Thursday, March 31, 2011

Clever Apes Gets Mesozoic

The latest episode of Chicago Public Radio's podcast Clever Apes is all about dinosaurs. Two sides of Chicago's dinosaur coin make appearances, with University of Chicago superstar paleontologist Paul Sereno popping in, as well as a bit from rising star nerd comic Dan Telfer of "The Best Dinosaur" fame.

From the Clever Apes site:
There’s no question: The dinosaurs of our youth have been irrevocably humbled. And yet movies, kids’ books and advertisements still perpetuate all kinds of misconceptions about dinosaurs that scientists long ago left behind. So why is it that dinosaur myths die so hard?
I can't help but notice the tie in with Brian Switek's recently announced book deal for Date with a Dinosaur, which he says will explore how science has changed many of the views of dinosaurs we held as children. Congrats, Brian! Can't wait to see what you have in store.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I'm a Hoosier, and I'm Doing Something

Head over to the blog Hoosiers Doing Something, written by fellow Indiana guy Erik Fox, to read an interview with yours truly. Erik asked me about what the paleoblog world is like, how dinosaurs stay so popular, and what it's like to get to know the deep history of your local area. You'll also get to see me hanging out with one of my favorite dudes of all time, Charles Darwin.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Tiny Morsel of Reign of the Dinosaurs

As noted by paleoartist Angie Rodrigues on her blog Art By Angie, the production company Creative Differences, who is working on the upcoming Discovery series Reign of the Dinosaurs, has included a bit of footage in their latest demo reel. Go to their site, and click the "Our Stuff" link. The snippet comes about a third of the way through, after the Time Warp bit.

It looks killer. I do mean killer. As expected of a demo reel, which is meant to be an eye-grabbing showcase of the company's work, the dinosaur action is pretty gory. It doesn't start that way, as an allosaur thundere down a game trail, charismatically groaning and waving its head to and fro.

Then, presumably the same allosaur showcases lightning-quick reflexes by catching a diplodocid's tail in its jaws and ripping off the end of it.

Next, two tyrannosaurs display a bit of intra-specific rivalry, as one rips either a strip of flesh, a tendon, or a vein out of its opponent's neck. Hopefully, this indicates that we'll see the gregarious behavior hinted at by the evidence of tyrannosaur face-biting in the fossil record.

Finally, showing that a bit of slapstick humor will indeed be present, the allosaur from earlier is slapped in the face by the sauropod tail it is snacking on. The slapstick component, which I wrote about in November, is the source of all of my worries concerning Reign.

As a small follow-up to yesterday's Vintage Dinosaur Art post, you can see that the allosaur's hands are correctly oriented, though it's clearer in the video than in the above screencap.

This is the smallest glimpse into the final product, but of the three big dinosaur products due in the next year or so, I'm still most excited about Reign of the Dinosaurs - until I see something of Walking with Dinosaurs 3D, I won't know what to think. There may be more slapstick humor than I'd like, but the artistic talent behind it has a solid reputation in paleoart and the designs above, while not particularly colorful, are bold and seem pretty accurate. I can't wait to see what they do with color and plumage in smaller theropods, and what other paleoenvironments are explored. There has been a lot of cool research in the decade since Walking with Dinosaurs, and it's reasonable to expect to see it presented well here.

A Bit of Facebook Business

Facebook has seen some pretty cool happenings lately in the paleo scene, so I figured I'd take the chance to point you to some groups and pages that will do nothing less than delight you to exhaustion. This post may have popped up in an earlier form in your reader of choice. Sorry about that!

Carl Buell Illustration
When Glendon Mellow, John Hawks, and I discussed Science-Art at ScienceOnline in January, one of the artists we wanted to talk about was Carl Buell, highly esteemed for his captivating takes on Cenozoic mammals, early tetrapods, and just about any critter dead or alive. When we clicked on our link to show some of his work on Flickr, we found to our horror that his account was gone. Well, he's back in a big way with the Carl Buell Illustration facebook page, where he's been sharing new and old work with insightful write-ups. Delightful guy, and it's fun to interact with him and fellow fans.

ART Evolved
The paleoart enthusiasts of ART Evolved also set up shop on FB recently. With new folks recently joining in at the AE blog, including yours truly, it should be a good place for congenial conversation about the site's happenings.
Now, you can keep up with Scott Hartman's new skeletal diagrams on Facebook, too. He started the group last fall but has just now been posting to it, so hop on this train before it's too late.

Nobu Tamura started this one up recently, and it's featured especially vigorous conversations about the paleoart meltdown. Dedicated to discussion of paleoartistic subjects, it's been a really nice way to bring together folks who normally frequent disparate bits of the web and live all over the world. This is a "group" rather than a page, so it's invite-only. But if you want in, hit me up.

Project Dryptosaurus
That ferocious Brett Booth Dryptosaurus is a sign that you're in the right place to keep up with Gary's ongoing campaign to increase awareness of New Jersey's deep past and signature tyrannosaur.

Not exactly recently, but I've set up there, too. New post alerts are posted automatically via twitterfeed, but I also try to share notable news stories, cool artwork, items from the LITC vault, and other nifty stuff at least once a day.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Gino D'Achille

This week, we'll look at the 1988 Golden Book Tiny Dinosaurs, written by Steven Lindblom and illustrated by Gino D'Achille. D'Achille is a renowned illustrator of book covers; browse through this portfolio of selected works, and you'll see that he's adept at natural, historical, fantastical, and mythological subjects. He's especially renowned for his terrific covers for the John Carter of Mars and Flashman series.

Considering the current discussion among the paleoart community, this is a great opportunity to look at the work of a "fantasy artist" who dips into dinosaur artwork. While not denigrating the skills of these artists, in his recent emails to the Dinosaur Mailing List, Greg Paul distinguished between these artists and dedicated paleoartists. The difference, as Paul stated, is academic rigor and a deep knowledge of - as just one relevant example - dinosaur physiology. Any illustrator worth his or her salt possesses the anatomical knowledge necessary to sell their subject, but the reconstruction of extinct forms naturally requires more research to ensure that the final result is as sound as can be hoped for.

Tiny Dinosaurs title page

Tiny Dinosaurs passes over thundering grudge matches between T. rex and Triceratops, shining a light on some less-celebrated dinosaurs. Psittacosaurus appears on the title page, above, perhaps reflecting the influence of scientific consultant Paul Sereno, who published a few works on the genus in the eighties. It's a real treat to see the rarer Heterodontosaurus, who is also the cover model.


