Having just finished teaching a week-long course, and with no work currently penciled in the schedule until late June (although that could change), I can dedicate some serious time to fossils. This means collecting, prepping, and drawing.
I'll be prospecting some new possible sites. Once a site has been picked over, tapped out, or shuttered, it's time to do the work of exploration and field survey. That means extending the search and testing the layers (or the heavy work of exposing them). Once that is done, an assessment is made as to the site's productive life-span: is it something that will last several seasons, or something an individual can clear out in a few trips?
Apart from that, I got word that we are a go for a June engagement at one of the last quarries that still lets collectors in, so I'll have that to look forward to.
It's also time to get some prep done. First up is this 80 mm asaphid, but there are a bundle of Penn Dixie bugs to work on as well.
This is where it stands after about six hours. Apart from some sticky calcite on the right cheek, this has been a delight to work on, but having the ME-9100 makes matrix removal much easier. In fact, since I'm waiting for a replacement stylus for my Aro scribe, I did all of this with the ME-9100, and it is great that I can dial down the BPM when I get close to the shell. There's still some work to do, such as removing matrix between a few segments and the base matrix smoothing, but I'm awaiting some scalpels in the mail to do the inter-segment and touch-up work. As an expert Russian preparator told me, never use abrasion: it burns and lightens the skin no matter what medium or PSI; it must be done by hand. That was my error on the last Asaphus lepidurus I prepped.
I was far too busy and tired this week to put pencil to paper, but I have two WIPs, a few sketched concepts, and Deb bought me some black paper so that I can try out drawing white pencil on black background. At this point, I'm pretty much looking at a 20 hour backlog of bugs to doodle.
Update: Managed to get three since Friday.
The last bit is some tidying up of the trilobite catalogue. I recently acquired this piece, which is a Cambrian Hamatolenus sp. from Morocco.
This post is more a stub, and I'll update it when I've rolled up my sleeves for some of the stuff I mentioned above.
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...
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.
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!
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.
Snow-free until January 10, and then it clobbered us. More time spent indoors and thinking that it will take a while for this snow accumulation to melt and get the collecting season back into gear. So that leaves prep and postal formation.
This is a return engagement with a bug I started a few months ago. It is a giant for the location (Penn Dixie) that measures over 45 mm from genal to folded over genal. What is not shown in this image is the folded over/under side that took a ridiculous number of hours. I also took the time to level and smooth the matrix -- something I am learning to get better at, and which also takes a lot of time and patience.
A very lovely full prone Scabriscutellum furciferum from Morocco.
The seller was also kind to add an unexpected brachiopod surprise to perk the package.
My 100th trilobite species! Asaphellus fezouataensis from a really nice seller who also threw in a little enrolled phacopid.
Still trying to relearn my old drawing skills that have been neglected for nearly 20 years, a pencil rendering of an Isotelus.
A Greenops widderensis...
And an Eldredgeops rana with all the crush/distortion flaws.
So, for now, that's about it. I'm somewhat running out of trilobites to prep, and only expecting one or two bugs in the mail. I really hope winter won't be too long!
A belated birthday gift, but only by a day. Had the rock cut and away I went to prepare one of Deb's most prized finds.
From the field to the final product.
Over the weekend, I was trying to prepare an Eldredgeops rana roller so that it would be nicely presented in pedestal fashion (just to get some practice with that approach). The roller itself was flawless with no cracks from crush damage, and fully inflated. It was going very well until it popped off the last remaining bit of rock that had been holding it in place, and... rolled away. Cleaning out my entire prep area did not result in me finding it, so it has likely been absconded by the same little demons who steal socks from the dryer. Six hours of work gone.
So a few days later I decided to prep my way through that disappointment in completing a trilobite I had prepared before, but not to the full extent. This is another Eldredgeops rana from the Penn Dixie site, and measures on the upper end of the size they appear at this site.
Before and after. I had prepared this halfway months ago, but it still needed more work. When I initially found it, the rock had split right through it, resulting in the loss of some segments. I glued it together in the field. In this round of prep, I applied acetone to get rid of some excess glue, performed some restoration of the missing parts, scribed and abraded a bit more, and this is the result. It may not be perfect, but it is a lot better than how I found it! This one measures 47 mm (sag.).
My next task is to complete prep on one of Deb's finds -- another prone E. rana.
The snow has finally buried us after an unseasonably warmer and snow-free stretch. So that means more time spent in prep, and some hunting relegated to the postal formation. This short post is a quick update on newer additions to the trilobite horde.
New acquisition, the blind phacopid Ductina vietnamica. This genus was quite widespread, appearing in different faunal provinces. These regularly come up for sale, but most of them are preserved quite poorly. This one is a much better example of the species.
A semi-enrolled Paralejurus spatuliformis from Morocco. This one differs from other members of the genus on account of having a, well, spatulate kind of pygidium. This one has no colour enhancements, so appears "in the buff" without having been buffed with shoe polish or some other additive to make them uniformly black. The closeup is of the holochroal eye with its tightly packed lenses that appear, from a distance, to be entirely smooth.
While going through some boxes of old finds and turfing junk, I split a small and thin piece of Verulam Formation (Brechin, Ontario) to encounter this cephalon fragment of the rare lichid, Amphilichas ottawaensis. I haven't heard of anyone in my collecting circle who has spent a lot of time in Brechin find more than fragments. I had found a ventral pygidium fragment a few years ago, but nothing else... And now that the site has been shuttered to collectors, there's not much hope in the immediate future of finding more. The picture below is of a complete Amphilichas halli -- not the same species, but it gives a sense of the body plan and where my fragment fits:
And that is likely all that is fit to digitally print this week. The fragment was the big surprise find while the snows are blowing and the temperatures nosedive.