Thoracic Park

Because I’m on this movie kick (and I need to be off to watch another one), I share with you this painting that I did as an undergraduate, at about the time Jurassic Park came out.

The original painting of the logo for "Thoracic Park"

The original painting of the logo for “Thoracic Park”

The idea originated in my vertebrate comparative anatomy course. As I recall, we were in the middle of dissecting a dogfish shark, and we started joking about Thoracic Park, and how we needed to make a department T-shirt. I did this painting probably within 24 hours, but it never became a T-shirt. We suddenly became worried about licensing issues and it got back-burnered, then forgotten.

But it’s back.

And because George Lucas can do it, here it is again, enhanced with modern technology (aka Photoshop):

"Thoracic Park" logo, with a little Photoshop improvement.

“Thoracic Park” logo, with a little Photoshop improvement.


I once was an artist…

So with yesterday’s blog post, I started thinking a lot about my old ‘artist’ days. Back when I was in high school I was convinced that I was going to be an Olympic athlete and an artist. That’s a bit different from the vertebrate paleontologist and isotope geochemist that I’ve become.

Anywho, writing that post (and seeing my son’s report card with glowing comments about his artistic ability) made me think again about my art. For giggles (and I may be risking a lot here), I’ve decided to post photos of my artwork and call it a blog post.

Here goes:

The first painting I ever had framed. That’s a Caniberon floating in the middle there. This won an Honorable Mention at the Utah State High School art show when I was a sophomore. Ink on illustration board. All rights reserved.

The Quick and the Dead. This was an assignment in my art class. It’s a mixture of watercolor and Prismacolor on illustration board. Images are drawn from photographs. All rights reserved.

Caniberons sword fighting. Acrylic on canvas board. Done back in high school. See? My interest in swordplay goes way back! All rights reserved.

This one inspired my high school art teacher to tell me that each painting I did was somewhat more morbid than the last. Watercolor. All rights reserved.

Skeptical Pronon. This I painted in about one week for an art show in high school. Arcylic on masonite. All rights reserved.

I enjoyed drawing and painting Pronons (and a whole fleet of six-legged critters from their home planet). The Winter Olympics happened while I was in painting-mode, and Pronons figured into a couple of Olympics-inspired paintings.

Ski jumping Pronon. Watercolor. High school. All rights reserved.

Speed skating Pronon. Watercolor. High school. All rights reserved.

I was also big into cheetahs. They turned up as cheetahs in a couple of pieces, and as the Ulfrese (my response to the “Transformers”) in a few others.

Cheetah running. Acrylic on canvas board. High school. All rights reserved.

A mountain-biking Ulf. Pencil on illustration board. High school. All rights reserved.

A hipster Ulf. He was hipster before it was hip. Pencil on illustration board. High school. All rights reserved.

Caniberons are also common art subjects of mine. They’ve also appeared in a yet-to-be-finished script that one day I’ll get back to. I came up with several species.

Caniberon sapiens. Pen and ink on illustration board. High school. All rights reserved.


Caniberon celerissime. The swift caniberon. Pen and ink on illustration board. Dunno if this is high school or college. All rights reserved.

Caniberon curvus. It’s the big tusks that are unique to the genus Caniberon. This one’s are very curved. Pencil on illustration board. High school or college. All rights reserved.

Caniberon in snow. Watercolor. College (I think). All rights reserved.

A brightly colored species of Caniberon. I never finished this painting. Acrylic on canvas board. College or grad school. All rights reserved.

This is meant to be like a star-map or something. Down there in the lower left is a beast called Praedonta, which is the sister-group of Caniberon. Watercolor. High school. All rights reserved.

An then there are a litany of other random animals:

Awkward school photo. Here I was trying to stick four eyes on a sentient mammal’s head. Watercolor. High school (I think). All rights reserved.

Chranku. Here I was wondering what would happen if you took a saber-toothed tiger and put the saber on the lower jaw. Water color. High school. All rights reserved.

Five-legged critter. For this, I asked myself ‘what if the lobed dorsal fin in early tetrapods became a full-blown limb?’ This was my answer. Pen and ink on illustration board. High school. All rights reserved.

A random snarly thing. Check out those incisors! Pen and ink on illustration board. College (methinks). All rights reserved.

Russah. This was a critter that I had developed some stories around. I’ve forgotten the stories, but remember the name, Russah. Pen and ink on illustration board. College (I think). All rights reserved.

Very colorful random stylized thing. I think this is the same beaked critter from before. Watercolor. High school. All rights reserved.

Not sure what was going on here, but I seem to have combined Caniberons and Pronons. Watercolor. High School. All rights reserved.

More standard fare: A pegasus taking flight. Scratchboard. High school. All rights reserved.

I also fiddled some with pointillism, where one draws a picture with nothing but dots:

Stylized phoenix or firebird. Pen and ink on illustration board. College. All rights reserved.

Phoenix bending space. Pen and ink on illustration board. College. All rights reserved.

I’ve done a lot of technical work using computer software. This is the one piece of ‘scientific’ art work I’ve done using watercolor. It’s based upon the real notes that I took as I was describing a new species of multituberculate mammal:

Notes on _Fractinus palmorem_ a new genus and species of mammal from the Hanna Basin of Wyoming. Watercolor and pen and ink. Graduate school. All rights reserved.

