Free Dino Art Lessons for Kids!

I have been blessed with the chance to lead free art lessons at events held by the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center. And now I can share some of the lessons I started making.

These are mainly for the little artists in your family, but feel free to try one yourself, if you want.

Here are Brontosaurus, Velociraptor, and Stegosaurus. Entirely free. No copyright. Just print and follow the directions. Make copies if you want.

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Paleo-Art in Progress: Spinosaurus Part 2

Now I can show the entire process, step-by-step, for how the Spinosaurus painting came to be, from preliminary sketch to the finished artwork. A scan of the painting is at the end.

Hope you enjoy the pictures!

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I first began with an initial sketch to set down the composition and shape of the dinosaur, as well as the eel he's catching.

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Next I added in some details and scale patterns that I thought would look neat. Note the little spines on his underbelly, somewhat like the spines on the throat of a bearded dragon.

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I copied the sketch on a sheet of tracing paper, then used that and a piece of graphite paper to transfer the shape onto an 8x10 inch masonite board.

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Here is where the trees and background begin to take shape, the water is filled in, and the two animals are given a contrasting color scheme for visual interest.

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Many details and highlights are added in, from the tree bark to the Spinosaur's eye.

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The finished work, with water highlights on the wet parts of the Spinosaur's hide, and dark stripes and spots for more of a natural pattern than just being entirely red.

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The final scan of the image.

Finished the Spinosaurus Painting

Here’s my latest finished painting. It is an 8 x 10 acrylic piece on masonite board. Scans of this and other paintings are forthcoming.

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A Spinosaurus aegypticus has just caught a large eel, which is still struggling to liberate itself from the predator’s bite. Unfortunately for the eel, Spinosaur teeth and jaws are designed to catch fish.

Plesiosaur Family Outing

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Done on a 5 x 7 inch canvas with acrylics. Done as a commission for a friend. Considering the fact that this took one morning to make, I’m pleased with how it turned out!

A Plausible Monster? Part One

[Now that they are published, here’s part two and part three-A, and three-B will be released soon]

I could go back to staying “safe” on this blog, and not stick my neck out again. Nothing weird or controversial.

But that’s boring. And in some respects, it wouldn’t be right. For today, I thought a nice swim into deeper waters would do us some good. It’s invigorating.

Come on in! The water's quite pleasant.

Come on in! The water’s quite pleasant.

Today’s topic involves cryptozoology — the practice of investigating and searching for animals that have not been classified by science, but are reported by sightings and/or folklore. Think Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster, sea serpents, etc.

Here and now, I mean to neither take down nor advocate cryptozoology as a practice. This is not being written to defend or demolish it, or classify it as science or pseudoscience. That last distinction is odiously bureaucratic. I care much less about whether a claim is classified as science than I care about whether it is true. My main concern is in whether the animal really exists or not.

If you want to know my position on cryptozoology, here it is: In short, I reluctantly take the position that most “cryptids” (the animals cryptozoologists seek to find) most likely do not exist. But I’d be more than happy to be proven wrong if someone can show proof of their existence.

I used to think the world full of monsters, waiting to be discovered and ushered into our textbooks, zoos, and museum displays. From Nessie to Yeti, I was fascinated by the possibility of weird and spectacular creatures, and treated their existence like it was a near certainty. Of course, they haven’t showed up thus far. Nowadays, I hold out little to no hope in a monster at Loch Ness. Tourists and live webcams can only miss a large creature for so long. Nor does Bigfoot seem at all likely, as far as I can tell. In the Pacific Northwest you can hardly throw a rock without hitting somebody’s log cabin or pickup truck. Not the environment I’d expect an undiscovered primate to call home.

I’d love to be wrong about Bigfoot and/or Nessie, but I’ll be deeply shocked if I am.

