Meet Henry Sharpe – Paleoartist, Future Paleontologist

In one painting, a Daspletosaurus is rubbing its snout against tree bark as a way to clean its skin after eating.  In another, a small velicoraptor simply investigates a much larger hadrosauroid (Plesiohadros djadokhtaensis).  Henry Sharpe focuses his artistic lens a little differently than other paleoartists might; shifting the view from one of naked aggression and survival to one of (potential) everyday moments in prehistoric existence.

These moments, often gentle–evocative of the behavior of extant animals, behavior we may readily recognize and understand—and absent drama, make his artwork perhaps that much more realistic.


 

Screenshots of artwork by Henry Sharpe from his website

He bases them all on the latest research, keeping up with the most current scientific papers.  He also extrapolates known behavior of creatures alive today and applies it to similar extinct animals, an educated guess rather than a flight of pure imaginative fancy.  And in that way, he prompts the viewer to think and question: could this be how that animal truly behaved?  Is this how a snapshot in time might have looked at that moment for those animals?  How much do we know about that animal?  What else do we have yet to discover?

Or such are the thoughts that any good paleoart encourages within me. Good paleoart—in my opinion—invites more questions, inspires more interest, encourages more research.  Because that art opens doors that I didn’t realize were there. It offers a tantalizing glimpse of animals many of us yearn so deeply to actually know and see and understand. Paleontological research is a huge step in that process; paleoart is its creative partner.

Getting that art right—or as much as we can possibly make it ‘right’ in our relatively limited knowledge so far—is extremely important.*

“So much of palaeoart involves dinosaurs roaring and trying to kill each other,” Henry explained in an email, “which is unfortunate because not only are we pretty sure most of them didn’t roar, but also because nature isn’t like that. So much of the lives of modern animals are not represented in palaeoart: things like drinking, sleeping, patrolling, caring for young, resting, etc.

“In fact, when you look at many modern predators, not only does hunting for prey take up a vast minority of time, but most hunting attempts are unsuccessful.  I would love to see a piece showing a beaten and bruised Allosaurus looking longingly in the distance as its Camptosaurus quarry escapes.

“There are also a great deal of unusual behaviours unique to certain animal groups that are pretty likely for dinosaurs. Case in point is my Daspletosaurus, which is based on Komodo Dragons (the largest living lizards in the world, and the largest reptiles with lips, which were likely features for Tyrannosaurs like Daspletosaurus). Komodos, despite their filthy and disgusting reputation, are actually remarkably clean animals, and have been observed cleaning their muzzles of blood on bits of foliage after feeding, and I translated this to Daspletosaurus.”

image of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), photo: C.E. Seo from Getty Images

Henry doesn’t just read about paleontology: he is a frequent visitor at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada, discussing paleontology with its experts and volunteering at their Kids’ Camp.  He is a recently published author with a scientific article in Earth Archives and other articles in the works related to Canada’s 150th year anniversary.  He writes about paleontology on his blog; he posts his artwork on his website.

It is very easy to forget that Henry Sharpe is 15 years old.

This couldn’t have been clearer when, after asking him by phone if he sells any of his art, he replied, “I don’t really get any requests now mostly because I haven’t really been around that long to advertise it.”

“But,” he continued, “down the road, I hope I can.”

His passion for art and science seem marvelously balanced by his own thoughtful sensitivity to the world around him, an awareness of the opportunities he’s had in life, a certain graciousness, and a refreshing lack of arrogance despite his considerable talent and intelligence.

When I expressed amazement at his knowledge, his humble response was, “I wouldn’t say I have the greatest breadth of knowledge, as I usually overlook obvious mistakes trying to get the rest of the painting right. For instance, in one piece I spent so much time working on the body shapes of the three protagonists (a mosasaur and two elasmosaurids) that I failed to check whether or not they would have had external ear openings (turns out they didn’t, which I found out a few months later)!”

