How dinosaurs saved my sanity

Somewhere in the middle of this ridiculous year I started painting dinosaurs for my grandson.

He’s 4, so…dinosaurs.

My son had a new Dad Pad, so dinosaurs were just fine. Requested, in fact. And since I had wound down my painting, retired from traveling to art events, and seen galleries closed for months, I needed a direction for painting. Just because I’m “retired from show business” doesn’t mean I can stop painting. Not after this long. It’s an itch.

So I thought about dinosaurs. Why on earth not? I’ve painted lots of fish and birds, well enough to get invited to SEWE, so, why not dinos?

I had three 11 x 14 canvases that had simple landscape backgrounds already, so I let them lead me. One became apatosaurus — formerly known to all us old people as brontosaurus 🦕 — and then I sketched out acrocanthorus on the second. The third was vertical, and it became “Miss Oklahoma,” a whimsical sauropod.

It was fun. I was painting something totally out of my wheelhouse. That alone was fun. I didn’t want them to be totally made up dinosaurs, though, because almost-four-year-olds are rather serious about their dinosaurs. So I did research on what they may have actually looked like — and I was down the rabbit hole.

Dinosaurs are huge! Not just the prehistoric animals themselves, but the dinosaur culture. They are everywhere. Everyone loves them. And thousands of people paint them and create sculptures, and build Legos, and arrange them in dioramas with backgrounds, and make really cool, very realistic videos of them! If you don’t have children around, you may not realize what has happened to dinosaurs in the last few decades. You can spend days looking at videos of dinosaurs thumping around, as convincing as actual videos of your dog.

But by “realistic,” we still have to accept that we are basing most of what we know about them on the bone remnants left behind by the dramatic event that killed them, 166 million years ago. Those were the recent ones. The ones before that were not so dramatically preserved. A lot of them just became fossil fuel. We have only been studying dinosaurs for 150 years. It’s anyone’s game what they really looked like.

That freed me up completely – to just paint away! And while I’m painting them, I’m researching them. Since my grandson and his brothers are near the Morrison Formation, and the Antlers Formation, I have a fairly large group of dinosaurs to choose from. And I can use my imagination – that’s a gift too! I’ve painted cities and real things for so long, that dinosaurs are well, refreshing!

And they’re fascinating. I’m finding out that my own yard, a half a continent away in the Lowcountry, is full of many of the plants the dinos munched on, so I can just walk out there and look at them. We have 9 sago palms in our backyard alone. They are actually cykads and were around in the Jurassic and the Cretaceous. So were magnolias. Those grow wild all through our woods. There’s a sixty footer in our side yard, with big,waxy flowers that lean on the ground. And simple forest ferns. And evergreens. I imagine my backyard with dinosaurs all the time now. Ceratosaurs were about the size of our boat on its trailer.

I’ve painted dinosaurs on all the medium sized canvases in my studio and one 36″ square one, too. That’s a very colorful saurophaganax. They all eventually wing west to Dad’s Pad and are curated very well by the almost-four-year-old.

But Nana is still thinking of dinosaurs…a lot.

I had several dozen little canvases I no longer needed for art shows. (I decided to retire from art events at the end of 2019. Evidently my better angels had an “inside” on 2020.) Now they are prepped and ready to become the next series of dinos, the whimsical ones. My husband has suggested candy colored minis. Suaropods and theropods and maybe some of the later cretaceous creatures……

In the meantime, I’m still painting them, and putting them together in a book. I almost have to. What else will I do with all this dino knowledge?

I’ve moved from being a mostly retired Nana, wondering what to do with my quarantine-organized studio — to probably the only 70 year old woman obsessed with dinosaurs!

And I’m pretty happy about it.

About Carol Joy Shannon

A former sailor of the seven seas, living in my beloved Lowcountry, between the blackwater swamps and the saltmarshes, surrounded by pre-revolutionary history.....thinking about current events....painting dinosaurs and other whimsical animals for children, with the occasional abstract or new cityscape for my delightful collectors. The best thing about being a seasoned old salt is sitting down not running around, so...
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3 Responses to How dinosaurs saved my sanity

  1. c kirby says:

    Dear Nanasaurus, Isn’t it wonderful when life leads you to a place you never realised you wanted to go, and off you trip…….

    • CJS says:

      Absolutely. I always used to tell young people to “trust your gut,” and also to “be willing to say ‘yes’ when you think it’s a good thing.” It is something we are less sure of as older people, but it’s still important!

    • CJS says:

      So, Nanasaurus needs some more direction. I’m going to post the “dancing dinosaurs” – they aren’t finished; they are all small, but again, that little small voice says, “we need whimsy.” Tell me what you think. ‘Cause I know you appreciate “whimsy.” 🙂

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