Roman Uchytel. Taking paleoart to the next level.

Figure 1. Roman Uchytel is the arist/naturalist who is bringing prehistoric beasts and birds back to life.

Figure 1. Roman Uchytel is the arist/naturalist who is bringing prehistoric beasts and birds back to life.

Here’s an artist worth noting.
Roman Uchytel (Fig. 1) says it best himself, “Using only their skeletons, I bring creatures to life that roamed the same routes that take you to and from work hundreds of thousands of years ago.”

His mission:
“Roman Uchytel’s galleries constitute the first resource solely dedicated to the reconstruction of prehistoric animals beyond the dinosaurs. These are not photographs, but rather, artistic recreations from the skeletons of ancient animals that roamed the earth millions of years ago. Many of these fascinating creatures are unfamiliar to the public and remain a mystery even to science.”

Figure 2. Homepage for Roman Uchytel's images. Click to visit.

Figure 2. Homepage for Roman Uchytel’s images. Click to visit.

Check out his website
and you will be filled with wonder:


Paleoart Issues – SVPCA talks

M Witton, D Naish and J Conway express their unhappiness with current paleoart trends in an abstract published in the upcoming SVPCA talk titles and abstracts.

From the Witton, Naish Conway abstract:
“Palaeoartists fight a losing battle for credibility and even moderate commercial success…and we ascribe its ongoing nature to low awareness of three major issues.

Firstly, palaeoart is rife with copying and plagiarism.

Secondly, the scientific rigour associated with many palaeoartworks, even those produced in close association with consulting academics, is often low. 

Thirdly, many palaeoart patrons have unrealistic concepts of financing artwork.”

All three authors are good artists.
Unfortunately there have been times when all three have freehanded things that should have been strictly traced. Unfortunately there have been times when these guys embraced bad hypotheses (archosaur origin for pterosaurs, deep chord wing attached to the ankle, single uropatagium presence, allometry during ontogeny for pterosaurs, forelimb wing launch, etc.) which adversely affected their art. And did I mention these data deniers have blackwashed the work of other workers without providing competing candidate solutions? So they’re not the little angels they think they are. Nevertheless, they raise some interesting issues that should be discussed and perhaps adopted.

Witton MP, Naish D and Conway J 2015. Trends and patterns in modern palaeoartistry: a call for change. SVPCA abstracts 2015.

Stephen Czerkas

Paleoartist and writer Stephen Czerkas died this week.
I respected his artwork (Fig. 1). He was 63 years old.

Stephen Czerkas paleoartist with his most famous creation, before and after feathers.

Figure 1. Stephen Czerkas paleoartist with his most famous creation, Deinonychus, before and after feathers.

I only met Stephen Czerkas once, 
but saw his famous Deinonychus everywhere. He and his wife Sylvia were at or near the center of dinosaur reconstruction several decades ago when I was just a pup. They published several books. Opened a museum. Introduced the world to sauropod spines and made some bad decisions.

Stephen Czerkas was a serious worker, intent on ‘getting things right.’ To that end he added feathers to his Deinonychus (Fig. 1).

Sorry to see him go. He influenced us all.

Learn more here from Bill Stout’s homage to Stephen Czerkas.


Julius Csotonyi book and preview

Julius Csotonyi is the latest and perhaps best dino illustrator I have seen. A rare combination of supreme talent and vivid imagination, the work of Julius Csotonyi just blows my mind. Here’s a link to a Wired preview of the book.

Figure 1. Click to link to book preview and Wired article online for Julius Csotonyi. Just fantastic!!

Figure 1. Click to link to book preview and Wired article online for Julius Csotonyi. Just fantastic!!


Tribute to Doug Henderson, Paleoartist

Perhaps no other paleoartist cares more about the environment of his subjects than does Doug Henderson. Sometimes it is hard to find the animals in the layout filled with rotting logs and misty swamps. Henderson paints with light and so takes his creations beyond mere graphics and elevates it to art. Now there is a YouTube video tribute that is linked here. I enjoy all of Henderson’s artwork. He never fails to amaze.

Click to view YouTube video of Doug Henderson paleo artwork.

Click to view YouTube video of Doug Henderson paleo artwork.

Robert Nicholls – A New Paleoartist

I’m always the last one to know about new talent.
Today, it’s Robert Nicholls, a paleo artist whose website can be accessed here.

 Kronosaurus by Robert Nicholls.

Figure 1. Kronosaurus by Robert Nicholls.

Hylonomus sculpture by Robert Nicholls.

Figure 2. Hylonomus sculpture by Robert Nicholls.

