Artwork

Ceratopsian Cornucopia Print

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Due to popular demand, I have made available as a print (on paper, canvas, metal print, framed or unframed, etc.) an updated version of the “Ceratopsian Cornucopia” image that appears in the recent book of my artwork, “The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi” (2014), by Julius Csotonyi and Steve White; Titan Publishing.

For the month of October 2014, I’ll be donating 70% of the profits from all print sales on the site to a biological conservation foundation, such as the Nature Conservancy (http://www.nature.org). Paleontology reveals the amazing diversity of life forms that our planet has hosted in the past, but I’d like us to work toward keeping as many species and ecosystems extant as we can!

Although the poster does not include every genus or species of ceratopsian (not even every ceratopsid), of which new genera are being published frequently, it does demonstrate the amazing evolutionary radiation that horned dinosaurs underwent in their skull shape. The poster includes the following species, organized by taxanomic group, and numbered as in the poster:

Centrosaurinae: 1. Xenoceratops foremostensis; 2. Sinoceratops zhuchengensis; 3. Pachyrhinosaurus lakustai; 4. Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum; 5. Pachyrhinosaurus canadensis; 6. Achelousaurus horneri; 7. Einiosaurus procurvicornis; 8. Monoclonius lowei; 9. Coronosaurus brinkmani; 10. Nasutoceratops titusi; 11. Styracosaurus albertensis; 12. Rubeosaurus ovatus; 13. Centrosaurus apertus; 14. Spinops sternbergorum; 15. Avaceratops lammersi; 16. Diabloceratops eatoni; 17. Albertaceratops nesmoi.

Ceratopsoidea: 18. Turanoceratops tardabilis; 19. Zuniceratops christopheri.

Protoceratopsidae: 20. Protoceratops andrewsi; 21. Protoceratops hellenikorhinus.

Chasmosaurinae: 22. Anchiceratops ornatus; 23. Coahilaceratops magnacuerna; 24. Kosmoceratops richardsoni; 25. Agujaceratops mariscalensis; 26. Vagaceratops irvinensis; 27. Mojoceratops perifania; 28. Medusaceratops lokii; 29. Arrhinoceratops brachyops; 30. Chasmosaurus belli; 31. Chasmosaurus russelli; 32. Pentaceratops sternbergi; 33. Utahceratops gettyi; 34. Eotriceratops xerinsularis; 35. Triceratops horridus; 36. “Yoshi’s Trike”; 37. Judiceratops tigris; 38. Titanoceratops ouranos; 39. Triceratops prorsus; 40. Torosaurus latus; 41. Bravoceratops polyphemus.

Leptoceratopsidae: 42. Gryphoceratops morrisoni; 43. Unescoceratops koppelhusae.

Basal Neoceratopsia: 44. Koreaceratops hwaseongensis.

Just a note: The prints available on my print sales website (http://csotonyi.artistwebsites.com/art/all/all/all) are for private end-users only, and any image use for commercial purposes needs to be arranged directly through me (feel free to email me through the Contact link on this website).

Wayward Goldilocks Worlds

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This is a new digital painting that I have completed, depicting a hypothetical planetary system at the fringes of a red dwarf star system. Here, an icy moon (foreground planetary body) orbits a tenuously ringed gas giant (the larger planet behind). Internal tidal flexing caused by an elliptical orbit around the gas giant has melted some of the moon’s ice to form an internal ocean. This subsurface water is under extremely high pressure beneath a thick ice crust, and when tidal flexing causes the crust to fracture intermittently near the southern pole, a geyser of liquid erupts hundreds of kilometers into the vacuum of space above the moon’s surface, becoming visible as the thin plume or jet near the lower edge of the moon. This is based on a very real phenomenon: in our own solar system, Saturn’s moon Enceladus exhibits just this sort of plume. Even more excitingly, direct sampling and chemical analysis of the plume by the Cassini orbiter as it passed through the plume yielded a suite of complex organic compounds as part of the plume composition (Combi et al. 2006).

So why am I posting a digital painting of space art instead of paleoart today? Well, four reasons, actually.

