Critter of the Week: Stegosaurus

Meet Steggy.  She’s a real sweetie who loves nothing more than a pat on the head.  She’ll let just about anybody clamber on her back.  Just be careful not to spook her. 🙂




She’s not the sharpest rock around, but hey, her brain’s the size of a hotdog.  I know there’s that story about a second brain somewhere in her hips, but that’s just ridiculous.  I can’t really say anything about the squishy critters, but no animal with a backbone has two brains. 😛

All of us have a space in our pelvis for the spinal chord and all that good stuff- helps us walk without having to think about it.  That’s how we can walk and talk at the same time. 🙂  Steggy here just has a bigger space for all those nerves, so she doesn’t have to think about swinging her tail when Alfred tries to play Pounce with her.  She just does it.

That’s why sneaking up on a spike-tail is not a good idea.  That tail is a spiked mace of pure muscle, and definitely no fun to be on the receiving end.  The proof that wild spike-tails are dangerous business are all the fossils of Allosaurus with injuries from tail spikes.

Steggy here is nothing to worry about though.  Pete plays lots of surprise games with her, just like horse trainers play training games with racehorses.  It helps them get used to loud sounds and new situations.  You could do just about anything to Steggy and she’d be just fine.  Even dress up! 🙂


Making progress…

I’m ashamed to say that I’m falling behind on my posts.  I think I’ve figured out why though…illustrations for both posts of the week is taking more time than I expected.

Of course, I could blame the fact that I have three little ones to keep track of and a house to keep in order. 😛  Some weeks just run more smoothly than others.  I just need to figure out a way to streamline things.  For the moment, I think I’ll either have to limit to one post a week, or stick to one illustrated post for now.  Once I have a process for doing things, then I can start streamlining things to be more efficient with the time I have. 🙂


Coming Next Week…

This curious undersea critter is always looking for an opportunity to nab a treat.  You’ll never see her coming!

Share your guess in the comments! She’ll be one of the critters over on the critter page. 🙂

Behind the Scenes: From Thumbnail to Draft Sketch

It’s time for a behind-the-scenes sneak peak on the first installment in the series of Pete’s Paleo Petshop, where anyone can go to find a prehistoric friend to take home.  Time has stopped in the Jurassic Period, the “golden age” of dinosaurs, and Danny and his family have come to the shop to find a quiet, little dinosaur.  Hard to find in an age of giants!


Now here we have a few thumbnails.  Thumbnails are small, quick sketches that are used to give the artist an idea for the composition of an image.  In this case, thumbnails are useful for getting an idea for the layout of the illustrations.  Which characters to use, where words might go, how the picture will help the words tell the story…it all starts gelling together in the thumbnail.  Keeping thumbnails small helps force you to leave out detail, which helps to focus on the basic shapes.

flyers thumbnailssauropod thumbnailssteggy thumbnails

Once I figured out which thumbnail I liked best I made it larger and cleaned it up a little.  These drawings are mostly to figure out exactly what I need to find references for.

flyers page

For example.  I looked at a couple of pictures of flying birds to help me with Tango and his buddy on the left here (learn more about him here).  It’s not known if these dinosaurs could actually fly or just glide, so this is speculation on my part.  Short, broad wings are great for maneuvering thick forest, and you don’t need a lot of muscle for short bursts of flight. 🙂

In this case, I needed pictures to get ideas for poses!  And for Terry and her friends on the right…well I needed a few reference pictures to have a clue what I was drawing.  These critters are tough if you don’t draw the classic “silhouette from above/below” pose. 😛

Which makes a great example of what happens in the sketch stage.

In the thumbnail, I had one pterosaur (teh-roh-saw-r) flying past the corner of the page.  An overhead flying view is so overdone I decided to have them perch on the branch instead.  I also changed the species to pterodactylus (teh-roh-dak-tih-lus) since they worked out better for what I needed.  Bonus that these guys are the poster children of the pterosaur group. 🙂

sauropods page

Here we have three famous giants of the Jurassic.

