Blog Entry 1.  Dream Job

Deep in sleep deprivation mode I was teleported by Alaska Airlines into the belly of the southern California beast on November 12.  I made haste to the domicile of my friends and clients Steve and Mercy.  They live in a bucolic setting twenty miles west of Paso Robles, near the central California coast.  Rolling hills covered with oak trees and no other humans in sight.  Quiet and quite lovely.

Sometimes you get a dream job.  When Mercy said, a year ago, that she wanted me to paint a mural and I asked what she had in mind she said, “It’s up to you, just make it colorful.”  She mentioned wanting petroglyphs and that got me to thinking about time and that got me thinking about tortoises and that got me thinking about how they have changed so very little in the 220 million years they and their ancestors have been on the planet.

What really sealed the deal was the first wall I am to paint- 38’ long, 5’ high, designed to conceal a big old, ugly propane tank: perfect for a timeline.  I will use this wall to tell the story of life from the late Triassic to early in the Creatceous.  The late Triassic was a remarkable time.  The Permian extinction, just preceding the Triassic, saw 95% of the life forms on the planet snuffed out.  Sounds catastrophic, but for the survivors the Triassic was a time of unparalleled opportunity.  All kinds of life forms emerged from the stew: the flying reptiles called pterosaurs, the very first mammals, strange critters called aetosaurs, early crocodilians, the rhynchosaurs and on and on.  It was a test-tube world. 

Somewhere in there one of the reptile lines developed some armor- it might have been a terrestrial creature or may have been aquatic.  The oldest known fossil of the turtle lineage was an aquatic beast called Odontochelys (“toothed turtle”) from 220 million years ago (MYA).  It had armor only on its belly.  Ten million years later came a clearly terrestrial turtle called Proganochelys (“first turtle”).  No one yet knows exactly how they got there but by the time Proganochelys shuffled onto the scene turtles had shells shaped much as they are today- recognizable down to the five hexagonal vertebral scutes flanked by two rows of four costals each.  No mistaking Proganochelys as a turtle.

Oh, one other group appeared about the same time: small, lithe little predators called theropods- the first dinosaurs.

Over the five weeks or so I will be painting this mural I’ll bore you with lots of info on the dinosaurs I’m painting as I paint them.  I am in heaven.  I’ve spent two months researching and drawing giant sketches.  I have immersed myself in dino-lore and now I am ready to paint a panorama of Mesozoic life.  Stay tuned.  I’ll post a lot of photos to keep you up on how the monster develops.

Photo 1: a tiny part of the sketches I created for the project.  Here is the late Triassic.  Coming up: 160 million years of evolution!