Welcome to a blog now shared by one, two, um... four people. Wipe your shoes off on the mat and delve into the posts featuring rants, museum pictures, and some cool facts. Nerds of all kinds welcome.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

I apologize for the sheer inactivity here - I didn't even come by to wish people a merry Christmas/happy Hanukkah/joyous Kwanzaa. Hopefully with the new year that'll all change. And now since 2013 is upon us, I find it perfectly acceptable to run down a list of this year's revolutionary discoveries.

 This year has provided several great discoveries of feathered dinosaurs. Shown to the right is Yutyrannus huali. There's an ongoing debate on its identity; some say it is a tyrannosauroid while others retaliate with the possibility of it being a carnosaur. Whether it be T. rex's granddaddy or some Chinese flesh-grazer, it weighs in at 3000lbs and is nearly 30ft long, making it the biggest dinosaur with known evidence of feathers. It proves that size doesn't necessarily correlate with the presence of feathers, being an Allosaurus-sized dinosaur. Next up on the chopping block is Sciurumimus albersdoerferi, an adorable little puffball with an almost impossible to remember specific name. Known from a juvenile originally called "Xaveropterus", Sciurumimus gave us a plot twist when it turned out not to be another compsognathid or even a coelurosaur, but actually a megalosauroid, showing that feathers weren't restricted to coelurosaurian theropods. Finally, the last outstanding feathered discovery was discovered in North America AND it was a known genus...

Ornithomimus, portrayed at the left, has long been thought to have feathers, as well as its comrades. Only now do we have proof. A new study described this year showed that several fossils of different ages had plumaceous feathers, and that only the adults had wings, perhaps for display.

South America has been a treasure trove for unusual species in the past. The largest known dinosaur Puertasaurus reuili was discovered there, as well as many other sauropod giants such as Argentinosaurus huinculensis, Futalognkosaurus dukei and"Antarctosaurus" giganteus. Theropod giants weren't excluded either, including massive carcharodontosaurs like Giganotosaurus carolinii, Mapusaurus roseae, and Tyrannotitan chubutensis, as well as the industrial-sized abelisaur Ekrixinatosaurus novasi. However, not much seems to have been uncovered in the way of non-dinosaurian giants. Sure, we know giant crocodiles, phorusrhacids, and mammals ruled the land after the non-avian dinosaurs died out, but what about during their reign? The new Aerotitan sudamericanus clears some way for (somewhat) terrestrial giants. An azhdarchid, this new pterosaur had a wingspan of at least five meters, comparable to the more aerial sea-feeding pterosaurs found in Brazil. Now you can jsut picture it invading a titanosaur's nest site, swallowing eggs and snapping up juveniles.

Speaking of South American giants, remember Titanoboa cerrejonensis? It turns out this megasnake wasn't the only giant reptile on the block. Unearthed this year was the turtle Carbonemys cofrinii, an immense giant with a shell nearly 6ft long. Though this isn't half as long as the later giant turtle Stupendemys souzai, it is still nonetheless an impressive beast, and if anything like the modern day snapping turtle, a force to be reckoned with.

Giant reptiles seem to be rather commonplace this year. This time however, we go to the extreme north of the island of Svalbard to find our next example. "Predator X" has been known since 2008, even starring in the documentary Planet Dinosaur, but only this year was its name revealed: Pliosaurus funkei, the sixth species of Pliosaurus. Whether or not its specific name is actually pronounced as "funky" is unknown to me, but it was definitely a giant at approx. 42ft long.

Another European native has also shocked us this year, but not by size, appearance, or biological weaponry (such as the disproven venomous Sinornithosaurus), but by its choice of habitat. The recently discovered mosasaur Pannoniasaurus inexpectatus is aptly named because nobody expected it to live in not saltwater, but freshwater. While other mosasaurs, such as Goronyosaurus, could have inhabited brackish water and one specimen of Plioplatecarpus (if I recall correctly) seems to have stranded into freshwater, Pannoniasaurus is the only one currently known to have lived its entire life in rivers and lakes. Some have suggested it as a sort of reptilian river dolphin, but I picture it more as a crocodile. And speaking of crocodiles...

Crocodilians of immense size seem to be a staple throughout history. Deinosuchus is immensely covered, perhaps not as much as Sarcosuchus however. Both suffer from anachronism and misplacement, the former often depicted with T. rex (wrong time, wrong place) and the latter depicted alongside Spinosaurus (once again, wrong time and wrong place). Less famous are the giant crocs of the Cenozoic and the stomatosuchids of the Cretaceous. One of our more recent crocodilians to be discovered falls under the category of Cenozoic giants. Crocodylus thorbjarnarsoni lived in Kenya from approx. 4-2mya and was longer than a pickup truck at 25ft in length, about as big as the biggest estuarine crocodiles today. What makes this monster even worse is that it may have preyed on early hominins such as Paranthropus. 

Also joining the trend of large African crocodilians is Aegisuchus witmeri, the so-called "shieldcroc" shown to the above right. So far, no one has really come to a conclusion with estimates from the skull size sporadically ranging from a total length of 30-70ft. Though it appears similar to the aforementioned stomatosuchids, it is actually a member of the small family Aegyptosuchidae. No matter what estimate you go by, this was clearly a huge crocodile, possibly one of the largest in history.

Dinosaurs are probably the driving point of palaeontology, one of the most researched fields and the most attractive to the general public. As mentioned above, there have been plenty of new dinosaurs and new studies this year; so many that not each can gain its own paragraph. We now know more about the diet of Sinocalliopteryx gigas (shown at left), and we know that Microraptor zhaioanus exhibited dark iridescent plumage, similar to modern-day grackles. "Centrosaurus" brinkmani was reassigned to its own genus Coronosaurus brinkmani, and along with the pygmy Gryphoceratops and the larger Unescoceratops, as well as Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum and Xenoceratops, added to the ever-growing diversity of ceratopsians. Dinosaurs have been named after Sauron (Sauroniops), while others haven't gained the best names (Bicentenaria argentina). We have Jurassic abelisaurs and spinosaurs (Eoabelisaurus and Ostafrikasaurus, respectively), a comparatively complete Asian spinosaur (Ichthyovenator), another new Morrison Formation sauropod (Kaatedocus), a lover of the hunt (Philovenator), and a strong-jawed heterodontosaur rediscovered in a museum collection (Pegomastax). And it even looks like dinosaurs might have stretched back to nearly 245mya, if the reexamined Nyasasaurus proves to be one (alternatively a dinosauromorph, such as a silesaurid).