  • Ajax the Apatosaurus (ah-pat-oh-saw-rus)
  • Dippy the Diplodocus (dip-loh-dok-us)
  • Elmer the Brachiosaurus (brak-ee-oh-saw-rus).  Yep, his head is the right shape.  The critter in Jurassic Park is actually a Giraffatitan (giraffe-ah-ty-tan).  I’ll write a post on that at some point.  For now, let’s just say that the Jurassic Park variety is the African breed, and this is the American breed.  They’re completely different species, and have lots of things that make them unique, not just head shape. 🙂

I’ve been doing lots of research on the necks for these guys, so that awesome snakey neck is not random.  And yes, it is an awesome python neck (though this is about the limit of its bendiness.)

Also, can I just say how awesome it is to use a toy as a reference?  Yes, you heard me.  I went out and got a few toys (as accurate as possible) and I’m using those for pose reference.  I don’t have the dippy, but for that one I got pictures of the toy online. 😛

Steggy page

Here we have Steggy the Stegosaurus (steg-oh-saw-rus).  Original name, I know 😛

I used a toy I have for reference here too, but this one isn’t the best model, so I’ll be doing research to make sure I correct those inaccuracies.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak preview!  I’m starting to get an idea of what things will actually look like, and that’s pretty exciting after it’s been stuck in my head for so long!  The words need a lot of work (they kinda suck at the moment), but the gist of the story is there.

I’ll never be fooled into thinking a picture book is easy again! 😀

Now my question for you is…Do you have any questions?  Anything you want to know about what happens behind the scenes? Let me know in the comments!  I’d love to hear from you! 🙂

Critter of the Week: Diplodocus

Meet Dippy!  A giant with a heart of gold, life is never boring when this big guy is around.  Nothing is out of reach!  He’ll stick his nose into everything until every mystery is solved.





Looks like he’s found a very, very big ball to play with.  That ball is pretty much indestructible, and something that comes in handy when you have curious giants like Dippy around.  He loves food just as much as your average sauropod, but Dippy is…how shall I say?  Easily distracted. 😛

Dippy here loves investigating anything new.  He’s not the sharpest rock around, but when you’re this big, brains aren’t a requirement.  I wonder what he plans to do with that ball?  Pete found his old one flattened out in the pasture a couple weeks ago, so we’ll see how long this one lasts.

What’s that you say?  An accident?  Oh no, I’m sure the ball was squished on purpose.  These guys have an amazing sense of touch.  Dippy doesn’t like stepping on certain things, and he’s very careful where he puts his feet (elephants are like this too).

Dippy seems to like the smooth bounciness.  But who doesn’t like to play every now and again? 🙂


Making progress…

Hmm, not a whole lot to say this time around.  Just putting one foot in front of the other.  One step at a time.

Moving forward is the most difficult part.  I can’t even begin to say how frightening this is, leaping out into the unknown.  And if I start to think about it for even a moment, the overwhelming list of things I still need to do threaten to bury me.  It’s suffocating actually.

The fear of my family reading this is worse than if you’re a stranger.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe because that position is particularly vulnerable.

Anyway, I’m not saying this to mope, because I hate mopey.  But I’m no Pollyanna either.  Life has both ups and downs, and you’ve got to roll with the punches right? 🙂 Perhaps someday I’ll read this and remember how scared I was at the beginning.  Perhaps I’ll realize then that I’m still just as scared, and still take one step at a time.

Even more important, I hope that this will encourage you.  If you are thinking of leaping out into something unknown.  You’re not alone.

Listening to experts who truly know their stuff is very encouraging.  So I’m just going to share a lovely piece of advice from T. Harv Eker, who I was listening to this morning.  (I don’t get anything for this, BTW, it’s just awesome advice I hope you’ll find as helpful to you as it is for me)

“Fear is the anticipation of pain.  Act in spite of fear.”


And another awesome quote I’ve been hearing a lot lately…


“Just do it.”



Coming Next Week…

A real sweetie who’ll tolerate just about anything, even dress up.  Just be careful not to spook her.

