Build a maquette
Whatever creature you’re painting, a maquette will provide valuable information about lighting, texture and foreshortening. James Gurney shows you how
James Gurney creates creatures.
Paleontology is full of dramatic stories of life and death, but rarely is an event as vividly captured in stone as in the fossils described by Paul Sereno. Several juvenile ornithomimid dinosaurs got stuck while trying to cross an area of soft mud. They became mired in an upright position, suggesting they eventually gave up after struggling to escape. Scientific American Magazine commissioned me to try and recreate the tragic moment.
I begin my work by looking at photographs of the fossils and line drawings of the skeletons. These will be essential for keeping my maquette close to the exact proportions of the actual fossil. I browse the internet for photos of analogous modern mud-stranded animals, to see what happens as they try to escape. I also pay close attention to the geographic orientation of the fossils and make sure that the direction of the sun in the painting corresponds to the sun direction at the fossil site.
If it wasn’t below freezing outside, I would be out in a muddy pond, wallowing around to see what it feels like to die in quicksand. Anything I can do to experience what my subjects experienced makes my painting more convincing.