Thursday, September 13, 2012

Painting Dryptosaurus: A Tutorial

This week I decided to follow up on my very first post and do another, more in-depth tutorial on paleo-art.  This time we are going to go over the basics of watercolor painting!  The animal we shall be painting is Dryptosaurus, in honor of Tyler Keillor's project.

Like all of my drawings, I must first start out with a rough sketch to make sure I am getting the proportions right.  Unfortunately, Dryptosaurus is known from only several bones and not a full skeleton.  When this happens my best bet is to reference close relatives to DryptosaurusDryptosaurus was a tyrannosauroid but not a tyrannosaurid (confusing I know) so it was a bit more primitive than its big-headed, two-fingered cousins like Tyrannosaurus.  When dealing with Dryptosaurus I look at animals like Eotyrannus and Appalachiosaurus as guides.  Both of these dinosaurs are not only related to Dryptosaurus, but according to the bones on the fossil record, they visually resembled Dryptosaurus as well.  The overall body type is similar to that of Tyrannosaurus but more streamlined, longer legs and longer arms with three fingers on each hand instead of two with digit one's (or finger one, the equivalent of the thumb) claw being the biggest. 

When sketching the body, press lightly with the pencil.  I, myself, ended up redoing this several times until I was satisfied with what I drew so erasing a failed attempt is a lot easier when drawn lightly.  Also, when using watercolors, the paint is going to be the bold, hard edges you need, not the pencil lines.  If all goes well, no pencil lines will be visible in the finished product.

Once the drawing is done its time to apply the first layer of paint.  With watercolors, you apply the paint from the tube onto a plastic pallet and let them dry.  Then, you take wet brushes and gather color from the dried clumps of paint to apply to the paper.  These dried clumps of paint can last for years before depleted (depending on how much is on the pallet).

The first thing I want to do is apply a base color.  I am going to make this Dryptosaurus green.  I'm going to take a little bit of green paint and mix it with a LOT of water.  Then I take a wet brush and apply a light layer of watered-down paint over my entire dinosaur.


I've said it many times before; nothing in nature is ever one solid color.  What I do while my layer of green is still sopping wet, is add some other bits of color.  Not much, just enough to make the dinosaur look not so uniform.  Video time!


Hope that made sense.  Then we wait for this first layer to dry.  Normally, depending on how much paint you have on the paper, it takes about ten minutes for a layer to dry.  I like to paint with the TV on to keep me entertained.  My grandmother, who also paints watercolors, used to use a hairdryer to speed up the process.  Its up to you.  After the first layer is all dry its time to add some shading.  Shading is crucial to making anything look realistic.  Another video woooo!

When my first wave of shading is complete the dinosaur looks like this.

Now we can start adding more detail.  I take a fine brush and use the same darker shade of green that I used for the shadow to make wrinkles and scales on the body.  I also am going to add feathers to this guy since we know from fossil evidence that at least some other tyrannosauroids had them. 

This stuff takes practice, as does anything in life.  Just keep at it and have fun.  Don't be afraid to go back and re-apply shading to something that didn't come out dark enough.  Generally, a layer of watercolor paint will dry much lighter than when it was applied.  My finished product looks like this.

Don't get frustrated if it doesn't come out exactly the way you wanted it.  I've been painting for over twenty years and to this day I don't think I have ever produced something I was 100% satisfied with.  Nobody is perfect at anything!  The good thing to get out of this is having the knowledge that you can only get better with practice!

Join me next week as I interview another extremely talented paleo-artist! 

Works Cited

Cope, E.D. (1866). "Discovery of a gigantic dinosaur in the Cretaceous of New Jersey." Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 18: 275-279.

 Holtz, T.R. (2004). "Tyrannosauroidea." Pp. 111-136 in Weishampel, Dodson and Osmolska (eds). The Dinosauria (second edition). University of California Press, Berkeley.

Xu, X.; Wang, K.; Zhang, K.; Ma, Q.; Xing, L.; Sullivan, C.; Hu, D.; Cheng, S. et al. (2012). "A gigantic feathered dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of China" (PDF). Nature 484: 92–95. doi:10.1038/nature1090

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