There are many, many, many more new discoveries we could cover, but I think it's fitting to draw it to an end here. Happy New Year! Credits for artwork below.


Yutyrannus - ©DeviantART user pilsator

Ornithomimus - © Julius Csotonyi

Carbonemys - © Liz Bradford

Pliosaurus - © Raul Martin

Aegisuchus - © Henry Tsai

Sinocalliopteryx - © Julio Lacerda

Saturday, October 6, 2012

T. rex's Birthday, A Strong Jaw, and Giant Reptiles

Luckily, I'm only a couple of days late with this one. Recently, Paul Sereno described Pegomastax africanus (which is a pretty cool name) from remains brought from the Africa in the 1960's. Sereno struck it as odd in the 1980's, and described the dinosaur a few days ago. Only 2ft long, it was about as large as the later Fruitadens of Colorado. It had a robust lower jaw and canines, like most other heterodontosaurids. Even better, we have new art from both Tyler Keillor and Todd Marshall to tag along with it. I actually knew about Tyler Keillor's sculpture awhile ago, though I only knew it as a "primitive ornithischian". 

Todd Marshall

Tyler Keillor

Meanwhile, yesterday was T. rex's 107th birthday. I would have posted about it sooner, but wasn't around a computer almost all day.

Julius Csotonyi

Yesterday, one of the places we went was Serpent Safari in the Gurnee Mills mall. Here's some photos from my phone (excuse poor quality, it IS a phone camera).

I hate to jump on the train in saying that reptiles are practically like dinosaurs, but my God, this snapping turtle is just too huge and old to resist. The turtle has to be at least 5ft long, is 30.5in in diameter, and is more than 150 years old. You can see a bullethole in the shell; when they found the turtle, the bullet dated back to the Civil War. Given its monstrous size (the shell alone is longer than my arm), I'd believe it.

A green iguana breaks all the rules by being fire-orange-red. The tour guide said it could have taken decades to achieve this colour through selective breeding.

I absolutely love turtles; especially the freshwater ones. Fly River turtles (or pig-nosed turtles) are definitely my favorite and this little one was pretty photogenic.

The world's largest living python is shown here; nearly 26ft long and 395lbs. The biggest one ever was 401lbs. This small menagerie of reptiles also had a Nile crocodile, a lavender tiger reticulated python, an albino and normal alligator, two more pythons, a tegu, and several monitor lizards; those pictures didn't turn out as well.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A New Crocodile - The Size of a Killer Whale

Croc restorations by Dmitry Bogdanov.

That's right, we have another new crocodile. Well, technically, it's been known for a while, but has been assigned to its own genus, as has another. Plesiosuchus manselii, previously thought to be a species of Steneosaurus and then Dakosaurus (the "Godzillacroc"), was nearly 7m in length, the size of a small killer whale. Torvoneustes carpenteri, the size of a large dolphin, also got its own name recently, considered to be Metriorhynchus, Dakosaurus, and then Geosaurus too. Each one would have been a fierce seagoing predator from Late Jurassic Europe (a popular place for metriorhynchids apparently).

Metriorhynchids weren't the only crocodiles to take to sea. Saltwater crocodiles are aptly named for their ability to tolerate saltwater, and broad-snouted caimans (which really look like Purussaurus) can be found in brackish water. There were also the extinct teleosaurids, which formed the suborder Thalattosuchia with metriorhynchids. The aforementioned Steneosaurus was a teleosaurid that ranged from 8-16ft in length. Teleosaurids are also known from the Early-Mid Jurassic, and a particular monster lived as late as the Early Cretaceous. Known as Machimosaurus, this giant teleosaurid measured more than 30ft in length, bigger than Plesiosuchus and as long as a bus. Adapted to seizing and crushing hard prey such as turtles, bitemarks have also been found on sauropods that match this behemoth. Whether this was just a carcass washed to sea or an island-hopping sauropod attacked by the crocodile, we'll never know. Gavialids also took to sea, such as the Peruvian Piscogavialis.

Piscogavialis by Raymond Sabb and DeviantART user Austroraptor.

Well, that's it for now. Go home. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Display Structures and Others in Prehistoric Creatures

Long time, no update. Starting off this post, Tyler Keillor has raised more than twice his goal for his project - looking forward to the final result as Dryptosaurus is such an underrated beast.

Now time to get down to business. Take a look below at the tragopan, which uses it wattles and calls to attract mates.

Now, who's to say that dinosaurs or prehistoric reptiles, birds, etc, didn't possess any fanciful wattles, feathers, scales, throat pouches, or any other form of display structure like this? Some people say there's no evidence of it, but once it gets down to it, you can't find skeletal evidence of a chicken's wattle, or a peafowl's train. There might be some tidbits of skeletal evidence (for example, the pygostyle in Nomingia gobiensis), but not much. Tragopans do not have preserved wattles in their skeletons, either. And take a look at the common peafowl or the argus pheasant. Non-avian dinosaurs and prehistoric birds alike could attract mates like this, using the eyespots to draw attention to their brightly coloured heads.

Above is a tawny frogmouth. Not only could prehistoric creatures have brightly coloured appendages, they could have some pretty effective camouflage. The frogmouth perches on a branch, with neck outstretched and eyes closed to resemble a tree branch. A pterosaur with fuzzy pygostyles, or a small dinosaur could have adopted this posture to hide from predators. Leaf-tailed geckos, nightjars, several types of frogs, and some chameleons can almost be trodden upon without knowing because their camouflage is so effective.

The classic blue-tongued skink. We also don't know what animals could have done to defend themselves from predators from just their skeletons. Anyone finding a skeleton of a skink probably won't assume it shows its blue tongue to warn predators. A skunk's skeleton wouldn't show it does a handstand and sprays its opponent with smelly musk; a possum's skeleton won't show it plays dead.

