The Importance of Having Soft Tissues

Everybody knows dinosaurs are awesome, but it’s also commonly known that scientists and artists are extrapolating heavily from the available fossilized remains – in other words, reconstructing the Jurassic past requires a lot of guesswork. What we think dinosaurs look like is a carefully estimated probability of which muscle attached where, based on the (sometimes very) few bones that are found.

However, from time to time the circumstances align just so and some soft tissues are also preserved – as formerly squishy soft things and also in the bones of dinosaurs.

Anyway, the whole point here is that I like to look at paleoart. But how do we know they are right? (Spoiler: we don’t, not really.) What C.M.Koseman has done is examine some modern day animals and try to reconstruct them from the point of view of a fossil hunter millions of years in the future (personally, I think there might be a multi-leg bias in future interpretations, but Koseman has done his best):

C.M. Kosemen is an Istanbul-based artist and author (along with John Conway and Darren Naish) of the 2012 book, All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals. A long-time creature designer, Kosemen had always had an interest in dinosaurs, but he embarked on his book with Conway after they began to realize that something was a bit off. “We were both dinosaur geeks, but the more we looked at these skeletons, and the more we looked at the pictures, we noticed that most mainstream dinosaur art didn’t look at dinosaurs as real creatures,” says Kosemen.

Most serious paleoart bases itself on the detailed findings of paleontologists, who can work for weeks or even years compiling the most accurate descriptions of ancient life they can, based on fossil remains. But Kosemen says that many dinosaur illustrations should take more cues from animals living today. Our world is full of unique animals that have squat fatty bodies, with all kinds of soft tissue features that are unlikely to have survived in fossils, such as pouches, wattles, or skin flaps. “There could even be forms that no one has imagined,” says Kosemen. “For example there could plant-eating dinosaurs that had pangolin or armadillo-like armor that wasn’t preserved in the fossil. There could also be dinosaurs with porcupine-type quills.”

I think he undervalues the vast majority of the artists who do draw prehistoric art, because the process involves a lot of imagination and creativity, with the added pressure of scientific accuracy. Certainly we don’t know the outer shapes of dinosaurs or other prehistoric creatures, so artists must work with what little scientific information they do have, and look at animals existing today, and then add layers of interpretation – not easy by any stretch. If Koseman is just arguing for more flamboyance, though, I’m 100% on board.

Anyway, the Atlas Obscura article has some examples from C.M.Koseman, and they are suitably creepy:

How a baboon skeleton might be interpreted by future paleoartists. via Atlas Obscura

My favourites are the swans, though – not going near those anymore!

Swans imagined as though they were featherless dinosaurs. via Atlas Obscura

Are these overexaggerations? Maybe. But until we see some real dinosaurs (someone invent that time machine and make it back alive, please), there is no way to know how accurate today’s interpretations (which have already changed so much).
The closest we can get, though, are the afore-mentioned paleoartists, and one of my favourites is Mark Witton:
Two main aspects of my life have, for as long as I can remember, been art and palaeontology. I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil and have stubbornly refused to grow out of the dinosaur/palaeontology craze that afflicts most children. The latter proved so hard to shake that I studied for a degree in Palaeobiology and Evolution between 2002 – 2005 at the University of Portsmouth, UK and stayed there for my PhD studies between 2005 – 2008. I have since held a research position at Portsmouth. In 2010 I was honoured to be part of a joint University of Portmsouth/Royal Society exhibition which installed several models of giant flying reptiles in the centre of London (image of me and Bamofo, one of our giant azhdarchid models, right). In 2013 my book, Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy was published by Princeton University Press to critical acclaim. I now make a living as a technical consultant on palaeontological documentaries, palaeoartist, graphic designer and author.
He’s got a great collection of prints and books, and… household products. There’s a certain appeal to hiding behind a large T.Rex while enjoying a hot shower, I have to say.
Do check out his gallery, I will end with a small sample here:

Go look at more.

