Monthly Archives: October 2017

Building a Pleistocene Pampean Panorama

When facing the challenge of creating a reconstruction of such a fantastic fauna as the ones found in the late Pleistocene of Argentina, the real difficulties are to decide what to leave out and, even more, how to arrange what you cannot leave out.
As it has happened so often in this kind of projects, the paleontologists I worked with insisted that I include at least the most iconic members of the fauna, and that included a lot of huge animals that you cannot easily accommodate under a log or in the shade of a bush. These creatures become relevant elements of the landscape on their own right so as an artist you have to brace yourself for a tightly packed composition.

The first thing I did was to try and visualize the general shape of the scene, using very fast, light pencil strokes to block the main objects. In this early version I still thought I would get away with excluding the largest Pampean animal of them all: Megatherium! But that was not to be

In the next quick sketch I let the megathere in, and instantly things got almost unmanageably crowded

One advantage of the Pampean landscape in terms of this kind of compositions is its flat, featureless lay. Vast expanses of land with unobstructed views allow the hapless artist to place a lot of gigantic animals in the frame, but careful attention must be paid to perspective. So, even in this quick sketch I trace the perspective lines to get an approximate idea of the relative sizes of the various animals according to the distance from the viewer

Once the main composition is decided, I need to do a lot of sketches of the anatomy and action of the individual animals. The pair of Macrauchenias in the foreground were an important element of the composition from the very first version, so I needed to study their anatomy carefully

Although the sabertooths are dearest to my heart, I made up my mind to leave them in a discrete middle ground in this case, but even so they are prominent and I needed to do a lot of work on their postures

Especially important is the head of the drinking sabertooth, so I used a cast of the animal’s skull as a guide to draw the head in the exact angle and posture I needed

The advantage of working digitally is that I paint the animals in separate layers, so I still can do small tweaks to the composition as I go along working on the final painting

This painting was reproduced at mural size in a Museum exhibit here in Madrid so I needed to give it a lot of detail. In the end I suppose it took me about as long as it would have taken to do one of my large oil paintings but I enjoyed more freedom for changing my mind on smaller aspects of the work… and I got more back pain form hunching in front of the computer for so many hours. Sometimes I do miss the easel!

But the one thing that left me frustrated in this project was to double-check the plant list from the fossil sites and find out that I needed to leave the palm trees out. Damn, I love palm trees!