Tiny Dinosaurs clearly aims to be more than a simple childrens' title and deliver a bit of education by fleshing out kids' idea of the Mesozoic as more than a monster's playground. It prominently lists Sereno as a consultant, so it can be presumed that Lindblom sought to publish a book that was up-to-date. The poster child for the dinosaur renaissance, Deinonychus, makes an appearance. D'Achille poses the beloved dromaeosaur sitting down, an interesting, if unsuccessful choice that takes one of the most vibrant theropods and makes it look static and as dull-eyed as a rubber Halloween mask.


Note the hands - this Deinonychus, in the memorable words of Dave Hone, is a slapper, not a clapper. I'm not sure if D'Achille would have had Paul's Predatory Dinosaurs of the World as a source, as they both came out in the same year. In PDW, Paul made the repeated mistake of pronating theropod hands. It's one of the most common mistakes you'll see to this day, and seems to be the "default" setting for folks who are simply drawing dinosaurs for fun. But it would be nice to see it go away. Since the ulna and radius of a dinosaur's arm don't cross, their hands can't be twisted so that the palms face the ground. This is probably because not much work had been done to really work out the biomechanics of the dinosaur forelimb, and therefore is an understandable error. Other theropods in the book have the same issue, including the skulking figures of Tyrannosaurus and Compsognathus below.

Tyrannosauus rex


In this Archaeopteryx, however, you can see one way the palms of a theropod's hands could face ventrally, which was by flexion of the arm - er, wing - at the shoulder.


At least Archaeopteryx got his feathers, which is more than one can say about poor naked Deinonychus. But it's just as drably adorned as all of the other beasts, all in muted greens and browns.

Mind you, the point of these posts is not to pedantically nitpick old illustrations. D'Achille's work here is be among the best of the less formal dinosaur illustrations I normally feature, though it melds traditional ideas with those of the dinosaur renaissance. As I said above, it's a good chance to illustrate one of Paul's recent points. To draw a distinction between a paleoartist and any other kind of illustrator is not to make a value judgment, but a necessary distinction. I'm not sure how intensely D'Achille went about his research, but the result seems perfectly suited to a Golden Book.

Onward, then. Sauropods, the largest dinosaurs, are featured prominently, with the small sauropodomorph Ammosaurus -now thought to be Anchisaurus - and a bit on sauropod babies.


Baby 'Pods

If sauropods make out a bit better than theropods in this title, it's due to my favorite piece: a trio of young sauropods frolicking in the surf. Rarely in these old books are sauropods shown expressing such joie de vivre.

Playful 'Pods

Definitely an upgrade from the artistic forbears of these guys, who were consigned to lives of half-submerged drudgery. For more of D'Achille's work, see his take on an "extant" plesiosaur, in this old TetZoo post, a portfolio of his work here, and his work on the sci-fi yarn West of Eden, showcased and discussed by the author here.

I'd like to thank reader Scott Hodges for letting me know about this cool title and sharing images with me. Check out plenty images from old dinosaur titles at the Vintage Dinosaur Art flickr pool.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Mesozoic Miscellany #24

Two dozen digests in, and this is going to be a big one. Before we begin, a few notes:
  • A new edition of the Boneyard is approaching! Submit a blog post to the world's only paleontology blog carnival, this month hosted by Sam Wise on April 5 at Sorting Out Science. All pertinent info, as always, at the Boneyard Blog.
  • I'm ditching the Tumblin' section. Not worth the extra effort, especially since most of what I find are google image searches hastily crapped into tumblogs without citation. I can find my own wacky dinosaur pix.
  • With being on the road and getting sick, I haven't been terribly active on Twitter lately, so I won't be sharing those links this week, either.
  • I might just have a spiffy header graphic by next week.
Anyway, onward with a cram-packed edition of Mesozoic Miscellany!

New Research
The big news is the Proceedings of the Third Gondwanan Dinosaur Symposium, which has yielded a mountain of new research to pore over. I'm eagerly picking through the 20 papers included - all open access - to find good blog fodder. Ichnology, Paleoclimatology, new taxa, and more. Read about Brazil's new giant spinosaur Oxalaia at Dinosaur Tracking.

Wedel, Yates, and Bonnan have a new paper a pneumaticity in early sauropodomorphs, online though not officially published yet. Read about how the paper came to be at SV-POW.

Around the Dinoblogosphere
Pseudoplocephalus: Victoria Arbour writes about a significant find in the tar sands of northern Alberta: An ankylosaur.

Project Dryptosaurus: Gary provides an update on his comings-and-goings with the project.

Whales, Camps, and Trails: Sternberg and Brown are discussed in a post on early dinosaur hunting.

Saurian: Saurian writes about the ongoing debate over Nanotyrannus, spurred by his viewing of a dentary excavated in 2006.

Dracovenator: Adam Yates tells a story of spotting an impressive pneumatic chamber in a vertebra of Antetonitrus.

RMDRC Paleo Lab: Anthony Maltese writes about Cap'n Chuck, a very large specimen of one of my favorite mosasaurs, Platecarpus. Includes a great before-and-after-prep photo.

SV-POW: Ever wanted to see what a baby giraffe's neck looks like on the inside?

Chinleana: Bill Parker shares Jaff Martz's restoration of phytosaur Smilisuchus, now in color.

Dinosaur Tracking: Brian Switek discusses the history of the iconic AMNH Allosaurus mount.

The Bite Stuff: Jaime Headden shares one of his own skeletal drawings of Jeholopterus, critiquing his muscle restoration and talking about how it's done.

Archosaur Musings: Dave Hone ponders the likelyhood that, despite predator chauvinists hopes, some big theropods were more than likely scavengers. As a note to artists, he writes, "You certainly can’t name one species over another as a likely candidate, and it’s extremely unlikely that all of a group had gone down this route. However, if you want to draw this kind of thing then I’d have no problem with that and I don’t think many people necessarily would, or should."

Paleo Illustrata: Stu notes the remarkable, though admittedly speculative, resemblance of hornbill chicks to non-avian maniraptorans. Almost has a Solonevich look to it.

Skeletal Drawing: Scott Hartman brings his history of skeletal diagrams up to the mid-century era in part two of his wonderful series. Can't wait for round three!

The Flying Trilobite: Learn about the making of Glendon's recent Tylosaurus Reef. I see a hint of Trilobite Boy in one of his early sketches!

ART Evolved: Evan Boucher introduced himself to the crew in fine fashion, with a splendid rendering of Thoracosaurus, a crocodylian of the Late Cretaceous.

Gurney Journey: Gurney used a gorgeous painting from Journey to Chandara as an example of a technique painters use in scenes comprised of misty light and silhouetted figures.

The conversation about paleoart's direction and adoption of best practices continues. I've added recent notable blog posts in my roundup posted last week, which I'll continue to update. Please email me with anything I've missed.

