Smilodon chase, or changing our minds while we sketch.
The chase scene with Smilodon and Macrauchenia which appears at the top of this blog’s home page was first conceived as an African scene with the sabertooth Lokotunjailurus in pursuit of some Hipparion horses. Years later I needed to do an illustration of a South American Smilodon hunting (for the “National Geographic book of Prehistoric Mammals”), and I picked up one of the many preliminary sketches I had done for that old scene, and simply replaced Lokotunjailurus for Smilodon and Hipparion for Equus (Amerhippus).
Then I realized that the 2 species shown were North American invaders, would it not be better to include a native South American ungulate in the scene? So I drew Macrauchenia as the target, instead of the horse.
This illustration was intended to fill a double page spread in the book, so the next thing I did was to add more elements in order to fill a horizontal format.
But at one point I realized that in this composition the book’s gutter would cut the adult Macrauchenia in half, and also the animals would look a bit small in the scene. So I deleted the horses, replaced the right-hand horse for a Macrauchenia, zoomed-in on the scene to bring the animals closer, and shifted the center of the scene slightly to the left so that the gutter spared the main Macrauchenia.
Here is the next version, a zoomed-in composition, minus the horses
What I did not anticipate was the designer’s decision to include a black band with vertical text on the right-hand margin of the spread. This pushed the whole scene to the left and now it was one of the leaping sabertooths which was nearly severed by the gutter! Back then I was still painting in oils so I could not change the scene. If I had painted it digitally by layers it would have been a relatively simple matter of pushing elements to one or the other side…
This, by the way, was one of my last oil paintings. Creating so many complex scenes for this book, and doing it all in record time, left me utterly exhausted, and I felt it might be the right time to explore the possibilities of the digital media. And so it was!