1. As a scientific illustrator, my work covers a broader scope than just paleoart — I know, shocking, isn’t it? In fact astronomical artwork is another one of my favourite subjects. I especially enjoy studying and depicting things that are difficult or impossible to image directly, either because they are too small (hence my research in microbiology), or too old (paleoart fits here) or too far away (hence space art).

2. I’m married to a planetary scientist, so there’s that bit of influence. My wife, Dr. Alexandra Lefort (yes, that would be the same Alexandra Lefort whose name appears at the bottom of this website’s pages, because she designed and built my website) studies the traces of ancient water that once flowed across the surface of Mars when it was warmer and wetter (Lefort et al., 2012), at a time over 3 billion years ago when there were at least two habitable planets in our solar system, and when an ocean hung more than 54 million km above Earth’s first life forms. This painting was a small anniversary project, as today is our anniversary.

3. Speaking of important dates, today, July 14, 2014, marks a year to the day until the next great interplanetary mission, the New Horizons spacecraft, reaches the Pluto system for a quick flyby of this perplexing little world that may have lost its planetary status but none of its mystique. Pluto may be distant, but its ruddy surface  shows patterns of irregular reflectance (Stern et al., 2012) that could indicate the presence of organic compounds. Therefore, a depiction of a planetary body with signs of habitability far from its parent star seemed appropriate today.

4. And speaking of habitability, I really wanted to underscore an important point about what is commonly known as “the Goldilocks zone”, in reference to “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. This is that region of space in star systems that is not too far from the parent star (where it would be frigid) and not to near (where it would be too toasty), but in the middle where the temperature is just right for life to develop and persist on planets whose orbit resides in this habitable zone. This is where liquid water, critical to life as we know it, would be stable at the surface of an atmosphere-bearing planet, and not freeze solid or boil away. We normally think of the habitable zone as tracing out a fuzzy edged ring around the parent star, its diameter and thickness depending on factors such as the temperature of the star. However, it’s important to remember that the extent of the habitable zone is influenced by more than just the distance from the parent star. Moons such as Enceladus or Europa or Titan are far beyond the habitable zone for planets in our solar system. However, as the subsurface oceans of all of these moons demonstrate, factors such as tidal flexing caused by the peculiarities of their orbits around their parent planets can establish little habitable oases for life at distances from the parent star to which we would not normally expect the habitable zone to extend. This demonstrates that in our search for extrasolar habitable planets and ultimately life, we must be careful not to rule out environments before we can gain sufficient information about the fine structure of each planetary system.

References

Combi, M.R., Ip, W., Cravens, T.E., McNutt, R.L. Jr., Kasprzak, W., Yelle, R, Luhmann, J., Niemann, H., Gell, D., Magee, B., Fletcher, G., Lunine, J., Tseng, W. (2006) Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer: Enceladus plume composition and structure. Science. 311:1419-1422. DOI: 10.1126/science.1121290

Lefort, A., Burr, D.M., Beyer, R.A., Howard, A.D. (2012) Inverted fluvial features in the Aeolis-Zephyria Plana, western Medusae Fossae Formation, Mars: Evidence for post-formation modification. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. 117: E3. DOI: 10.1029/2011JE004008

Stern, S.A., Cunningham, N.J., Hain, M.J., Spencer, J.R., Shinn, A. (2012) First ultraviolet reflectance spectra of Pluto and Charon by the Hubble Space Telescope Cosmic Origins Spectrograph: Detection of absorption features and evidence for temporal change. The Astronomical Journal. 143(1):22. doi:10.1088/0004-6256/143/1/22

Eocene mammals and insects from Driftwood Canyon

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Heptodon, Silvacola and friends in a restoration of the Eocene paleoenvironment of Driftwood Canyon, Britich Columbia, Canada.

ujvp20_v034_i04_coverRecently, I was commissioned to prepare an illustration to accompany the press release for research conducted by Drs. Jaelyn Eberle, Natalia Rybczynski, and David Greenwood on new mammalian material discovered in Eocene strata in Driftwood Canyon, central British Columbia, Canada. The discovery centered on new material from a tiny early hedgehog called Silvacola acares and the small tapiroid Heptodon (Eberle et al., 2014). It is an additional honour that the image was selected to appear on the cover of the current issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, in which the research is published as the featured article (volume 34, issue 4).