Now, I'm not trying to say we need to make all prehistoric creatures colourful and vibrant and always full of life. Some animals are drab. Elephants, rhinos, many birds, many reptiles, etc. Animals are lazy. Cats, sloths, the like. Some animals just run from predators, like gazelles. But that doesn't mean every piece has to be drab (though some lazy dinosaurs would be nice) and it doesn't mean every piece has to be colourful. An equal balance is nice.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Tyler Keillor's Dryptosaurus

Tyler Keillor is hoping to digitally create the most accurate, up-to-date, full body reconstruction of Dryptosaurus. Found on Kickstarter at the moment, it will be backed by the research of world-famous palaeontologists Steve Brusatte and Thomas Carr. Funding only 30$ means you receive a cast of his Herrerasaurus bust! Other funds mean some other cool stuff to bribe ya with.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Paleo Interview 8: Peter Schouten

Yup, our next interview is with none other than Peter Schouten! I'm pretty sure he and Julio Lacerda are the only people I've interviewed who don't live in the US. Schouten does works that feature both prehistoric and modern animals, and he has quite a few books with his lavish illustrations in them. I have three of them myself; Astonishing Animals, Feathered Dinosaurs, and A Gap in Nature, all awesome books. He also has some currently in the process.

1. The first question is a staple in the interviews. When did you first get interested in dinosaurs and other prehistoric life, as well as the modern creatures you illustrate?
I have always been interested in animals of all kinds. My fascination
with dinosaurs started when I was very young, probably when my mother bought
me a copy of the "How and Why" book of dinosaurs. This was a small paperback
booklet with some very dodgy reconstructions of some of the more famous dinosaurs.
From that moment on, I had to have every book I could find on dinosaurs and
other prehistoric life.
My interest in modern animals went hand-in-hand with palaeo animals. This
was a good thing as understanding modern animals is essential for the reconstruction
of extinct species.

2. You've had quite a bit of books with your pieces in them. Can you tell us a little bit about them? 
I have 9 books that I have produced in collaboration with a variety of
authors and I have contributed illustrations to many others. My books are
usually about animals that are obscure, cryptic, or not well represented
in other publications. This is why I concentrate my efforts on extinct species. 

3. What's it like living in the most dangerous place in the world, I mean, Australia? 
Curious that you should think Australia is the most dangerous place in
the world? We do have some dangerous animals here - as you do in the US and
in many other parts of the world - however, the opportunity to encounter
these animals is rare. People living in the North of Australia know that
it is unwise to swim in water where there might be crocodiles and some of
the most venomous snakes that we have are also very shy and secretive. In
saying that, however, I should say that I live in an area of wilderness and
have an unwanted encounter with the highly venomous Red-bellied Black Snake.
This was a large and, not very happy, snake that found itself trapped in
my living room. It took quite a bit of effort to encourage it to leave.

4. You have quite a few (an understatement, I shall say) pieces with Australian animals, modern and extinct, published and out there on the web or books. Do you ever draw inspiration from the local (or even non-local) wildlife to complete your reconstructions of prehistoric animals? 
Yes I do. The marsupials on my property are an inspiration as they are
related to our extinct megafauna. Dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals
are a different matter. I have to use my experience with anatomy and morphology
as my guide for these creatures.

5. Do you prefer drawing modern animals over prehistoric ones, or vice versa? 
I love to illustrate all animals equally. I do love the challenge of illustrating
something for the first time - especially prehistoric animals or newly discovered
modern species.

6. Who taught you about art, or did you teach yourself?
 I am entirely self taught.

7. Has anyone influenced your work?
The following palaeoartists; Jay Matternes, Zdenek Burian, Charles Knight.
The following contemporary wildlife artists; William Cooper, Raymond Harris-Ching,
John Cox.

8. If you could you pick a few, who would you say your favorite paleoartists/pieces of paleoart are?
My all time favourite paintings are the large murals of prehistoric mammals
painted by Jay Matternes in the Chicago Museum of Natural History. These
paintings influenced my career.

9. According to your site, you've had quite a bit of temporary/permanent exhibitions with your art in them. What was that like?

Exhibitions do not really mean much to me. My work is principally for
publication and I get greater satisfaction from seeing my images in a finished
book - it will be around for lot longer than a temporary exhibition.

10. As if all the books you have published already weren't enough, you have even more books coming up - such as The Antipodean Ark (great name by the way) and Megafauna. Can you tell us about your upcoming projects? 
I am also looking at the evolution of Humans and possibly a book on the
prehistory of Asia.

11. Anything you would like to say to anyone interested in pursuing paleoart or any kind of art or palaentology as a career? 
Forget about making a fortune or pursuing  ladder-climbing career, just
do it because you have a passion for animals.


It was an honour to interview Mr. Schouten (as it was with everybody). Keep your eye out for his new books, and hopefully I'll get a non-paleoartist in some time.

All images are property of Peter Schouten; none are the author's.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Good Point

Here's a good point my dad brought up today at the doctor's, that arose from a picture in a magazine. That picture featured Albertosaurus being attacked by Deinosuchus (the artist's name slips my mind but it is an excellent piece). And that's what brought about the good point, well two of 'em. See if you notice anything particular in the picture below.

Well, there's one thing. It's going for the face usually (or the leg). Whenever you watch nature documentaries, that's usually what you see. But most pieces have it going for the midsection or tail. Another point is: its an herbivore! Nile crocodiles today usually don't go after lions or hyenas, they generally attack zebras and wildebeest. But most paleoart pieces show it (Deinosuchus) attacking an albertosaur or a T. rex. I've seen some pieces showing it attacking Parasaurolophus, but that seems to be the only herbivore it attacks. What happened to the other creatures it lived with? What about Kritosaurus or a ceratopsian? Now, I'm not trying to being all high and mighty, standing on my soapbox and such, but it is an interesting observation.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Downfall of an Era

Wow, I did not keep my promise about the Shark Week posts. Let's just pretend I only wanted to cover extinct families... Anyways, it's new story time!

SHWONK! GWAANK! The two calls repeat themselves like a skipping record, piercing through even the fiercest gusts of wind that swirl and churn the snow into miniature tornadoes. In the dense fog, a herd of trumpet-crests is on the move. Puffs of steam erupt from their nostrils, and drift into the frigid air when the hold their mouths agape. Their forepaws, devoid of fur or feathers, leave indentations in the snow that are quickly swallowed again by the choking snow. Dazzling ruby red throat pouches expand like a balloon as they call to one another as a tactic to locate each other; they are afraid of losing the herd as the snow whips into a curtain that hangs over the landscape. One trumpet crest is the runt of the herd, a "meager" 33ft in length. Her throat pouch enlarges as she stumbles slightly behind the herd and blasts out a weak, mellow call. She is suffering from septic arthritis that has weakened her greatly, and it is doubtful she'll survive this horrible whiteout. The flock has no time to waste making sure that she is well-kept and in good health, for they must keep moving to slake off the freezing storm.

