Friday, January 30, 2009

T. rex is cool part deux: Let's get cheeky with it!

So I've thought a lot about dinosaur flesh, because that's what's missing from them. The fact that any drawing of a living dinosaur is a detective saga makes these animals more fun to draw, yet such a different task than, say, wildlife art (check out Robert Bateman's miraculous art). Dinosaur artists could have it worse off, though. We don't have to reconstruct mammals from their skulls:

But even though dinosaurs likely didn't have things like trunks hanging off their faces, there are plenty of questions about how they looked. One important question is how well dinosaurs could kiss. Like, did they have lips? Robert Bakker and other paleontologists are associated with promoting the idea that dinosaurs had fleshy lizard lips:

The prolific and inspirational dinosaur artist Gregory S. Paul also illustrated dinosaurs with lips. Though I used to illustrate dinosaurs with lips, I no longer do. Amateur paleontologist Tracy Ford and others have promoted the idea that maybe dinos lacked lips. One argument is that the lips of lizards are formed by scales growing over and past glands that are found just above the gumline on the outsides of their skulls. Since dinosaurs (probably?) didn't have these glands, or overlapping scales, why would they have grown lips? Paleontologist Lawrence Witmer and his research lab are important go-to guys about the soft tissue of dinosaurs. He has been interviewed about the subject and questions whether any dinosaur had any muscular cheeks or any fleshy mouth structures. The point is that crocs don't have lips, and birds might not have lips, and since they are dinosaurs' closest relatives, why not check them out for their facial structures? Why not, I ask you?

So lips are gone. But what kind of flesh covering did the jaw attachment site have? Gregory S. Paul drew his dinosaurs' jaw attachments with a very revealing lizard-like sheet of skin covering the musculature along with their lips.

(detail from here):
As compared to this lizard: Once I took lips off their faces, I wasn't sure the sheet of skin made sense any more. Here's a crocodile:

Crocs' facial skin is very highly adapted to their sensory and lifestyle needs. Their skin tightly follows their skulls' contours, and at the ears and nostrils they have evolved very specific structures suitable to their semi-aquatic lifestyles. Are their jaw attachment sites similarly specialized for croc lifestyles, or more accurate for dinosaurs? I followed their example in the drawing of
T. rex at the top of the page (also here) and in this drawing of Coelophysis bauri:
Then one day I had the chance to stick my finger in some predatory birds' mouths. That was cool. I got to know a falconer who brought out his birds and let me actually touch the beaks and claws of his falcons and hawks. Then I got to draw from them and study frozen bird carcasses. That was fun for me, though some wouldn't prefer it to an afternoon, of, say, cow-tipping. Hawks have a tough skin that hides all of their jaw musculature:

Other birds have a similar structure, albeit a bit more revealing:
So in the spirit of scientific experimentation (in art), I chose to draw bird-like cheeks and no lips on these guys.

But the ultimate answer is that we don't, and won't, know for sure. Soon I'll explain why
T. rex may not have had the cheek structure I drew, despite my best efforts. Until then, here's a crazy dinosaur with, in this case, lips. Heeeere's Suchomimus tenerensis:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

T. rex is cool. Period. . See?

The above drawing is a detail of this piece. In various upcoming posts, I'm going to discuss the different decisions that led to the final look of some of my drawings. There is a lot of scientific evidence that an illustration has to take into account to be accurate ("accurate", of course, as of the date of the drawing. There will always be new data that will out-date previous work). Maybe y'all have criticism or advice that can inform my future works.

This first post is about the early development of this drawing. I wanted to accomplish these things while portraying Tyrannosaurus rex: environment, facial structure, and the anatomy of the flesh covering the skull. It all started with this sketch:
The skull of T. rex has lots of intense shapes to it that I wanted to highlight. The boxy cheeks, big teeth, big rugose lumps of bone above the eyes, nasal ridges and bulging jaw and neck muscles are very appealing as subjects for harsh lighting. But I wanted to show off different aspects of the skull, with the mouth closed and open and from different angles of light, so I added another animal:

Now, when I look back at this sketch, I think to myself, "Those thumbnails all look the same, you fool." But at the time I had a specific piece of illustration board set aside for this and I wanted the animals and the scenery to all fit on the 12 x 20" space. So T. rex has wide-set cheeks with eyes facing forwardish. Most images of dinosaurs in general are fairly boring sideviews of the animals. In the end, I chose boring sideviews, too, because the image and the shading, I felt, would be least confusing this way.