Paleoart of the Week
I was instantly charmed by Ezequiel Vera's lovely little Aucasaurus, and immediately flagged it for this coveted honor. I love Vera's style, and am reminded of how grateful we should all be for the many artists with wildly different styles contributing great stuff to paleoart nowadays. Enjoy!

Illustration by Ezequiel Vera, from his Paleontología, Ilustración y Biston betularia blog.

Outrageously Off-topic Indulgence


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Paraworld, the Dinosaur Strategy Game

Anyone ever give this bad boy a whirl? It's called Paraworld, and it took the concept of Dino-Riders and turned it into a real-time strategy game. Here's the intro.

That Kentrosaurus went down like a sack of flour! Sort of like the game's developer, SEK, after the game didn't live up to expectations.

A fellow going by the name of the Illiterate Scholar has been posting short videos called the Dinosaur News Center for several months at the ol' Youtube. His latest, from about a month ago, was a review of the game. He pretty much loves it!

Love the slo-mo WTF after the "Welcome to Viking Park" line. Keep it up, man!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Additions to Essential Links

I am still feeling a bit wiped out from a nasty stomach bug I had over the weekend, and thus haven't had any time or energy to come up with a post for today. I have been trying to catch up with what I missed when I was (mostly) away from the computer, and have added a few new posts to last week's roundup of links relating to the brouhaha in paleoart right now.

For those of you interested in learning more about skeletal diagrams and how they've evolved since the early days of paleontology, I highly recommend Scott Hartman's new blog. He's currently in the midst of a series about the history of their usage, providing valuable context for that aspect of the discussion. Parts One and Two are posted, and the next post promises to bring us to the modern era. Good stuff!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Paperbacks of Yesteryear

As I mentioned here last week, the gig that keeps my refrigerator stocked and my dogs clothed in the finest canine apparel is designing book covers. This week's entry in this series is especially fun for me, as it's a roundup of old pulp dinosaur book covers.

We start with a pair of Tarzan titles. Both of these showcase a common theme in pulp dinosaur covers, a theme you'll see below as well: steamy, sun-deprived primordial jungles in which giant lizards reign. The first is easily recognizable as the work of Boris Vallejo, a legend in fantasy art.

Burroughs, Edgar Rice - Tarzan the Terrible (1983 PB)
Shared by sdobie. Cover art by Boris Vallejo.

The second is by Dick Powers, and his Tarzan is of the clean-cut and square-jawed variety, a suburban dad goring a red-eyed theropod through the throat with a spear.

Tarzan at the Earth's Core
Shared by Ron and Sandra Lightburn. Cover art by Dick Powers.

The next one is Behold the Mighty Dinosaur, a short story collection featuring some titans of fiction, as well as James Farlow, a paleontologist at Indiana University Fort Wayne. This one is squarely set in the design aesthetic of the seventies, with its mixture of line art and painting.

Behold The Mighty Dinosaur
Shared by Kevin O'Neill

One of the classics in the genre, being the first work of fiction to explicitly feature dinosaurs, is Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World. The first takes us deep into a timeless jungle.

Harlequin-Pan 238 - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The Lost World
Shared by swallace99. Cover artist unknown.

The second was clearly meant to pop off of book shelves (and save money) with its limited color palette of blue and yellow.

Shared by Birmingham Phil. Cover artist unknown.

The cover of Anne McCaffrey's Dinosaur Planet was graced by a blatant ripoff of Charles R. Knight's Brontosaurus.

Anne McCaffrey: Dinosaur Planet
Shared by John Blakey. Cover artist unknown.

This one, The Crossroads of Time, tosses any pretense of accuracy to the wind. It's bananas. I hope that's a dino-proof bubble.

Andre Norton: Crossroads of Time
Shared by John Blakey. Cover art by Tony Roberts.

The collection 10,000 Light Years From Home by groundbreaking female (and pseudonymous) sci-fi writer James Tiptree, Jr. fared better, outfitting its dinosaurs and pseudodinosaurs with mighty riders.

James Tiptree jr. 10,000 Light-Years from Home
Shared by John Blakey. Cover art by Gino D'Achille(?).

If you like this sort of stuff I'll go ahead and once again recommend exploring Michael May's Adventureblog (who shared my favorite Tarzan cover of all). Along with jungle girls, robots, cephalopods, pirates, and movie monsters, you'll find all sorts of cool old dinosaur stuff to cram down your piehole. And for even more of these, check out Pulp Covers at Posterous. If you're looking to delve into the glories of dinosaur science fiction, the Internet Review of Science Fiction offers a great guide to the subgenre.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Teessaurus Park

Waterhouse Hawkins' dinosaurs are perhaps the most famous dinosaur sculptures in England. The Ultrasaurus that visited Portsmouth last year might be the most infamous. Less famous are the metal statues of Teessaurus Park, located on the River Tees in Middlesbrough. The sculptures were built during the last two decades of the last century by the government's Youth and Employment Training Scheme, and resemble those popular balsa wood model kits we've all put together at some point.

The BBC writes:
Sadly the park is a less popular attraction now than it once was, as its condition has deteriorated. The sculptures are all sprayed with graffitti, and the gardens are overgrown and filled with litter.
So, probably not at the top of your to-do list, unless you happen to be skipping around North Yorkshire with some time on your hands. Photos follow!

Shared by Matt Davenport at Flickr.

Shared by John Holland at Flickr.

Teessaurus Park, Middlesbrough
Shared by Kensai65 at Flickr.

Shared by tamandsaf at Flickr.

Shared by John Holland at Flickr.

By the time most of you read this I'll be touring the collections of the Field Museum, so I'm afraid there will be no Mesozoic Miscellany today. Next Friday's edition will be chockablock with scrumptious links, rest assured.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Essential Links in the Paleoart-pocalypse

Okay, so "paleoart-pocalypse" doesn't exactly skip lightly off the tongue. Forgive me. I'm tired.

I'm going to be on the road for the next few days, so I won't be able to write much more about the paleoart debate. It's hot on my mind. Probably a bit too hot, to be honest. It will be nice to get away from the computer for a little while. Especially since a hefty chunk of that time will be spent in the geology collections of the Field Museum. Posts to follow, rest assured.

There are serious issues to be hashed out in paleoart (and as Matt Van Rooijen has pointed out in a few venues, the problems are hardly limited to paleoart). Artists deserve fair compensation. They deserve a realistic expectation of how well paleoart can sustain them. But these issues get lost in the generation gap, and the discussion on the Dinosaur Mailing List, which I wrote about on Tuesday, frequently devolves into misunderstanding and (sometimes hilariously hyperbolic) name-calling. Science lovers fret over the poor funding science often receives, and of all genres of illustration, paleoart is uniquely affected by this. We can't hope to fix the problem, but we can fight for paleoartists to be treated fairly.