The dreaded wind increases in strength, bowling over the saplings that took root in spring. Deep below the ground, an armored one slumbers, sheltering out the storm. He began his "hibernation" days before the storm came. His old demeanor is deceiving; he is wise and he saw the storm coming. Scraping through the rough dirt with his long, webbed claws, he constructed a foxhole nearly two and a half meters deep near the now-frozen lake he used to swim in every day. Other armored reptiles soon took suit and now most are dozing below the earth. He grunts in his sleep and barely winces as a small pebble ricochets off his tough black shell.

Eight feet above, the flock continues their eternal march, eyeing the frozen lake. There is no sustenance here; all tender saplings and ferns have withered to dust, overwhelmed by the storm and buried under the snow, no stone to mark their grave. Every drop of water in the lake is now glazed by a two-foot thick sheet of ice. Any unfortunate soul in the lake; fish, crocodile, armored reptiles alike are now trapped, their homes turned prison on them. The herd marches on, oblivious to the dying reptiles under the ice. It is now survival of the fittest.

Four more miserable hours pass by without the storm letting up, relentlessly pummeling the trumpet-crests with fresh snow. A juvenile, weakened by the cold and disease, lets out a bleat of distress, and topples into the snow, the white powder exploding around his rigid form. He is stone cold, dead, in seconds. Maternal instincts override the mother's brain and she gallops over to her young's side, honking in anguish over the sight of her dead calf. But the rest of the herd cannot afford to linger while the aroma of death clouds through the foggy air. They are on the move again, our female limping near the back of the flock. Soon the herd is not even a smudge in the distance. As the mother stands by her calf, pounding it with her forepaws and nudging it with her beak, three forms begin to shape in the cloak of white. Their fluid movements become more rigid as they approach closer. The mother cow stands over the lifeless calf, bellowing at the wraiths in a desperate attempt to protect herself. Just above the howling winds, the arthritic female hears a trio of guttural roars and one weak honk shortly after. She trudges through the snow, head down. Her sister is dead.

It is now the third day of the storm and only the strongest of the juveniles born this year are able to plod through the four-foot snow. Many of the calves birthed this year are buried under layers of snow, slowly suffocated to death as it blankets the landscape. The rickety old joints of our female ache more than ever, but the will to survive is stronger than her jolts of pain. With a deep grunt, she stretches; her knees give a satisfactory and audible POP! Shaking her head, she marches on, ignoring the throbbing and soreness inside her.

An hour later, the herd reaches a river, coated with ice and snow. Tentatively, the herd begins their march across the frozen body of water, taking tender baby steps, barely putting all their weight into one stride. The arthritic female safely makes it across, albeit slower than most of the flock. One female behind her is having trouble on the slippery ice; a childhood injury to her foreleg has weakened her and so she is not as skilled as navigating on ice as the others. Suddenly, a perceptible crackling sound fills the air as the ice begins to give way, spiderweb patterns spindling through the frigid river; every step the herd took weakened the "shield". The injured cow bellows and begins to barrel towards the other side of the river, going into full panic mode. Just thirty feet from the edge, she stumbles, crashing into the frosty water below her. Panicking even more, she screams in desperation, trying to reach the opposite side of the river. Greedily, the herd stampedes towards her, but they will not help her. For days they have eaten mainly snow, and while it provides temporary blockage from dehydration, it does not sustain as much as unfrozen water. The arthritic cow reaches the bank behind the others, sloppily gulping down her share. The frigid water tickles her throat and sends prickles of coolness down her spine. Satisfied with their rushed drink at the water's edge, they turn their backs to the struggling injured cow, marching into the dead forest. Dark shapes jet forward towards the cow under the ice, each one nearly twenty feet long. Normally dwellers of the sea, the monstrous lizards begin to feast on the cow, ripping chunks out of her feet and flanks. She will not have to worry of dying of hypothermia; the monsters will eat her alive. The arthritic female gazes back, and then trudges through the snow with the rest of the herd. The injured cow loses all of her back legs and a large section of her tail, before a daring monster hurdles from the water and seizes her windpipe with its ragged teeth, finned tail rapidly flapping to keep it afloat, ending her life.

Kreeeeekkk… KRAK! FWOOSH! A tree branch, beaten by the blizzard, collapses forty feet down to the forest floor, landing in a cushion of powdery white snow. Sunlight glistens on the icicles hanging from the sturdiest boughs. A drop of crystalline water runs to the sharpened point of one icicle, and plummets down…down…down… onto the cow with the aching joints. The small splash of cold water on her nasal pouch awakens her. The scene before her is one of beauty; the sun caresses over the pure white hills, basking the frosted trees in its yellowish light. Countless icicles adorn the branches like Christmas ornaments. As she stirs, the rest of the herd awakens from their hollows of snow. Too tired to go on anymore in the relentless storm, they huddled together in large beds they dug into the snow on the fourth day, and waited out the blizzard for two days. Now on the seventh day, the storm has finally blown over. A herd of hatchet-crests joins them in this winter wonderland. Soon both species are scraping bark from the trees with their paws and beaks, trying to absorb as much nutrients as possible. The arthritic female finds a particularly rich chunk of dead bark, infested with grubs and maggots. With food in their stomachs and the storm behind them, all seems perfect. But looks can be deceiving.

Four hundred yards away, a pack of wraiths mingles in the forest, stalking the herds. There's five of them; a comparatively large group for their kind. They're taking advantage of the warming weather; they're more active and they're starving. Nearly forty feet long and five tons, once could overpower an adult trumpet-crest. Their long deep skulls are a vibrant orangish-red in colour, blackish feathers and "whiskers" line their snouts, eye ridges, and necks. Two of the wraiths even have "beards" and manes of blackish feathers; plumage of grown males. And while they're certainly the most regal and striking in appearance, they thrive under the rule of a gargantuan female. Forty-five feet long and six tons in weight, she's like an Amazon of the wraiths, a behemoth. Her scaly, wrinkled face is pockmarked with scars and wounds from parasites long gone. One of her arms is missing, as is the tip of her tail. She's a brawler, a wrestler; and she's not afraid of anything. Her breath reeks of decay and bacteria built up over years of hunting; tidbits of rotten meat remain wedged between her teeth. The behemoth wraith is a fierce monarch and an efficient hunter as well. Three out of five attacks from her mob end in a successful kill. Her enormous size is what makes her so proficient, easily taking down prey with her brutal assaults. A low, gurgling growl emerges from her throat. The hunt is underway.

