Monday, April 25, 2011

Orange Microraptor

Today, I bring you the third instalment of my perching dino/bird series...my orange Microraptor.
I was originally trying to draw Archaeopteryx but realised halfway through that the face was too theropod-looking and decided that I was going to convert it into a Microraptor. Actually, this one is even drawn before my blue Archaeopteryx, so I'm posting things counter-chronologically. But that's not strictly true because I only coloured this sketch in today, so it is technically my newest drawing.

I tried to pose this Microraptor with a half-folded wing; kind of like a bird folding up its wings after either landing on the branch or just extending them out for whatever reason birds extend their wings from time to time. Aside from the obviously interesting point of having tarsal "flight" feathers, Microraptor also is quite interesting in that it has really long primary feathers on the wings proper.

Colouring is as suggested to me by my fiancĂ©e, who apparently doesn't like my blue Archaeopteryx, but this one is approved. I used WHSmith colour pencils again. I don't know if anyone will find this amusing as I do, but having lost the original packaging, I keep these colour pencils in a Ziploc bag...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Blue Archaeopteryx

This is another rendering of Archaeopteryx, one I'd done before I'd done my red Archaeopteryx. Just like my red Archaeopteryx, I made this guy's head and neck quite fluffy. The colouring is loosely based on a blue jay because I really like blue jays. But also corvids in general; corvids are cool!

...but then in hind sight, it looks a bit too much like a corvid than an Archaeopteryx, I must admit, but this is all in an attempt to make Archaeopteryx look more birdlike rather than a feathered reptile; I think most of the artistic reconstructions out there are too reptilian. I wrote in my red Archaeopteryx post as well but I kind of like the idea that Archaeopteryx and other early birds had more fuzziness about them than widely depicted.

Before anyone says, "How is this an Archaeopteryx, it just looks like a bird?", look at the fluff on the tarsals. And look at the external nares at the tip of the premaxilla. Also, do look at the claws poking out from under the wing (maybe not so obvious but they are there). On the other hand, I didn't particularly make the claw on the second pedal digit noticeably bigger but it is just ever so slightly bigger.

I drew his picture with a mechanical pencil (B, 0.5) and coloured it using a cheap set of colouring pencils that I got at WH Smith about eight years ago.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Red Archaeopteryx

After a very prolonged hiatus in palaeoart, today I bring you Archaeopteryx, the 'first' bird. I've recently been drawing various interpretations of fossil birds, primarily Archaeopteryx and Confuciusornis, but this rendering is one of my favourites so far.


A red Archaeopteryx perched on a branch.

I've come to notice that Archaeopteryx is most frequently reconstructed with very short feathers along the head and neck. Indeed in the Berlin specimen, there seems to be a general lack of long feathers around the head and neck other than faint striations (Christiansen & Bonde, 2004). Christiansen & Bonde (2004) offer two hypotheses regarding the preservation of contour feathers in Archaeopteryx: 1, the fossil is an accurate representation of plumage in life; and 2, feathers were present but lost during fossilisation. The authors seem to prefer hypothesis 1 and suggest that Archaeopteryx had mixed coverings of large pennaceous feathers and short simple proto-feathers but even regions without feathers (apteria).

I haven't seen any Archaeopteryx specimens other than a couple of really good cast replicas, but I think it is entirely possible that Archaeopteryx actually had more feathers around its head and neck, and that it is just not preserved very well in the fossils. The degree of feather preservation in other feathered dinosaurs and early birds seems to be quite variable, so preservation could be a reasonable explanation. Some exceptionally preserved specimens do offer insights into the head and neck of these fossil creatures. For instance, the "fuzzy raptor" specimen of Sinornithosaurus seems to have some fuzziness about its head with longer feathery integuments, while Anchiornis seems to have a crest or a tuft on its head. Confuciusornis specimens also seem to be associated at times with feathers around its head and neck. Further, I personally think that feathers in preflight maniraptorans functioned primarily as display items, so it wouldn't be all that surprising if the head and neck were also covered in long feathers, instead of short proto-feathers like that of Sinosauropteryx.

When it comes to palaeoart I think there is a lot of room for creativity. Amidst all the recent ramblings and discussion on good/reliable palaeoart and whether or not skeletal reconstructions should be art or science, I opt for art. Now, there are two meanings to the word "art". One is "art" as in "creativity" (like the head and neck feathers in my Archaeopteryx above), while the other is "art" as in "artform" or "craftsmanship". Palaeoart I think can either be one or both forms of "art". Palaeoart has room for creative art because there is still a lot that is unknown from the available evidence; for instance body plumage in fossil birds and maniraptorans or just simply colour of dinosaur skin. On the other hand, palaeoart can be an "artform" or a "craftsmanship" because life restoration relies a lot on experience. An experienced palaeoartist/morphologist may be able to "see" muscles bulging over bones because he/she'd seen enough dissections to just simply visualise how big a muscle should be in relation to a bone. But I think this is more an artform or craftsmanship than hard science because each experienced palaeoartist/morphologist would visualise life restorations in their own various ways. For reconstructions to be purely scientific we'd need to have some numerical/statistical model (like some form of linear/nonlinear regression) that would predict the size, orientation, location, colour, etc of each soft tissue (e.g. muscles, feathers) based on some osteological predictor variable(s).

References:
P. Christiansen, N. Bonde, C. R. Palevol 3 (2004).