On the other hand, this should never be cause to discount all cryptids as equally ridiculous or unlikely. You are no doubt familiar with the phrase “even a broken watch can be right twice a day.” A species of large animal can still persist undiscovered and unclassified, even today. Most of the new animals we are finding consist of insects and deep sea-dwellers. But on occasion, something a bit more spectacular can be uncovered. Several factors can be conducive to a species escaping detection by the scientific community:

  1. It lives in an environment where it can easily hide. By now this would be limited mostly to dense tropical rain forests and deep oceans.
  2. It is critically endangered, either through human activity or environmental factors. Specimens will be rare, as will physical traces (carcasses, footprints, scat, etc.).
  3. The animal’s environment can quickly erase traces, making it difficult to detect or track. Again, rain forests and oceans are the biggest offenders. Such an environment also presents great difficulty in bringing proof of a new species to the outside world, either from remains not getting refrigerated before they rot away, or the hostility of its native species and/or human populations.
  4. The animal has reclusive habits, tending to avoid human habitation (as a lot of animals do, from okapis to panda bears to cougars).
  5. If natives in a remote region tell about an unknown animal living in their part of the world, a biologist can be biased against the creature’s existence and assume that the animal is mythical rather than biological. It is quite possible his suspicions are correct, of course. If there ever was such an animal, it may have become extinct or migrated to another area. Still, one has to wonder how many times the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater, and a legitimate species had been missed by the biologist because he’d assumed it could not be there.

There is at least one cryptid that matches all of these factors. Therefore I am prepared to argue that its existence is more likely than its nonexistence. I speak of Mokele-mbembe, from the Congo swamps and jungles of Central Africa. Its range purportedly extends across Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Gabon, and Cameroon.

My painting,

One of my latest paintings, “Cameroon.” Acrylics on watercolor paper, approx. 7 by 9 inches.

The name means either “One who stops the flow of rivers” or “He who divides the waters.” Its described morphology bears a resemblance to that of a small sauropod dinosaur. These are the long-necked herbivores sometimes informally called “Brontosaurs.” Both sauropods and Mokele-mbembe possess long necks and tails, small heads, and elephantine bodies with four feet.

Please take care to note: I am not here to argue whether dinosaurs persist in Africa today. I am arguing for the likelihood of a rare and unrecognized species living in the Congo basin. So please don’t comment with a post like “Sauropods can’t live in swamps, because of x, y and z.” We can discuss that in a later post, an addendum to this one.

Regardless of what kind of animal it is, what does Mokele-mbembe have that most other “cryptids” don’t? What keeps its existence plausible, even (in my estimation) likely?

The answer in a nutshell: The right environment and obstacles, where we could expect its discovery to be delayed.

I suspect very few of those who roll their eyes and mock the mere possibility of this animal being real would maintain their contempt if they took time to consider the kind of environment the Congo basin really is:

  • A region shredded by guerilla warfare, poaching and disease outbreaks that have a habit of shutting down expeditions to the area
  • Stifling jungles that pose a serious challenge to even the most seasoned explorers
  • An almost total lack of internet and technological infrastructure (so long, smartphones) outside the cities of the region — electricity is “expensive and unreliable” in Cameroon, for instance
  • A dense canopy of trees a hundred and fifty feet high that does a great job at hiding the rain forest from satellite photography
  • This Florida-sized jungle is so dense that it’s mostly unexplored to this day, even to the point that it hid over 100,000 western lowland gorillas from scientific eyes until just eight years ago. Another discovery made at roughly the same time was the Bili Ape, a new type of chimpanzee that plausibly eats lions and other big cats. (makes you wonder what else could be hiding in that region, doesn’t it?)
  • Largely corrupt governments, held together by miles of red tape, which don’t exactly roll out the red carpet to Western explorers, unless they’re with bigger organizations like the BBC, National Geographic or the World Wildlife Fund

Neither the Pacific Northwest nor any Scottish Loch can boast of such an ideal hiding place for an unclassified, critically endangered species.

At the risk of stating the painfully obvious, a good hiding spot does not necessarily harbor an unknown species. But in the next installment of this series, I’ll provide the main reasons why I think the evidence thus far gathered is quite sufficient to warrant further, more thorough investigation.

And then I can add another post, to tackle what have been some embarrassingly bad arguments against the Mokele-mbembe’s existence. I do allow for the possibility that the skeptics are correct, but they are in desperate need of improved reasoning. As I have stated before, being right for the wrong reasons is almost as bad as being flat-out wrong.

