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.

A ruminant bird? meet the Hoatzin

This incredible bird is unique for several major reasons, least of which is its incredible plumage!  I decided to illustrate perhaps the most intriguing aspect of its anatomy…its foregut.  This bird is unique for its huge crop, which makes up 25% of its body weight.  Normally in birds edibles are digested relatively swiftly in the hindgut, but the hoatzin has this enlarged crop that is basically a big vat of fermentation and microbial breakdown stuffed with stinky leaves.  It may retain the leaves for 1-2 days, and the hoatzin spends much of its time stooped over, waiting for the slow release of the nutrients.  The crop is in fact so important, evolutionarily speaking, that theflight muscles and associated keel and sternum have both been reduced to give it more space!  It is consequently a weak flyer.

While I am on the subject, lets talk about other hoatzin oddities.  The chicks when born have a little clawed hand to go foraging among the trees when its parents are away!  It is also a way for them to avoid danger as the nests are set up over water, so that when a threat comes the chick drops into the water, and later climbs back to safety when the coast is clear.  A vestige of its dinosaur lineage?  Interestingly coots also have little single claws on their upper appendages too.

Here is an image composite I created showing what is digital and what is the base painting.  I first found some reference images taken at an upward angle.  I made a prelim sketch, resized it for the illlustration board I planned to use, transferred the lines, touched up the lines further in graphite, then began painting it all in gouache, laying it down light in the beginning, and working darker and darker.  But what this image shows is how much mileage I got out of the digital side of the rendering.  As you can see the sternum and crop have many levels of opacity interplay, so sweet with digital.  But especially feathering some of the feathers made it a lot softer and downy looking.

Let me know what you think!

Were giant ground sloths the original dispersal agents for Osage Oranges? (Maclura pomifera)

were giant ground sloths responsible for the hugeness of this fruit?

This striking idea was fascinating to stumble on…Jon Wagner mentioned it to me in passing one day and shortly thereafter a wikipedia search revealed this curious mystery:

“The fruit is sometimes torn apart by squirrels to get at the seeds, but few other native animals make use of it as a food source. This is unusual, as most large fleshy fruit serves the function of seed dispersal by means of its consumption by large animals. One recent hypothesis is that the Osage-orange fruit was eaten by a giant ground sloth that became extinct shortly after the first human settlement of North America. Other extinct Pleistocene megafauna, such as the mammoth, mastodon and gomphothere, may have fed on the fruit and aided in seed dispersal.”

I had to illustrate it then!  After rendering the skull and the tree foliage, I realized I had to take it a bit further to include the lips and tongue, and the moment of plucking one of these grapefruit sized fruits off the branch.  Perhaps to limit myself from criticism of discriminating against the other mentioned animals that might also have been dispersers, I need to do one of each of those as well?

Something certainly as fascinating and related to this subject are dinosaurs and their long dispersal relationship and coevolution with cycads.

Termite mound plunderers…old and new worlds meet

illustration showing convergent evolution of old and new world termite eaters


Those that know me, know me and my lady are David Attenborough junkies.  Life in the Undergrowth will always remain the best, but the Life of Mammals is obscenely sweet.  I especially was enthralled by the section focusing on termite eaters, and it was my inspiration for rendering this comparitive illustration.

This illustration was, for us, the first digital project of significance.  This project I intended to be a mock-up of a double page spread in a magazine, including text and all.  I decided to depict both of these animals feeding from the same termite mound, an impossible reality being they live in different regions of the earth, but one which exhibits how close their feeding behavior (and thus morphology/anatomy) is.

I did many sketches of the beautiful mammals using video, old illustrations, and photographs.  To figure out what the inside of a termite mound looked like, I found a researcher who poured plaster inside of the mounds, got rid of the hard exterior, and was left with a huge, white, complicated, sinewy system of tunnels and shafts for ventilation!  incredible to see  (I will try to upload a photo of it)

The white, hairy giant anteater inhabits South America, while the scaly brown Pangolin inhabits Asia and Africa, but they both have convergently evolved to take advantage of termites and to a lesser degree ants.  Long tongues, heavily muscled and and clawed forelegs for ripping into the hard superstructure…they were once lumped into the same order because of their similarites.

Seeing both or either of them in the wild is a life-goal of mine.  The closest I have been to seeing a Pangolin was in Cameroon stirring around in a soup of bush meat- sad beyond words.