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).

Here is one early sketch for the South American scene, with Smilodon and Equus
Sin título-1

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.

In this next version, Macrauchenia is the sabertooths’ intended victim
Sin título-2

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.

In this third version, a mixed herd of Macrauchenia and horses flees from the surprise attack of the sabertooths
Sin título-3

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

Sin título-4

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…

And here is the finished illustration!

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!


Posted on 26/06/2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Danylo Sávio

    Uohh!! Suas ilustraçõs são fantasticas!!! Parabéns!!

  2. This is an awesome post about the lengthy creative process that all artists go through. There have been times when I have done three or four preliminary sketches before completing a “finished” drawing, only to become dis-satisfied with it and revise and re-revise it. In the end, I must have done ten or so drafts before finally sitting back and feeling a sense of accomplishment.

    By the way, your drawings are absolutely amazing, and don’t even get me started on how gorgeous your paintings look. How long does it take you to do one of your drawings – I mean the ones like the clean and polished fourth pencil illustration shown here? I imagine that an expert artist such as yourself can crank one of these out in no time! For me, it would take me weeks, and sometimes months to do something like that. If drawing a scene like this takes me a long time, does that mean that I’m doing something wrong? How can I improve my speed as well as my skill? Any advice would be helpful.

  3. Thanks again for the insight to the artistic process. I was wondering… was it difficult to choose a pelage for the litoptern? I have to assume that it’s tougher since they seem to be such an early offshoot with no close extant relatives.

  4. jrabdale, a clean pencil sketch like the fourth image in this sequence would take me about a day, may be just a morning if there are no distractions. But of course by the time I have reached that stage most of the compositional problems have been solved in the previous versions! If you feel you would like to improve your speed then I would suggest that you make many quick sketches from life, because such an exercise gets your brain and hands used to distil the essence of form and to put it on paper with economy of pencil stroke. Also when you are planning for a composition it is good to make several 5 minute sketches to just get a feeling of where you want to go. Such sketches may use up just half of a legal-pad sheet, and you should feel no pity to throw them away as you proceed with the series!

  5. Sebastian, I have to admit I did not give too much thought to the coat color of Macrauchenia, I just accepted as good the choice made by paleoart master Jay Matternes many years ago! Matternes went for a plain neutral coat which is something you find in many large ungulates belonging to many different extant groups from camels to antelopes to wild ass. As you say, litopterns have no living close relatives so we have no guide to give it any more specific or unusual coat.

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