Monday, June 27, 2011

Winner of the Run-off Poll and this September's Gallery!

Thanks to everyone who participated in one or both of our polls for the fall gallery. With the first vote tying and the second one being a near dead heat, a topic has finally emerged...

The turtles! With over 200 million years worth of the hard shelled reptiles to draw upon (pun intended :P), from both the land and sea there should be no shortage of diversity this September!

If you're new to the site, we accept any and all artwork submitted that is themed around any of our gallery topics. Just send your submission(s), along with any accompanying text you'd like with them, and the link to your website/blog/online picture gallery to our email, and we'll post them!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

CIID 2011, results: "and the winner is... Davide Bonadonna!"

Diplodocus carnegiei vs. Allosaurus fragilis.

Yesterday, the museum of Lourinha has published the results of the last International Dinosaur Illustration Contest (7th edition).
The contest received 74 works by 29 artists of 10 different countries.

The winner was Davide Bonadonna, with his beautiful illustration of Diplodocus and Allosaurus!
This is another proof of Davide skills and, more generally, of the cleverness that all italian paleoartists use in this job.
In 2009 Davide won the third prize on the sixth edition of the same contest.
In 2010, he was prized with the Lanzendorf PaleoArt Prize in the scientific illustration category.
Davide was also the creator of the most important illustrations used in the "Dinosauri in Carne e Ossa" exhibition.

To view more illustrations of Davide, check out his website:

Guest Artist: Bryan Foote


Pachyrhinosaurus mother & calf in mud



Canadian palaeoartist Bryan Foote shares some of his fantastic sketches with the palaeoblogsphere.  Check out his art here on deviantART!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Poetry: DRAGONSEED by Claire M. Jordan


Listen to the song of the world's wind

See my children leap up
See my children cast off
Into the sky

Seek my seed - my children were born
In a dazzle of colour
Now they spiral upwards
Feathered with fractured light -
The light of the sun
Streams past the out-stretched hand

Shedding their teeth
To sow an army

Death and the fire of heaven
Cast them down
Shipwrecked in stone, still fringed
With frozen light -
Shall the stones take flight?

Listen to the song of the world's wind
See my children leap up
See my children cast off
Into the sky

Icarus fell, but Daedalus
Sweeps on - the storm
Could not out-pace him
Listen to me tell
How the same claws that grasped the ground
Clutched at the sundered sky
How the great beasts of thunder
With their bones of stone leapt up
And dwindled
Into bones of air
To glitter and shine

Listen to the song of the world's wind
See my children leap up
See my children cast off
Into the sky

Cauldron of changes
Feather on the bone
Circle of eternity
Heart in the stone

See my children leap up
Into the sky

[N.B. verse beginning "Cauldron of changes" is a traditional pagan chant which normally ends "Hole in the stone".]

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Going Pro: Working with Palaeontologists (Flukes Part 5)

Well if no else is going to do a Going Pro ARTicle this year, I guess I'm going to have to :P

For my first Going Pro contribution I'm going to tie into my Flukes series of 2009 and 2010. While attempting to create a Shark Toothed Dolphin (Squalodon) for Dr. Ewan Fordyce (the tale of my efforts and MISTAKES can be followed in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4) I picked up a few very good tactics and attitudes for getting yourself, as an artist, established with a working scientist. In the last couple of months I've gotten myself some more legitimate Palaeo-art gigs using these approaches with other palaeontologists here in Canada.

So I figured why not try to help everyone else out with my methods for all you aspiring and upcoming palaeo-artists to break into the palaeo-reconstruction field...

Working with (and for) Palaeontologists

Before I dive into this article, I'm going to clarify that the point of this article is for you to get gigs reconstructing critters for palaeontologists.

This is a very different task than what we usually get up to here on ART Evolved. Most often we are attempting to reconstruct something by ourselves for our own purposes. While you can certainly ask a scientists for their input in these effort, this is not the same as working on a legitimate reconstruction in my opinion.

Now before you get all enraged, I am not down playing independent palaeo-art, nor am I trying to insult people who create it. Hopefully everyone on this site knows how much "non-legit" palaeo-art I've created! When I use the word legitimate here I am solely referring to the fact the palaeo-art in question was commissioned by a scientist to accompany a formal publication. This to me means the artwork carries a bit more weight by having an outside authority's seal of approval and thus has had its own form of peer review.

Now with that quick preamble out of the way, how do you get yourself working for a palaeontologist in this way?

THE Attitude

I've found one's frame of mind toward palaeontology and their art that is the key to selling said art. To best illustrate this let me tell you a story...

