, and countless gift shops stuffed with tiny statuettes of a young boy taking a leak. It's also home to the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences*, also known as the Museum of Natural Sciences, and confusingly promoted about town using just the word 'museum' (often, but not always, accompanied by a John Sibbick-aping Iguanodon logo). The RBINS boasts the largest dinosaur gallery in Europe, occupying some 300 square metres. Fortunately for all concerned, it's a completely wonderful piece of work, packed with far, far more than the spiky-thumbed ornithopods you were expecting.