The artwork depicts the typical Eocene paleoenvironment preserved in the Driftwood Canyon fossil beds. In the image, a Heptodon has been startled from drinking by a sound off to the right, while a small Silvacola acares on a moss-covered surface stalks the green lacewing (Pseudochrysopa harveyi) in the foreground. A water strider floats at lower left, while a march fly rests on a stalk of Equisetum at upper left. A damselfly flutters above the hedgehog at upper right under red autumn leaves of Alnus. Other plants depicted include water fern (Azolla) and waterlilies (Nuphar) (both floating), and the terrestrial plants Thuja, Metasequoia, Sassafras and saw palmettos.

This piece of artwork is an example of photographic compositing, in which I rely on photographic material of plant, animal and background elements, merging and artistically adjusting them in such a way that they become integrated into a single image. For this, I rely on my own photographic library of about 250,000 images from many locations worldwide, from the west coast of British Columbia to Texas, Florida, France and many more exotic locations that contain analogues of ecological communities in the deep past. There is usually no environment that perfectly represents an extinct one, given how complex biological communities are, but some come pretty close, and I can therefore target certain locations for trips to acquire images that will require the least modification to build up a restoration. For example, regions in Texas, Louisiana and Florida contain environments that resemble the Eocene communities of British Columbia’s Driftwood Canyon, or at least some of the same major groups of plants.

Still, even when I manage to acquire photographs of the most similar extant communities, I cannot simple plunk restorations of animals into a single photograph. The botanical species composition will still differ substantially enough for me to have to build up an image from dozens to hundreds of extracted parts of individual photographs. Also, I need to adjust the anatomy of extant plants to match that of the target extinct taxa, which often requires a great deal of work.

In the end, each image such as the one representing this research is built up from scores of parts of photographs, modified by additional painting and morphological and lighting modification afterward. I still sometimes encounter the misconception that photographic compositing is as easy as striking a few keys to render an image, and this could not be farther from the truth. The plants are complicated enough to integrate and modify, but the animal buildups are an order of magnitude more complicated (and much more like painting, actually). In short, there is no CTRL-SHIFT-H shortcut to generate a Heptodon. In many ways, I prefer painting images from scratch with a paintbrush or stylus because successful photographic compositing requires a great deal of a very different kind of work (more akin to programming) than does painting. Truth to tell, I find painting more relaxing.

Still, successful photographic compositing results in the most photographically realistic quality of image, resulting in perhaps the easiest suspension of disbelief for the viewer. Since some of my greatest motivation for paleoart stems from a desire to contribute to public education about the wonders of the prehistoric past, I find photographic compositing to be a very effective means of achieving this goal.

This project is also a great example of the often mutualistic relationship between paleontology and paleoart that I frequently rave about. As a paleoartist, I absolutely depend upon paleontological scientific literature to reliably inform my restorations. However, from the opposite perspective, supporting a scientific publication with works of paleoart can also help to enhance its visibility, both in the scientific literature (especially in cases like this, with the added exposure associated with journal cover art) and in the broader public eye (in news media stories that are more visible when accompanied by colorful artwork). Therefore, both parties clearly benefit from the collaboration, and I hope that this will help to encourage more such interactive endeavors between paleontologists and paleoartists in the future.

References

Eberle, J.J., N. Rybczynski, and D.R. Greenwood. 2014. Early Eocene mammals from the Driftwood Creek beds, Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park, northern British Columbia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 34(4): 739-746. DOI:10.1080/02724634.2014.838175

Up to the Eyeballs in acrylics. Part 1: Digital draft

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“Up to the Eyeballs”, digital painting rough draft in preparation for acrylic painting. The image features Pachyrhinosaurus lakustai from the Wapiti Formation, Alberta, Canada.