Jack’s Walk

The Hollow, Twisted Tree ©voyager, all rights reserved

“Mommy… Mommy,” I heard Jack call out excitedly from somewhere up ahead. Soon I saw him exit the forest and do a quick trot toward me on the trail. All of this was quite surprising because Jack seldom gets excited, and he doesn’t do the quick trot anymore, so something was up.
“What is it, Bubba?” I asked as he got nearer.
“Oma Troutchen is missing, and the fairies need our help.”
“Why do the fairies need our help?”
“They need my nose, and you have to drive,” Jack said, “Gnorman will explain it. He wants to talk to you.”
“Is Gnorman a fairy?” I asked, getting excited at the thought of finally meeting one of Jack’s fairy friends.
“Silly Mummy. Gnorman isn’t a fairy. Gnorman is a Gnome. Over here,” Jack said, walking back into the woods and stopping beside a tall, twisted tree stump.
I approached carefully and looked around, but I didn’t see anyone except for Jack.
“Where is he, Jack?”
“Up here, you Ninny, and put that camera away,” I heard a gruff voice say, but I still didn’t see anyone.
“Here, in the tree,” and sure enough there he was, a small wizened creature with a bushy white beard wearing a pointed red cap, standing inside the hollowed-out tree.
“Why must I put the camera away,” I asked.
“Because I told you to. Now, are you going to keep asking silly questions, or are you going to listen?” Gnorman said.
“I’m listening, but I’d like to take your photo, please,” I said as politely as I could.
“Maybe later. Right now, we’s got a lost fairy, and we needs Jack to help us find her. And Jack says he needs you to help him, so we’s decided to take a chance and asks you’s fur a bit of human help.”
“I’ll help however I can,” I said, wondering what on earth I could do to help find a fairy.
“It’s Oma Troutchen we’s lost. She was out collecting acorn caps with the school kids yesterday when young Freddy Fox wandered in and started sniffing around, and somehow Oma got caught up in his tail, and the silly fool ran off with her hanging there, and he’s done went and lost her.”
“That’s terrible.” I said, “Do you have any idea where she might be?”
“That’s the trouble. Freddy says that he thinks he lost her around Punkydoodles corner, but that’s a long way from here, and the fairies don’t have their wings yet to go looking for her. The birds is out looking for her, but they haven’t found her yet, and Oma ain’t gonna do well on her own for long.”
“Why won’t Oma do well? And why don’t the fairies have their wings?”
“Great grasshoppers! You sure do ask a lot of questions.” Gnorman said.
“Everyone knows that Fairies shed their wings in the fall and grow them back in the spring, so’s it’s easier for them to live underground in the winter. As for Oma, she’s very old and has the forgetting disease. Everyone in the forest is out looking for her. Even them drunken Imps are helping, but Freddy took her too far, and it’s hard to find a fairy who ain’t got her wings.” Gnorman was getting upset. “, where’s that stupid fox. He was supposed to meet us here to give Jack a bit more knowing about where they went. Hrmph! You just can’t trust a fox.”
“if you can’t trust a fox, how do we know he’ll tell us the truth?” I asked.
“‘Cause he’s got the whole durn forest mad at him and even a fox is smart enough to know you don’t mess with the fairies.”
“Everyone loves Oma Troutchen, Mummy,” Jack spoke up. “She’s been living in this forest for a long, long time and she’s friends with everyone. She was the first fairy I met, and she tells the best stories. I love her, too.” Jack sighed heavily, and I could see his eyes misting over.
“Alright, Gnorman. Jack, can you find the trail without waiting for this fox to turn up?”
“I can find fox trails, but I can’t be sure which one belongs to Freddy,” Jack said sadly.
“Well, then, I guess we’d better wait to see if Freddy turns up,” I said, sitting down on a log to wait.
“Thar’s a good girl,” Gnorman growled. “Now, I’ll let ya take one photo, but not too close. You humans always seems to make us Gnomes look silly.”
“Well, you do look a bit silly up in that tree,” I said.
“I climbed up here to make it easier for you, young lady, there’s nothing silly about that.” Gnorman smiled for the first time.
“Thanks,” I said, smiling back at him. “I appreciate your effort. And it’s nice to be called ‘young lady,’ no one calls me that anymore.”
“Well, you don’t look a day over a hundred to me,” Gnorman said merrily, and while I was letting that remark sink in, he quietly said, “Thanks to ya, fur helping us,” and then he blew me a kiss.
I reached for my camera and snapped a quick photo before Gnorman changed his mind.