Leedsichthys by Robert Nicholls.

Figure 3. Leedsichthys by Robert Nicholls.

With exciting POVs, moody lighting and good morphologies Nicholls’ work stands at the forefront of what’s out there now.

Nicholls will next be working with the Bristol Dinosaur Project with details and more images here.

John Conway – Paleoartist extraordinaire

John Conway is a paleoartist whose work deserves a wider audience. I encourage all readers to check out his website here.

Conway has the eye of a true artist. His work is simply beautiful. He also brings new insight into familiar and not so familiar specimens. His choice of colors, point-of-view and lighting are unique and more than satisfying. His work invites close inspection and admiration. His work evokes mood and involvement.

Here’s a selection from his homepage.

The art of John Conway. Click to go to his website.

Figure 1. The art of John Conway. Click to go to enlarge and go to his website.

Sure I have the usual rant/quibbles
about his Rhamphorhynchus (he followed the invalidated Sordes cruropatagium model of Sharov/Bakhurina/Unwin), but those are easily overlooked when seduced by his talents for portraying it. In any case, Conway illustrated this falsified hypothesis more clearly than anyone else ever and, in doing so, answered the persistent question: “Was the cloaca above or below the ‘cruropatagium’?” [Conway indicates it was below, evidently, making sex a wee bit more difficult, but excrement did not stain the membrane].

Earlier I also made notes on his Pteranodon proportions.

Don’t miss his Anhanguera cutaway. It’s a classic. Be sure to run your mouse over the “Skeleton :: Musculature :: Pulmonary :: External” caption to see all four images. A truly amazing illustration.

Carol Abraczinskas – Paul Sereno’s Scientific Illustrator

This is a tribute
to fellow dino artist/illustrator Carol Abraczinskas. I was pleased to find these interviews on the web. Getting to know Carol several years ago was a highlight. Seeing her work is always a delight.

Figure 1. Video interview with scientific illustrator, Carol Abraczinskas.

Scientific illustrator, Carol Abraczinskas. Click image to view video produced by SAIC*. Photo courtesy of Bruce Friedland, FBI.

On a personal note:
I once enjoyed an afternoon running around SVP with Carol as she sought autographs from every contributor to a dinosaur encyclopedia then just published. A few years later I flew into Midway in Chicago in a Cessna just to have a pizza with her. Literally, figuratively and on Google, there is only one Carol Abraczinskas. She has been interviewed many times and a Google search will reveal all.

The early years
After graduation from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Abraczinskas began  documenting Egyptian and Nubian artifacts in 1989 at the University of Chicago. That year she joined Paul Sereno on field expeditions to Texas and Niger as a scientific illustrator. She has been with him ever since. Her own work has been exhibited at the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry, both in Chicago. In 2011 she was interviewed by Scientific American, which published this illustration of hers online:

Original caption: Sereno PC (2012) Taxonomy, morphology, masticatory function and phylogeny of heterodontosaurid dinosaurs. ZooKeys 226: 1–225. Fig. 9B.

Original caption: Sereno PC (2012) Taxonomy, morphology, masticatory function and phylogeny of heterodontosaurid dinosaurs. ZooKeys 226: 1–225. Fig. 9B.

The Lanzendorf Prize – x3
Carol Abraczinskas has contributed her expertise to after-school workshops as well as to graduate classes at the University of Chicago, where she teaches advanced courses in scientific illustration. The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology awarded her the John J. Lanzendorf Paleoart Award for Scientific Illustration in 2000, 2005, and 2008. Recent feature articles on Carol and her work have appeared in Scientific American, The Chicago Tribune, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago Alumni Magazine and O, The Oprah Magazine.

*SAIC – The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) offers nationally accredited undergraduate, graduate, and post-baccalaureate programs to nearly 3,200 students from across the globe. Carol is an honored alumna.

A day with John Conway’s Pteranodon

Scott Hartmann’s wonderful blog featured a day with paleo artist, John Conway here. Conway’s work, seen on his website, is unique, insightful, fanciful and beautiful. He has a great following and counts among his friends many, if not all, of the folks, a website he contributes to. Unfortunately I seem to have a constant feud with the folks, to be candid, which is one of the reasons why I started this blog.