In following the ups and downs of this discussion, I'm reminded of a Kurt Vonnegut quote. I may be a paleo-n00b, but I absolutely believe that this applies to the grizzliest of the grizzled veterans as much as it does to me: "There's only one rule I know of, babies - God damn it, you've got to be kind." Act like a bully and watch your credibility waft away on the slightest breeze.

Here, I'll provide a handy set of links to writings on this topic. Cross-posts are included to ensure that important comment threads aren't missed. I'll add to this list in the future as the discussion progresses in what I hope will be a fruitful way - with more than just artists participating. I apologize if any important posts were missed; additions gratefully accepted in the comments.

Last Updated 3/26/2011

SciAm Guest Blog: Kalliopi Monoyios' Art in the service of Science: You get what you pay for
David Maas: Epic GSP (x-posted at ART Evolved)
ART Evolved: Pandora's Pencil Box, I Own Greg Paul's Albertoceratops! Taking essay submissions for more GSP-themed Philofossilizing posts.
LITC: The Great Debate in Paleoart
The new "Bone Wars": Greg Paul, science, and the art of paleontology. (x-posted at ART Evolved)
The Faster Times: Gregory S. Paul and the Future of Paleoart
Skeletal Drawing:
The History of Skeletal Drawings parts one, two, and three
Gregory S. Paul's website:
He's issued a refined statement addressed to fellow paleoartists as well as project managers.

Dinosaur Mailing List:
For each of these, I'm providing only the first email in important threads. Follow at your own risk.
GSP statement on use of my dinosaur restorations
RE: GSP statement on use of my dinosaur restorations (follow up)
RE: GSP statement on use of my dinosaur restorations (more follow up)
Another important point
Actually Doing Something About the Great Paleoart Ripoff
dino branding
Use of paleoart in scientific publications.
Still more on paleoart in technical and other publications
Technical paper copyrights
Reductio Ad Absurdum. It is 1984 Dinosaur Time..!
Clarification of scope of paleoart market and other items
A short outline program for improving paleoart

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Sinclair Dinogirls

Flickr user jeffs46h3 has shared a batch of found photos from the sixties depicting the Sinclair "Dinogirls." After the 1964 World's Fair, Sinclair took the dinosaur models on a promotional tour. At some point in 1967, they stopped in Paramus, NJ, and locals had the chance to see them on flatbed trucks in the Garden State Plaza shopping mall parking lot. Someone with shaky photographic skills was on hand to document the raging fun that was had, and we're the beneficiaries!

Found Photo - The Sinclair Dinogirls

Found Photo - Learn to Focus

Found Photo - Sinclair Dinosaurs

Found Photo - Sinclair Dinosaurs

I'd imagine that the models were hired locally, as I haven't found any mention of them elsewhere, and Jeff is the only one to use the term "dinogirl" to describe them. If you have any more details (or were a "dinogirl" yourself), feel free to let me know!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Great Debate in Paleoart

"Why are dinosaurs so popular?"

It's one of the perennial questions you'll read in interviews with dinosaur experts. For my part, I think that dinosaurs' staying power has to do with their reality. They lived. Certain other pop cultural memes (zombies, vampires, mythological beasts) depend on inventions of the imagination or new strains of analysis for vitality. Dinosaurs are remote enough to retain their allure as monsters, yet close enough for us to observe through the tools of science. Paleontology is a science that depends on artists to communicate its findings to the general public. Pop culture offers an outlet to popularize the science and attract new blood to the discipline. Paleontology provides new raw materials for pop culture to craft stories. The cycle repeats.

If you doubt the artist's vital role in this interplay, look at a paleontology article in National Geographic. Now strip out the paleoart. Not nearly as compelling, is it?

For the last week and a half, a discussion has been occurring within the online paleoart community, spurred by Gregory S. Paul, one of the giants of modern paleoart. That's almost an understatement. Beginning his career working with Robert Bakker, Paul was a key player in the dinosaur renaissance, the overturning of stale, limiting ideas about dinosaur physiology that reached its popular peak with Jurassic Park. Now, it's fairly common that a layman with little interest in dinosaurs will at least be familiar with the idea that they were much more dynamic creatures than the grim old paradigm held. "Dinosaurs are not boring," Paul wrote in his landmark book Predatory Dinosaurs of the World, "and one can only make them so via ignorance." Now that the old concept of sluggish, brutish reptilian creatures has been cast off, scientists have the freedom to follow the evidence where it leads.

On Thursday, March 11, Paul sent an email to the Dinosaur Mailing List firmly requesting that other paleoartists cease emulating the "Greg Paul look."
My specific problem is that some other artists who utilize my work as the basis to generate their art to a significant degree are underbidding yours truly on a regular basis. I know that my work is being used because I have received requests to access my material by others to use on their projects. Making it worse is that it seems that some product producers knowingly or unknowingly wish to utilize the GP look, and are turning to lower priced artists to obtain it.
From there, the discussion quickly forked off into complementary paths. One concerned Paul's assertion that he in some way owns the characteristic pose of his skeletal diagrams, in which a bipedal dinosaur is depicted "pushing off" with the left foot in the greatest extent of the animal's stride. Paul writes:
Do not pose it in my classic left foot pushing off in a high velocity posture. Not because I am inherently outraged -- it would be rather nice if not for some practical issues. For one thing I have succeeded in getting some big payments for unauthorized use of this pose by major prjects [sic] that should have known better.
At this, most have balked. Artist Nima Sassini wrote at his Paleo King blog that Paul's request is "nothing short of megalomania." I think it's silly at the very least, but though I felt it warranted mention, I'm not going to expound any further on this. I bring it up mainly to say that I fear that this aspect of Paul's argument, as well as some folks' dislike of his tone, distracts from the more important points he's made.

Paul stresses that the illustration of a dinosaur isn't simply a drawing. Every stroke of the pen is underlain by hours of research. He writes:
I do a whole lot of work for every dinosaur I do, and it requires considerable time. Traveling hither and yon. Digging up all those old obscure papers. Cross scaling elements. Raising my blood pressure trying to cross scaling elements when it is not working out for some damn reason. Years of becoming familiar with animal anatomy and function (notice how I turned out to be right about giant theropods having flexed legs after all). Keeping up with the increasingly massive literature. Reworking old skeletal restorations as new information comes in and the occasional oops about a prior effort.
How should paleoartists be compensated for their work? There are many enthusiastic amateurs, some of whose talents approach the professional masters of the craft. Paul has a long-standing reputation for academic rigor (the flip side of which is his penchant for making broad taxonomic pronouncements in the popular press). So protecting the Greg Paul Brand is in his best interest. But as Mike Taylor states in the comments of Nima's first post on this issue at ART Evolved, this is almost a Utopian argument: Paul may not like it, but the reality of any market is that experienced professionals who command high prices can be outbid by plucky up-and-comers.