Screenshot of artwork from his website

 

He credits his family for prompting his interests.  The members of his family, he wrote, “are all very much interested in science, nature, and design. They’ve also impressed the importance of knowing what you’re talking about, especially in preparation for friendly debates around the dining room table. School has also been pretty helpful, not only in its stress on locating and interpreting technical articles, but also in the expansive archive of papers the library provides (I’m pretty lucky with that).”

“They’ve always kind of encouraged critical thinking and exploring careers in science,” he continued by phone when I asked if they shared his love of art and paleontology.  “Both of my parents are kind of illustrators in their own right.  My dad is a scientific illustrator.  My mom is an interior designer, so I kind of get the technical artistic kind of thing from them.

“But, yeah, I think a lot of it is just me dragging them around to places.”

It seems that he stands alone in his passion at school, as well.

“My school is kind of half divided among the kids who want to go into the kind of more money-making fields and kids who want to go into science.  And among those, there are the few kids who want to go into biology.  And among them, there’s me, who wants to do paleontology!”

Which prompted me to ask if his friends love dinosaurs they way he does.

“[I]n terms of dinosaurs,” he replied, “no, I’m completely alone.”

He added, “I tried to start a dinosaur club and,” his emphasis here was tinged with humour, “it failed SPECTACULARLY.”

“The truth about the digital stuff that I do, most of it is just practice. There’s a great arts program at my school, but it’s kind of evenly distributed between sculpting and drawing and film studies.  So, a lot of the stuff that I’ve been doing on the computer is a lot of just me doodling away for hours on end.”

“My preferred medium is probably still pencil, for the sole reason that I can doodle inconspicuously in class when things get slow.”

This made me smile when we discussed this by phone, as I could certainly relate, thinking back to when I was in school. (How often had my friends and I done the same thing for the same reason!)

“It’s easy to pretend you’re writing something down when you have a pencil and a piece of paper, when in reality you’re just drawing a dinosaur.

“[T]his year we had a new teacher and on the first day, they caught me drawing a dinosaur on a sheet of paper.  [The teacher’s response was:] ‘Oh yeah, you’re the dinosaur kid everyone told me about!’”

But regarding his preference for pencil, Henry continued, “It’s also a great portable medium for museums and wildlife. Outside of that, I’d say it’s a tie between acrylic and digital; digital for most research projects as I can change it due to a change in research or noticing something I accidentally ignored earlier in the process, and acrylic for more landscapes, although space and time have been an issue for this.”

Screenshot of a drawing from his website

 

“In terms of dinosaurs, I gotta say coelurosaurs are my favourite, mostly because their feathers are somewhat easier to paint than scales. Besides them, I would love to be able to study spinosaurs; I’ve been smitten with them since seeing ‘Jurassic Park 3’,” he wrote in an email.

“Outside of dinosaurs, my biggest love is mosasaurs, which despite extensive media coverage still don’t really have the palaeontological recognition that other marine reptiles like ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs do. There’s so much about them that no one has really explored, and I am looking forward to being able to study them in university.

“In terms of other interests, I’ve always sort of had a fascination for the arthropods of the Cambrian, Ordovician, and Carboniferous (thanks mostly to Nigel Marven in Prehistoric Park), and I would given the opportunity love to do some research regarding the pleistocene faunas of Canada.

“The biggest challenge I find is probably in the composition stage. There is a great deal of palaeoart which completely disregards aesthetics overall and opts for a more ‘dinosaur with an environment in the background’ look. There are many amazing paleoartists however that master composition and placement, ensuring that dinosaurs look not only a part of their environment, but are interacting with it as well.”

Examples he gave of such artists include James Gurney, Douglas Henderson, Danielle Dufault and Julius Csotonyi.

Partial screenshot of a beautiful painting on his website; the caption reads “Fanart based on the survival game “Saurian”, to be released in early 2017. Three Ornithomimids explore a dust hollow in a Hell Creek forest, with one speculatively (though plausibly) bathing in it, much like modern birds.”

 

“This is something that I’ve been trying to work on as I progress, but I still have a long way to go. The biggest reward is being done, and being able to look at the finished piece without cringing. My finishing process usually involves me getting too tired with the piece to try adding more, so if that matches up with me feeling good about it, it’s pretty great!”

