Recently returned from a three-day dig in New York. Despite all the lovely weather leading up to the trip, an almost wintry weather system was working its way through this part of the world with a lot of cold and precipitation. Not exactly pleasant collecting conditions!
Day 1: Penn Dixie
The excavator had been busy the days leading up to our visit. 160 fresh new piles of Windom shale were dug up and off limits until the annual Dig with the Experts event in May. The excavator did dig up one promising area. One of my field comrades had already visited the day before to start a bench and was finding some good material.
Friday was brutal. We only managed to stay out for three hours given the pouring rain, sleet, and the lake wind. In fact, it was so cold and wet that I didn't really take any site or collector pics.
Despite digging for only three hours, we still managed to find examples of just about every trilobite species reported at the site, missing only Pseudochenella. The two above are Bellacartwrightia sp., Eldredgeops rana, and the bottom two are Greenops barberi and Dipleura dekayi. The Dipleura is exceedingly rare at Penn Dixie, and was found in the Bayview bed.
Day 2: Deep Springs Road
Now an annual tradition, Fossil Forum members congregate at a spot in central New York, a shale outcrop on Deep Springs Road. It was snowing for a bit. Deb sat this one out, but went to Penn Dixie later in the day to find some trilobites.
As I had already hoovered up most of the usual fauna from this site last year with representatives of most of the brachs and bivalves, my sole goal was to find a complete Dipleura dekayi. Sadly, my efforts were for naught after six hours of slabbing and splitting. Most other stuff I found I gave away to other collectors there.
I did find these two phyllocarid carapaces (Rhinocaris columbina) that I gifted to my good friend Tim who had also found an amazing phyllocarid telson.
I didn't do so well on the trilobite front. It was mostly partials for me.
One of the other traditions of this meet-up is that we exchange fossil gifts. Pictured above on the left is a chunk of dinosaur jaw from Tony that could be Triceratops or Edmontosaurus. Top right are two Elrathia kingii from James who just came back from Utah, as well as some belemnites and a gastropod from Jeffrey's giveaway box. For my part I offloaded two bins of fossils to Tony for his museum. At the bottom is a fantastic gift from Tim: a Dipleura dekayi hypostome (very uncommon!) and Piochaspis sellata from the Pioche shales of Nevada.
To my good friend Tim who is a fish fossil fan, my only non-trilobite drawing. Knightia eocaena.
Day 3: Penn Dixie Again
Initially, Jay and I had plans to collect a few hours in Dunkirk where it is rumoured that Dunkleosteus pieces could be found, and a generous offer to go through some Linton coal in search of Pennsylvanian aged fish and amphibians. Things didn't work out that way, and I was kind of itching to find more trilobites at the first spot we were working on the Friday. This time, the dig was not curtailed by weather: it finally got warm and sunny. I spent 12 hours hammering and slabbing.
This is the only site pic I took, and this is a "before" image at 7 am. The chunks of rock in the foreground need to be broken down, and the area around my bucket and pry bar is the bench. By 7 pm, all of that area was cleared out.
As the day progressed, the trilobites were thinning out. I made my last significant find around 3 pm, after which it was mostly coral/brach assemblages in very tough, trashy matrix that would shatter rather than split.
Not much to write home about. This is actually a small haul compared to my usual 50-100 bugs per trip, but the pulse was pinching out and the site's excavated areas may not be ideal for trilobites this year. Still, some interesting pieces to prep.
And speaking of which, I've already thrown one into the lab to give my new tools something gainful to do. The initial field state was only showing the thorax. I used the ME-9100 to remove a lot of the excess rock, the Aro for detailing around the bug, the Paasche for abrasion, and decided to pedestal this. Matrix work was mostly filing and sanding. This kind of matrix preparation is not everyone's cup of tea, but these are common bugs and I wanted to play around with some presentation experiments.
And that's it. Not sure where/when the next trip will be given the sad shrinking of viable or accessible sites in Ontario. But I'll find a way...
Tomorrow we'll be off and away for the first site, Penn Dixie, and then Saturday for a Fossil Forum group dig at Deep Springs Road. The weather promises to be wet, cold, and miserable, but the alternative is to pass up a rare opportunity to get out and collect. There's no sense in having all these new tools and no new material to work on.
