Sunday, 21 April 2013

Colored Pencil Society of America Entries

Hello again!

As promised, I am trying to update this a bit more frequently. While these next drawings have already appeared in my deviantART page (, I figured I'd post them here as well since the blog is a bit more easy to navigate to those non-deviants out there.

These were both done for the 21st International Exhibition for the Colored Pencil Society of America. These were particularly difficult for two reasons, the first being that applicants can only use reference photos that they personally took. Fortunately, I've been all over the place and have taken lots of cool pictures, so I selected a few photos of the bats at the bat rehabilitation center, Batreach, in Kuranda, Australia, as well as a few of the shingleback lizards I took while in Canberra, Australia. The other difficulty was resisting the urge to edit these in Adobe Photoshop after finishing them. Nearly all of my scientific illustrations, such as the whales posted earlier, are initially drawn in colored pencil and then heavily reworked in Photoshop. Since the two drawings featured here were specifically for a colored pencil competition, I was unable to make even minor digital adjustments!

Anyway, here are the drawings. The first is of a few Spectacled Flying Foxes (Pteropus conspicillatus). These enormous animals are in the aptly named group Megachiroptera (essentially meaning 'big bat'). Megachiropterans, or simply Megabats, are only found in the Old World and are primarily frugivorous or nectarivorous, meaning they feed on fruit and flower nectar. Their sensory adaptations reflect their feeding styles. Unlike the New World bats (Microchiropterans) that rely on echolocation to hunt fast-flying insects, megabats are unable to echolocate and rely primarily on their sense of smell and sight to find flowers and fruit on which to feed. Modern human activity threatens both megabat and microbat livelihood in myriad ways. If you are interested in helping to protect and preserve the world's bat biodiversity, I implore you to visit the Bat Conservation International webpage to find ways to help these glorious creatures.

'Flying Foxes' (aka 'Photobomb') 2013, prismacolors on illustration board
Me 'hanging out' with the spectacled flying foxes at BatReach in Kuranda, 2011

Second drawing is of the Shingleback skink (Tiliqua rugosa). I am not a herp expert, so I actually don't know much about these guys, other than to the untrained eye they look an awful lot like Banksia pods, which to an even less trained eye look an awful lot like pine cones. I fell in love with these lizards as soon I realized that they were neither pine cones nor banksia pods, but were in fact lazy, heavily armored lizards that enjoyed sunning themselves in the atrium area at the Australia National University. ANU had a wonderful little atrium in the middle of the biology building that housed an unbelievable amount of local biodiversity including these shinglebacks, water dragons, long-necked turtles, banksia, and even some really awesome rotting-corpse-smelling fungus that was attracting flies while I was there. 
Shinglebacks, 2013, prismacolor and derwent pencils on illustration board
Well, that's all for now.  I won't know the results of the competition or whether or not I'm even in the show for another week or so, but I will be sure to keep everyone updated! Wish me luck!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Updates and Whale Reconstructions

How did a year go by so quickly?? I started a new graduate program in May 2012 and have been fairly consumed with research, classes, and studying ever since.  Despite my new work load here at the University of Kentucky, I still find time to draw every now and then.  Since it has been so very long since I last updated, I will make this a super art-packed post! I have been channeling the majority of my creative energy over the past year into a series of ancient whale drawings. I am not finished with this project, but I am happy to share what I have done thus far.

The first is a reconstruction of Dorudon atrox. Dorudon is an extinct whale ancestor in the family Basilosauridae that lived approximately 33 million years ago during the Eocene. Unlike modern cetaceans, these early whales still exhibited hind-limbs as adults. The pelvic girdle is reduced or entirely absent in modern adult whales and dolphins, however Basilosaurids were still seen with small hind-limbs. These limbs may or may not have been external, but for the purposes of my reconstruction (and most others) they are placed on the outside of the body where they may have functioned in swimming or maneuvering. I based the shape of these hind fins on the recently discovered Japanese dolphin with fully formed hind flippers.

More well-known from this group was the enormous Basilosaurus. These serpentine giants were likely ambush predators that remained motionless at the bottom of the Tethys Sea floor until some poor hapless prey animal swam within striking distance.  In contrast, Dorudon was short and sleek, more similar in size and shape to a modern dolphin. Dorudon likely used its speed and agility to chase down fish and fast-swimming mollusks. Below is a skeletal reconstruction of Dorudon and Basilosaurus side by side for size comparison. The scale bar represents 1 meter. Yeah, did I mention these things were ENORMOUS?!

The second reconstruction that I’d like to share is of my personal favorite, Kutchicetus. Kutchicetus was a small, otter-like cetacean in the family Remingtonocetidae that lived around 45 million years ago. Fossils from this extinct were discovered in India by Dr. Hans Thewissen in 2000. Unlike the Basilosaurids, the Remingtonocetids were most likely able to walk on land in addition to swimming in the water, much like an otter. While the fossils that have been uncovered for this animal are absolutely stunning (particularly the skulls!), the feet still have yet to be discovered. Instead of taking artistic liberty in reconstructing the feet, I decided to just hide them completely in the vegetation. I still need to fix a few things on this drawing, particularly the muscles on the back of the head and the substrate (there were more clams/oysters at the bottom than I have depicted here), but overall I’m fairly pleased with the composition and color scheme. 

Also, to give you a sense for the bizarre shape of this animal’s head I’ve included an older illustration I did for Dr. Hans Thewissen’s 2009 paper in Journal of Paleontology. It made the cover!

The final whale I will be sharing is Ambulocetus natans. Ambulocetus, which literally translates to ‘Walking Whale’, was also discovered by Hans Thewissen in the early 1990’s in Pakistan and is one of the earliest whale ancestors, living around 48-50 million years ago. Ambulocetus was an enormous ambush predator that inhabited both saltwater and freshwater mangrove environments. I tried to show off its crocodilian-like ambush hunting style in my reconstruction where I have depicted one particularly large animal leaping out of the water at an Eocene waterfowl.  Ambulocetus had very large hind feet and powerful hind legs that appeared to be better adapted to swimming than walking on land but, as its name implies, it was able to both walk and swim. 

Well, that’s all for now.  I will have a few more whales and many more birds and insects in the near future, so stay tuned! 

S. Bajpai and J. G. M. Thewissen. 2000. A new, diminutive Eocene whale from Kachchh (Gujarat, India) and its implications for locomotor evolution. Current Science 79(10):1478-1489

J.G.M. Thewissen, Sunil Bajpai. (2009) New Skeletal Material of Andewsiphuis and Kutchicetus, two Eocene Cetaceans from India. Journal of Paleontology. 83: 635-663

J.G.M. Thewissen, S.T. Hussain, and M. Arif (1994). "Fossil evidence for the origin of aquatic locomotion in archaeocete whales". Science 263 (5144): 210–212