Henry attributes two things for prompting his interest in paleontology: the movie “Jurassic Park” and the Royal Ontario Museum (the ROM).

“While in ‘Jurassic Park’ I could see real dinosaurs from afar, I was always kind of fascinated with how they worked from the inside, and the ROM gave me an inside look at them, while also allowing me to get up close and personal with them. The ROM was all the cooler to me when I realized that the dinosaurs of JP weren’t all that accurate anymore, and I think the concept that we knew actually very little about dinosaurs made me want to try to learn as much as I could.”

David Evans is a really great guy,” he continued. “He’s really into scientific communications.  He’s been really easy-going about me going in and trying to learn as much as I can. I’ve probably been a bit–” Here he paused as if trying to find the right word, and then said: “annoying at parts, but he’s put up with it, which is really great.”

Henry will be attending the next Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting in Calgary this summer. I recommend striking up a conversation with him if you go!

And be sure to keep an eye on him: there are exciting developments in his near future!

*****

*This statement is not intended to discredit or dismiss the increasingly ENORMOUS body of paleontological knowledge that we have so far.  It is, however, meant to honestly reflect the limitations of that knowledge at this point in time.

 

An enormous and heartfelt THANK YOU to Henry Sharpe for his correspondence, his time speaking with me by phone, and the very generous use of his artwork on this blog!  It was a tremendous pleasure connecting with him!  I have no doubt he will make a great impact on the future of both paleoart and paleontology!

 

  1. Henry Sharpe’s blog: https://bonesharpesite.wordpress.com
  2. Henry Sharpe’s website/artwork: http://henrysharpe.weebly.com
  3. On Twitter: @bone_sharpe
  4. How pug-faced dinosaurs conquered Gondwana, Henry Sharpe, Earth Archives
  5. Get some of Henry’s artwork here at Studio 252MYA: https://252mya.com/collections/shop/henry-sharpe
  6. Manitoba’s marine monsters, Henry Sharpe, Earth Archives

Screenshot of artwork from his website

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Kitty and Dino – spotlight on NH artist, Sara Richard

“Mommy! Mommy! Look what I found!”

These are the first—and some of the only—words in Kitty & Dino, a 2012 book by NH artist and sculptor, Sara Richard.

Kitty and Dino front

Two unlikely companions—a cat and a dinosaur—are introduced to each other when a little boy brings the dinosaur egg home to his mother. The cat, with great caution and suspicion, inspects this egg. And within a short period of time, a baby dinosaur emerges.

Kitty and Dino, Dino hatches

This is a picture book, but it follows graphic novel design.

With pastel colors, bold outlines, and vibrant white bursts of energy throughout, Sara Richard tells a story that almost leaps out of the pages.

Panel after panel illustrates the initial conflict between the two species and then their gradual acceptance of and affection for each other.

Whether the two are chasing butterflies, squirrels or a frog,

Kitty and Dino chasing frog

dinokittyfrog2

their gestures and images exude playfulness and joy.

The book is remarkably endearing.

One cannot miss the energy in these illustrations. And her artwork displays an expert knowledge of cat (and dinosaur!) movement and anatomy.

But these images also allude to a magical world. One can see this in the white speckling throughout the scenery—whether in the house or outside. Contrasting with pastel colors, the speckling evokes stars, a bit of other-worldliness amongst the otherwise common background.

Kitty and Dino, so beautiful

Sara Richard’s art, as described on the book jacket, is influenced by gestural drawing, art nouveau, and Japanese ink paintings. She paints and sculpts, but her work also includes creating action figures. Among other well-known action figure lines, she has worked on figures for Jurassic Park.

She very graciously took the time to answer some questions about her book and her artwork in general.

Sara Richard, Self-Portrait with Charlie

(image of Self-Portrait with Charlie, courtesy of Sara Richard)

1. What inspired you for the story itself?
The story actually was already in place by the editor of Yen Press, the publisher of the book. I met her partner at a comic convention in Chicago a few years ago and he said that they had a story about a cat and a dinosaur, which coincidentally was what my sketch book had a lot of. So it was a right place right time, planets aligned kind of thing.