Without a single utterance or noise, the pack charges, elegantly weaving through the trees. The snow cushions the impact of their feet, reducing their attack to little but a whisper, shshshshsh. The pack is only a hundred yards away by the time the female with the old joints notices them and bellows in alarm. Heads shoot out from within their meal to observe the danger. Hatchet and trumpet-crests alike flee into the woods, propelling to speeds of 15mph. But the Amazon is already on their heels, barely exhausted at all. Within seconds she catches sight of the arthritic female, jogging on the edge of the herd, slower than the rest. Her golden eyes focus on the cow; she rushes towards her, growling. But the fight to the death instinct is back! The Amazon soon finds herself being jostled by two cows, both sisters of the arthritis victim. One particularly strong shove nearly trips the behemoth up, but she instantly regains her footing and roars at the sisters. She targets them, jaws agape. A bull trumpet-crest intercepts the furious flight towards the sisters, rearing on his hind legs and slamming his forepaws into the giant's ribs. The rest of the pack halts the attack, watching as their leader tries to handle herself in a fight with three angry trumpet-crests. The herd takes advantage of this moment of pause, changing direction and charging at them. One of the male wraiths is tramped under the feet of thirty furious hatchet-crests, while the others take off to their lair. GROAW! The bull bellows as the Amazon lands a bite on his tail. The two cows rush her and with one big shove, knock the Amazon to the ground. She roars in desperation; the tables have never turned on her like this. She is cracking under the pressure. The herd charges…

Krek. Krek. Krek. A small bird-like creature descends down the tree like a squirrel. Small, hooked teeth line its pinkish-red gums, and a fine pelage of brown-striped feathers coats its body down to its toes. Its long striped tail wavers in the air, standing straight. The small climber observes the mass that rocked its tree like an earthquake. The Amazon's dead body towers over him, the smell of retched saliva and rotten meat still lingers in the air around her gaping mouth. Hopping from her bottom jaw to the top of her bony snout, he spots the damage inflicted on her body. Various dents, bruises, and slashes defect her once sleek frame. Her feathers are ruffled and imperfect from the battle. The cruel Amazon is no more. The climber takes a delicate, tentative bite from the base of her head. She will be nothing but a withered carcass in a few days. Her pack observes from a distance, and then moves on…

A few days later, two more feet of snow have already melted as the temperatures spike to sixty degrees. The yellow sun is never blocked by the few puffs of fluffy white cumulus clouds that dot the sky. Water drips methodically from the conifer trees, free from bearing the load of heavy snow that had already seized many weak branches. The arthritic female is enjoying the weather, aside from the occasional sight of a corpse freed from its frozen tomb. Her herd noisily wallows around a muddy pond, where horsetails have already sprung up yet again. The black-shelled armored reptile slips into the water, lackadaisically watching as the small crocodiles and fish swim above his head. Slowly raising herself, the arthritic female rears up to her full 17ft height on her hind legs, and leans up against a conifer trunk, meticulously cropping the deep green needles from the ebony branches. It seems to be the perfect day, with the Amazon vanquished and not a blizzard in sight. She quietly chews her cud and nuzzles her head against the flanks of her approaching sister, the last one alive. Mutual bonds are hard to break for trumpet-crests. Their throats gurgle in delight. An intense light livens up the sky, dwarfing the sun in brightness, to the southwest. The arthritic female stumbles and faints, crashing into the snow. Everything goes black.

She doesn't know how long she's been out. All she remembers is the blinding light. Shaking her head in a dazed, blurry confusion, she slowly and painfully rises from the ground, standing on all four legs. The landscape around her has been utterly transformed. Only small fragments and patches of snow remain, while ash and dust carpet most of the surface. The lush conifer forest she once knew stands barren and dark, with barely a needle in sight. It looms over the open plain before her like the ominous gate to Hell. The expansive pond is little but a puddle, the black armored reptile scuttling around its perimeter. And right in front of her is a withered corpse, mangled, gnarly, and scalded. She recognizes the glazed over auburn eyes staring into her brown eyes. It's the dead body of her last sister. A gurgling sound emanates from her throat, and she howls in pain and turmoil. She paws the corpse, but there is no sign of movement, save for a small mammal leaping from the ribcage. The old female has no idea what happened. She quietly tiptoes around the corpse, into the forest where the Amazon fell. The only sign of the great beast is a skull, with small strips of skin, still attached, blowing in the warm breeze. As she trudges through the ash, the climber watches from his perch above. A goose lizard's dry corpse lays slumped against a tree. A living tank lies on its bank, belly hollowed out by scores of scavenger, but it's armored back intact. More trumpet-crest corpses decorate the forest all around her, their bones scattered about. The baking heat doesn't bother her, but the sight of her own kind vanquished immeasurably destroys her. Desperate, she gives a saddened distress call. Seconds later, another returns to her ears, miles away. She has no idea if it is her echo or another of her kind. She trudges towards it, head down…

Key List:
Armored one/reptile: Turtle
Wraith: Tyrannosaurine tyrannosaurid, similar to Tarbosaurus
Monstrous lizard/monster: Speculative mosasaur
Hatchet-crest: Olorotitan
Bird-like creature/climber: Speculative coelurosaur
Goose lizard: Ornithomimosaur
Living tank: Nodosaur

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Shark Week

Well, we're nearing the midst of Shark Week on Discovery, and being a blog about prehistoric animals (usually, as you'll see in updates to come), you know what that means. A totally mandatory (in my mind) update on prehistoric sharks!

Sharks first evolved in the Silurian period, about 420mya, though some remains may date to the Ordovician, thirty million years earlier. The latter are disputed. These Silurian sharks are generally known from scales, and we know they look very different than modern sharks, contrary to popular belief that sharks have kept the same general body shape for 400 million years.

One of the best known of the primitive sharks was Cladoselache (above), known from 370mya. Up to 6ft long, this shark was a speedy, agile predator; sharing the sea with the behemoth Dunkleosteus. With a bus-sized monster with a bite force that could crush a car, it was important to be quick. Stomach contents of been preserved from this shark, and show it ate ray-finned bony fish (which comprise nearly 96% of the 25,000 species of fish), shrimp-like fish, and hagfish-like protovertebrates. It lacked claspers and might have bred through internal fertilization, though this is unknown at the moment.

