There’s hardly anything more thrilling for me than customising a fossil cast. It combines hard observation, painting and modelling skills and using the right materials. Above all, it is ideal to have a good reference you can use to copy to the last detail, but as you’ll be able to see, if you don’t have a proper Larry Witmer-style lab, this is not always possible. It is great to be able to alternate from my computer painting to three dimensional work, and is very educational. The results, although not perfect, have been better than I expected, even if I feel I’m just an amateur in the matter. Thanks to the good advice of Peter Norton of Gondwana Studios, having been frustrated for a long time with the use of acrylic paints on resin casts, I found that combination of enamels, airbrush and brushes can achieve the effects I was searching for. And there’s a lot more to investigate at the level of materials.
In the examples you see here, the biggest problem was trying to find the correct references to use to finish painting the slabs… this Microraptor cast ( originally meant for the Dinosaur rEvolution exhibition) has been popular for a while and exhibited in different states of restoration (some paint it with feathers, some without) . Finding good pictures of the original fossil as reference was going to be difficult… and when I found them, they were not optimal… nevertheless having one picture is better than nothing, and armed with a good magnifying glass it became evident that the original has not been fully prep yet (not sure where it is now). It its very interesting that thanks to the lack of preparation, the feathers are almost invisible… but going over the photographs in detail I was able to find some of the evasive traces: a tuff of grey feathers at the end of the tail and some faint feather traces alongside the arms and legs. Enhancing the delicate claws and finding a “missing” tooth in the cast was challenging too.
This Confuciusornis cast was a different matter: I did not have pictures of the original fossil so I had to use several other references and a lot of guesswork, specially considering that the cast shows the skeleton sideways!… and with this Berlin Archaeopteryx cast things were easier.
After all the detail of the slabs, a T. rex predentary was also quite a challenge of a different sort, especially if you consider that the teeth enamel itself represented a drastic change in texture and colour… And there you have it: a lesson in Art, Science (and also…Surrealism) hanging on my wall… as always.
As an aside bonus, some non-dinosaurian stuff! Being the Neotenic Ape I am, a collection of casts wouldn’t be complete without a good selection of hominid skulls (only two of them I customised myself) to understand where all this comes from. This collection has been a great source of personal study… and confirms to me that the mosaic of human evolution is indeed a struggle of adult apes trying to become the ultimate infantile ape: ourselves! You can see the frontal lobes struggling to bump out and create a forehead… and one of the most striking examples is the Neanderthal boy as compared to the adult: this big-headed boy features are the winners in our own species: Homo sapiens sapiens! There’s nothing more didactic than having all of them together on a table and “play the puzzle”… it would be so easy for creationists to learn… with an open mind of course!
Never underestimate the power of the Runaway Brain theory, and the enormous sex display machine we have evolved inside our heads… we are no doubt neotenic apes still playing with our inner and outer toys even as we die of old age… and we artists are good proof of it!