Out of the Depths

What is it that makes fossilized crinoids so compelling? Is it the artful way these delicate creatures came to rest at the bottom of the sea? Or the amazing transformation from living animal to rock, forever preserved, then heaved and eroded from the depths of time? Or is it the sheer success of this class of echinoderms as a survivor—living, reproducing, and dying over millions and millions of years to this very day in the depths of the oceans?

Click to view larger. Watercolor in Stillman & Birn Beta journal

Click to view larger. Watercolor in Stillman & Birn Beta journal

I discovered the fossilized Uintacrinus socialis, a floating crinoid species whose arms could reach three feet long, at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, and at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, Connecticut. I found the other beautiful specimens (depicted below) at the Beneski Museum at Amherst College in Massachusetts (Platycrinus and Dichocrinus sp.) and the Peabody Museum (Sea Lily).

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Tips & Techniques– Studying the anatomy of creatures you’re interested in painting can make a world of difference. Not only will it help you get the drawing right, it will deepen your understanding and appreciation for the nature of the world. Drawing the anatomy of a crinoid helped me figure out what features to look for in the fossil specimens and to see the similarities between crinoids and their echinoderm relatives– sea stars and urchins.

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20 thoughts on “Out of the Depths

  1. Lovely, a very interesting creature to be able to study and paint. The best way to learn is to draw from life, to feel and connect with the animal in front of you, wherever possible. I unfortunately paint a lot of species that I’ve never had such direct opportunities to study; one day!

  2. Wow, so dreamy looking. I love the softness of your palette. The movement that I feel even though it is locked in stone. Very beautiful Jean.

  3. Those are gorgeous studies! We have an abundance of crinoids around us but pretty much all are in bits and piece…the nicest specimens are in museums. You’re so right that studying anatomy helps you draw better and draw right (plus makes you appreciate them more). 🙂

    • Thanks Teresa! The Smithsonian one is really spectacular, and I imagine museums in Kansas and the midwest must have some good specimens since that’s where they are found. Can you imagine finding a really spectacular specimen of these?

      • It would be such a thrill to stumble across a perfect specimen! The Indiana State Museum does have some really great specimens of the aquatic life that used to live here. 🙂

    • Hi Carole- I tried a variety of approaches here…from straight up pen and wash to more complicated negative painting. I really took some time to try to pick out the various forms of the fossil with the negative painting approach, but it’s a technique that really lent itself to this subject matter. Glad you liked the post!

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    • I liked your daffodils for St. Davids Day; I find those to always be a bit tricky. Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my work! I really do prefer working directly from life and find it makes a difference. I’m working on flowers this week, so you will see some wonky lillies soon.

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