© Nobu Tamura

© Dmitry Bogdanov

Also arising during the late Devonian, about 385mya, was the small family Stethacanthidae, with both known members represented above. On top is the younger Akmonistion, while Stethacanthus is represented on the bottom. The latter lived from the Late Devonian to the Early Carboniferous, a very long time for one genus to exist. Akmonistion, however, is only known from the Early Carboniferous of Scotland, once placed in Stethacanthus. Both are known for their "ironing-board" or "anvil fins", covered in small spike-like denticles; the head was as well. They also had large spines by their pectoral and pelvic fins. The purposes of the "anvil fins" are unknown, perhaps used in mating rituals or to intimidate possible predators.

Unknown artist
©Dmitry Bodganov
Unknown artist

The stethacanthids were part of an extinct order known as Symoriida; split into two more families, Falcatidae and Symoriidae. Shown here at the top as they were fossilized, the falcatid Falcatus was a small (10-12in) shark with large eyes and a prominent fin spine that curved over the head in the males. They have been found in Missouri and Montana from 335-318mya. The bottom two, Symmorium and Cobelodus (both symoriids) were known from the Carboniferous, both around 4-6.6ft long. The latter has been found in the author's home state, Illinois, as well as the less cooler Iowa. It was thought to have inhabited the deeper parts of the sea, due to their large eyes.

Unknown artist

The xenacanthids also came into existence during the late Devonian, and survived into the late Triassic. Four genera are known but all were rather similar to the above Xenacanthus, with minor variations. Xenacanthus was the earliest xenacanthid, and the last to die out as well. A meter long, with an eel-like body and from freshwater, it would have been a lithe predator, with unusual V-shaped teeth that were probably used to feed on crustaceans and heavily scaled fish.

© Nobu Tamura

The hybodontids were the last (now-extinct family) to appear during the Devonian, lasting the longest into the late Cretaceous. Hybodus itself, seen above, lived from 260-100mya, a temporal range dating from the late Permian to the early Late Cretaceous. Along with animal such as dicynodonts, it survived the greatest mass extinction of all time, the Great Dying. One of the most popular extinct sharks, it made an appearance in Walking with Dinosaurs and Sea Monsters, and also appeared in a Karen Carr-illustrated book Jurassic Shark (inaccurately portrayed going after and living among Elasmosaurus (this in itself would not be too bad, except the story is set in the Jurassic). They would have caught slippery fish and hard-shelled prey, possessing two different types of teeth and was 6.6ft long. Other hybodontids were able to live in freshwater and one genus even lived in Hell Creek (as seen below on the middle left), though of marine origins.

© Tom Parker

Tomorrow we review more prehistoric sharks, from more modern orders. Stay tuned.

None of the images, especially those unmarked or marked as "unknown artist" are not property of the author and are used here for comparative purposes only. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Eagles are Pretty Cool

Apologies for not updating for 24 days - I've been pretty lazy. I'll make up for that with some eagle awesomeness though.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Otto, Nessie, and Independence

First of all, happy July 4th and Independence Day!

Well, now the holiday greetings are over and we move on to Otto, the Sciurumimus.

Otto is the dinosaur everyone (okay, some people in the palaeontological community) was talking about last year, with a near-perfect beautiful fossil of a juvenile. I thought at first it was probably Juravenator (which some people still believe); there was also talk about it being a new compsognathid or megalosauroid. Well now it's been described as Sciurumimus albersdoerferi (that's gonna talk a while to learn how to spell) and it is apparently a megalosauroid. But wait! A few people believe it is a coelurosaur. The most remarkable thing about the fossil is the feather-like filaments preserved. If it was a megalosauroid, it could be possible for megalosaurs to have feathers. I personally have no idea at this moment.

Oh, by the way, Louisiana is employing the Loch Ness monster to teach the kiddies that this means dinosaurs could still be alive! Perfect sense, of course.

(Even though most of the Nessie sightings come from a faked photograph taken in 1932)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Paleo Interview #7: William Stout

Whew, we pulled off an interview for the month in just the nick of time! And with none other than William Stout. Stout is a great guy; he's an artist, designer, film producer, conservationist, and a researcher as well. His book The Dinosaurs is one of his most famous works, and Michael Crichton said he wrote Jurassic Park because of it. He's worked on films as well as murals for the San Diego Museum of Natural History and Disney. He's been in Prehistoric Times and he will also be at Comic-Con this year. Please give a warm round of virtual applause for William Stout!

Stout's zombie self-portrait.

1. Our mandatory question; when did you first get interested in dinosaurs (or other prehistoric life)?
When I was three years old my parents took me to see my very first movie at the Reseda Drive-in. It was a re-release of the original 1933 King Kong. Shortly after that I saw the Rites of Spring sequence from Fantasia on the Walt Disney television show. I think those events caused damage to me at a genetic level. I have been nuts about dinosaurs (and prehistoric life) ever since.

2. As noted in one of your books, you've done quite a bit of murals for the San Diego Museum of Natural History. For anyone who hasn't read this book, could you describe what the process is like?
Go to the Journal section of my website (www.williamstout.com) if you’d like to see a step-by-step (with commentary) examination of the painting of my two new murals for the San Diego Zoo (one depicts Pleistocene San Diego), from thumbnails to full size finish.

Briefly and simply, though, here’s my process: After the negotiations are over and the contracts are signed, I begin my designs with a series of thumbnail sketches. After I’ve got one I like, I draw up the design in scale (1” = 1’) to the final mural. I submit my pencil design to the museum (or zoo) for criticism and commentary. I keep doing this until we’re both satisfied. Then I do a same scale (or, as in the case of the twelve San Diego Natural History Museum murals, a quarter scale) painting to establish the color scheme. Once that is approved I begin work on the full size mural.

I block out the design in browns and umbers on my full size canvas, doing what is called a “value painting” --- a simple painting to establish the picture’s dark and light systems. When I’m happy with that, I lay in the “local color” (the average color of each object). Then, it becomes a simple matter of rendering each plant and animal in the picture until the mural is finished. After it's completed I have it professionally photographed. In the case of the SDNHM murals, the original paintings were installed directly on the museum walls using a clay adhesive. This special adhesive allows for the mural’s relatively easy removal in case a pipe inside the wall bursts (this happened not long after my murals were installed) or if the architecture changes.

3. How does it feel to have your artwork on public display in a museum?
It’s an incredible feeling; these paintings are a huge part of my artistic legacy, to be examined, savored and enjoyed by the public forever --- hopefully, just the way I examine, savor and enjoy Charles R. Knight’s work.

4. How long does it generally take to finish a piece?
That varies depending upon a number of factors like size, complexity, deadline and style. My Pliocene Bay mural for the SDNHM is my largest (14’ x 34’), most complex mural. It took about five months to paint once the design was approved by the museum.

