Gannets nesting on Bass Rock III

How can I give you a sense of what it means to draw on Bass Rock?

At the landing point there is the cry of a peregrine overhead.

Climbing through the ruined castle, we face down the malevolence of the watching herring gulls.

Ascending, we are forced from the path because it has been taken over by nesting gannets. Gannets nest everywhere, covering the slopes, two or three feet apart, the length of a neck and beak.

I drew this, perched myself on a ridiculous three legged stool that sank unstably into the guano enriched mud that covered the rock.

Here are other quick line sketches I did of gannets stalking past.

Gannets nesting on Bass Rock II

Exercises in rapid brush stokes as the birds shuffled and moved around their territories.

I found this a significant challenge and was full of admiration for the more confident and expressive paintings created by others there.


Gannets nesting on Bass Rock I

These are large powerful birds. When they land, there is a thud.

I sat an arms length away, one length of a wing away, a neck stretch away, a stab of that long bill away.

The sharp ammoniac smell and the clamour haunt me still.

18/06/2012 Bass Rock, Firth of Forth

Experimental landscapes III: between breakfast and homework

Bridging the gap between breakfast and homework this morning, we folded a piece of purple typing paper to create a book with panels as numbered pages.

Unfolded, we took turns drawing a continuous line across the panels aiming to create double pages in the book from the discontinuous panels.  We began with a dinosaur theme but the middle pages got hijacked by a fairytale castle and somehow the last ones became cityscapes.  We wanted to colour it quickly and the paper would not take paint, so we used thick chalk pastels, too big for the job.  No finesse here.

I refolded it, sewed the spine and cut the pages .  Here is the sequence of pages, with pretentious words added.

This quick game was based on the method suggested by Greg Poole and described in the last post.

watching the dinosaurs

Over more than a century dinosaurs have become ingrained within our culture. Even if your acquittance with them is limited to Jurassic Park and reading to your children, you can name iconic dinosaurs: tyrannosaurus. velociraptor and … well you know, those long-necked herbiverous ones … I set out to sketch grazing geese in response to this post in  “Tetrapod Zoology” Sauropods were the really big dinosaurs, many tens of tons, held up on on four pillar-like legs.  They all had small heads on long necks.  Check out Mark Witton’s artwork on that post showing a herd of Diplodicus at a water hole.

What made the sauropods (diplodocus, brachiosaurus, apatosaurus and the rest) such successful dinosaurs over millions of years and how did they get so big? Some of their critical features are shared with their kin, the birds: highly efficient lungs incorporating air cavities in bones, a fast metabolism, warm bloodedness and egg laying.  They produced many small offspring and grew very fast.  Growth was obviously not limited to a single season and predator pressure must have advantaged gigantism (I think birds, by contrast, pretty much reach adult size  in a season and parental care plus flight are quite different ways to escape predators that largely do not drive size selection).

Why all sauropods had long necks is clearly controversial among scientists.  One hypothesis brought to my mind similarities with many birds.  Geese have small heads on long necks.  They do not chew their food.  Birds have a gastric mill, grinding food with swallowed stones.  Sauropods certainly did not chew but there’s not evidence for a gastric mill.  Their great bulk would have housed guts like vast fermentation tanks to release nutrients from the ingested vegetation.  It is common place to watch geese walk, stop, graze in an arc and walk on again.  A long neck allows harvesting from a wide area without moving the body’s bulk.  Perhaps a similar strategy in sauropods was a critical factor in enabling gigantism because for a very large animal it reduced the cost of accelerating and stopping to feed.

The geese here by the way are the common greylag, apparently the source stock of the farmyard animal.  They are dismissed even by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds as being uninspiring.  I don’t think so.  I watched this group feed across a flooded gravel pit. My field sketches were limited but I took photographs.  These I later worked up into a charcoal drawing and finally added colour with chalk pastels.



I’ve experimented with drawing buzzards, scratching ink into wet paper, blotting and painting back into the scarred surface.

Giant Pterodactyl

This is as much an aide memoire to myself as a post to others.

Recently, I’ve thrown in a couple of cartoons using Giant Pterodactyl as a means to mayhem- initially inspired by the need for a fitting response to Jeremy Clarkson.

I was drawing reconstructions of pterodactyls as a kid and now coming back to observing and painting animals, I had thought to do so again.  So let me pay tribute to some people doing this seriously whom I’ve noticed on the way.

Davide Bonadonna is a professional PaleoArtist.  I love his illustrations of dinosaurs and contemporary wildlife  I came across him simply by googling images and following his illustrations to their source.  Mark Witton co-wrote a paper on Azhdarchid pterosaur functional anatomy referenced previously and got his painting of marauding giraffe sized monsters into a scientific journal.  He has other great illustrations here  I’ve modified this post to link now to  I’ll be buying his book.

They have both developed the career that I might have fantasied about as a kid, consultant palaeontologist and artist.  I really like their combination of accuracy with artistry.

dinosaurs extant continued

cygnet preening

This was both an exploration of the shape and shapliness of the cygnets I had been observing and an experimentation in the use of mixing water and oil based media.  I used oil pastel and wax to limit the spread of the dilute sepia ink from which I created the bird’s body.  Its no masterpiece but this sketch did work as I had intended.