Just a few months ago, I met for the first time a new palaeontologist (Dr. Potential I shall dub them). I was very interested in pitching myself as a possible artist for Dr. Potential should they need a reconstruction done in their area of expertise (a big interest of mine). While they were willing to meet with me, I was stressed when almost immediately into our introduction Dr. Potential became very withdrawn and almost confrontational. I thought I'd done something offensive by mistake, but I pressed on in my usual manner of selling myself and my art (humbly casual). The interview didn't improve. In fact I thought I was crashing and burning when we got to my portfolio, and I was unable to answer some rather pointed technical questions about my anatomy choices in my pieces. I thought that was the end of the meeting, and I braced for the "thank you but no thank" you". Taking me by surprise Dr. Potential told me they were interested in me working for them. What I thought, after all that hostility?!?

It turns out Dr. Potential had tried collaborating with two other amateur artists in the past, and neither those experiences had been positive for the good doctor. In both cases Dr. Potential found the artists approached the subject matters like they were the experts, and began questioning or ignoring Dr. P's input and requests due to their own "research" of the topic subject matter. In the end Dr. Potential aborted both collaborations, and had a somewhat lowered opinion of "palaeo-enthusiasts".

I won over Dr. Potential with my very laid back and open approach to both my palaeo-art and the science in general. More to the point Dr. P very much liked the way that while I was well informed on palaeo, I didn't have a need to "flaunt it" or pretend I knew as much (or more!) than Dr. P (as I do not!). So that is how I got the gig.

So my first very key piece of advice when approaching a scientist to create palaeo-art for them is to forget everything you think you know about palaeontology. Especially about the topic you will be creating.

I don't mean to harp on people, but this is very important as a palaeo-artist. It doesn't matter how many museums you've visited or papers you've read, the scientist is the expert in the case of a legit reconstruction. That is why they are the ones writing the paper. Approach them as such. Do this and I guarantee you'll have luck.

Besides you'd be surprised how much you can learn from talking to an expert (no matter how much or little reading you've done on their subject). Despite all the science that is out there in publication, I've always enjoyed direct conversations to learn about all that hasn't been published yet!

Your Price

While attitude is key, there is another sticking point I've encountered over my ten or so pitches. How much your art costs. How you answer can really effect your efforts to getting established.

I venture the suggestion, at least while you don't have any formal credentials or portfolio full of commissioned work, you think about doing your first few pieces for free...

Immediately I should caution, I am not aiming to make my entire living or even a significant portion of it doing palaeo-art. I would just like to see my hobby pay for itself, and maybe see myself advance to the contemporary big leagues of the artform. As of such my not making money on my first few legitimate palaeo-art pieces is not a big lose to me.

This has me as a diametric opposite camp from the real artists out there. As a good example of their point of view I will call on our AE comrade Glendon's stance on the pay issue (I've run this by Glendon for the record). He suggests not doing any work for free. If you do there is a risk it will set up an expectation in your clients of this being the norm, and might even establish you a reputation as a "freebie" artist. While I agree with this on its fundamentals, legitimate professional level palaeo-art is very cut throat. You might need an edge in your rookie gigs.

I've lost over half my initial pitches to already established professional palaeo-artists this year, particularly Dinosaur reconstructions, as they offer some pretty stiff competition. For starters they have established relationships within the field, have a tested true body of work, and have demonstrated they have the methods to capture what the scientists are after. Who am I to compete with that right now, one on one, unless I level the playing field? "Selling" myself as the cheaper (to free) alternative has really been my only way to slip into circulation. The compensation in this case is building up my portfolio with actual published credentials.

I personally have "lost" a couple potential gigs (initially I was signed on a the tentative artist due to being free) when the project got money for a press release. Rather than risk paying a no name unestablished talent such as myself, they go to the proven stars when money enters the equation.

The other way I justify not making money off this art is that at moment I am not making any money creating non-legitimate palaeo-art, how could not being paid to actually create legitimate stuff hurt anymore?

Working for free is just one strategy, and it has been working for me off and on this year. Take what you may from it. The payoff is I have a potential half dozen reconstructions in the works now (one possibly paying!). Of course I'm at the whim of marketing and communication departments for the majority of them, especially should money for a formal press kit come up with a project. So mine is not the most stable strategy. Mind you I'd venture there is no such thing in the palaeo-art game...

The Benefits

So what are the payoffs of doing your art for free while defaulting on all your prehistoric know how? Quite a few actually. Not only for your art but also your knowledge in the field of palaeontology.

Here are just some of the benefits I encountered working with Dr. Fordyce in New Zealand.

Access to totally brand new specimens. This one was huge. When working with scientists you often get a sneak preview of things no one else in the palaeo community has ever seen. While you typically aren't allowed to talk about them (at least if you want to keep your name good in the field) there is something extremely satisfying about getting to be one of the first to see a new prehistoric critter. Plus if you're really lucky you could find yourself to be the first person to ever reconstruct it!

