Painting the Djadokhta Formation

Mongolian dinosaurs are a group that I have never really known much about, and after getting some good pictures during a trip to the Carcross Desert, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and illustrate some Mongolian palaeofauna.

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I would like to start this post as a shout-out to a palaeontological crowdfunding project which surpassed its goal at 101% about two weeks ago. The Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs, or ISMD, launched this effort to help preserve Mongolia’s fossil heritage as well as to educate future generations about palaeontology. As the campaign was a success, the ISMD will launch their mobile museum, as well as several other educational outreaches(1). You can learn more about the project here.

Two Mongolian dinosaurs (Protoceratops andrewsi and Velociraptor sp.) at the Royal Ontario Museum

It was hearing about this project which inspired this painting. Mongolian dinosaurs are a group that I have never really known much about, and after getting some good pictures during a trip to the Carcross Desert, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and illustrate some Mongolian palaeofauna.

Djadokhta1

During the trip to the Carcross Desert, I happened upon some tracks from a small animal, my ichnology being too limited to tell you which animal left them, and snapped this photo for use in a future piece of palaeoart. Upon getting back, I made my decision of what animals I wanted represented, and then I got to work. The biggest challenge, however, was not the addition of the animals themselves, but that of the accuracy of the photo: there was just too much grass.

While the first appearance of grass in the fossil record pushes their evolution back to the Jurassic, I doubt, based on limited evidence, that there as as much grass in the Djadokhta as there is in the photo, and some major photoshopping had to be done(2). The Spruce trees in the background I left, as while there is no direct evidence yet of these trees from the Djadokhta, my research suggested their presence, as they had already been around some 100 million years prior to the Djadokhta, and in roughly the same area(3).

Djadokhta2

The photo with the grass Photoshopped out

Djadokhta3

The revised photo with a reddish hue added to the sand. This reflects both the current desert and the stone the animals were found in.

A bit about the palaeoenvironmemt of the Djadokhta. Although I represent it here as a desert with some vegetation, this only represents part of the environment located there, as the Djadokhta went through regular wet climatic phases. The holotype of Plesiohadros was actually found in a geologic setting that indicates a “mud-trap”(4). I have however decided to represent the animals in a desert for the following reasons.

Firstly, the animals in the Djadokhta would definitely have experienced such desert(5). Secondly, the official work of palaeoart created for Plesiohadros, painted by the master palaeoartist Julius Csotonyi, showed the animal in a wet climatic phase, and I did not want to imitate his magnificent artwork(6). Finally, I could find no records of specific floras of this region, and decided to err on the side of caution, and show none at all, save for what I have already mentioned.

Djadokhta4

When sketching in the animals, I decided I wanted to show Velociraptor in a more peaceful way. Instead of roaring, screaming, or tearing up a nice Protoceratops steak, it is here represented investigating the resting Hadrosaur, while the rest of the Hadrosaur’s herd prepares to move on.

The idea behind this was in the paper describing Plesiohadros; as Ornithopod remains are scarce in the Campanian of Mongolia, it is likely that they were much less abundant and diverse than in other areas of Laurasia(7). The Velociraptor represented is here seeing a Hadrosaur for the first time, and does not know what to make of it, seeing mostly smaller herbivores in its ecosystem its whole life.

Djadokhta5Djadokhta6

I painted both main animals separately, putting specific attention on the Plesiohadros as it was the larger animal. Both were done using reference photos of the skeletons taken by me or used in scientific publications. I won’t detail the entire process, but I will say that I had to paint, and in some cases texture, each scale separately for the Plesiohadros. In the case of the Velociraptor, I cheated a bit, adding in elements from real birds I had photographed into its plumage.  This is the first time I have used such a technique, and based on its success, I may try it again in the future.

Djadokhta8

After painting the animals, I brought them into the piece. I then painted the second Hadrosaur, leaving out the other two individuals (in reference again to the dearth of Hadrosaurs in this area). I painted it shaking off sand, bugs, and an unfortunate Agamid, to add a second story to the painting. I then changed the footprints a bit to make them appear more Dromaeosaur-like, added shadows that correlated with the position of the sun at the time, and added my signature.

Djadokhta7

The second Plesiohadros shaking off a small Agamid lizard

In all the painting took about three days of working. You can see it here (both in this post and as the banner for my blog), on my website and on my Twitter.

 

Final Painting

Title: Velociraptor and Plesiohadros

Temporal range: Late Cretaceous (Campanian)

Species shown: Velociraptor mongoliensis, Plesiohadros djadokhtaensis, Agamidae sp., Picea sp. and Angiospermae sp.

Geologic setting: Djadokhta Formation

 

That’s all for now. See you soon,

Henry Sharpe

 


Boodhoo, Thea. “Save Mongolia’s Dinosaurs.” Indiegogo. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Aug. 2016. <https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/save-mongolia-s-dinosaurs-science-education#/&gt;.

2 “†family Poaceae Barnhart 1895.” Fossilworks. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Aug. 2016. <http://fossilworks.org/?a=taxonInfo&taxon_no=53546&gt;.

“Picea Link 1827 (spruce).” Fossilworks. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Aug. 2016. <http://fossilworks.org/?a=taxonInfo&taxon_no=198765&gt;.

4 Tsogtbaatar, Khishigjav, David Weishampel, David C. Evans, and Mahito Watabe. “A New Hadrosauroid (Plesiohadros Djadokhtaensis) from the Late Cretaceous Djadokhtan Fauna of Southern Mongolia.” Hadrosaurs. Ed. David A. Eberth, David C. Evans, and Patricia E. Ralrick. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2014. N. pag. Print.

5 ibid.

6 “Aknowledgments.” Hadrosaurs. Ed. David A. Eberth, David C. Evans, and Patricia E. Ralrick. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2014. N. pag. Print.

7 Tsogtbaatar, Khishigjav, David Weishampel, David C. Evans, and Mahito Watabe. “A New Hadrosauroid (Plesiohadros Djadokhtaensis) from the Late Cretaceous Djadokhtan Fauna of Southern Mongolia.” Hadrosaurs. Ed. David A. Eberth, David C. Evans, and Patricia E. Ralrick. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2014. N. pag. Print.

 

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