The lighting I wanted would have to come from about head-level of the animals and cast distinct shadows, so dusk of dawn was the natural choice. But since there's no sky visible, I didn't have to portray this except with the lighting. Since I wanted a plant-filled background, they must be at the edge of a forest or something for the light to work this way. I can only assume that my viewers pick up on that or that the piece looks natural enough. I chose magnolia, conifers, and cypress as representatives of T. rex era plants and made the undergrowth dense and leafy. These dinosaurs are knee-deep in plant matter, yessir. And that'll be all for now.

Next time I talk about jaw skin anatomy. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

rib tickler

I just added this picture to my online portfolio. The most challenging part of this was keeping track of the ribs. I lost count a few times and had to erase quite a bit. I drew this from a photo with great lighting. The translucent scapula is real; not my invention. That's what drew me to this picture. I will probably do another chiaroscuro version of this with better tools. For this I used those big, rectangular General's pencils because they had a very useful white charcoal pencil, but I found an even better brand. Faber-Castell's Pitt Pastel pencils are my new friend. What do y'all think? Is it three-dimensional?

Soon I'll get even more into the anatomical transparency thing with an update to my half-anatomical self-portrait, and other such work. In fact, I've already ruined one such painting, so we'll see what I can produce.

Monday, January 26, 2009

the forest OR the trees

I put up my first inklings of a portfolio, consistently titled Vital Creations. Check it out, you'll be pleased!

Meanwhile, since my art jobs are currently scribal rather than drawing based, I've been running headlong into all my trouble areas of art.

Today my challenge is forests.
This, for example, is a perfectly acceptable photo of a forest. But my challenge is in drawing natural-looking forests without photo reference. The epicenter of my challenge lies in the natural randomness of an ecosystem. The different parts of a forest - the diversity of species, natural arrangement of trees, lighting effects, ground cover, etc. - all add up to a reality that is obviously far greater than the sum of its parts. Forests are representatives of nature's complexity, and so creating a drawing that is detailed and comprehensive of a forest is like encapsulating nature for a moment.

I broke it down and focused on foregrounds:

This is a scene from the New York Botanical Garden, near my apartment. It's a study done from the skywalk in the rainforest room of the conservatory. I tried to get the complex plant forms drawn as quickly and accurately as possible.

This drawing above was going to be a prehistoric ecosystem, but never got past this stage. I tried to include plants that would have had ancient representatives, like magnolia and cypress, but didn't use photo reference, so it wasn't going to be accurate enough to be a scientific illustration.
I drew the above sketch while on the phone. I tried to use value to create depth, which is different in a dense forest. That's also what I tried to do here. This all partially stemmed from the consistent depiction of dinosaurs in empty spaces. Sometimes that's appropriate, but one amazing thing about good art is that it can encapsulate an entire world in just one piece of art (check out examples of Doug Henderson's art).

And one last sketch of a forest. I'll return to this theme for sure.

Friday, January 23, 2009

when extinct life imitates art

Howdy folks! Thanks for checking out my art! I grew up on dinosaurs, and I've been drawing them most of my life. After junior high, my artistic repertoire expanded to include superheros, and superheros fighting dinosaurs. And now I'm an artist, illustrator, and scribe with some professional dinosaur art under my belt but also lots of other stuff I've produced.

This here is a detail of the piece up top. It features Troodon formosus and shows how to draw a dinosaur. It's originally a pencil drawing, but the skeletal and flesh drawings are Illustrator work and the coloration on the life restoration is Photoshop. Enjoy!