In the last few days, I've been able to try out the new tools. The first order of business was to clear up my prep area as it was a bit of a disaster. I was going to get all four of my tools hooked up into the new manifold block, but at the moment I just can't seem to fix a few air leaks... And these fingers are not nimble enough to use the teflon tape very well, and the tube sealant just creates a goopy mess. So for now I'll be swapping out tools using the quick-connect until I can get my hands on something better for the leak issue.
So this is the little corner where the prep magic happens, what I cheekily call my "lab":
The new 20 gallon compressor is great. The bigger tank means it isn't running constantly, which is important as I'll be running the new tools at 110 PSI.
The ME-9100 was the first tool I tried out of the box. Taking a junky Penn Dixie trilobite in shale, the scribe sailed through the matrix easily. I tried it again on some tougher limestone from Bowmanville, and the chips flew. This is a serious tool with some serious power.
The Paleo Aro was next for its trial run. Again, using the same junky bug, it easily (perhaps too easily) chipped off surrounding matrix to reveal the whole bug in five minutes. That same result would have taken me over 30-45 minutes with my old Aro clone. I will have to adjust to the power of this tool and its longer stylus to avoid making mistakes, as I haven't yet mastered the right way to hold this particular tool for ensuring maximum control -- a necessity when doing detailed work around a fossil. After a combined 20 minutes of usage, however, I encountered a problem: it stalled and would not re-engage at all beyond a one or two second "toot." I tapped the housing, oiled the parts, but nothing was quite working, so I got in touch with my master prep friend Kris from Texas to see if he could diagnose the problem. He suggested removing the spring around the stylus base and working it with my fingers, and then to give a bit of oil to the base plate where the second small O-ring sits. And now it works!
Next up to complete this picture will be to either get a new goose-necked lamp, or find a cheap source of circular fluorescent bulbs as the light in the box from the scope's ring light is just not bright enough when working under magnification.
But for now, it's back to packing for the three day trip.
Only a few more days until a three-site visit in the state of NY. I've not been idle on the fossil front -- at least in terms of associated activities. This post features new tools and drawings.
My new scribes arrived from Paleo Tools! I ordered these last week and they arrived lightning fast. Haven't had a chance to take them out for their first spin yet, but I will soon. The Paleo Aro will take over for my Aro clone (finally, a decent stylus!). The ME-9100 is pretty much the same deal as the CP-9351: it is used for bulk matrix removal. No more grinding ineffectively away at tough matrix!
The next order of business was to replace my tiny 3 gallon air compressor; these scribes like to be around 125 PSI, and the tiny tank will not keep up unless I want to suffuse the house with the smell of a burning motor. So I'll be unpacking this 20 gallon beauty and hooking it up tomorrow.
None of this was cheap! I doubt I'd ever be able to sell enough surplus to break even, but I suppose I could have a more expensive hobby, like collecting yachts or Faberge eggs.
More drawings! It's Cthulhu! I do have a small list of experiments I want to try next week to go beyond drawing the more standard "portrait" style of trilobites.
And yet another spiny chap.
For ease of seeing all the drawing in one place, I set up a gallery page (it is the blue button link to the top right, below the Trilobite Gallery, but here's a link).
I do have some Russian matrix on its way for me to play with, but first is the weekend trip to NY state. For now, I'll have my hands full reorganizing the prep lab.
So, I did get out to one of my local sites for a weekend with my collecting comrade Malcolm. Sadly, the site is pretty much tapped out now, but there are other irons in the fire, not including the annual Penn Dixie and Deep Springs Road group dig at the end of the month.
My only real trip-maker: a fair sized placoderm plate (Protitanichthys sp.), pictured in situ and assembling it at home. By far, the biggest plate I've found. Not much else worth mentioning was found, but it was great to feel the swing of the hammer, the sound of rock splitting, and the smell of fresh shale. I'd been waiting five months to get back out there.
I've also not been idle at home, fossil-wise. Although I don't have anything worth preparting at the moment, I've gone on a bit of a trilobite drawing tear.