5. You also do quite a bit of artwork that doesn't feature prehistoric life, such as your fantasy artwork. Do you prefer one over the other?
I love doing a variety of work, although, of everything I do, I like painting murals the best. I would be a pretty happy guy if I had nothing to do but paint murals the rest of my life.

6. Did you teach yourself or did someone teach you?
Both. I learned how to paint from studying the paintings and methods of Norman Rockwell and Frank Frazetta. I also attended the California Institute of the Arts (and got my Bachelor’s Degree there), majoring in Illustration. I studied privately with Harold Kramer, my best teacher at CalArts, for over twenty years. I also took a wildlife painting workshop with Bob Kuhn (his last). I am still constantly on the lookout for ways to make my paintings better.

7. Has anyone influenced your work?
I feel influenced by all the good stuff I’ve ever seen. My earliest influences were Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson. Then Frank Frazetta, Wally Wood, Roy Krenkel and Al Williamson. Also Harold Foster, Moebius, Russ Manning, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Alex Toth, Robert Crumb and Will Eisner. That list is just the main comics guys who have influenced me.

In the traditional painting and illustration world my main influences are Charles R. Knight, Thomas Moran, William R. Leigh, the Symbolist painters, Alphonse Mucha, Bob Kuhn, John William Waterhouse, Harry Rountree, Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, the Detmold brothers, N. C. Wyeth, J. C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell and Howard Pyle. I really could easily add another hundred names to this list.

8. Who would be your favorite paleoartist if you could pick one, or even a few?
Charles R. Knight, hands down. Zdenek Burian was pretty amazing, too. I’m always inspired by the ideas, designs and creativity of Doug Henderson, Mark Schultz and John Gurche, just to name a few of my talented contemporaries.

9. Are you looking forward to Comic-Con this year?
Always! I’ve been to every one since the very first one. Drop by my booth and say “Hi!”

10. According to your site, you worked on the Disney film Dinosaur. What was that like?
It was a great job --- it just took me forever to get it! I was first approached by Disney to design it way back in 1988! When the gig finally came through about eight years later I worked at home, bringing in my designs to the Disney studio every Friday.

The first challenge Disney gave me was this:

“We have a film that’s centered upon a family of iguanodons. To us, all iguanodons look alike. Can you design our iguanodon characters so that they are all distinctive and instantly recognizable from each other --- yet are still accurate depictions and reconstructions of iguanodons?”

I love tough problems like that and jumped right in and solved it. They were so pleased that they let me do my own takes on all the main and secondary dinosaur and pterosaur characters. Fun job (although I had to fight quite hard for my meager credit).

11. Anything you would like to say to anyone interested in prehistoric life and/or becoming a paleoartist like yourself? 
I completely covered all the various aspects of that topic in “The 10 Rules of Being a Paleoartist”, an article I wrote for the Summer 2006 (#86) issue of Prehistoric Times (copies should soon be available on my website store: www.williamstout.com). In essence: keep your day job.

Thanks once again to Stout for the interview; it is a wonderful honour. As mentioned above for anyone in the San Diego area, William Stout will be at Comic-Con July 12-15 at the San Diego Convention Center. If you plan on visiting, make sure to stop by and see him, be like "Hey, you were on the blog I read!" Stout has quite a few books out and I highly recommend reading them. 

All images belong to William Stout and all (except Pliocene Bay) are from his website, http://www.williamstout.com/. None are mine.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Luis V. Rey

Turns out Luis Rey has a blog now, with some never before seen (at least by me) artwork. If you're into his art, check it out.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Coelacanth Is Not Proof

Trolling through the Internet, one might come across an article. This article could be about "the living dinosaurs of the Congo". Mokele-Mbembe, Kasai Rex (while the two photos are proven to be fakes, people still believe in it), Emela Ntouka, Mbielu-Mbielu-Mbielu, and other stuff I can't even pronounce. Pterosaurs show up too, like the Kongamato from the Congo and the Ropen from New Guinea. Enter proof that all of these could still exist today:

Many of these people are so-called, amateur "cryptozoologists" and they usually say something along the lines of, "The coelacanth was thought to have gone extinct 65 million years ago with the [non-avian] dinosaurs, and yet we found it. Obviously, [non-avian] dinosaurs could still exist today."

I'm going to make the answer clear, short, and simple: No. Just no. A coelacanth is a 5ft long fish that lives 90-700m underwater; its environment has scarcely changed over the years. Meanwhile, the terrestrial world got hotter, tropical forest sprung up over the world, many getting gradually displaced by grasslands, deserts were once swamps, etc. That's a huge environment change. Plus, Mokele-Mbembe is reported to be at least 30ft long. How does a school bus-sized animal (which would eat as much, if not more than an elephant daily) go unnoticed for all these years? Same with the other "living" non-avian dinosaurs. A five foot fish that lives in the abyss is not proof for a school-bus sized, highly specialized creature that eats more than 200lbs of food a day existing! Get over it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Big Paul - Sounds like a Mafia Name


Hey, long time, no update. Mostly due to my laziness. Anyways "Lambeosaurus" laticaudus has been renamed to Magnapaulia laticaudus. Yep, it means "Big Paul". Now I can't stop thinking about Big Fat Paulie from Family Guy. Sounds like a nickname, like "Big Al" or "Jane". And ironically, its feminine too.

Magnapaulia has also been down-sized to 41ft, still large but not as huge as Shantungosaurus. Now the latter's only competition (considering Huaxiaosaurus is synonymous) is Hypsibema. M. laticaudus might also be a species of Velafrons. She's been through a lot lately.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Paleo Interview 6: James Gurney

Yes, you read that right. We finally have an interview for the month! And with none other than the esteemed creator of Dinotopia! James Gurney has acted as an inspiration for me, as I first picked up Dinotopia when I was in 3rd grade and was hooked on it immediately. Now having read all four books as well as Imaginative Realism, it's about time I asked for an interview. Gurney is currently at a convention so he provided me with these questions and answers; that still doesn't take away the honour of talking to him though. So give a warm round of applause for James Gurney!


Did you study art in college?
I went first to UC Berkeley and majored in archaeology, a subject I that always fascinated me. I then went to school for a couple of semesters at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, where I learned some very helpful material about perspective. However, most of what I have learned has been self-taught. 

