From sketch to painting: lighting

Leafing through folders with old drawings I found a few rough sketches for two paintings I intended to include in “The Big Cats and their Fossil Relatives” (1997). Back in those days photo references were much harder to come by and I had to relay more heavily on my clay models, which I set in the pose of the planned painting and put under a lamp to mimic the desired lighting conditions.
During the late 1980s documentary viewers around the world were awed at the athletic feats of the tigers of Ranthambore, especially the formidable male nicknamed “Genghis”, who used to charge through the shallow water in pursuit of sambar deer. It was only natural that I wished to paint a similar scene with a different cast of characters, in particular the agile, tiger-sized sabertooth Machairodus catocopis and the strange artiodactyl Procranioceras, both from the late Miocene of North America.

In my earliest sketches for this scene I showed a different prey, Syntethoceras, which looked conveniently bizarre, but then I found that it apparently did not coexist with M. catocopis in the same fossil sites.

My next sketch already showed Procranioceras in place, but I still did not explore the matter of lighting in much detail.

Then I finally took the time to model Machairodus in the desired pose and place the figurine under the lamp to see the play of light and shadow.

The final painting took me ages to finish and indeed it did not appear in “The Big Cats”. It would only be published in 2004 in “The National Geographic Book of Prehistoric Mammals”.

Another sensation for wildlife documentary lovers back in the 1980s was the revelation of the intimate life of the white wolves of Ellesmere island, then filmed and photographed for the first time. Those predators chased their prey, from hares to musk oxen, in the barren expanses of the high Arctic, and in my mind the connection was made with the lightly built Beringian sabertooths of the genus Homotherium. Paleontologist Bjorn Kurtén had hypothesized that those animals would be black to match the coat color of their main prey, the woolly mammoth, but I found at least as likely that they would be white to match the winter color of their environment, just like the arctic wolves.
So I set to paint a scene with white predator and white prey inspired in those breathtaking Ellesmere images. I wanted to show my subjects under the dramatic light of the low arctic sun, and once again I had to model my creatures in clay and light them. The horns of the Dall ram were especially complex objects and I would have been at a loss to paint them without the figurine.

In this sketch I set the creatures in the composition.

In this quick study I concentrated on showing light and shadow as discrete patches.

In this case the final painting did find its way to “The Big Cats”!.



Posted on 28/06/2017, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Sheila Collins

    I particularly love these insights into how you produce your paintings: the thought processes involved, the way you work out the lighting , etc. very informative and inspirational.

  2. Thank you so much Sheila!

  3. Peter Kersbergen

    thank you for these working progress pictures, I like it that you replaced the Syndyoceras with Cranioceras
    , beacause I have trouble with the usual use of Syndyoceras in full scenes, It always looks the they are pictured in herds it’s a full-male herd. as if there was no difference between the male of female version of the horns. Did male and female Syndyoceras wore exact the same horns or was there a difference?

    • Thanks for your comments Peter! In fact you gave me the opportunity to correct the original text (which I had got somehow mixed up) because as you noticed the final painting shows Cranioceras. Also please note that Cranioceras skinneri, the species shown in my painting, has been reclassified now as Procranioceras skinneri (always hard to keep up with changing names in paleontology…). Procanioceras and allied genera are classified by many specialists as members of the family Palaeomericidae, and as such they are relatives of the giraffes and have ossicones instead of true horns. Concerning sexual dimorphism, it appears that the females in Procranioceras had a reduced occipital ossicone and lacked the supraorbital ones. So my scene shows two males.

      • Peter Kersbergen

        I asked this because I like to play around with 3D program like DAZStudio for which one can purchase all kinds of item. one of the artists selling those products has prehistoric animals in his show, he is called Dinoraul and one of thos animals was KYPOTOCERAS

        don’t think he is de same guy as Raul Martin, he is also an artist on prehistoric themes.
        I asked himDinoraul if he had also a female version, but he did not know how that looked or has not found reliable source material for it. And I think he works from very good sources, because his critters are as good as yours.

      • Hi, certainly this guy Dinoraul is not Raul Martin! Sometimes the right sources are not so easy to find, especially because the first authors to describe a fossil species did it many decades ago and later authors only discuss the affinities or adaptations of the various animals but don´t bother to describe them again or to illustrate the actual fossils. As a result, if you need to know details about the morphology of some species, you need to read some pretty old and remote papers which have never been digitized and are only available in specialized libraries.

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