Clearly, Paul is absolutely within his rights to call other artists on their appropriation of his work. The most flagrant example of this I've seen appeared about a year ago. There are certainly amateurs who use Paul's work as they learn the craft and develop their own style. Paul has acknowledged that this is not an issue, as it's an important part of an artists growth and a practice he himself used when he was younger.

Taylor's comment brings me to my major concern, and the one thing I want to focus on today: How many paleoartists can the market sustain? Money for paleontology is hard to come by, a perennial problem made more acute by the current economic climate. Though I have a special place in my heart for paleontology, I admit that other areas of science are more vital to mankind's well-being. This is not to discount the important insights about life's history paleontology continues to offer; it's merely a pragmatic acknowledgment of its place relative to other disciplines such as medicine and energy. Paleoartists get a small slice of a small pie when working for scientific clients, and here, Paul's point is that folks who need paleoart for a project need to budget properly to pay the artist fairly. Hopefully that's possible.

As I've been writing this post, the discussion on the mailing list has come around to addressing my big concern. Mark Witton has said it perfectly, and I doubt I can improve on his phrasing.
The harsh reality may be that it may be almost impossible to eek out an existence on palaeoart alone in modern times - even if you are one of the best in the business - and live comparably well, much less support a family. It is an extremely dedicated, specialised branch of art, after all, so there isn't a massive amount of work to spread among even the handful of artists already out there.
So. Is this truly the reality we're faced with? Are the days of dedicated professional paleoartists fading away? None of these artists is getting rich off of this, so it's important to remember that for all of the veterans complaining about losing money, this a matter of livelihood, not greed.

While paleoartists certainly fit well within the Graphic Artists Guild or the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators, their specific needs might warrant a guild of their own. Mike Habib has indicated in an email to the Dinosaur Mailing List that he's in the process of planning a paleoartist gathering at this year's Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting where he'll propose an informal paleoartists' society, writing that he "plans to formally suggest some organization and future goals at that event." He hasn't revealed much more than that, and I'm sure I'm not alone in eagerly awaiting more information. Similar attempts have failed in the past, but hopefully this will be more successful and improve the lot of paleoartists.

One thing's for sure. The entire community, from journal editors to exhibit designers to artists to working scientists to representatives of academic presses, needs to be heard to figure out the most equitable and feasible way forward. The lay public and those working in science-related media, such as documentaries and pop-sci magazines, should also know what's going on, for the simple fact that paleontology and pop culture have the symbiotic relationship I described above.

I do have some personal stake in this as a graphic artist. I'm not a scientific illustrator, but I do hope to base at least part of my future livelihood on doing graphic design for scientific clients, whether they be journals or popular magazines, for pure research or popular science communication. I desperately want paleoartists to have the power to make the kind of living that any skilled worker deserves. But I worry about the dilution of the field as money-crunched media producers drive compensation lower and lower. I'm following along with all of the threads of this conversation as an enthusiastic learner. Though I sometimes feel like I've been writing this blog forever, I'm reminded every day that really, I'm a rank newb. As always, I invite constructive criticism of anything I write.

I've mentioned it on the Dinosaur Mailing List and I'll bring it up here - any paleoartist who doesn't have a blog of their own and would like to talk about this issue publicly is invited here to do an interview or guest post. As this conversation evolves, I'll do my best to explain the issue and offer what little help I can.

Relevant Links:
Included as a reference to statements made by Gregory S. Paul, as well as my main topic above. Not comprehensive, but important to the issues discussed in this post.
GSP statement on use of my dinosaur restorations
RE: GSP statement on use of my dinosaur restorations (follow up)
RE: GSP statement on use of my dinosaur restorations (more follow up)
Another important point
Actually Doing Something About the Great Paleoart Ripoff
Reductio Ad Absurdum. It is 1984 Dinosaur Time..!

Some of the conversation, especially in the final thread linked, is continuing today, and won't be archived at the DML site until tomorrow.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Writers for the Red Cross

I hope you'll forgive the off-topic nature of this post, but considering the terrible events in Japan over the last week, I think you will.

During January's ScienceOnline conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Holly Tucker (@history_geek), a professor at Vanderbilt University and author of the new book Blood Work. She is also involved with the Red Cross, and is one of the organizers of the current Writers for the Red Cross fundraiser. This is where I come in.

At ScienceOnline, Holly was hoping to bump into a graphic designer. Just in case you didn't know, that's my day job. As we discussed a freelance job she was needing, we also talked about Writers For the Red Cross, and she invited me to participate. I've been designing book covers in the self-publishing industry for the better part of three years now, and as the fundraiser is "publishing-related items and services donated by authors, publicists, agents, and editors," it seemed like a perfect fit.

If you're a writer about to self-publish, or anyone else who might be in the market for a book cover, I invite you to bid on my services. It's really easy! Just head to my item's page and make a bid in the comments. If you'd like proof that I can actually do what I say I can, skip over to my portfolio (which will be growing this week, incidentally). I would love to see the bidding go sky-high, not for my ego, but for the fact that the importance of supporting the efforts of the Red Cross has been emphasized by recent tragedies in Japan, New Zealand, Haiti, and Chile (to name but a few). We live a precarious existence on this glorious, dangerous, living planet of ours, and damn it, to strive for anything less than a global sense of community and teamwork is to squander nature's great gift of intelligence. So even if my services aren't something you need, toss some currency the Red Cross's way.

Thanks for putting up with this special break from normal programming. Vintage Dinosaur Art will return next week!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Mesozoic Miscellany #23

New Research
The likely attachment location of pterosaur wing membranes are the subject of newly (finally) published research in Acta Paleontologia Polonica. I wrote about it on Thursday, and it also got a mention at Paleoblog.

Massospondylus is the subject of a new paper, detailed at Dracovenator, addressing the major problem of the fact that it was originally named after really crummy material which has since been eclipsed by better specimens. The neotype, or new standard for the taxon, is a specimen called "Big Mama." Adam writes, "...Massospondylus has been saved, it is no longer in danger of being thrown away as yet another nomen dubium and will forever be one of the best known dinosaurs."

Around the Dinoblogosphere
Dispersal of Darwin: Always nice if I can fit Michael Barton's blog in here. This week, he shared the trailer for the new evolution vs. creationism documentary, No Dinosaurs in Heaven.

Paleo Illustrata: Stu Pond discussed the software options for 3D animators.

Saurian: This week, Saurian shared a summary of ceratopsian research presented at the 2010 Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists Meeting in Pittsburgh.