2. There is a lot of energy in these drawings. Can you tell me more about that or why you chose the colors and the vibrant lines?

I love the organic line work of Art Nouveau and I’ve adopted characteristics of that line work into my art. I always felt that the lines seemed alive and kinetic. When I paint I feel the white lines are sort of representative of the energy in the piece and it just sort of pops! Also I love bright colors. They’re happy.

3. The movements of both cat and dinosaur are so life-like. What are your models for their gestures and their postures?

Haha thank you! Well I’ve always had cats, not a siamese but I always felt that type of cat was so slinky and sassy, so that was fun to play against a really big clumsy dinosaur, which I likened to maybe a great dane type of dog. I’m really interested in paleo art and dinosaurs in general and have watched most of the dino documentaries on Netflix. So that was very inspirational.

4. The book reads like a comic book; I love how one gets a vivid picture of the personalities of the cat and the dinosaur through each panel. Did you sketch out more drawings than are in the book? Or did you use everything?

This book changed SOOO much from the very first drawing to what you see now. I did probably three sets of all the interior pages in thumbnails. The story was written very loosely and it took a few passes to line up with the vision of the editor. I had a few artistic arguments in there about how I felt the compositions and colors would read but we both came to an understanding and that’s what you see!

5. Did you enjoy the experience of creating a children’s book?

It was very much a learning experience working with a writer. I’ve written little stories myself (nothing I’ve published) but I’m currently working on a ghost story and another kid’s book that I will write and illustrate myself. I’m really looking forward to it!

6. Are there any reactions to the book you want to share?

I love hearing how people who’ve read it can see the big dog influence in the dino and when they tell me the cat has the same attitude as their own. Also when I hear that kids reading it will make up their own words or sound effects as they read it. I think it’s great that people can have their own experiences with the story since there is no set dialogue. (save two word bubbles). That and I love hearing they really like the artwork!

7. Have you always been interested in dinosaurs?

I love dinosaurs! Probably really started getting interested in them my senior year of college though. 

Parasaurolophus: Yell

(Image of Parasaurolophus: Yell, courtesy of Sara Richard)

8. The book jacket mentions that you are an illustrator for Prehistoric Times Magazine, and that—among others—you have sculpted action figures for Jurassic Park (Hasbro). Can I ask which Jurassic Park figures you sculpted?

I did about three full dinosaur sculpts, two of which will hopefully see the light of day soon, one I hear was lost. You can find images of the carnotaurus and Stegosaurus I worked on. Hopefully when the new movie comes out my figures will be on the shelf. I also re sculpted another dino from another sculptors’ interpretation that wasn’t quite up to the standards my managers wanted. That one is pretty cool….wish I could say more!

9. Can I also ask what is involved in creating figures for a toy company? Do they provide the material? Do they tell you specifically what they want or is there a lot of room for creativity?

The figures for Hasbro when I was there were mostly done in wax. Now they are primarily digitally sculpted (in my opinion losing the imperfections and more lifelike qualities that hand sculpting produces). When they were sculpted in wax, the material was very brittle and we sculpted in all the articulation to make the figure move. There was a lot of cursing sometimes, especially when a tiny piece fell on the floor and shattered. There is a design department that creates the design of the figure and the sculptors follow it. I found I could be creative with loose elements like hair and clothing, but for the most part you had to follow what the designer made.

Champsosaurus

(Image of Champsosaurus, courtesy of Sara Richard)

A T-Rex sized THANK YOU to Sara Richard for her time, her responses, and her beautiful artwork!!

You can see more of her artwork and learn more about Sara Richard on her website: http://sararichard.com/

You can buy her work here: http://sararichard.storenvy.com/  or here: http://society6.com/SaraRichardArt

You can order Kitty and Dino from your local independent bookstore! Or you can order it at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble or your local comic book store.

Dino and Sloth

(Image of Dino and Sloth, courtesy of Sara Richard)