Share your guess in the comments! She’ll be one of the critters over on the critter page. 🙂

Prehistoric Beasts or Movie Monsters? Why Paleoart Matters

Let’s imagine I have two pictures in hand. In one, a photo of a lion with his lips pulled back into a snarl. Canines like steak knives glisten with saliva, and he stares straight at you with hungry yellow eyes…What’s your first impression?




Now let’s take a look at the other photo. Here we have a portrait of another lion. This one lays on a rock, at peace. He looks off towards the sunset, and the warm light of late afternoon highlights his soft mane. What’s your take on this one? How do you feel about this calm lion vs. The snarling one?





Images and art have power to shape how we think and feel about things. Imagine you’ve never seen a real lion before, and the only thing you know about lions is that snarling picture above.  Now let’s bring a real lion into the picture.  Just for fun.  What happens?  How do you react?

Yeah, it’s not gonna be pretty.  I’d like to think I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it either, but that’s just wishful thinking. 😛

Now think about how much power art has to shape our image of animals gone for centuries. Ask anyone, and chances are that when you say dinosaur, many people think Jurassic Park. Now I love the original Jurassic Park. It fueled my interest in dinosaurs! But those things- sorry to break it to you, if you didn’t know- are not dinosaurs. Those are monsters.

No matter how many times Chris Pratt says “These animals.”

Dinosaurs are so often written off as a “kid” thing. An interest that’s only a phase kids have, like unicorns and dragons. I’ve gotta be honest though. I don’t really blame anyone who says dinosaurs don’t matter.  I so often see bad computer models of some random predator with blood dripping from its claws.  Toys that claim “museum quality” portray the same predators with mouth wide open, teeth gleaming as they roar to the universe.

Even in museums, the skeletons and painted reconstructions are usually in the same style.  The predator (usually T-rex or something big and scary) has one three-toed foot over the throat of some hapless victim as it roars in triumph.  Or is seconds away from making the death strike.

Put that way, what makes dinosaurs any different from dragons and other fantasy critters? (well, aside from the whole fire-breathing magic thing)

It’s so easy to emphasize a predator’s size and power.  Sharp teeth, scaly skin, stomping feet…all great bits to exaggerate into something totally unreal.  Just look at all the hoaky B-rated monster movies on sharks, crocs, snakes, spiders…you name it!  Same principle.

We don’t need monster sharks, crocs, or dinosaurs. That only breeds misunderstanding and fear for the animal itself.

If all we see is this…


Then how does that shape how we think about gators?  This big guy looks mean and scary, and then all those stories of alligator attacks in the everglades come to mind.

If we see more of this…


Then this mama gator and her hitchhiking baby all of a sudden look almost endearing.  They look normal, and we can see them for the animals they are, vs. the potential killer monster in the toothy picture above.

Now how can we use this in our art?

Should we draw a predatory dinosaur with mouth open wide, teeth glistening, every skull opening visible as it roars at its helpless victim? Or perhaps we can illustrate the predator resting in the shade of a tree, maybe watching a herd of herbivores in the distance.

Of course, I’m not dictating what you should draw.  But not every moment is a life & death struggle, and animals get bored too.  They do things that surprise us, and pictures like this show little snapshots in the everyday lives of these animals. (lol, didn’t realize I did that until after I said it 😀 )

Art has power, and the public’s view of dinosaurs is slowly changing to keep up with the science.  Dinosaurs aren’t dumb lugs doomed for extinction anymore, or bloodthirsty killing machines. Now they are as normal, wonderful, and beautiful as today’s birds.

Just take a look at the beautiful birdiness of Emily Willoughby’s art, and the crazy normal, everydayness John Conway portrays in his art. (I don’t get anything for saying this.  I just love their work!)

We can highlight the wonders of today by illustrating the wonders of the past. How cool is that? 😀

So here’s my question to you.  What do you like to see in paleoart?  Do you think it has the power to shape how we see prehistoric animals?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Critter of the Week: Allosaurus

Meet Alfred.  The lion of the Jurassic!  The prince of the Mesozoic! The…oh, there he goes after another butterfly.  All he needs to be happy in life is his food, his chew toy, and a nice long nap.