Jack lay down beside me and placed his head heavily on my foot. I could see he was tired, and I stroked his back, hoping he would take a power nap.
And so we waited, hoping Freddy Fox would turn up soon.

Gnorman, ©voyager, all rights reserved

The Finished Little Horse(s)

Kestrel has finished her little horse(s) and I think they’re all fabulous!

I finished my last horse, and in time for the deadline. I’ve already sent in my entries; it’s all over but the crying, as they say.

The final work is pretty subtle; the whites have been altered so they are not so stark, there is slight pinking in the area by the elbow where the hair is thinner, and in that second photo, finally, we have eyes!

©kestrel, all rights reserved

©kestrel, all rights reserved

He looks like he’s saying, “Are you lookin’ at me?” In case anyone wonders: those dark dots on the legs are to represent the chestnuts (as they are called) on a living horse. These are the remnants of a toe, because equids were originally 5-toed.

I’m including the photos I sent in for the contest, posted here in order of my painting them – so this sorrel horse is the first one I painted, and the bay pinto I’ve been working on is the last. Taking clear, focused pictures of something this small is pretty difficult, at least for me. When you get it focused right, the photos are brutally honest, and the artist can see every last tiny flaw and mistake. Well, this is to be expected for a novice like myself – I will hopefully learn a lot here and do better in the future. The dapple grey (third photo down) was particularly difficult for me. That color terrified me because I’ve seen so many people get it wrong; but I like a challenge so I tried it. It was, as I thought it would be, really tricky, particularly at this scale.

I’m not sure when the judging will take place but I will try and keep Voyager informed as to the outcome. I hope you’ve enjoyed getting a glimpse into an admittedly very weird hobby!

©kestrel, all rights reserved

©kestrel, all rights reserved

©kestrel, all rights reserved

©kestrel, all rights reserved

Monday Mercurial: Kitty Kitty

This is our neighbour’s cat. She was never on the bright side of things, and she also used to be a very panicky animal. When we first moved in the cat would not notice our presence, walk up close to us, see us, and freak out completely. It was the easiest sneaking up on a cat ever, because you only had to exist.

By now she got used to us, and our neighbour says that apparently with old age she’s forgotten to be afraid of her own shadow, so I could sneak a few pics.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Jack’s Walk

This must be where the bluebirds live. ©voyager, all rights reserved

Jack and I occasionally circumnavigate a small wooded area that lies behind our local middle school. It’s an uninviting, snarly sort of place, all tangled with vines and thick with underbrush, so we’ve never ventured past the perimeter, until today, when a do-goodness adventure invited us inside.

“Mommy, you’re going to need a garbage bag,” Jack called out as he ran ahead.
“Right here,” I said, reaching into my pocket for a poop bag.
“That’s gonna be too small, Mummy. We need a big bag to clean up this mess.”
As I got closer, I could see that he was right. The entire area was littered with aluminum cans, discarded water bottles, and bits of paper. I sighed and reached into my inside pocket for a reusable shopping bag.
We began by walking around the woods, and after one pass, my bag was nearly full, and I had that do-good kind of feeling. Next, it was time to work our way into the brush, and I called out,
“Bubba, where is the easiest place for me to go into the brush? Someplace not too tangly. ”
“Over here, follow me,” Jack said as he led me into the little woods. Once inside, we were met with a few surprises. First, we found several well trampled paths and open spaces, none of them visible from the perimeter, So… a hiding place.
Then, there was the stuff we found – beer cans (lots!), 2 empty liquor bottles, cigarette butts, used condoms (ick!) and condom wrappers, a used tampon (again, ick!), a single black sock and a disintegrating striped towel. So… a make-out place.
Jack and I spent the next half hour, picking up trash. I used a poop bag as a glove, and it wasn’t long before we had the place looking spic and span. After that, Jack and I hauled our trash to the school garbage can where we sorted our recyclables and tossed the rest. It took us nearly an hour to manage the job, and my gross meter was maxed out. By the end, I was feeling tired and sore, but positively glowing with do-goodness.