How did you teach yourself?
I developed my own curriculum of self-teaching based on The Famous Artist’s Course from the 1950’s, Andrew Loomis’s book Creative Illustration, and the teaching methods from the 19th century French academy, which involved fairly detailed anatomy and cast drawing. The best book for learning about French academic painting methods is The Academy and French Painting in the Nineteenth Century by Albert Boime, 1971. 

I had never really painted up until this time, so I felt like I was starting from square one. All this self-teaching from books was combined with daily outdoor sketching, which became such a passion that I ended up coauthoring a book on the subject for Watson-Guptill called The Artist’s Guide to Sketching in 1982.

Who were your main influences?
Norman Rockwell was my childhood hero.  I also always loved MC Escher. Both artists really succeed in pulling viewers into their work. I also greatly admire the Dutch book illustrator Rien Poortvliet. Other artists I admire: Frederic Church, William Bouguereau, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Tom Lovell, and Howard Pyle.

What were your first jobs like? 
As a high school student, I learned how to do hand-lettered calligraphy, and made my first income from designing wedding invitations. I got a job doing engraved line illustrations for ring ads in the newspaper. It wasn’t paying the bills. My big break was getting a job painting backgrounds for an animated film called Fire and Ice, co-produced by Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta, and released in 1983. It was a marathon of painting, because I had to paint about 600 paintings in a year and a half.

How did you break into the illustration field?
I didn’t really start in the freelance illustration business until I was about 20, when I started doing paperback covers for science fiction and fantasy books. I never used agents or sourcebooks, instead sending samples directly to art directors. 

How did you get hired by National Geographic?
I sent them samples and went in for an interview. They didn’t like the samples at first (because they were fantasy-related), but liked my attention to detail, and gave me a chance. They work with their illustrators on a freelance basis, though in the past they used to have artists on staff. 

How did you get the idea for Dinotopia?
I traveled to Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome on assignment for National Geographic, and it was a huge inspiration to see those famous old cities. I spent time with Rick Bronson, an archaeologist who was just like Indiana Jones. He led me through overgrown jungles to find little known Etruscan ruins, and we descended down ladders into newly-discovered tombs. Sitting around the campfire at night, Dr. Bronson and I would talk about dreams of discovering a lost city like Machu Picchu or Troy. I realized that I could always make a painting of such a lost city, and that led to Dinosaur Paradeand Waterfall City.  After that, I drew a map of an unknown island and came up with the idea of a Victorian explorer who discovers this island and reports about it in his journal.

Can you describe your working environment?
My studio is part of my house, right above the garage. There’s a four-foot square skylight above the painting area, flanked by color-balanced fluorescents. The countertops are covered with dinosaur models and toy robots and the closets are full of costumes and props. I have a pet parakeet named Mr. Kooks who hangs out on a big playground right next to my painting area. My window looks out past a bird-and-butterfly garden to an oak forest, inhabited by pileated woodpeckers, a flock of wild turkeys, and families of foxes. I typically work from 8:30 to 5:30 five or six days a week, listening to classical music and books on tape as I paint and draw. I usually sit down when I paint indoors, but stand up when I paint studies outdoors from nature.

How long does it take to make a picture?
Some pictures only take a day.  Most take a week.  Big ones with lots of people take about a month.  Most of the time is spent in the preparatory stages. Each Dinotopia book takes me about three years to write and illustrate. 

What is your favorite medium?
All the pictures are painted in oil. Oil is my favorite. I often use oil in transparent washes over a line drawing that has been sealed with acrylic matte medium. I’ve been using just turpentine and Liquin for the painting. All the Dinotopia paintings are done in oil. Sometimes I’ll start with a pen and ink drawing or an acrylic wash-in. I often work on heavy weight illustration board, and sometimes on oil-primed linen canvas.

Could you describe the research and reference process?
I start with small thumbnail sketches in marker or pencil, sometimes dozens. If the painting requires scientific or historical accuracy, I consult with experts at every stage of the process and incorporate their suggestions. If it’s an architectural subject or a dinosaur, I’ll often build a little model or mockup to establish shadows and angles.

If necessary I enlist models to pose in costume, usually friends or neighbors. I either take photos or do tone paper sketches of the models. I have a large mirror mounted in the studio and often develop tone paper studies of myself posing in costume to get the basic action. I also have a scrap file of color magazine photos that I use for texture and form ideas. 

After all these studies, I work up the line drawing—and sometimes a full charcoal drawing—and finally begin the final painting. The place to really see the process is in my book, Imaginative Realism.
Are there moments of struggle in most paintings?
I find that the early stages of the painting, when the major areas are being established, are generally the hardest to get through. The reason is that the actual painting is very far from the original vision in my head. When this happens, I try to take one area to finish, and build from there.
You mix real and fantastical elements, often to make an impossible scene look believable. What is your thought process in this kind of work?
Some people have called this kind of work “reality-based fantasy,” but I think it’s really what artists have always done through history in portraying scenes from myth, literature, and the Bible. Basically what I’m trying to do is to create a realistic image of a scene that could never be photographed. My guiding philosophy is the old Latin saying “Ars est celare artem,” which means that true art conceals the artifice of its making. For me, creating depth and illusion is one of the most exciting goals of painting, but it’s just a first step, because the higher goal is to select, accentuate, and subordinate all the elements of the picture to communicate a particular mood or feeling, and that goes beyond mere illusionism. 

What is your advice about style?
Forget about style. Try to learn from nature with close observation and humility. Don’t model your work after any living illustrator (including me). If you must study the work of other artists, pick ones from the distant past, and look at many different ones, not just one.

What is your feeling about computers in art?
I’m personally committed to traditional painting and drawing. I have a deep love of the tactile quality of brushes and pigments and the physical presence of framed paintings. Nevertheless, I am fascinated by the new visual ideas that digital artists introduced, and I have enjoyed working with digital artists who have helped translate Dinotopia into other realms. Of course image-making is always in a time of transition. Traditional painting will always be around, but it will constantly evolve to fill new niches in the art world.  

What is the nature of the art business these days, and what advice would you have for aspiring artists?
It is competitive but not cutthroat. Nearly everyone I’ve met in the field has been congenial and welcoming to new talent. Of course there is always a surplus of young (and older) artists who want to be working in the field, but there is always room for a new voice with a new song. Keep in mind that desire and hard work are worth more than talent. Genius, as Thomas Carlyle once said, is the infinite capacity for taking pains.
Thanks again for the great interview, James, and for saving me the time of coming up with questions, ha ha! For more of James Gurney's stuff, visit his blog:

All images belong to James Gurney and are from his blog.