Looks like Alfred has found something to chase.  No worries though, that butterfly has nothing to fear, and he’ll give up soon enough.  Allosaurus (ah-low-saw-rus) wasn’t very fast, but he can’t help it- if it runs off, he’s got to chase it!  After a quick sprint, Alfred loves to settle under the shade of a tree and take a nice nap.

What’s that you say?  He’s a fearsome predator?  Well yes, yes he is.  Take a quick look at lions, and tigers, and bears (oh my!), and most of the time you’ll actually catch them napping.  Crocodiles and eagles, Alfred’s closest living relatives, also do a lot of nothing.  Once you have a full belly, why not enjoy a siesta in the sun?  🙂


Making progress…


I have my computer back! 😀 It’s always so nice when problems resolve sooner than expected, and not a single hiccup in the posts. 🙂  Hehe, gotta celebrate the small wins in life, amiright?

I hope that these small progress updates are as inspiring for you as they are for me.  Even though I’ve only been doing this for a month or so, it’s actually really exciting to see things grow.  It’s kinda like having pictures.  Just hanging around my kids, everything seems about the same all the time.  But if I look back at pictures even from just a week ago, I suddenly realize how fast they’re growing up.

The same with this website.  Not long ago, this site was a vacant lot.  Now it has a house and I’m starting to bring in furniture.  😛  Life is good.  Busy, and I have to work very hard to stay focused, but good.  🙂


Coming Next Week…

A giant with a heart of gold, life is never boring when this big guy is around.  Nothing is out of reach!  He’ll stick his nose into everything until every mystery is solved.

Share your guess in the comments! He’ll be one of the critters over on the critter page. 🙂

Making Marks

Pencil in hand, I settle into the plush couch and slap my sketchbook onto my lap.  The smell of warm chai sits ready on the small nightstand beside me, and I take a small sip of the peppery tea as I flip open to a blank page.  I set the mug down on the table and hold the pencil to the page…but nothing happens.


– Have you ever started to draw something, but ended up simply staring at the blank page, not knowing where to start?

– Have you started a drawing, only to get frustrated with it partway through?

– Maybe you’re just tired of your drawings.  Maybe you feel stuck and don’t know why.

– Maybe you haven’t tried at drawing since grade school, and have no idea where to start.  Or if you can draw.

I’ve definitely been through the first three at least a dozen or two times.  🙂

I have a lovely little book that’s great to turn to at these times, The Confident Creative, written by Cat Bennet. (I’m not earning anything by saying this, I just happen to own it and think it’s helpful 🙂 )  Cat suggests to make marks, like toddlers do.  She says…

“Making marks frees our hand from the judgments of our mind and catapults us into the space of playfulness and presence.  How can the mind complain when we’re just fooling around?”

It’s surprising how hard just making simple marks on paper can be, so it’s good that there are some exercises in the book.  I also watch my kids draw and take a few clues from them.  🙂

Little Bird has the bold scribbles of a two-year-old.  She presses the colored pencils down hard, and chooses the brightest colors.

Mariel's drawing

3-year-old Bug holds his pencil carefully at it’s end.  His lines are more delicate- thin lines in one corner, a small circle in the center, and he makes a long, winding line around the whole paper.

“It’s a road.” he says. I ask him if the smaller circle is a car, since it’s right next to the road.

“No,” he says, as if it should be obvious. “That’s a puddle.  The car drives around it.”


So I grabbed my sketchbook, nabbed the first color to reach my fingers out of the bag,  and drew a small circle in the middle of the page. I held my pencil loosely at it’s end, like Bug did.  A squiggle around it.  Add a few lines- no end in mind, just drawing squiggle marks, lines, and circles.  Just to see what would happen if I tried on purpose not to draw anything.

