Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

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Carboniferous
Step 1.  Research Step 2. Composition Step 3. Painting Step 4. Critique Step 5. Final Art/Home
Research Composition Painting Critique Final Art/Home

Steps in preparing a scientific reconstruction: 3. Painting

Acrylic wash
by Mary Parrish under the direction of Tom Phillips and William DiMichele

This reconstruction was prepared using acrylic paint on gessoed masonite. Acrylic paint is a very versatile and forgiving medium. Changes can often be made without significant harm to the illustration. Gessoed masonite is a firm and substantial support. If corrections cause the paint to become too thick or bumpy, the paint can be smoothed with fine sand paper.

The first step of the final painting begins with an acrylic wash laid down with broad brushes on the gessoed masonite board. The atmosphere near the horizon line is almost never blue in nature; it fades into another color, such as the pale yellow seen here. Colors in the background are more muted than those in the foreground. Painting should progress from the background to the foreground. Following these rules help to create the illusion of three dimensions on a flat two dimensional surface.

A row of Sigillaria follows the streamline in the far background and meanders towards the right side and then into the foreground. Mud, peat, and a green swatch representing a fern prairie, were painted into the scene.


Painting continues 1

by Mary Parrish under the direction of Tom Phillips and William DiMichele

In the illustration above four Calamites trees, growing progressively in size along a rhizome, were added. They stand next to a contagion of three seed ferns. All were painted a little farther into the foreground, using a tiny brush.


Painting continues 5

by Mary Parrish under the direction of Tom Phillips and William DiMichele

Shrubby Cordaites were added to the left foreground and a leafy young Sigillaria was added to the right foreground next to the standing trunk of the adult Sigillaria tree. Ankyropteris can be seen climbing up the trunk of a tree fern. The "stick-in-the-mud", Chalonaria, is beginning to take shape in the right foreground. Living and dead foliage of the tree fern dangles in the upper section of the illustration.

At this point, more small ferns were added. The fern, Botryopteris (the fossils of which have been found intermingled with the root mantle of fossil tree fern trunks) is seen growing at the base and intertwined within the roots of the tree fern trunk in the middle left foreground.

Tree ferns were added in the middle ground and standing tree ferns were added foreground. A second clump of seed ferns was added to the middle ground. One large Sigillaria can be seen in the right foreground. A fallen Sigillaria was painted in the middle ground. Sigillaria is a robust tree, and will therefore rot slowly and can act as a nurse log for small ferns and lycopods. A vignette of Cordaites (tree form) was added to the background.

A second fallen Sigillaria, also serving as a nurse log for young ferns and other plants, was added in the right foreground where a small Selaginella begins to scramble over the log. Several fallen tree ferns were added to the foreground litter.


Step 1. Research Step 2. Composition Step 3. Painting Step 4. Critique Step 5. Final Art/ Home
Research Composition Painting Critique Final Art/Home

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