Palaeoblog: Michael Ryan shared an incredibly cool piece of artwork called The Shape of Things to Come by Geof Darrow, an illustration from the magazine Cheval Noir depicting a world in which the dinosaurs have returned and human culture is in tatters.

In the recently begun Facebook group Paleoexhibit, artists and enthusiasts have been discussing all sorts of issues around paleoart, from Greg Paul's recent writings to artist blogs from around the world. Felipe Elias has been sharing great links, including a Brazilian video about Tapuiasaurus, Carlos Papolio's site, the DeviantArt page of Gonzalezaurus, and blogs by Manuel Sosa and Ezequiel Vera.

Pseudoplocephalus: Victoria Arbour writes about her recent work in analyzing the pelvic shields of ankylosaurs.

ART Evolved: Today's Friday Speedpaint theme is "stompin' sauropods! Check out the first one, by David Maas.

The Great Cretaceous Walk: Wouldn't be a Miscellany without a Tony Martin post. This week, Tony wrote about the prickly relationship between fossil hunters and academic paleontologists, recounting more stories from Australia.

Paul Sereno was a guest on the science podcast Lab Out Loud this week, talking about his life as a paleontologist.

Twit Picks
Stuff I linked to at Twitter in the last week or so:
H/T to I Effing Love Dinosaurs for reblogging Painting With Crayons, who shared this great watercolor take on the evergreen genre of fanciful extinction theories. Here's a little preview.

Paleoart of the Week
This week, I'm going with Tuesday's LITC interview subject, Glendon Mellow. Just as the interview posted here, he revealed a new work commissioned by Craig Dylke, entitled Tylosaurus Reef. The pose, he tells me, was inspired by hummingbirds!

Tylosaurus Reef, © Glendon Mellow 2011. Used with his permission.

Outrageously Off-Topic Indulgence
H/T to Mike Keesey for sharing this incredible infographic of the history of science fiction on Twitter this week.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Mysteries of the Pterosaur Wing

Pterosaurs at Royal Festival Hall
A pterosaur model from the 2010 Royal Society Summer Festival. Photo by Mark Hillary, via Flickr.

Pterosaurs, among the most enigmatic of the prehistoric beasts, have been the subject of a colorful variety of reconstructions in the two centuries of their study. From their essential nature - even once imagined to have been flying marsupials - to their feeding habits and methods of locomotion, they've kept the brains of paleontologists buzzing and whirring.

In the newest issue of the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, Ross Elgin, Dave Hone, and Eberhard Frey take a look across the pterosaur family to determine what evidence we have for the extent of their wing membranes. This may sound familiar to you; Hone posted about it at Archosaur Musings in September, but noted that what had come available then were uncorrected proofs. The published version is now available online. [PDF].

Like Victoria Arbour's recent paper on the pelvic shields of ankylosaurs, what Elgin, Hone, and Frey do here is provide a summary look at a contested bit of anatomy and lay groundwork for future research. Their conclusion is that this membrane - the brachiopatagium for you lovers of multisyllabic jargon - attached at the ankle. In the past, various researchers have attached it to places all along the leg or to the body, free of the leg completely. Based on their analysis of numerous fossils, Elgin et al concluded that these other attachment sites are erroneous, and chosen due to distortions in the wing profile before or after the animal died and was preserved.

As Hone wrote in September, though the exact arrangement of the branches and twigs of the pterosaur family tree is still a contested matter, "it’s hard to ignore the possibility (and indeed most parsimonious explanation) that all pterosaurs likely had this attachment. At the very least, it should be the default assumption."

Just in case you don't already know, Hone is essential reading for pterosaur lovers. This week, he's been posting photos of various pterosaur fossils (start here) from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, and in 2008 he gave a nice review of knowledge about pterosaur soft tissues.

Cold Splinters pays tribute to John Haines

At one of my very favorite blogs, Cold Splinters, Jeffery Thrope recently posted a short memorial to the nature poet John Haines. I hadn't read any of his work, but the poem included in the post struck a strong chord with me. I imagine it will for any of you fellow bird lovers who ever gazed at a passing murder of crows, a nuthatch bounding up a tree trunk, or a heron patiently waiting for a fish and tried to put yourself in the avian mind.

The poem is taken from his 1966 book, Winter News, and as birds are absolutely within the purview of LITC, I felt it was well worth sharing. Enjoy.

"If The Owl Calls Again"

at dusk
from the island in the river,
and it’s not too cold,

I’ll wait for the moon
to rise,
then take wing and glide
to meet him.

We will not speak,
but hooded against the frost
soar above
the alder flats, searching
with tawny eyes.

And then we’ll sit
in the shadowy spruce
and pick the bones
of careless mice,

while the long moon drifts
toward Asia
and the river mutters
in its icy bed.

And when the morning climbs
the limbs
we’ll part without a sound,

fulfilled, floating
homeward as
the cold world awakens

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ryan DeLuca's animated short, Extinction

Animator Ryan DeLuca emailed me this week about his recent piece, Extinction. It was done for 5 Second Animation Day, an annual event held by his employer, Titmouse Inc., an animation studio in Hollywood. It's pretty hilarious, and extra cool for the fact that it's inspired by a drawing he did as an eight year old.

Check out the Titmouse, Inc. website and follow their work at their blog. Ryan's blog is called Zombie Dinosaur, and he shares plenty of dinosaur drawings there. His Flickr photostream is chockablock with great paleo photos, too.

If you're an artist who's done some cool dinosaur work, please feel free to pass it along to me. Just email me at the address in the sidebar.

The Tight-Rope Walker

Here's my tribute to the unforgettable frontal view of what is, in my opinion, one of the coolest extant theropods: the Bateleur Eagle, Terathopius ecaudatus.

Bateleur Eagle

It's inspired by a photo taken by Dan Ripplinger, who has been a constant source of delight on my Flickr contacts stream. Thanks for the inspiration, Dan!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Interview with artist Glendon Mellow

Parasaurolophus skull, illustrated by Glendon Mellow

Artist, blogger, and new papa Glendon Mellow is well known in the science blogosphere for his intriguing, often surreal visions of scientific concepts. I had the great pleasure of participating in the Science-Art discussion with him at ScienceOnline in January. He's insightful, principled, and all around excellent company, as you may have gleaned from his popular blog, The Flying Trilobite. If not, you'll figure it out by reading this interview, in which we discussed his ideas about how science and art come together, his goals as an artist, and, of course, the awe-inspiring beasts of prehistory.

Please visit Glendon's portfolio, keep up with him at his blog, and support him at his online store. In addition to these outlets, he is one of the founders of the paleoart blog ART Evolved and the webmaster for Southern Ontario Nature and Science Illustrators. In December, he wrote a popular post at the Scientific American Guest Blog about science and art, and that shared interest is where we began our interview.