Suddenly, I realized a pattern was forming.  So I went with it, and before I knew it I had filled up the whole page.  🙂

flower scribble.jpg

Sometimes even this simple exercise can be pretty daunting to me.  The blank paper can be pretty intimidating!  So when this happens I draw lines and shadows.  Here’s what that usually looks like…

pencil test lines

I never draw with pen, so I tried that out next, just to shake things up. 🙂

pen test lines

Scribbling with mediums you don’t normally paint or draw with is exciting and fun!  No pressure to do it the “right” way, since you don’t really know much about it.  And it’s cool to find out what it can do!

watercolor experiment.JPG

I’m sorry about the quality of the photo.  This is the first time I’ve photographed art, so there’s definitely a learning curve here.  Watercolor on dry paper is on the left, watercolor on wet paper to the right- in case you can’t see what I wrote there. 🙂  Bottom of the left hand column says “water splashed on drying paint.”

Wondering how this can be used in paleoart?

Experiment with what your brush or pencil can do!  Play with soft and hard textures.  What happens if you draw a tight cluster of circles?

These textures are what become scales, feathers, and other elements that suggest detail in a drawing or painting.


Play with color, texture, or even mood, and you may be pleasantly surprised with what appears on the page!  🙂

watercolor play

I’ve got a question for you.  Where are you at in your artistic journey?  Stuck?  Loving your craft?  Or don’t really draw much, but always wanted to learn?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments!  🙂

Critter of the Week: Juramaia

Meet Maya.  She’s a sweet little fuzzball who loves nothing more than to curl up in your pocket.  At least during the day.  When the sun goes down, that’s when the party starts!




Wait a second…what’s a squirrel doing in a dinosaur book?  Well I’m glad you asked.  So far, her kind is the first mammal discovered that nourishes her babies in utero with a placenta.  A placental mammal.  This is unique from marsupials like kangaroos, or egg laying monotremes like platypus.  🙂

My little girl keeps calling Maya a squirrel (she’s 2 🙂 ), but she’s a bit more like a tree shrew.  Little Maya has sharp little teeth that are great for just about anything she can get her paws on, but bugs are her favorite.  That slender nose helps her sniff them out in the dark.  She has long arms and sharp claws that make her completely at home in the tree tops.

When you’re the size of a squirrel it’s good to be out of reach of giant dinosaurs!

If you want to learn more, here’s a great news article with a picture of the beautiful fossil. It even has fur!


Making progress…

I now have five wonderful readers, yay!  Thank you!  I hope you’re having as much fun as I am.  Computer problems are no fun of course, but it’s looking like that’ll be fixed in no time, thanks to someone awesome I know.  🙂

While that gets sorted out, I’m having fun working with traditional media.  I’m learning a lot about watercolor.  Thank goodness for Youtube, amiright? 😛  No shame in watching Youtube videos to learn tips and tricks of the trade!  😀

I’m also liking posting twice a week instead of only once.  Since they’re different styles, it’s easy to keep up.  🙂  I’m terrible at consistency, so that’s the key thing I’m working on at this stage.

Coming Next Week…

He’s a celebrity of his time, and he’s the star of lots of dino documentaries.  This big guy has a huge appetite for anything his nose leads him to, and he loves a good game of tag.  Don’t worry too much if he catches you though.  He probably just wants to snuggle for good nap. 🙂

Share your guess in the comments! He’ll be one of the critters over on the critter page. 🙂


Who Cares About Dinosaurs?

A bull triceratops stands alone at the feet of a giant redwood tree.  He rubs two long, conical horns against the rough bark with quick, strong thrusts of his head.  His massive chest heaves as he grunts and snorts, toes digging into the dry earth.


A flash above, so bright that it cuts through the dappled shadows of the undergrowth.  Birds cry an alarm in the distance, and a rumble like thunder breaks through the drone of insects.  The bull tries to blink out the blindness as he swings his heavy head slowly, like a shield, snuffling the air.  Beaked mouth slack to taste the scents around him as he tenses his body, listening.

The rumble doesn’t go away.  It’s getting louder.

The triceratops turns away from the tree to face the crashing and rumbling.  He tilts his shielded head down and steps back, shaking all three horns against the coming roar.  The crash of trees, the shrieks of birds and other panicked creatures.  The rush of hot earth.  Dry ash.  flying debris…


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