Things With Feathers is a Tumblr where paleoartist and scientific illustrator Emily Willoughby will post science, illustration, dinosaurs, feathers, fossils, and occasionally a little bit of silliness.
Like many paleoartists of my generation, my interest in dinosaurs was definitely influenced by Dinotopia as a child—both for its wealth of engaging characters and its vibrant, colorful artwork. While not the absolute most scientifically rigorous, Gurney’s painting style remains one of my favorite flavors of modern paleoart, and I’ve learned much from his buttery lighting and exquisitely detailed textures.
I had the great pleasure of meeting him in person in Boston a few years ago and introducing myself and my work. During that meeting I gave him a drawing I had done of his son’s band, The Yanks, reimagined as dinosaurs with their musical instruments. Years later, the drawing became the official t-shirt of The Yanks!
James Gurney is not only a wonderful painter and a huge inspiration for his richly imagined worlds, but is also one of the nicest famous people I’ve ever met.
I currently shoot with a Canon EOS 60D, but I’m hoping to upgrade to the new 7D in a couple of months!
food: Many things. Filet mignon, duck, avocados, sushi.
drink: Coffee for the morning, g&t for the evening.
book: The Blank Slate, The Fountainhead, and Predatory Dinosaurs of the World.
author: Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, William Beebe, Kurt Vonnegut, Frank Herbert. I couldn’t choose just one.
song: Right now my favorite songs are “Question” by the Moody Blues and “I Want the World to Stop” by Belle & Sebastian, but “Time” by Pink Floyd is the only song that is a truly timeless (ha) favorite.
movie: Back to the Future or Winged Migration.
tv show: Curb Your Enthusiasm & Seinfeld. Not watching much at the moment.
band: Pink Floyd, Belle & Sebastian, Of Monsters and Men, Mumford & Sons, Simon & Garfunkel, the Moody Blues.
solo artist: Eric Clapton, Ko Ontani, or Bach.
place: I’m not sure yet. Still searching for my favorite place.
subject: My three main subjects of passion are paleontology and the art to communicate it, psychometrics and behavioral genetics, and bird photography.
male actor: My longest-term favorite actor is probably Ian McKellan.
female actor: Dunno.
best friend: A handful of people could fill that slot.
siblings: None, grew up with two step-brothers.
dream job: What I’m working toward now is my dream job.
political ideology: I can’t say my ideology adheres to any major US political party — I’d best describe myself as a moderate little-l libertarian, but with caveats.
piercing: Two in each ear.
reason behind tumblr url: It’s my name.
reason behind icon: It’s a fairly recent piece of art I’ve done.
tracked tags: None
why you joined: For another place to share my artwork and ramblings.
first url: Same as it is now.
I’m actually somewhat unsure whether you mean birds of prey or deinonychosaur dinosaur by “raptor” (the rules of thumb for feathering in dromaeosaurs and troodonts are essentially the same, and both groups belong to the clade Deinonychosauria), but given whom you’re asking, I’ll assume the latter. There are a number of effective “how-to” feathering guides for deinonychosaurs that I’ve come across, so I’ll link to a few of them here. Keep in mind that these should serve as a general guide only, specific taxa should be researched at the source, and that phylogenetic bracketing invokes different traits depending on which taxon you’re feathering.
Common Errors for Velociraptor by Tomozaurus
Velociraptor Infographic by ChrisMasna
Feather Evolution by me
Tips for Drawing Prehistoric Raptors by Grays-Raptor-Flock
Feathered Dino Arm/Wing PSA by SageKorppi
Hi there, it is going well! An average professional piece with full background and a lot of detail can take me in the range of a few days to a few weeks, whereas my absolutely most involved paintings to date have taken on-and-off work spread out over several months. My current job requires that I do a relatively high-quality piece in a matter of around 4 days, so that’s been my rate of production for the past few months.
I’ve learned over the course of being a scientific illustrator that improvement entails not just increasing the objective quality of work, but learning how to achieve the same quality in less time.
Albatrosses are soarers, not gliders, and they’re among the most specialized of all flying vertebrates. Microraptorines lack many of the adaptations for soaring found in birds like the albatross - an elongated humerus, the presence of tertiary feathers, and an extraordinarily high aspect ratio, to name a few.
Gliding by definition is an energy-efficient mode of locomotion that involves movement from higher ground to lower, and is a totally separate phenomenon from soaring.
Color studies are relatively unlikely to happen for taxa for which we only have the holotype. Melanosome studies also require extraordinary, fine-grain preservation of the fossil. It’s more likely if future specimens of the genus are found, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
No, I don’t agree that legwings (or pennaceous feathered “trousers”) would have necessarily gotten in the way of walking. Two reasons come to mind, and one comes from functional morphology and the other from evolutionary logic. First, assuming these structures would impede walking requires a certain lack of imagination: we don’t yet know for sure how an animal like Microraptor would have held its legwings, but one reasonable idea is that they were splayed in a manner not dissimilar to fancy pigeons, which have little trouble walking despite being selectively bred for this admittedly unnatural trait. Another idea is that they folded and overlapped like regular wings do, with the metatarsal section of the legwing being under some amount of muscular control and folding under the tibiotarsal section. Matt Martyniuk draws his Microraptor legwings in such a manner. In either case, the feet are relatively unimpeded by the structures.
Another important point to keep in mind comes from how evolution itself works - and doesn’t work. Walking (and running, leaping, and other ambulatory activities) is an invaluable part of the tetrapod legacy, and it’s only given up in cases of extreme adaptation to other ways of life that make the loss worthwhile. One example is loons, grebes and other diving birds whose entire morphology is built around their capacity to dive at high speeds. In these animals, their ability to walk on land is severely limited by the exaggerated posterior placement of the feet. Swifts and hummingbirds (a group whose order name literally means “footless” because early naturalists thought they didn’t have them) are another example, and their feet are useful for almost nothing but clinging. This is because they are extraordinary specialist flyers, some of the best in the world.
Microraptor, however, has been demonstrated to NOT be an aerial specialist! (Nor does it seem to be a specialist of any other sort, including its diet.) It’s very unlikely that it would have lost performance of such a basic function without evolving a comparable specialty. In my view, Microraptor was a fairly generalized crappy glider that was reasonably adept at walking, running, climbing and leaping.
I would not choose to restore a tyrannosaur with pennaceous feathers, which so far appear to be restricted to maniraptoriform dinosaurs.