I also decided to try my hand at drawing one in colour. Keep in mind that I haven't done any coloured pencil work in over two decades.
After colour-matching, this is the palette of pencils I've decided on. I first outline the drawing using a faint pencil (7H), and then go about the work. I can't seem to get the same precise detail using coloured pencils as I do regular graphite ones, so this is almost looking realistic. Here are the stages leading to the final result:
So, not terrible for my first colour drawing in an eon.
In related fossil news, I bit the bullet to upgrade my preparation tools. By the coming Monday, I'll be welcoming a ME-9100 and a Paleo Aro scribe, both with 2" styluses. The ME-9100 is the workhorse for bulk matrix removal, and it will really cut down on time as I used an Aro clone to do that, which was like trying to file down a mountain with a bread knife. Also, the Aro clone was giving me a bit of grief during my last prep as the tip is too wide and blunt for the precision work I need it to do on more calcitic matrix that fuses to the shell (and hence the Paleo Aro). It will also mean increasing my compressor capacity by retiring the 3 gallon in favour of a 20 gallon unit. Let's just say that preparation is not a cheap hobby, and these tools are pricey. But, if one is going to do quality work, it pays to have quality tools.
Until next time...
This was posted as part of an ongoing thread on The Fossil Forum. I am putting it here for those who are not members of the Forum.
I thought I'd show the steps in how I go about drawing trilobites. I usually begin by sketching one of my bugs from different angles, and experimenting with lighting. Once I hit upon the angle and lighting I like, I get to it.
Here is the simple setup at the dining room table: adjustable neck lamp, the subject, magnifier, an array of pencils, tunes, and water.
At this stage, I've already gone about four hours.
I spend a ratio of 4::1 in terms of putting my eyes on the subject and putting the pencil on the paper. Each area and segment must be treated as unique to ensure some relative degree of realism; to draw what one thinks is there is liable to produce a result that looks... not so real. At the same time, it is important to stop often to check against the entire drawing lest the myopic focus of a slight deviation result in some wide variance later. Using the magnifier, I can check in on the finest details of each crack and bit of microsculpture.
I lay down very faint guidelines once I have the proper scale down. In this instance, the trilobite is not very big, but I want it to fill the page. The pencils are all sharpened at different lengths, which only vary so minutely (and why I use so many at a time). I lay down the more detailed work as I go, working top to bottom so my hand doesn't smudge it.
I use erasers very sparingly, so I need to get it right the first time. No matter how careful I am to remove eraser rubbings, it can make fainter penciling too dark if the pencil tip is going over microscopic grit.
Once the rougher detailing is done, I spend an hour fine tuning and checking against the subject. Another hour or so is spent blending. I don't like the smudging technique to burnish as it is much harder to control, and the result looks a bit, well, smudged. Instead, I use a harder graphite (H to 7H) to try my best to remove or mask more obvious pencil strokes, while also working in the fainter areas and incident lighting. I then use a softer graphite (3B-5B) to darken the shadows a bit, and blend it in with a basic HB.
In this drawing, I've put in all the cracks, mottled areas, and imperfections. This one was in the process of a moult, and so you can make out the little gap from the cranidium and the cheeks, as well as the slight separation between the two last pleurae on the bottom right.
After carefully removing any remaining guide lines with an eraser tip, at 8.5 hours it is complete.
Today is my birthday as I flip the number over to 42 (insert Douglas Adams references at will). But the main event will be this weekend when I go on my first significant fossil dig of the year. Two days of site preparation and eventual excavation to get it up and running for the 2019 season.
So just two minor updates: a drawing and a new trilobite.
Deb had found this small roller at Bowmanville in October, and I prepped it in January.
Cyphaspis boutscharafinense with good tuberculate glabella and decent spines.
And that's it until I get back from the two day dig.
As I posted last time, I received a block containing the trilobite Asaphus lepidurus for me to prepare. Despite the three of this species I've prepared before, this one was by far the toughest due to the nature of the matrix being hard, sticky, and calcitic. It meant very slow scribing, micrometre by micrometre, under high magnification. Of course, I was having plenty of problems with my equipment that added to the aggravation.
