Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Big Book of Dinosaurs – Part 2

Vintage Dinosaur Art

Some more Steve Kirk for you now, why not? You might have noticed that my first post on this book only covered theropods (for reasons that are surely well known by now), so let’s now turn to those pesky Other Dinosaurs. A good place to start would be what appear to have been the cover stars (I lack the dust jacket) – these two hadrosaurs, here. And suitably 1980s-looking they are, too.

Lambeosaurus and Corythosaurus by Steve Kirk

Prior to the Dino Renaissance, hadrosaurs tended to be depicted as tripodal tail-draggers, rather cumbersome on land but graceful in the water – often illustrated diving into a lake as an enraged tyrannosaur looked on, flailing its arms and gawping uselessly. While this would all change in the 1970s, the transition to our modern image of these animals was fairly gradual. In the ’70s and ’80s, while sticking largely to dry land and keeping their tails off the ground, hadrosaurs were still depicted as largely upright and bipedal, as Lambeosaurus and Corythosaurus above demonstrate. They remind me a great deal of Sibbick’s work from the same period, although Kirk’s portrayal of scaly hadrosaur skin is a little less strange than Sibbick’s super-wrinkly leathery hides.

These are essentially the hadrosaurs I grew up with, so although they look strange by modern standards, they are sweetly nostalgic. As ever, Kirk’s done a wonderful job in giving them visually interesting, yet plausible skin patterns. The Lambeosaurus is the blander of the two in its ‘forest camouflage’ get-up, but its subtly blended stripes and naturalistic counter-shading are still pleasing. Of course, it’s the showier Corythosaurus that gets my vote, especially for the way those red stripes fan out on the head crest.

Maiasaura by Steve Kirk

Maiasaura makes an appearance here too and, curiously, it’s shown in a quadrupedal posture that looks altogether more ‘modern’ than the lambeosaurines. That might just be down to circumstance, mind you, as the animal is shown (of course) tending to its nest, which involves a lot of tiring stooping down, as any mother will tell you.

Now, it was common back in the day to illustrate Maiasaura sitting on top of its eggs like a giantic, leathery hen – there was even a Maiasaura-on-nest toy made for the Carnegie Collection, and no, the adult wasn’t detachable. There was one major problem with this trope – it didn’t make any sense, as a multi-tonne behemoth of a hadrosaur squatting on top of a nest of eggs would quickly mash its precious brood into something like the crude beginnings of an omelette. It’s a little odd, then, that Kirk takes things even further here by showing Maiasaura flat to the ground, seemingly determined to crush all its eggs with its belly. Or maybe it’s just sunbathing in a supportive cavity that it’s dug for itself, I dunno.

Since I feel all mean now, I will add that this is yet another beautifully painted scene. In particular, the foliage in the background is wonderful. The animals themselves are also very well reconstructed for 1989, with chunky (but muscular) limbs and just the single low crest on the head.

Iguanodon by Steve Kirk

And speaking of excellent reconstructions…now we’re on to the good stuff. This Iguanodon is superb for the time, and barring one or two very minor nitpicks, pretty damn good even today. More than that, though, this is just a lovely work of palaeoart. Again, we’re treated to glorious lush vegetation but this time, the flora completely surrounds and contextualises the beast. We’re out for a walk in the forest, and through a clearing in the ferns, we catch sight of this magnificent creature.

You’ll note, also, that there are trees in the background that dwarf even this rather large dinosaur. I know I’ve said it on several occasions before, but it really helps give a greater sense of dinosaurs being a mere component of a vast ecosystem, rather than being ‘lords of the earth’ that towered over everything else. It’s also worth noting that a portion of this piece has been cut off by my scanner; on the page, the giant redwood-like tree is even more dominant, and this piece as a whole is even more impressive.

Stegosaurus by Steve Kirk

Stegosaurus also enjoyed tall trees, as the above illustration demonstrates. Again, the tree extends up beyond what’s shown here, and even with a photo of a stegosaur skull stuck in the top left hand corner, this is a really striking and unusual composition for a piece of palaeoart. I really like that so much white space was left on the page (more than is shown in my scan). This piece is nicely complimented by a pretty modern-looking skeletal reconstruction on the opposite page, a real plus for a book like this.

Diplodocus by Steve Kirk

Diplodocus, too, is shown rearing up to browse the treetops. Strangely, sauropods are quite poorly represented by life reconstructions in this book (especially when compared with theropods), with this one being about as good as it gets. When compared with some of Kirk’s other creations, these beasts are rather drab and grey, but at least they’re well-proportioned and muscular and walk with their tails clear of the ground (sauropods were seemingly the last dinosaurs to stop tail-dragging in palaeoart). The low-lying fog adds a suitably mysterious and primordial atmosphere to the scene, and the muted palette is unusual for Kirk, an artist seemingly more at home with vivid colours and bright sunshine.

Saltasaurus by Steve Kirk

While we aren’t treated to too many sauropod illustrations in this book, at least we get a Saltasaurus, that seemingly forgotten mainstay of ’80s and ’90s dinosaur books. Kirk’s interesting choice of perspective cannily emphasises the enormous bulk of this beast, not to mention its trademark Bony Nodules. The animal’s neck and (especially) head look a little tacked on, which I suppose is fair enough given the time this was produced. Rather strangely, given that it’s given such prominence on the page, Saltasaurus is only mentioned in passing in the text as a kind of ‘last hurrah’ of the sauropods in the southern hemisphere, long after they’d all but disappeared further north. Poor guy just can’t catch a break.

Pachycephalosaurus by Steve Kirk

Unlike Saltasaurus, which I’m pretty sure has never been shown engaging in a spot of intraspecific combat (someone fix that please), Pachycephalosaurus has (seemingly) almost always been depicted smashing its shiny bone dome against the freakishly rounded skull roof of another pachycephalosaur. And so it is here. This being the 1980s, these two Wyoming thickheads have disproportionatley small, er, heads, making them look like roided-up pro wrestler-style versions of their modern selves. But that’s just science marching on. Said heads (and necks, and torsos) are still quite beautifully painted, and I’m especially fond of the pale blue-grey highlights on the creatures’ cranial adornments. Pretty.

Triceratops by Steve Kirk

And finally…here’s another marginocephalian, in what might just be the best piece in the whole book. It’s certainly the one that most grabs the reader’s attention – flicking through, you might pass by grey old Diplodocus and Saltasaurus, but there’s no ignoring this one. Once more, my scanner has cut off the edges of the image, but you get the idea – it’s Triceratops, close up, head on, against a plain yellow background. “Triceratops…must have been an intimidating sight,” Dixon notes, and once certainly gets that impression here. As if the horns weren’t enough,  that red-fringed frill is certainly imparting a clear message. Wonderful work, from the gleaming highlights on the frill to the subtle blend of the animal’s keratinous beak with its scaly face.

Thanks again to John Conway for giving me this book! For my next post, I’ll be playing with little pop-out card figures in paper dioramas thanks to another reader donation. Can’t wait.

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