“Mummy, why do people throw things on the ground? The garbage cans are really close, why don’t people use them?”
“Most people do put their trash in the garbage, Bubba. In this case, I think it’s because they were kids doing grown-up things, and they were afraid of being caught.”

“Well, I think that if you’re too young to clean up after yourself, you’re too young to do the grown-up things,” Bubba said as he set out toward home.

“Yep, I agree, Bubbs. I agree.”

Jack’s Walk

Jack, March 23, 2020 ©voyager, all rights reserved

Can I go back to bed now, Mummy? ©voyager, all rights reserved

All that white stuff behind Jack is snow. Which is what it did here yesterday. Thankfully, it was all gone by this morning, and no shovelling was required, which made for a pleasant change. Despite the snow and cold, it’s definitely spring, and not just because the calendar says so. I know it’s spring because Jack has started his annual shed. You can see it starting on his shoulders just below his collar. See how it’s clumping into tufts. Soon those tufts will turn blondish and then they’ll fall out along with a tsunami of single untufted hairs, all of which will need to be vacuumed up if I don’t brush them out first. Luckily, we have super-powered brushing tools (Thanks, Marcus), but even deploying them daily won’t keep up. The more you brush Jack, the more hair it loosens up, and the more brushing he needs. You can spend half an hour at a time brushing Bubba and get a grocery bag full of hair and think you’re all good, and then an hour later, you could do it all over again. I had hopes that it wouldn’t be as bad this year because he didn’t seem to put on as much hair as usual, but if today is any indication, my brushing arm, which is also my vacuuming arm, is still going to get a good workout over the next month or so. I’ve included Jack’s photos from the start of winter below the fold in case you want to make a comparison.

Jack, October 3, 2019 ©voyager, all rights reserved

Jack, October 3, 2019 ©voyager, all rights reserved

Excuse me, I’m a Little Horse

Kestrel’s little horse is looking better, bit by bit.

Progress! I thought it might be interesting to see how the layers of fine pastel dust build up. People who have never done this before don’t realize that it just takes time and patience; you don’t have to glob the pastel on there, thin tiny layers are the way to go. The nice thing about pastels is they are very slow and you have a lot of control, but it takes many layers to get a nice deep rich color. I’d also like to point out that I changed the markings from the living horse a little bit. It’s one of the nice things about painting; if you don’t like where a particular thing is, you can just move it over a little, or add on an extra blob here and there! 

©kestrel, all rights reserved

©kestrel, all rights reserved

©kestrel, all rights reserved

©kestrel, all rights reserved

Aaaand… now it’s time for some details with acrylics! Acrylics kinda scare me because they are very fast. They dry out so quickly in my area I sometimes can’t even get the paint on to the model, because it dries on the brush as I’m trying to apply it. There are products that slow down the drying time on acrylics and I am using them here.

Although the acrylics are perfect for details, you just can’t get that same degree of blending and shading as you do with pastels. Some people use an airbrush for the blending, but I don’t have one, so it’s pastels for me.

©kestrel, all rights reserved

He’s starting to look like a horse now. In case anyone wonders, eyes are about the last thing you do. It would be very sad indeed if you did the eyes, got them perfect (NOT easy, especially at this scale!) and then the model fell over into a puddle of paint and ruined them. So, you save them for the very last. They really help to bring the piece to life.

It’s starting to look like I’ll be able to get him done by the deadline!

The Art of Book Design: Pussy-cat Town

 

Marion Ames Taggert. Pussy-cat Town. Illustrated by Rebecca Chase. Boston, L.C. Page & Company, 1906.

I was a cat person long before I became a dog person, and I still have a soft spot in my heart for felines, so when I saw this book I knew I had to feature it. The book is full of sweet drawings and there are many more than I’m sharing here. I’ve included all of the full-page illustrations, but there are multiple smaller black and white drawings on many of the pages. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did. [Read more…]

Jack’s Walk

©voyager, all rights reserved

Nearly every day, Jack and I walk up the street to the high school around 11:30 in the morning. It’s when the kids get out for lunch and Jack likes to greet as many of them as possible. He’s well-known among the crowd, and as we approach, people will begin to call out his name. Jack wades in amongst them and works the crowd like a pro. He looks up and tries to make eye contact with everyone, moving slowly through the tangle of legs, stopping for an ear mushie here and a bum scratch there. He loves it when someone bends their face to his and always rewards them with a drooling, sloppy kiss. But this week, no matter how slowly Jack walks past the school, or how longingly he gazes, the kids don’t appear.

