Big Post about Dinosaurs

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In February 2012 I did the cover for the latest ‘Ology’ book, which, I was told, had Dinosaurs in it. I knew little more than that – even the title was a secret. I followed the brief and produced the required image – it’s a similar format to most of the Ology books that I have worked on previously. Due to an unfortunate computer incident I managed to erase all traces of the illustration, including the myriad stages of development, which is a shame as I was hoping to use it for a highly interesting Blog post. The same incident also claimed all the work I’m about to reveal, but I managed to scavenge some roughs from sent emails; the publishers have all the final art so it could be worse.

In summer I was sent the layouts in order to start work on about 20 interior pictures. I took one look at them and turned the job down. It seemed like a lot of hard work. The publishers were very insistent; I’m easily swayed so was persuaded to have a go.

It was a lot of unbelievably hard work.

If you’ve seen any of the Ology books, you will know they are stuffed full of pop-ups, flappy bits and the like; consequently they are very complicated to design. The remarkable Nghiem Ta at Templar Books is responsible for this, and provides me with an initial batch of page guides which I then scribble over. This particular book developed quite organically; it was written while I sketched and I was able to make suggestions for a lot of the pictures instead of just following the briefs.

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I rather enjoy this way of working, but it does mean things can change at the drop of a designer’s hat. For instance, the image below started out with a volcano and ended up with a flustered Archaeopteryx.

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Sometimes things need to change to be more sympathetic to the layout – this one needed an injection of colour to make the whole page appear less brown.

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Developing the roughs was the easy part. What I’d not foreseen was the difficulty in pinning down exactly what dinosaurs looked like. It seems nobody actually knows, and all representations in books and museums are largely based on conjecture from fragments of discovered evidence. For example, these Diplodocus gave me sleepless nights. There is endless argument in the scientific community as to how they really were. There appears to be a lot of evidence to suggest they couldn’t have walked on land at all due to their massive bulk, and would have been confined to swampy areas. Originally I depicted them with Giraffe-like necks, and although some scientists think this plausible, the majority believe they had a more horizontal gait (because their brains would explode or something). Eventually I changed the picture to suit the majority consensus. Nobody needs gangs of angry palaeontologists hounding them in the night (so I hear).

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Another issue I discovered was to feather or not to feather – there seems to be an increasing belief that a lot of dinosaurs actually had feathers. I’ve not shown it here, but one of the illustrations features some Deinonychus – terrifying raptors with vicious claws. Unfortunately they look like angry chickens if you paint them completely feathered. I ended up giving them a sort of mohican and a spinal tuft, which I felt suited their personality.

Oh, and don’t get me started on what colour dinosaurs were…

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Dinosaurology is released in September – I’ve not seen a copy yet, but I’ll post some photos of the book when it arrives.

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5 Replies to “Big Post about Dinosaurs”

    1. Thanks Val. When I was young, the dinosaurs in books tended to be grey or brown. Things have changed – scientists are being more imaginative and dinosaurs are now positively kaleidoscopic!

  1. oh the top on w/the “flustered Archaeopteryx” reaches deep within – fascinating how color (or lack thereof) can change the whole feel of a scene – thank you!
    -jo

  2. I’ve admired your collaboration with Mr. Steer and the ‘Ology staff in previous works, but with “Dinosaurology”, you’ve really disappointed me. With “Dragonology”, for instance, your (and Douglas Carrell’s) illustrations made me believe that dragons could actually exist, and when I heard about “Dinosaurology”, I thought you would help spawn a new generation of paleontologists, but when I saw that quill-less Triceratops, I discovered this was not the case. Those scaly travesties are not dinosaurs, but eye-sores.

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