Friday, 28 March 2014

What's better than All Yesterdays? More All Yesterdays, of course.

When I reviewed All Yesterdays last year I loved it, but felt I could use a second helping.  Well, guess what?  There's a second course available in the form of an equally wonderful sequel: All Your Yesterdays.  Truly, I am in speculative biology heaven right now.

All Your Yesterdays is a crowdsourced publication.  The authors of All Yesterdays invited submissions of speculative palaeoart from anyone who wanted to contribute, and C.M. Kosemen collated them into an ebook.  The results are truly excellent.

This painting by Brian Engh is one of my favourite pictures from All Your Yesterdays.  It depicts two young sauropods (diamantinasaurus) that have wandered into a cave looking for minerals to supplement their diet.  Of course, there's no evidence sauropods really did this, but it's not entirely outside the realm of possibility and it makes for a great picture.

Raven Amos' Ichthyovenator is another of my favourites.  I love the use of colour and line in this picture.

The book's cover features this beautiful painting of two baby troodonts by Alvaro Rozalen.  Troodonts were intelligent dinosaurs, and the smarter theropods probably took care of their young much as birds do today, so Rozalen has pictured these cute little guys sitting in a nest waiting for their parents to bring them some food.

One reason I love this book so much is that it goes against the trend of conservatism so common in palaeoart.  Obviously I realise that when artists create depictions of extinct animals they're usually trying to convey as realistic a picture as possible, and therefore they need to avoid being too fanciful.  Good scientific illustrations, after all, are well researched and conform to what we know about the animals' anatomy, appearance, and habitat.  But not all art needs to be realistic.  Personally, I like art that celebrates the weird and wonderful.

Another thing about this book that impresses me is the incredible generosity of the artists who contributed.  They weren't paid, they donated their work because they thought the project is fun.  All Your Yesterdays is sold here using a PayPal honesty box; you pay what you can afford.  As such, it's a good example of how the internet has enriched our lives.  Ten years ago neither you nor I would have got the opportunity to see these beautiful artworks.  Mainstream publishing houses are reluctant to pick up projects like this, which might be termed "niche market" books and don't generate large profits for the company.  Now that it's possible to make content available on the internet, artists can get their work out there without having to convince some corporate executive that it will look okay on the balance sheet.

If I could, I would buy a paper copy of All Your Yesterdays.  It's only available as an ebook, and the ebook format doesn't do the pictures justice.  But that's really the only criticism I have of the book, and it's certainly worth buying the ebook edition.  Thank you so much to everybody who helped to make All Your Yesterdays happen!  You've done a fantastic job.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

White stripes

In my last post, I talked about adding white stripes to my trophy head.  I didn't really want to make them out of white paint though, because I don't like white paint all that much.  Whatever I do with it, I can never get it to look organic.  So I didn't use white paint.  I used washing machine detergent.  Washing powder gives an excellent soft, gritty texture and will partially dissolve in PVA glue. 

Washing powder also has some very interesting optical properties.  Are you ready?  Watch this...

Washing powder emits a purpley-blue flourescence under UV light.  Manufacturers add flourescent dye to the product because it makes white clothes look whiter.  It's an optical illusion.  Paper manufacturers do the same thing to make white paper look brighter and whiter.

I'm aware these photos aren't the best, but it is fundamentally quite hard to photograph UV fluorescence with a small UV tube and a camera that isn't sensitive to UV light, so we will just have to live with them.

To use washing powder in this way, I like to apply glue to the surface where I want the powder to go and sprinkle the powder directly onto the glue.  Once the glue dries, I use a stiff brush to remove any excess powder.  A toothbrush works well, but obviously you'll want to make sure it isn't your toothbrush.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Some good things about blogging

One of the nice things about having a blog is that it makes you accountable.  Left to my own devices I probably would have abandoned the trophy head project and forgotten about it, because I couldn't figure out how to paint it.  But I'll be damned if I'm going to admit defeat on the internet.

Also, this level of accountability has forced me to actually think constructively about the problem, rather than ignoring it like the lazy civil servant that I am.  This led me to the valuable realization that one of the main reasons I don't like painting is that I find the surface texture of the paint disappointing.  Now I know what the problem is, I can work out how to overcome it.  In the case of the trophy head, I can already think of some interesting possibilities to explore.

I've started by adding some blue and green markings to the head.  Despite being subtle, they're rather eye-catching and I quite like them.  However, I think I need some white accents to really bring out the markings and harmonise with the blue-grey theme. 

A lot of marine animals, like this purple-striped jellyfish, use striped markings for camouflage.  The stripes break up the animal's outline and make it difficult for predators and/or prey to recognise the animal's shape, much the same way that zebras' and tigers' stripes work.  I think I'd like to give my head striped markings. 

Picture from National Geographic

Fun fact: in the armed forces this type of striped camouflage was known as "dazzle paint" or "dazzle camouflage".  It was used in World Wars I and II by the British and Americans to camouflage battleships, and it worked by "making it difficult to estimate a target's range, speed and heading".  Here's the HMAS Yarra in full op-art livery, circa 1942:

File:HMAS Yarra (AWM 016263).jpg
Image from Wikipedia

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Yes, I'm procrastinating

I admit it, the reason I haven't posted in a while is that I've stalled on the trophy head.  I've been avoiding painting it.  I'm not especially good at painting, and I don't particularly enjoy it because I know there's a better than average chance I will screw it up.  In this respect, my major problem is the size of the head.  It's quite large, and therefore it will be easy to see where I screw up on the paintwork.

Currently I've got a reasonably nice base coat on it, but I can't just leave it there and call it a day.  All that grey-brown is boring and it needs to be livened up with some interesting details.  Ideally, those details will work with the skin texture and enhance the textural effect.  Problem is, that's well beyond my level of competence.

The base coat.  Okay, but a little boring.

I'd like to do something a bit similar to this delightfully camouflaged plesiosaur from All Yesterdays, but in shades of blue and green.

Image via the Daily Mail

Most aquatic animals are lighter on the underside to help camouflage them, so with the aid of a foam brush and my fingers I've added some lighter colour to the throat and underneath the jaws.  So far so good.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014


It's time to decide how I'm going to paint the trophy head.  I've undercoated it already, and I find once it's undercoated the surface texture becomes more apparent.

Because I want the final paint job to accentuate the surface texture, I now need to think about how to do that.  I think I'd like to do a background of blues and browns, accented with pale green.