So that’s everything I have photos of (certainly not everything I’ve ever drawn). I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at them. Perhaps someone out there can give me the inspiration to  continue drawing, and maybe get back into the more ‘fine arts’ end of things with paint and brush. It’s been a while.

How horses made me who I am

When I was about four years old, my mother first told me about the horse she had when she was growing up. His name was ‘Watch Charm,’ but Mom just called him Charmie. After that, I became a typical horse-crazy girl growing up in the middle of the city. But I can trace that fact that I’m sitting here, now, as a paleontologist back to that conversation. This is how it worked.

I had this one toy horse that I loved. In fact, I still have that toy horse. I should find it an post a picture here. Anyway, I sat down and started drawing pictures of that horse. I wanted to draw the perfect horse. It was my way of imagining actually having one.

I spent years perfecting my drawings. I would study some of the toy horses that I had and sketch those. Then I graduated into looking at pictures of horses and copying those. I got some ‘how to draw’ books.

Something clicked in me around middle school. I noticed that horses and humans had all the same bones, they were just arranged differently, for different functions. In fact, I realized that all terrestrial vertebrate (though I didn’t call them that at the time) had all the same bones. Then I got creative.

Of course, I didn’t fully understand biology or evolution then,  but I tried to imagine what animals that evolved in different environments would look like. Or what a sentient horse would be like. I spent years creating strange new alien species, mostly mammals, based upon what I understood of comparative anatomy (all of which I taught myself).

In middle school, I read parts of Gray’s Anatomy, and began to think about how muscles and bones work together. Every animal I created had to ‘work’ to the best of my knowledge. I would draw skeletal and muscular reconstructions for each animal. Things were getting pretty detailed.

By the time I was in high school, I’d gone so far as to invent some cultures and interactions for some of the species, but still, they were mostly mammalian. I took a number of art classes and was by then producing some great paintings and drawings of my critters doing unexpected things: the Ulfrese (my biological answer to the ‘transformers’) were cheetah-like and seemed to like to ride mountain bikes. Then there were the Pronons that were my functional concept of a minotaur, that for whatever reason, enjoyed winter sports (it could have been that the Winter Olympics were on!).

An Ulf riding a bike. Pencil on illustration board. I drew this in high school. All rights reserved.

A Pronon ski jumping. Watercolor. I painted this in high school. All rights reserved.

A Pronon speed skating. Watercolor. I painted this in high school. All rights reserved.

Then my art teacher challenged us to invent an animal that looked like a plant, or vice versa (I don’t remember). I naturally came up with an animal the was a plant, and spent a great deal of time conceptualizing it’s fern-like reproduction.

When high school was nearly over, I had established a few things about myself that remain true today: I am an artist and I am a scientist. I was mulling over how I could be both and make a career of it. The obvious choice was dinosaur reconstructions. I’d be the artist that fleshes out the dinosaurs. I’d be a paleontologist!

I went to college to study geology and biology. I already knew that paleontology was an interdisciplinary science. I knew I could never do what I wanted to do without solid training in both geology and biology, so I double-majored.

The unexpected occurred. I found that I really liked geology a lot! I could actually see myself being just a geologist. That’s OK. There’s a future in that. I also rekindled an old interest in chemistry, which surprised me.

I learned also that paleontology isn’t just something you major in. If you wanted to be a paleontologist, you had to get an advanced degree. That degree would either be in geology or biology. When I was near graduation, I started applying to graduate programs in both fields, but the ones that attracted me the most were those in geology. I wound up in a Ph.D. program at the University of Wyoming to study vertebrate paleontology. But here’s the kicker: I wasn’t going to work with dinosaurs or even with life reconstructions.

Well, it’s worked out. As a grad student, I was introduced to isotope geochemistry, which is what I do to get paid now. Occasionally, I even get to work with dinosaur fossils. I’ve never become a paleoartist and done reconstructions. Perhaps I should be disappointed, but the people who actually are paleoartists do some amazing work. I don’t think I could do that! I do still draw – a lot! I do my own figures for papers. It’s nice to not have to hire anyone to do that for me. I really enjoy putting together posters for professional meetings. I get a little arsty-fartsy with them. It’s a lot of fun. And doodles of horses appear everywhere!

Artsy-fartsy rendition of my singular new species of Mammal, _Fractinus palmorem_ . Pen and ink and watercolor. Did this in graduate school. Never finished it. All rights reserved.

Here’s the fun thing: After grad school I found myself on a postdoctoral project working with – you guessed it – horses. Yeah, it came full-circle. I started with a love of horses, and today I do a lot of work with fossil horses (and other cool mammals). I still have it in my head to one day own a horse, though honestly, I’d be happy with any equid. Mules are nice. Donkey’s are cute and fuzzy. Maybe not a zebra…

So. I’m a vertebrate paleontologist. And an isotope geochemist. All because my mom told me the story of her horse way back when I was four years old. Never underestimate the influence your little story might have on someone. Such things could be life-changing!