This is the block when I got it, and then after an hour and a half of patient scribing with an ARO clone with the not so great factory tip. As thick as the block was (with trilobite at the bottom), I couldn't risk a chisel... So it was the long way down.
Several more hours as I also work the matrix down. The plan is to have the trilobite standing in this orientation, sitting in a depression. The matrix is starting to play tricks with my eyes. At this point, I'm slowly revealing the right pleurae, heading for the axis, and working around the cephalon.
This stuff is sticky, and largely impervious to abrasion even at higher pressures. It took several hours to find the other eye, negotiating very carefully so as not to accidentally scribe it off. Once the pleurae and axis were largely revealed, working that top of the cephalon took eight or so hours on account of extra stickiness. I also didn't want to knock off the diminutive tubercle by mistake.
After the left side pleurae are exposed at their tips, let the long abrasion session begin. I swapped between the Paasche with the 18 gauge dispensing needle (the disposable needles just arrived yesterday just in time) and the pin vise. There were several very stubborn, translucent bits of calcite to slow me down.
I finished it off with some matrix smoothing, and this is the end result. Measuring 80 mm. Despite the limits of my current equipment, and the unholy horror of this matrix, I managed to do some justice to this trilobite, exposed for the first time in 450 million years.
Been a while since I updated the blog, but winter is a slower time on the fossil front. Compared to last winter, even purchases are down as I either have most of the stuff on offer, it's too expensive, or it's not in pristine condition. But I do have a trilobite coming in a few weeks, and one other I received not long ago. This post will be a potpourri of odds and ends. Lots of stuff coming up...
Pictured here is a wee Acastoides sp. from Morocco. It was cheap and very nicely articulated, so I added it to the trilobite family. I've also had a bit more cash in the PayPal account due to selling some surplus trilobites.
I also managed to spend an afternoon adding to my trilobite sketchbook with these two Russian beauties.
It's a rock! No, not just a rock, but a Russian rock, and a Russian rock containing an asaphid I am currently preparing. Due to the nature of the matrix, and my current tools, this is a 100-200 hour job. I'll create a separate post when it's done.
Hobbling my preparation efforts has been a clogged air hose, likely in the built-in moisture trap for my Paasche AECR. One might think a basic air hose with a 1/4" - 1/16" would be a cinch to replace, but three hours of hardware store visits and plenty of time searching the web says otherwise. I finally got my part and am ready to get to the next critical phase in the prep, which involves swapping between scribing and abrading due to the stickiness of the matrix.
And that wasn't the whole of my prep equipment frustrations, either. I had just been talking with my friend Kevin, saying that I've gone over a year without needing a filter on my lines. Well, no sooner than I said that, the scribe starts acting more like a garden hose. So a trip to Princess Auto to fix that, and to locate a replacement hose (see above). I was also having serious air leak issues, and teflon tape for my big clumsy fingers usually results in my exhausting all the blue words I know, so I've gone for thread sealant instead. The filter/desiccant has already made for a much drier scribing experience. Nothing can be more frustrating than doing precision work under the scope while maintaining critical control of the tool than when it sprays water all over the fossil, turning scribing dust into cakey, opaque mud. And also pictured is a resupply of those handy nitrile gloves.
So when is the first dig of 2019? I'm hoping this weekend, weather and opportunity pending. I've got some other trips planned, too. It will be fantastic to get this season rolling and spend time with my favourite field comrades again as we swing hammers as spring clamours!
On a bit of a tear when it comes to scratching about with the pencil. These are the newest additions. Up to ten trilobite drawings now.
What else can one do that is fossil-related when collecting is not possible and the prep queue is virtually empty? More drawing, of course. Here are the results of a lazy Sunday afternoon (+ Tuesday):
All of these were done using just a standard HB pencil. I wanted to focus on the more "dynamic" trilobite poses as opposed to the straight-on-from-the-top sketch. By drawing these bugs from my collection at different angles and poses, it means relying on more looking at the subject than relying on assumed symmetry. In other words, drawing what one sees, and not what one thinks is there, which is pretty much the standard first lesson of any life drawing class.
Until winter clears, I can foresee doodling up a few more of my bugs. I can't say I mind the practice, and the results generally satisfy me. It isn't preparation, but almost as painstaking.