Access to most recent knowledge and research. For me often the hardest part of reconstructions is ensuring all the details are in line with the science. While one can read the technical literature, often very important things aren't covered on how these animals are put together or figuring out how to translate them into a concrete image. Additionally the amount of research can be a little much for a part time palaeo-artist such as myself.

When working with a palaeontologist often a lot of this guesswork (or outright conjecture) can be taken out of the picture. Every palaeontologist I've talked to is sitting on some knowledge of these details, either not published yet or that they know of from obscure references you don't know about (they are paid to know this stuff). Working with them, you'll find suddenly your work can become the cutting edge reconstruction of the critter in question by including things previous reconstructions lacked!

You'll become a part of the research process. One of the other cool byproducts of working with a palaeontologist on a reconstruction is that your seeking as much information about a fossil as a living animal can spur new insights or areas of inquiry about them.

While working with Dr. Fordyce, a quick question I had about the placement about fins on the Shark Toothed Dolphin suddenly caused him to consider every other reconstruction of these animals previously made. He realized based on his own recent work on dissecting modern Dolphins that all previous reconstructions (and even most museum mounts of Dolphin skeletons both fossil AND modern) were wrong in the angle they were placing the ribs. Meaning not only was my reconstruction going to be the first to represent this cutting edge idea, but that I'd accidentally spurred it into entering the equation.

Direct feedback and input. The most rewarding and unique result of collaborating with a scientist is getting a qualified opinion on your reconstruction. While there is nothing wrong with feedback from palaeo people like those here on ART Evolved (seriously love you guys for it all!), this doesn't quite compare to getting it from one of the top minds on the subject. Especially when you finally nail the critter, and get the experts seal of approval!!!

So I hope this random ramble is of some use to you. While I'm by no means a professional or big name in the field of palaeo-art, using these steps I've definitely made headway to at least breaking into the scene later this year. I hope that one day you'll have the same luck as me!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dinosaurs on DrawBridge

"On you go Wullie, You can do it!" by Simon Fraser

This is a heads up from Simon Fraser, comic book artist and a contributor to the cooperative art blog DrawBridge, who wants to share some wonderful dinosaur art.

Check out the dinosaurs on DrawBridge, I dare you not to smile!

Also, remember to VOTE in our run-off Gallery poll at right!  Only 10 more days to make a difference...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

September Run Off Vote

We've had an unprecedented outcome on our latest Gallery Poll. A tie!

As the themes in question don't really complement each other all that well (apart from all being armoured) we're having a run off vote to decide the final theme of the gallery.

So please vote on the new run off poll located on our right sidebar. Though this time you can only vote for one choice...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Convergent Blog

While searching the net we've discovered an example of virtual convergent evolution. There seems to be another palaeo-art blog run by multiple artists out there (they seem to have started a year after we did). Check out Dino-art, and while you're at it leave a comment suggesting our two blogs try to coordinate on some stuff in the future :P

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Know When To Fold 'Em

Above: Maximum wrist folding for the theropods studied by Sullivan et al. 2010. Not to scale.

To continue talking about aspects of maniraptoran anatomy that can be a bit vaguely defined in the minds of paleoartists, I'm going to write a bit on the issue of wrist folding. As most of you will know, a major characteristic of maniraptorans is the semi-lunate carpal, the half-moon shaped bone in the wrist that allows the blade of the hand (metacarpal 3) to fold backward toward the forearm (ulna). While this is common knowledge among paleo buffs and artists, what seems to be less understood is exactly how tightly the hand (and in aviremigians, the wing) could actually fold up. I myself have never been too clear on the issue, and there don't seem to be many papers addressing this. But in the last few years, a few papers have come along that can help shed light on the subject. The first was Senter 2006, which studied the full range of motion in the forelimbs of two dromaeosaurs, Deinonychus and Bambiraptor. The second was Sullivan et al. 2010, which examined the range of motion in the wrist of several species representing each major group of non-avialan maniraptorans.

Both papers, however, present geometric data that can come across as a bit inaccessible for your average artist, so I'm going to try to break down their conclusions for those of us who are more visual thinkers. The Sullivan paper, in particular, discusses the degree to which the wrist could fold, but doesn't necessarily provide diagrams or even final angle between the metacarpals and ulna for each species that could be used as a simple reference. I've done my best to translate their findings into the image at the top of this post, using modified skeletal diagrams by Scott Hartman and Jaime Headden.

Above: Anatomy of a maximally folded wing of the Wild Turkey Meleagris gallopavo, modified from Sullivan et al. 2010

The degree of wrist folding is controlled by two wrist bones. The cuneiform, on the inside where the wrist meets the bottom of the distal ulna, provides an inner limit. The cuneiform blocks the hand from actually touching the ulna. The radialae, on the outside of the fold, forms the surface which the wrist cannot fold beyond. This is basically a little process anchored to the tip of the radius where the top part of the hand articulates. The hand can obviously not fold beyond the angle of the radialae, or the animal would dislocate its wrist. Therefore, the angle the articular surface of the radialae forms with the ulna is used as the key factor in determining maximum wrist folding by Sullivan et al. Again, see my interpretation at the top for how their results likely translate into life position.

