(Continuing the Pteranodon series) I've often preached at art schools about how you should do plenty of research, and then do lots of preliminary sketches and not get too attached to any of them, because the idea is going to change.
Today's post is about me taking my own medicine.
With the first painting completed, the goal of the second illustration for the Pteranodon article was to show a hatchling Pteranodon. If some dinosaurs nested in protected colonies, wouldn't Pteranodons, too? I reasoned that they would be so vulnerable after hatching that they would need to be looked after by their parents.
I did five little sketches of Pteranodons in a nesting colony. Here are my notes to the art director:
A. Tender scene with warm colors showing female with downy chick in nest built of dried ferns and sticks. The rest of the nesting colony visible out of focus behind.
B. Looking a bit upward at the female sternbergi on a mud nest. Edge lighting from sunrise.
C. Variation of B with front lighting and the single chick protected by drooping wings.
D. Closeup of heads and faces of both mother and chick.
E. Female guards hatchling. Communal nesting colony could be visible behind. Golden lighting from behind.
Unfortunately all these sketches were based on wishful thinking and a lack of evidence, something one has to guard against in science. I did more reading about pterosaur hatchlings in David Unwin's 2006 book "The Pterosaurs From Deep Time." The book described three major discoveries of fossilized pterosaur embryos in recent years, which is remarkable, since there hadn't been any comparable finds for 200 years.
The new finds showed that the eggshells were probably soft and leathery, and they gave no support to the idea that the young were altricial (requiring nourishment), as opposed to precocial (active and mobile at birth).
I did a new set of sketches. Here are my notes to the art director:
"The hatchling picture is vignetted so it will fit in the lower corner of the page. I gave the egg the appearance of a soft reptilian-type eggshell, and made the hatchling comparatively precocial. I followed David Unwin's summary of the recent pterosaur hatchling fossil discoveries, which suggests they probably didn't need much if any altricial parenting. Also, apparently they could fly quite soon after hatching. This affects the way I paint the little guy. I'll make sure to make him look more flight-ready than he appeared in the sketch."
Now that I had taken it as far as I could with book and internet research, it was time to show the sketches to a scientist in the field. I received the assistance of Christopher Bennett, one of the most knowledgeable experts on Pteranodons, especially their ontogeny.
"I have marked up the babies drawing. Yes, they look very birdy, and they shouldn't other than the rounded skull and the goggle eyes. First off, there would be no trace of a cranial crest. I erased the crests on the left two babies and X-ed out the crest on the right one. The crests did not begin to develop until large and size and the beginnings of sexual maturity were attained. Jaws should not have tip hooks so, I have just drawn straighter lines. I think that the body posture of the right baby is spot on. I have added lines to indicate a bigger hand with three walking fingers in addition to the flight finger. The last problem is the biggest and birdiest of them all. The lower left baby has a pelican head-neck-trunk posture, and there is no way a pterosaur could do that. Yes, there could be a bit of an angle between the front end of the neck and the head, but the neck could not be bent back on itself at all. What I would suggest is replace the pelican neck and trunk with a lizard neck and trunk."
Tomorrow I'll show the final picture incorporating these corrections.
-----------------Part 1: Pteranodons / Thumbnails
Part 2: Pteranodons / Maquette
Part 3: Pteranodons / Step by Step