It’s important to be accurate
Most of John’s work sparkles with accuracy and artistry. Unfortunately, John’s Pteranodon skull is largely based on the restoration by Bennett (1991, 2001) which was based on several specimens, but chiefly it appears based on the skull of KUVP2212 (Fig. 1). Conway accurately portrays the Bennett restoration and the skull of KUVP2212, but the actual specimen is a chimaera (built from several specimens). So, the post-crania of KUVP2212 do not belong with the skull, but are stitched together like a Frankenstein monster to make a complete display. (That’s what they did back then to make a pretty and spectacular display). If  Conway bought into or depended on the chimaera of Bennett’s restoration or KUVP2212 this may explain some of the problems found here. My email to him on this matter has gone unanswered.

Although I usually take inspiration from Conway’s work, the proportions of John’s Pteranodon along with some of the configurations he sets it in seem to be a wee bit off. I’ll point out my concerns using evidence from other more complete and singular Pteranodon specimens.

I’m not telling you to avoid all of John Conway’s work (which would follow the less than scientific patterns set in 2012 by paleontologists and paleoartists Darren Naish and Mark Witton). Even so, John is not blameless here. He promoted Gothic pterosaur illustrations purportedly based on my hypotheses and, at one time, some blogs falsely attributed that horrorshow to my hand. I would have preferred that he and others would have used my actual illustrations, to be more fair and accurate. And to use the latest work, not things I’ve thrown away many years ago.

That’s why I’m using John’s own images, without distorting them. Here (Figs. 1-3), I’m just pointing out inaccuracies and accuracies with one set of illustrations produced by Conway. Here the facts should speak for themselves and only need a finger to point them out.

wo of the most completely known Pteranodon

Figure 1. Two of the most completely known Pteranodon specimens (UALVP24238 and NMC4138) along with the skull of KUVP2212 to scale. In purple, John Conway’s Pteranodon with a too  small skull and an  odd elbow-high walking configuration. The Conway wings are more robust, but other Pteranodon specimens had more robust wing bones than does the Triebold specimen (see links in text), as can also be imagine by the porportions of the UALVP specimen, above.

Back to Pteranodon
Just one look at two other more complete and closely related Pteranodon specimens (Fig. 1) shows there is great variation in this genus. Even more so when you consider most of the Pteranodon skulls or post-crania without skulls now known. That’s good background material. Now, on to Conway’s artwork…

One reconstruction vs. another
Above is the Conway reconstruction (in purple, evidently based on a chimaera of specimens) alongside my own reconstructions based on the two most complete Pteranodon specimens now known.

Easy to see
1. the Conway Pteranodon skull is only 2/3 as large as it should be based on the non-chimaera specimens and the actual skull of KUVP 2212.

Not so easy to see:
2. Conway includes a smaller scapulocoracoid, which, by its brevity, raises the sternal complex and slants the ribs too far backward and gives Pteranodon a bulging belly. Now, this may be based on the UALVP specimen, which does have a different profile than the Trielbold/NMC specimen, larger humerus, larger sternal complex, etc. Yes, they’re both to the same scale and the variation plainly goes beyond gender or ontogeny.

3. Conway puts the center of balance, the wing root, over the fingers, just beyond the toes. Thus the largely vertical metacarpus requires an elbow-high configuration, unlike that of other pterosaurs with a more relaxed elbow in line with the torso. Conway’s reconstruction puts the shoulder and elbow joints at the extremes of their movement ranges, rather than in the neutral range, as in the Peters configuration. Perhaps Conway is anticipating a forelimb leap.

4. Conway extends the knee joint such that the femur and tibia are nearly aligned, as in humans, rather than at right angles, as in lizards and other reptiles, including birds. Such a configuration disarticulates the distal femoral condyles from the tibia. This also misaligns the prepubes with the femora, which Peters aligns. The Peters configuration also places the femur at right angles to the ilium, but the Conway configuration sets the femur at a further posterior extreme.

5. Conway puts the pteroid in the cup of the preaxial carpal. Peters puts the pteroid on the saddle joint of the proximal carpal (radiale) as confirmed by Kellner (2012) and every other articulated pterosaur.

Anterior view of Pteranodon by Conway.

Figure 2. Anterior view of Pteranodon by Conway (sans skull). Here the elbows are high, which is an excellent way to add curvature to the wing membrane. If you look closely the metacarpals are stacked, palmar side forward, and high, which would produce pterosaur handprints with all three digits extending posteriorly, which is not the case in pterosaur fossils. I’d also fill in the space between the sternal complex and deltopectoral crest with more muscle.

