The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University held a dinosaur drawing class Feb. 1 titled “Bringing Ancient Beasts to Life.”
Paleoartist Jason Poole taught the class. Poole manages the Academy’s Fossil Preparation Lab and is the coordinator of Dinosaur Hall. Poole is also a frequent host of Mega-Bad Movie Night events. He was part of the team that discovered a sauropod in Egypt. His work has been featured in National Geographic and National Geographic World, as well as on the National Geographic Channel.
The session began with a history lesson about depictions of dinosaurs in art. Many mythological creatures, such as griffins, may have been inspired by discoveries of dinosaur bones. The creatures were traditionally portrayed as being not very sophisticated until Waterhouse Hawkins depicted their legs beneath their bodies instead of extending away from them.
The late 1960s were termed the “Dino-Renaissance” because of a renewed interest in the prehistoric reptiles. Prominent artists from that era were R. Baker and William Stout, whose work showcased dinosaurs engaging in various behaviors.
Twenty people of all ages attended the class, including a few Drexel students. One student, Suraj Pandya, a paleontology graduate student in the Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science, said, “This is the first time I’ve taken a drawing class specific to dinosaurs.”
Following this brief presentation, the group left the room to sketch the Tyrannosaurus rex in Dinosaur Hall. Poole encouraged the artists to start with a simple stick figure to determine the spatial relations of the reptile’s body and told them to pay attention to details such as where the hips start. The participants held up their pencils and used them as measuring tools.
“I didn’t know there were classes like this. It’s a unique class and it’s a great opportunity,” Matthew Germain, a designer for Steel City Displays, said. “Doing the stick figure drawing, learning the proportions of the body to the head is quite surprising. Especially the pelvic area. You make a quick glance at a museum, [and it looks different].”
Meanwhile, Poole walked around, seeing if anyone needed help or advice. The artists focused on their work even as museum visitors filled the hall. Members of the group compared their preferred drawing methods of line art and charcoal.
Back in the conference room, Poole pointed out the anatomically incorrect jaw on a model in the room, and the artists went upstairs to compare a T. Rex skull next to a Triceratops skull. Poole said that the Triceratops skull is solid like a Cadillac, while the T-Rex has a bouncy snout.
“The [T. Rex’s] smaller teeth were good for scraping meat off bones,” Poole said. He added that the dinosaur lost its teeth holes as it aged because the holes grew closer together.
The group also focused on producing thumbnails of their chosen poses, paying special attention to body mass of the dinosaurs and examining the effect of light.
One of the challenges of drawing dinosaurs is that we do not know what color their scales were. “[Smaller dinosaurs] were probably fairly bird-like and brightly colored. For the large guys, especially the sauropods, you look at the large animals today like elephants and crocodiles, they’re drabber in color. Sometimes I add some color [to them to represent] selective [evolutionary] pressures. … I try to base it off of nature,” Poole said.
Another challenge stems from the fact that dinosaurs are extinct. “It’s different [from] drawing dynamic animals in motion,” Pandya said.
According to Poole, you can watch live animals to see what behaviors they display, but this can’t be done for dinosaurs. “You’re also trying to draw something that nobody can see,” Poole said.
“I think I’m probably more familiar with dinosaur shapes than most, but I’m always surprised,” Pandya said. “I will learn for the rest of my life and still not learn everything there is to know about dinosaurs.”
The Academy has one adult class or field study each month, with mollusks on deck for March.