The Making of a Prehistoric Scene: Murals that Could Have Been
These days I have delivered prehistoric murals for a couple of Spainsh museums, and after months of laboring on the computer, bent over my graphic tablet, I have had a chance to miss the good old days of oil painting. But there is one thing that I don´t miss from those times: the lack of freedom once the painting started on the canvas.
Making changes in composition once you have started an oil painting is a nightmare, and for that reason I always did very detailed pencil sketches, where every detail had to be defined and every composition problem solved beforehand. Nowadays I can indulge in being more informal in my sketches: I concentrate in getting the feel of the scene, but relax in the knowledge that I will be able to make minor adjustments down the road.
Those pencil sketches also had another purpose: to make the artist’s ideas visible for the scientists before going ahead with any particular concept. The dark side of this procedure is that sometimes I had to spend quite a lot of hours in a concept that was eventually rejected.
This was the case with a scene for the 1993 exhibition “Madrid Antes del Hombre” (“Madrid Before Man”). I was given a faunal list and envornmental indications for the Middle Aragonian faunas of Madrid, such as “Pasillo Verde”. The faunas included spectacular four-tusked mastodons called gomphotheres, and an early form of felid, among many other species, and I visualized a scene that brought together the bulk of the proboscideans and the smaller-scale drama of predation, all in one frame. So I developed a detailed pencil sketch along those lines.
Here is the rejected sketch for the Pasillo Verde Miocene fauna.
Unfortunately, the paleontologists in charge of the exhibition had a different idea of what we needed to show in this mural. They preferred a more panoramic view, where the transition of habitats from water margin to arid grassland could be seen in a more linear way. And the mastodons and early cat had to be left out in favor of other elements of the fauna. So I came out with a totally different scene.
Here is the final, approved sketch for the Pasillo Verde fauna, with the scale grid in place and ready to be transferred to the large canvas.
Apart from me and the paleontologist in charge, you are the first people to see the rejected concept after more than 20 years. With the digital workflow I make less of those detailed sketches today, but it was a nice thing to look again at this old drawing 2 decades later!
And here is the finished oil painting:
You can get high-quality prints of this and other of my paintings at Wild World Visuals, check the link below!