In anterior view
the Conway reconstruction correctly raises the elbow higher than the wrist, adding curvature to the extended wing. Unfortunately Conway stacks the metacarpals so their palmar sides face anteriorly in flight, following the very strange and untenable hypothesis of Bennett (2008) detailed and criticized here (and see Fig. 3). This configuration provides no room for the extensor tendon of the wing finger (Fig. 3) and, when the fingers do extend, all three would extend posteriorly, which is not reflected in the fossil track record. The Peters configuration keeps the fingers palmar side down (Fig. 3), as in other tetrapods, so the fingers extend laterally as reflected in the fossil record. Only digit 3 extends posteriorly due to a more spherical, lizard-like metacarpophalangeal joint as discussed here.

The fragile hinge binding tiny metacarpal 3 to giant metacarpal 4 forms a metaphorical drawbridge when the extensor tendon rots away, creating the misleading interpretation of the palmar side facing anteriorly as the set rises until stopped in bottom currents. When the wing is preserved anterior side down as shown here, the correct order and configuration is maintained during burial. When the wing is preserved dorsal side down the drawbridge affect raises the three conjoined metacarpals ventrally as a unit, proving my point.

Pterosaur finger orientation in lateral view

Figure 3. Pterosaur finger orientation in lateral view, the two hypotheses of the evolution of the pterosaur manus by Bennett and by Peters. In Bennett’s view the entire manus rotates palmar side forward, digits 1-3 migrate as a group to the middle of the palmar side and there is no room for the extensor tendon, among other more ghastly problems.  In the Peters scenario the only thing that happens is an axial rotation and enlargement of metacarpal 4.

In dorsal view (Fig. 4) the flying Pteranodon of Conway likely has too much extended soft tissue that is not shown in the Zittel wing, for instance. It’s a nice thought, creating a thicker, more airplane-like wing, but such tissue would likely interfere with folding.

 Conway Pteranodon in dorsal view.

Figure 4. Conway Pteranodon in dorsal view. The black and dark gray areas are hypothetical soft tissue.

Conway is correct in his shallow-at-the-elbow wing membrane configuration. And that’s great. Drawing that configuration Conway breaks from the paradigm of the folks.

In my opinion, the humerus extends too far laterally in the Conway reconstruction and so does the forearm. This is a common an oft repeated error (Fig. 5). The basic pterosaur wingshape is shown here (Fig. 5) in which the elbows are further back, the elbow extends no more than 110 degrees and the metacarpus aligns with the wing finger creating a rather straight sailplane-like wing. In flight the tibiae would have extended to their limits on the femora creating a wider horizontal stabilizer held that way with little effort by the aerodynamics of the webbed feet, now held palmar side medially like twin rudders.

Figure 8. Click to enlarge. Problems with the Elgin, Hone and Frey (2011) pterosaur wing model with corrections proposed by Peters (2002).

Figure 5. Click to enlarge. Problems with the Elgin, Hone and Frey (2011) pterosaur wing model with corrections proposed by Peters (2002). And yes, they tried to cheat the look (lower right) by redrawing my configuration to make it look bad. Use these illustrations, guys!! Don’t cartoon your own and pass it off as mine. Note: Conway’s pterosaur wings are not quite like either of these.

To John’s credit, I was inspired to redo the ribs on the Triebold specimen, which is one of my oldest reconstructions. I angled them further back, which shifted the sternal complex further back.

I encourage all observers of paleoart to see with two sets of eyes, one for accuracy and one for beauty. And do visit when you have a chance to. It’s a rich and rewarding experience.

As always, I encourage readers to see specimens, make observations and come to your own conclusions. Test. Test. And test again.

Evidence and support in the form of nexus, pdf and jpeg files will be sent to all who request additional data.

Bennett SC 1991. Morphology of the Late Cretaceous Pterosaur Pteranodon and Systematics of the Pterodactyloidea. [dissertation]  University of Kansas. Available from University Microfilms Int. no. 9238613. 680 pp.
Bennett SC 2001. The osteology and functional morphology of the Late Cretaceous pterosaurPteranodonPart I. General description of osteology. Palaeontographica, Abteilung A, 260: 1-112.   Part II. Functional morphology. Palaeontographica, Abteilung A, 260:113-153.
Bennett SC 2008. Morphological evolution of the forelimb of pterosaurs: myology and function. Pp. 127–141 in E Buffetaut and DWE Hone eds., Flugsaurier: pterosaur papers in honour of Peter Wellnhofer. Zitteliana, B28.
Elgin RA, Hone DWE and Frey E 2011. The extent of the pterosaur flight membrane. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 56 (1), 2011: 99-111. doi: 10.4202/app.2009.0145
Peters D 2002. A New Model for the Evolution of the Pterosaur Wing – with a twist. – Historical Biology 15: 277–301.