Newest Artwork, Venus Transit

Finally managed to get some new drawings done and scanned. Hope your all enjoy them! I really love drawing, and plan to make it a habit again. Dinosaurs and plants seem to be two of the things I do okay with.

Triceratops. Long time since I’ve drawn this beautiful animal.

Just some flowers. No particular species; I just made them up.

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And don’t forget, ladies and gentlemen: tomorrow, at 4:04 pm Mountain Time, the transit of Venus will take place (where the planet passes in front of the sun). This won’t happen again until the early 22nd century. So, yeah. Watch it if you can.

Catch you all later! If you will excuse me, I have some editing to quit putting off. This novel’s going to be finished soon, one way or another.

Worldbuilding — Zoology — Tyrant Dragon

I’ve made the decision to begin a new series on my blog. My fantasy series-in-progress, The Wolfglen Legacy, is going to take place in a detailed world I have been building for the last several years. And I think this would be an excellent place to start introducing my readers to bits and pieces of that world (if you’re interested, of course), even though it’s going to be a while before the books themselves are ready.

What I like about this idea is its versatility. This is a chance to give you anything from cuisine to animals to weapons to a nation’s history, revealing it in detail. Magic systems, politics, natural history, whatever. My plan is to try and give one entry per week.

And with that, I will start with an entry I posted on deviantart.com.

The Tyrant Dragon

The largest known species of dragon that is capable of flight. Like roughly half of all dragons, it is able to breathe fire by using hydrogen gas from its flight lungs.* Easily recognizable by a green body with stripes of black or dark brown, and the presence of four wings rather than two, that extra pair endowed to them by the Founders when this dragon species was created. The wings are colored red with splashes of green on the fringes. Females have a darker red on the membranes, almost like wine or dried blood.

This dragon is rare, but almost universally respected, hated, or feared, depending on whom you ask. Tyrants tend to be much more violent than other dragon species, territorial in the extreme. The mating season occurs in the springtime once every three years. During this period, three or four males congregate in an open space like a prairie or grassland, and collect a small heap of prey animals to display for a local female. The male with the most notable quarry (and the most impressive display of his spread-out wings) wins, and the losers will have to find other females over which to compete. After eating the male’s victims, the female will stay with him for protection and the extra food he can provide. When a month has gone by, the female lays three to five blue eggs in a warm and secluded spot, each one about the size of a human head. The eggs are then abandoned by the parents until they hatch in late summer, and the young creatures will begin hunting mere hours after hatching.

Aside from its great size and extra set of wings, the species is also renowned for what is known as Tyrant’s Madness, a period of heightened aggression when the creature’s wings have been severely injured. Through some unknown mechanism or instinct, the tyrant knows if and when any of its wings have been so extensively injured that they will never heal enough to let the reptile fly again. Once this boundary has been crossed, the animal lands (if it was already airborne) and reaches around with its lengthy neck to bite its own wings off, one at a time. It then becomes a multi-ton berserker, breathing flame and attacking anything within reach until it is almost exhausted. The animal then spends the remainder of its life roaming on the ground, subsisting on whatever it is fast enough to catch.

Few militaries have been sufficiently stupid, crazy, or desperate to use a tyrant dragon in their campaigns (assuming they can capture and tame a juvenile), but the ones who succeed force the enemy’s tactics to change. When flying dragons are part of a battle, usually the opposing force will try to bring the animals down or destroy their wings any way they can: fire bombs, broad-head arrows and crossbow bolts, nets launched from catapults, etc. But thanks to the threat of Tyrant’s Madness, any military force going against this dragon will most likely try instead to kill the animal or exhaust it, rather than risk injury to the wings and having the creature become a far deadlier force on the ground, where more of their own soldiers would be targets for the tyrant’s rage.

* Flight lungs are actually a set of bladders carrying bacteria which produce hydrogen and other lighter-than-air gases to help make the dragon’s body lighter and easier to carry in flight. However, in the fire-breathing species, the gas mixture can be quickly exhausted for producing flame, and the now-heavier animal will find it more difficult, even impossible to fly a distance, until the gas has been replenished.