Today I begin a several-part post in which I follow a painting from start to completion in acrylics. The posts will not necessarily be immediately consecutive, so I will add links as they accumulate to make navigation easier.

Most of my work these days is digital, but sometimes I experiment with techniques in traditional media, in this case, acrylics. I enjoy digital painting, but although the techniques required for digital painting are similar to those used in traditional painting, I think that it is beneficial for even a purely digital artist to practice techniques with a brush, pencil or pen. Plus, it’s extremely enjoyable to get covered in paint.

In this first post of the series, I set out the subject of the painting and demonstrate how I created the digital painting that will serve as the rough draft for the subsequent acrylic work.

For this piece of paleoart, I wanted to focus on something that is less bloody and violent and more along the lines of something that we might see while out on a Cretaceous safari. The piece features Pachyrhinosaurus lakustai from the Wapiti Formation, near Grande Prairie, Alberta in Canada, around 73 to 75 million years ago. This environment was a low-gradient, waterlogged alluvial plain that was rich in wetlands, including oxbow lakes, bogs and marshes (Fanti and Miyashita, 2009). Therefore, it is likely that dinosaurs such as Pachyrhinosaurus would have had to cross water bodies on their journeys from time to time.

The painting was inspired by pictures of elephants that have waded partly out into lakes or rivers; when they emerge, there is a sharp horizontal dichotomy boundary between the rough, dry and low-lustre skin above and the wet, glistening, water-darkened skin below this line.

Young elephants — like the juvenile Pachyrhinosaurus in this image — sink farther into water of any given wading depth than do adults, and the water line recorded on their skin is consequently higher on their bodies. Presumably, young dinosaurs would have had to float and swim through some waters that their parents may have been able to wade through. In such cases, only the tops of their heads and backs would have protruded from the water surface, and in such cases, they would consequently have been literally up to their eyeballs in the stream or lake.

The painting depicts a juvenile and adult pair emerging after such a crossing, and the piece is entitled “Up to the Eyeballs”. Although a diverse ichnofossil assemblage has been discovered in the Wapiti Formation (Fanti et al., 2013), I am unaware of avian skeletal remains or other bird ichnofossils having been found there yet. However, Currie (1981) has reported characteristic bird tracks (ichnotaxon Aquatilavipes swiboldae, possibly an early shore bird) from the older (Aptian, Early Cretaceous) Gething Formation in eastern British Columbia, not too terribly far from the Pipestone Creek bone beds of the Wapiti Formation that have yielded Pachyrhinosaurus lakustai. It’s therefore reasonable to hypothesize the presence of shorebirds in the Wapiti Formation, of which I have painted three individuals buzzing the Pachyrhinosaurus pair.

I enjoy painting scenes that include water, either on the surface of subjects in a thin film, or in pools, because it allows the exploration of a wide range of lustre, and the associated reflective phenomena such as coherent image formation and flare points from reflected sunlight. In addition, I have depicted the scene a short time before sunset, with the low sun generating not only interesting distributions of shadow, but also an interesting contrast between warm incident light from the sun and cool bluish scattered light from the sky. Below is a sequence of images showing several stages in the progression of the digital rough from outline to completion.

1. Outline.

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2. Beginning the dry skin.

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3. Adjusting values and adding more skin detail.

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4. Starting on the wet skin.

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5. Complete digital draft.

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References

Currie, P.J. 1981. Bird footprints from the Gething Formation (Aptian, Lower Cretaceous) of Northeastern British Columbia, Canada. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 1: 257-264.

Fanti, F. and Miyashita, T. 2009. A high latitude vertebrate fossil assemblage from the Late Cretaceous of west-central Alberta, Canada: evidence for dinosaur nesting and vertebrate latitudinal gradient. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 275:37-53.

Fanti, F., Bell, P.R. and Sissons, R.L. 2013. A diverse, high-latitude ichnofauna from the Late Cretaceous Wapiti Formation, Alberta, Canada. Cretaceous Research. 41:256-269.