This morning, instead of another painfully slow walk past the school,  I took Jack to the park, figuring that the antics of the ducks and geese would catch his interest for a while. I was wrong. Jack wasn’t the least bit interested in the politics of the pond today. No, he wanted to go to the playground where there were a few children on the swings and climbing equipment. We walked around the edges of the area, and no one wandered over to say hello. I explained to Jack that it’s because of coronavirus, but Jack’s feelings were hurt. Before we left, he took a seat by the bicycle stand, and I could see that he was reluctant to leave. He gave his best smile to the crowd and one little girl pointed at him and asked her mother if she could pet the doggy. Her mom said yes, and hand in hand, they walked over. We kept our social distance, but Jack slowly padded over to the child and stuck his big nose in her small hand and she laughed. Jack lit up like Christmas and nosed her again, and the two of them spent an enjoyable few minutes just being a kid and a dog having fun. It was a delightful bit of normal in these very abnormal times. Thanks, Bubba.

You Need a Steady Hand To Do This

Kestrel has decided to enter a painting competition for a micro mini model horse and she’s bringing us along on the journey.

There is a novice model horse painter contest coming up and I want to enter. The contest is specifically for the category of “micro mini” resin model horses – this is 1/64 of live size, and these little horses are made by a sculptor who then either casts or 3D prints them, depending on who is producing them. I’ve painted only 4 of these micro minis and I’m going out on a limb here – this horse is not done, so I have no idea at this point how he will turn out. I need to hurry though – entries close the last day of March! 

©kestrel, all rights reserved

Here is my painting area cleaned up and ready. I have pastels, acrylic paints, the model I’ll paint, some water, my glass palette, various brushes, a tiny piece of flexible sanding paper, a blade to clean the palette and toothpicks, which I use the way some would use a palette knife. 

©kestrel, all rights reserved

Now for safety! People are supposed to breathe air, not pastel dust or paint fumes, so here is my respirator and a pair of gloves. I also wear a visor on my head that goes down over my eyes, and glasses under all that. Hopefully no one comes to the door while I’m so accoutered… The model has to be scrubbed down with something like Comet. Paint won’t stick to finger prints, grease, or dirt, so from now on I won’t touch this model with my bare hands, I’ll always be wearing gloves until I put the final finish on him. 

©kestrel, all rights reserved

My model is already “prepped and primed”. The little donkey resin is not; he has holes and flaws in the casting, seams and rough areas, and all of that has to be filled in, filed down and fixed so that he has a perfectly smooth surface for painting. After the prepping, I spray the model with primer, in this case I used white primer. 

©kestrel, all rights reserved

I’m using this horse as my reference for how the markings will look on the finished model, although I’ll paint the marking as she is in the summer, all shed out and slicked off, not all hairy and dirty like she is here in the spring. Fortunately she lives right here at my house, so if I get stuck on how exactly a marking goes, or the right color, I can just go outside and look. (Plus I have about a million pictures of this little horse on my computer!) It’s very important to use a reference photo or photos. People show these models, once they’re finished, and the judges know very well how a horse should look. If I just made something up, I might accidentally put markings on a horse that are genetically impossible, and that would get marked down in the show ring.

I can’t take photos while I’m painting, so just imagine me putting the first layer of pastel on the model.

©kestrel, all rights reserved

Now I go to my spray booth, to put a layer of fixative on that first layer of pastel paint. The spray booth has a super powerful motor that pulls air through the filter, up through the hose on top and out the window. That way I don’t have paint all over inside the house, there are no fumes inside the house, and I can paint even when it’s cold or snowing/raining outside. The reason the model is on a piece of tape is because these tiny little things don’t weigh much at all, and as gently as I puff the fixative on the model, it will blow right over, possibly messing up the paint I’ve so painstakingly applied. You can see the white primer I used on the filter of the spray booth. I truly am a novice painter; this will be the 5th model horse I’ve ever painted, and that spray booth is brand new.

©kestrel, all rights reserved