The results show that in almost all maniraptorans, the wrist could not be folded to the same degree as modern birds (for comparison, see the photo of the turkey wing above, which is at its own maximum folding point). Note that in actual, functional angle of folding in the turkey is 57 degrees between MCII (where the feathers attach) and the ulna. To see how this translates into a live animal, here's a photo of wild turkeys nicely showing the way the feathers fold (photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson, from Wikipedia, licensed):

The wrist is located about where the coverts form the point of a triangle, following the line formed by the border of the the brown secondary (ulna) feathers and white banded primary (metacarpus) feathers. Note that with the wrist folded at a 57 degree interior angle, the feathers (especially the secondaries, which help cover the primaries when folded) are basically stacked one on top of the other with little to no fanning out at the tips. This is because the feathers also have some ability to move at their bases, and can themselves fold relative to their anchor bones through muscle and ligament action.

Looking at the aviremigians in the diagram up top, it is apparent that their wrists could not fold tightly enough to fold the wing feathers to the same degree as a modern turkey. Small deinonychosaurs like Sinovenator and Bambiraptor could achieve close to a 100 degree angle (see image of Bambiraptor wing folding above, from Senter 2006), but larger ones like Deinonychus seem to have lost some of that folding ability, presumably for increased use of the forelimbs in predation. Indeed, if Deinonychus retained long remiges, they would hardly have been able to fold at all, and would have been permanently fanned out (not that this would have gotten in the way of grabbing prey, as Senter pointed out). This lack of ability to tightly fold the wrists may have posed a significant problem for those species with very long remiges, like Microraptor gui. Dave Hone, who was a co-author of the Sullivan paper, discussed alternative ways they could have kept their remiges free of the ground at his blog last year.

In pygostylians, the degree of wrist folding began to approach that found in modern birds. Eoconfuciusornis, for example, could fold its wing to about the same degree as a turkey. Where it gets weird is in the oviraptorosaurs. As I mentioned in my post on the Ashdown maniraptoran, oviraptorosaurs (at least the small basal ones like Caudipteryx) seem to have been capable of folding their wings far beyond what is possible for even many modern birds. It's unclear why this is so, especially as the remiges of Caudipteryx, while clearly for display, are not exactly very long compared to the body. Certainly its wings were much smaller than those of paravians, which would have presumably had more need to fold them up. I've seen this mentioned as possible evidence in support of the hypothesis that oviraptorosaurs are in fact avialans, and that the extreme folding of the wrist was inherited from flying ancestors, though I can't think of where. Sullivan et al. do note that more than folding up the remiges to keep them safe from wear and tear, wing folding is an important part of the avian flight stroke, and it makes sense that it would have become more developed in flying forms.

Anyway, we've only got a handful of specimens that have been specifically studied in regards to the degree of wrist folding, and there may well be exceptions in each maniraptoran group, where certain lineages independently evolved a greater or lesser degree of wrist folding from their ancestors as seems to have happened in therizinosaurs, where the derived Alxasaurus can fold its wrist more than the basal Falcarius, and deinonychosaurs, where the relatively derived Deinonychus can fold its wrist less than the more basal Bambiraptor. So this guide shouldn't be considered as a set of hard and fast rules, but rather a starting point for artists who want to make their restorations as plausible as possible.

Finally, a few days ago I posted a teaser for this post challenging people to determine what aspect of the above Deinonychus illustration was incorrect. By now it should be clear that the wrist is folded too far back. Appropriately enough, the first one to nail it was the artist, Nobu Tamura, himself! Commenter A.G. came close, speculating that it was due to the orientation of the glenoid, but that has more to do with the range of motion of the upper arm and how far it could extend into a bird-like flapping position, rather than the way the wing folds up. Good job guys!

--Matt Martyniuk

* Senter, P. (2006). "Comparison of Forelimb Function Between Deinonychus And Bambiraptor (Theropoda: Dromaeosauridae)". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 26(4): 897–906.
* Sullivan, C., Hone, D.W.E., Xu, X. and Zhang, F. (2010). "The asymmetry of the carpal joint and the evolution of wing folding in maniraptoran theropod dinosaurs." Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 277(1690): 2027–2033.

Sketchbooks - why?

Sketchbooks are an essential part of any artist's or designers and I've just posted a few thoughts on their use over at Paleo Illustrata arguing why in our age of technological wonders the humble pencil and sketchbook is still the best method of getting your ideas down quickly and with minimum fuss. Not only that, but other reasons too - head on over and take a look.