Finished! Coryphodons rumaging around the Eocene

Misbehaving Photoshop filters couldn’t stop me finishing! I finally finished it, and I am happy how it came out. It is large, made to be printed out at least 48 inches across, but the detail could hold up a lot larger…I have to print one myself to see how it looks on a format other than a computer screen. Otherwise if you want to see it in action, go to Western Washington University’s Environmental Studies building.
I shot screenshot timelapse video of the whole creation, including the modeling of the clay so hopefully I can get that video together soon. Until then, let me know what you think. Depicted are the creators of trackways found at the Racehorse Creek landslide that inhabited the low lying tropical estuary ~50 million years ago. There are prehistoric analogues of modern Herons, and Willets, and of course the group of Coryphodons- today we have nothing similar or even distantly related. They were fascinating creatures that had perhaps the smallest known brain to body ratio of any mammal. Do you think I created them in a believable rendering? As the artist, I chose all of the non-skeletal features such as hair, color, ears, snout shape, habitus, etc. Large responsibilities for someone who never saw them in real life!
Here are a couple wikipedia links of Coryphodons and the Eocene.

Modeling Coryphodons with take’n’bake clay

I thought that to get the light and anatomy best on a new paleo-reconstruction of the Eocene, I should start something I have been meaning to do since forever and ever…sculpting!  Yes, I could get by without it, but why?  Sculpting is so much fun!  I will use better tools and firmer clay next time, but as a first attempt, it went fine.

This semi-aquatic creature is not even a close ancestor of hippos and stands alone in earth history as having one of the smallest brain to body ratios of any mammal: ~90 gram brain vs. a 500 kg body!  It mired in swamps using its big teeth to drudge up aquatic plants…perhaps an uncomplicated task?

I used a wooden egg from a hobby store and wire and threaded inserts to reinforce it…the clay wanted to droop off the egg a bit.  I also screwed it to a tripod swivel base that I bolted to my easel and could manipulate in all directions at will.  I made a 3 wire neck that allows the head to be turned too.  It will be such a luxury to use as a reference for my shadows and highlights…here is a photo:

Palaeontology publishes paper with Peterson’s Diatryma

My image of the fruit-laden, lumbering Diatryma was featured in an article for Palaeontology by George Mustoe.  Cool.  I love how my fleshed out painting was aligned and mirrored facing a pic of the articulated fossil bones.  The bird seems to be asking “does this position make my heelpads look fat?…Can you photoshop in more voluptuous halluces?”

Creodonts of the Chuckanuts…as told by a Tapir Toddler

I am finished with my paleo painting!  It was quite the diabolical time sink, but I am quite pleased with how it came out.  I have painted many discrete subjects over the years, but creating a fully rendered environment in and around a given creature is a full-on leap in complexity and dimensions.  Gotta “cut your teeth” on a project of this magnitude at some point…might as well be when you should be packing to leave for Sulawesi and have no time anyway.

I worked on this digital painting in ways that I never could on a traditional (i.e. gouache or acrylic) painting.  For example, I painted all the characters first, and created the background around them.  What are perhaps my favorite benefits of pushing pixels on a monitor- rather than traditional art- are the endless ways to manipulate specific layers.  One has the ability to work on a background behind the foreground, play with the nuances of opacity (so awesome), and pick the perfect color immediately.  But perhaps most valuable of all is being able to experiment in a direction for a time, to realize it isn’t going how I want, so I can delete what I did or backtrack and continue in another direction.  These 4 aspects are invaluable.

What I lose in doing a digital piece are the tiny little accidents of color and form that happen in traditional painting.   And perhaps better posture?  I became a hunched vulture laboring over my wacom tablet.  Click these words to check out another painting I did of a: Diatryma in the Chuckanuts This was entirely acrylic paint so you can contrast these two pieces.  What do you prefer about each?

I tried very hard to turn the whole process into a video, but sadly it wasn’t to be:  I was unable to find the right automated screenshot recording software (anyone know what I can use?).   While I was squandering my time researching software instead of painting, the videos I had used in the beginning were really poor resolution and I gave up.  But I had the idea to make each flattened layer a different frame of a time lapse video, so stacking all them together will be an upcoming project.

I loved thinking about this incredible time to be on the planet.  Washington in the tropics teeming with tapirs, creodonts, and giant flightless birds- wickedly sweet!  The creatures that evolved to fill the Cenozoic vacuum left by demise of the dinosaurs are endless daydream fodder for me.  If anyone knows anyone with a time travel device, we need to talk.

Please let me know what you think!   Enjoy!

creodonts vs tapir baby

updating you now, I have just come up with this comp for the creodont that is about 80% finished.  I think I will give them some “flair” in the form of stripes or facial coloration or leopard stripes…any suggestions?

This is a preliminary sketch for a painting I am working on.  It is a Paleo-reconstruction of a scene from the Cenozoic which will focus on predation among a few common mammals of that time.

This crazy creature is actually an ancestral female tapir attempting to shield her young from marauding carnivores.  (Tapirs are alive today and are so cool to check out at a zoo!)  Surrounding her curiously and opportunistically will be a few Creodonts.  Note:  there are no creodonts at zoos, nor on our planet, and you should be grateful.  They were the dominant predator in North America for many millions of years; they might have hunted in packs and behaved much like the cooperative hyenas of today, but might not have.  One interesting thing that we do know is that Creodonts didn’t have much in the way of stereo vision, so that would have affected their hunting style and approach…hmmm, how should I translate that into this depiction?

Each of these have left fossilized tracks in stone in Whatcom county, in Washington state, and this painting will be for a display for Western Washington University.  I am still deciding on the coat for the Creodonts, so any suggestions are welcome!