Now that you've done panels at ScienceOnline three times, where do you think the exploration of the relationship between art and science needs to go?

Each year, we try to cover a lot of topics, and there are many more left untouched, by the ways the group discussion may go. One of the issues I've raised each year, is that visual art seldom leads directly to new areas of scientific research. It vexes portions of the scientifically literate crowd, but I've only ever had a couple of examples brought up. Literature, movies and other forms of self-expression seem somehow more inspiring or conducive to catalyzing research. So now I am wondering; why is this the case? Is it due to the art vs science divide most of us grow up with? Is there something inherent in the use of metaphor that prevents us from posing a useful hypothesis?

I think it would also be useful to consider visual art's role in seducing people into being interested in science and discovery. Are there ways we artists can do a more effective job with that? Or is all science-art a type of fanfic? The role of extreme-niche art about specific scientific disciplines almost seems to be pushing away from popular understanding. Art for a few people in a field who get it.

So, is science-art simply the visual artist's version of science fiction? Do you think that part of your unease about a parasitic relationship is rooted in the fact that science fiction is generally seen as contributing so much to science? And has that idea of artistic "seduction" into science remedied that unease?

There's certainly a science fiction glaze on some science-art, even in the fine art world. If you consider work like Wim Delvoye's Cloaca (an installation art piece of a machine that eats, digests and excretes) or the Genpets installation and website by Adam Brandejs, you can see that they do operate by showing us a distorted mirror of where we could be headed, as much of science fiction does. And yes, I do think some of my unease comes from that. If written and filmed science fiction can anticipate and inform research and technology, why not visual art?

Perhaps artists need to become more conscious of that seduction. It's possible that some in the science community feel intimidated by becoming schooled in visual art and some of its conventions, especially fine art conventions. After all, as has been debated in the science blogosphere that scientists are already expected to do outreach and behave like journalists - adding "art critic" to their c.v. is indeed an overwhelming thought!

It need not be though. find some art about your field, or another field, see what pleases you aesthetically. Then start asking questions about it, let that inquisitive scientific nature take over, and enjoy.

Glendon's new "Trilobite Boy" character

I've been writing my blog for less than two years, and didn't really become aware of the blogosphere until I began working in a cubicle all day, less than four years ago. In this short amount of time, it's changed me in a lot of ways. It's hard to remember what life was like before this, so it's easy to forget that web is in its infancy. Have you had a similar experience? What are your wildest hopes for where the web is going to take us in a few decades?

The Flying Trilobite is about 4 years old now, and I had been reading blogs for a couple of years before that. I remember waiting at the airport on the way home from ScienceOnline09 and speaking with Henry Gee. He asked me if I felt blogs had changed my life; I replied they had. And you see, even that question was one I had not entertained before. Blogging continues to change my life profoundly. I spent years angry and disappointed with my artwork languishing in my apartment. One day, out of frustration, I decided to start some kind, any kind of website. I went to Blogger, started typing and off I went. The people I've met, the friends I've made and the reception my artwork has had in the scientific and artistic communities has shown me that you can put on a very public face, mistakes and all and people will engage with you, and learn with you.

Where is the web going? I don't know. It certainly isn't filled with traditional storefronts and companies. It has it's own culture and subcultures, and it moves very quickly. I expect we will continue to see change, though I think blogs in one form or another are here to stay. There's something powerful about individuals having a voice that can reach the world.

I think it is still possible for individuals to shake some branches of the internet-tree. Like you David, and a few others online, I advocate for artists to at least be given credit for their artwork. Lack of credit is one reason I generally dislike the culture of Tumblr. There may be a general feeling that images online are free, but dammit, the creators need some credit! And after writing about it, and retweeting others who were writing about it in the last 6 months, there has already been some movement in the science blogosphere at least to rectify proper image use.

Art is one of those areas in which you're bound to come meet many people who don't have a scientific worldview, or might actually oppose it actively. As someone representing this loose science-art movement, have you run into any resistance from other artists, or confusion about just what the heck you're up to?

Yes. When I was in university, I was repeatedly asked by my peers what drugs I was taking to come up with ideas. Coffee is as far as I go into substance-use. It became annoying: people around me in the arts had such a mistrust of science that they assumed the ideas were the result of hallucinogens. It was rampant, even from professors, when I started my degree in '97. We would be given an assignment to paint something about our personal experience - I produced Symbiosis (full here) and was told "but you don't experience microbes". Science was evil: it gave us pollution and bombs.

I left school for many years and returned to complete my degree in 2010. And things had largely changed. Granted, this is anecdotal evidence, but I could see the way students approached an issue for their paintings seems to have been influence by a 'Wikipedia-effect'. Instead of some off-the-cuff commentary about pro-choice or fair-trade issues culled from the media zeitgeist, now my peers are producing comprehensive works. They incorporate history, science, culture, economics and emotion all into these collaged-style paintings. So I think a fascination with science is increasing. The explosion of science-art aggregating and reporting sites the last couple of years is showing there's an interest.

What were your favorite paleo-critters when you were a kid? Do you remember when your interest "graduated" to a desire to really understand the science of paleontology?

As a kid, it was really dinosaurs, like most children. The Royal Ontario Museum here in Toronto has had the holotype Parasaurolophus mount since I was a child, and I remember having a toy of that. The idea of sounds beyond a roar from a dinosaur struck me as interesting at a young age.

Actually, I gave up on paleontology for some years. When I was a child, and into my teens going into paleontology was something I was determined to do. Then high school biology burned it out of me. I believe it had more to do with the curriculum then the teachers. Rote memorization of the Krebs Cycle without any worry over whether we understood it, and endless Punnett Squares killed it for me. I know that a lot of laboratory science involves repetition, but this seemed to be just rushing us through it.

I decided to become a writer, and then an artist. I was at university for Fine Art, and my mother wanted me to keep an interest in science, for fun at least, ad bought me a number of books. One of them was Richard Dawkins River Out of Eden. I was hooked. Mitochondrial Eve, armchair experiments on ancestry, the Digital River...I was drawing and painting microbes and fossils throughout university.

As a fine artist, do you feel that you have something unique to bring to criticism of paleoart and other scientific illustrations?

Being a fine artist can be less technical than being a scientific illustrator. If I take on the role of critic as you suggest, whether for paleoart or other types of scientific illustration, I think the fine artist in me looks for certain things in an image. Is there a sense of time passing? A poetic metaphor or some ambiguity that causes me to ask questions, and thereby be sucked into the image's world? These things are not necessarily desirable in a scientific illustration when that illustration is being used for clarity and instruction. Those sorts of questions are not the point.

However, more and more scientific illustrations are finding their way onto blogs and mainstream media as enhancements to stories about scientific discoveries meant for popular consumption, or at least consumption by more people than the handful of experts in a particular field. And that's when those questions come into play for me. Look at the images from stories about the Large Hadron Collider. It's clear from the images that a massive amount of industrial undertaking has taken place, using big shiny machines. But do those images that appear in the news help public understanding? A "just the facts" approach to imagery often does little to arouse curiosity or inspire understanding in lay people. I think that's where being a fine artist looking at these images can lead to useful criticism.

I've been fascinated by that idea of time passing since conversing with you and attending ScienceOnline. I think that Julius Csotonyi's Lanzendorf-winning piece from 2010 achieves it masterfully. How do you work that into your own work? How early in the process do you start to work it in?

Agreed, Csotonyi's painting achieves that really well. A sense of time passing in a still image isn't always easy, and I admire that Csotonyi is able to do that with a dinosaur carcass. This painting has a lot of motion: wind on the water, and by extension the grassy plants moving. Expressing decay can also give us a sense of time's passage, and it resonates even more in paleo art like this, which hints at future fossilization.

I think we as modern viewers looking at art appreciate time passing in a still image more than previous generations may have. It's almost essential. With YouTube, graphics on our phones, the artistry of video games, a still image that doesn't hint at motion or the passage of time is fading from fashion.

That said, I'm not sure how much of my work centers on time. Maybe I need to! I usually look for an interesting composition between my negative space and object, and try to keep things simple. I've been guilty in the past of including everything I can think of in a painting, and the past few years I've tried to make each one a little quieter: still-lifes and portraits of things that don't exist except as metaphors.

How much straight scientific illustration have you done, and what are your personal feelings on it?

It's a good question. I suppose sometimes there are elements of straight, non-fictional scientific illustration in my work; I think of the Red Knot in the Migrations blog banner or the rabbit skeleton in Haldane's Precambrian Puzzle A could count. Interestingly though, it's not what most people hire me to do. It's not expected. Outside of a couple of my Art Evolved cohorts, most people haven't asked me to do a straight-up scientific illustration. Usually the interest lies in seeing what my imagination can come up with, what disparate associations or compositional manipulations I can create to spark interest in the idea.

It's telling that most of my commissions are seeking something with a metaphorical flair, and most of that work comes from bloggers; they are looking for their subject to be rendered personal, and imbued with poetic meaning.

That reminds me a little of your recent Guest Blog post, in which you ditch "way of knowing" for "way of exploring" - a huge improvement, in my opinion. Since that post, how have your feelings about that distinction evolved?

I've thought about that phrasing a lot too. In the humanities, I absolutely think there are times when jargon is invented to be precise about a certain artifact of culture, but there are many more times when jargon is used through a combination of maintaining an ivory tower, and times when it is there through a sort of general science-envy.

Having a "way of knowing" phrase thrown around is a way to try to put (in this case) art on equal footing with science. The scientific method is the best way we have to really try to know or understand the world. The arts explore the world by tapping into human experience; emotions and associations we have. Visual art can do that in a powerful way. For most humans, our visual sense is the primary one, and the most direct one that will provoke a response.

"The Last Refuge," commissioned by Kevin Zelnio of Deep Sea News.


I'd like to thank Glendon for taking the time to answer my questions, and encourage you again to visit his portfolio, blog, and his online store. He's currently taking commissions so don't be shy! All images in this post are copyrighted by him, and used with his permission.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Scaphognathus Hangs Out

Pterodactylus crassirostris 1857
Illustration of the restored Scaphognathus crassirostris holotype. From Hugh Miller's The Testimony of the Rocks, 1857.

It's fair to say that Scaphognathus crassirostris is not the most celebrated of the pterosaurs. But the evolution of its popular representations is pretty interesting, and has popped up in a few cool places. The 1857 engraving above is a perfect example of the typical pose that recurred throughout the 19th century.

Scaphognathus crassirostris Holotype, 1831
An engraving of the holotype fossil, described by Goldfuss in 1831.

Scaphognathus was originally described in 1831 by the German paleontologist August Goldfuss, who at the time determined it to be a species of the first described pterosaur, Pterodactylus. During the 1800's, it was shuffled around taxonomically until a second, probably juvenile, specimen was found and Johann Wagner erected its current name in 1858. In January, Dave Hone featured Scaphognathus at Archosaur Musings, writing about pterosaur taxonomy in the years after that first Pterodactylus was discovered. Though Scaphognathus and other early pterosaurs had marked differences from Pterodactylus, they
were put into Pterodactylus based on their even more obvious similarities – these were, after all, obviously pterosaurs. However, once it became clear that there were some important differences, as well and the similarities, then thinks like Dimorphodon and Scaphognathus were separated out into their own genera. This is an extreme example, but the principle is the same and constantly resurfaces.

Pterodactylus crassirostris restored 1836

The "restored version" of Scaphognathus, here reproduced by Buckland in 1836, seems to have cast a spell over early reconstructions of the animal. This pose became the default one used over and over throughout the 19th century, often modified so the wing is in a more extended position.

This 1888 version, redrawn and mirrored horizontally, is from the German natural history text Naturgeschichte Geologie und Paläontologie that was the subject of a Vintage Dinosaur Art post last month.

Pterodactylus crassirostris 1888

Pterodactylus brevirostris, 1836
In this 1836 reconstruction (at right), also from Buckland's Bridgewater Treatises, you can see what I suppose this pose is meant to represent - the animal clinging to a rock face.

Scaphognathus crassirostris 1890

The only early depiction that I could find that strayed from this trend was the one above, from Albert Gaudry's Les enchaînements du monde animal dans les temps géologiques, published in 1890. But it's not too different.

I recently wrote about a collection of paleontology-themed trading cards by the French company Chocolat D'Aiguebelle, and one of them featured a cartoonified illustration of the restored Scaphognathus holotype, though labeled with the generic "Pterodactyle."

Pterodactyle Trading Card from Chocolat D'Aigubelle

My favorite version of this meme, edging out the D'Aigubelle chocolate wrapper, was used for the bookplate of a Dr. Tillfried Cernajsek. Thank you to Matt Celeskey of the Hairy Museum of Natural History website for passing it on to me; I love the woodcut look of it, and it's my favorite of the admittedly small collection of paleo bookplates I've begun.
Dr. Tillfried Cernajsek Bookplate

I've collected these images of Scaphognathus crassirostris, along with others, at Flickr. It's also a fun game of spot-the-mistakes (hint: you can count them on your fingers). I'll be adding more to it as I can, and if you have any other variations of his meme, I'll happily add them to the set.