In many environments, it’s hard to believe that seemingly abandoned structures and equipment are still used and maintained frequently, just based on weathering and wear. Paint chips from thermal stresses and powders from exposure to ultraviolet light, metal rusts quickly or slowly depending upon the rainfall and ambient humidity (even in deep deserts, iron rusts due to water condensing on the cold metal at night), organic compounds rot and crack, and stone and concrete change color from sun, rain, and algae. Under the right conditions, a military installation temporarily mothballed can look completely abandoned within years or even months without steady maintenance, and that maintenance may be withheld so long as the equipment still works. Are the weapons left pitted and worn because of abandonment, because of neglect, or to encourage enemies to get close?
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 46.99 cm x 46.99 cm)
Plant: Nepenthes ventrata
Construction: Plastic fixtures, polystyrene foam, resin, epoxy putty, green goldstone.
Posted onJanuary 16, 2014|Comments Off on Chinese Lantern Festival 2013 Dinosaurs – 6
As mentioned previously, the dinosaur section of the Chinese Lantern Festival has a set of animatronic dinosaurs, for unknown reasons but appreciated nonetheless. While the Apatosaurus may technically be larger, the Tyrannosaurus definitely caught more attention. Half of the fun was watching the kids’ expressions while watching their parents: they all enjoyed the dinosaurs, but the idea of moving, roaring dinosaurs among the lanterns was wondrous but not overly unexpected. Their parents and the other adults, though, just couldn’t stop staring.
Right across the pathway from the big dinosaurs was a trio of fiberglass dinosaur eggs. Two were empty and fitted with entrances for kids to peek out, and the third had this (non-operational) baby tyrannosaur emerging from the top. Unlike the big dinosaurs, this one was accessible by passersby, and I was a little disturbed by how many visitors kept poking its eyes as if it would respond.
I suspect that every photographer secretly hopes for that perfect photobomb, and I finally got mine. Just as I was aiming and focusing, this young lady appeared out of nowhere, hugged the baby tyrannosaur, and then went on to see the other sights. We should all be so lucky to get photobombed by such a charming and considerate individual.
On the other hand, then there was this lump of offal oozing out of one of the empty eggs. Suddenly, we have an explanation for why the dinosaurs became extinct. It’s like walking into the middle of a GWAR concert, isn’t it?
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Posted onJanuary 16, 2014|Comments Off on Chinese Lantern Festival 2013 Dinosaurs – 5
For some reason, the Chinese Lantern Festival has three animatronic dinosaurs alongside the lantern ones, all out roaring and waving at passersby. Not that I’m complaining, because any festival is a good excuse for more robot dinosaurs.
Among other sights, I found this hottie standing by the back door of the old Dallas Museum of Natural History, posing alongside the big mammoth skull still in the old space. I know this was my wedding anniversary, but I took her home anyway: how many second chances would a guy get with someone this wonderful?
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Anyone keeping up with dinosaurian palaeontology knows about some of the spectacular dinosaur finds coming out of China over the last twenty years, so a special assemblage of dinosaur lanterns at the Chinese Lantern Festival in Dallas makes perfect sense. Last year, many of the dinosaur lanterns were jammed into one end of Leonhardt Lagoon, preventing easy viewing. This year, they’re right out in front of the old Dallas Museum of Natural History building, stretching across the west side of the lagoon.
Is this it? Not by a long shot. There’s a lot more to see.
As mentioned a while back, I’m an unrepentant fan of the palaeoart of Raven Amos and Scott Elyard, two old friends in Alaska who fill my PO box with entirely too much wonderful stuff every time they have an art show. After a while, I started thinking “What would it take to make their work into garden sculpture?” (As the Czarina can attest, this sort of thought happens quite often. This is why we don’t have a hitch trailer for hauling heavy items, because otherwise the back yard of the house really would look like a set for The Red Green Show.) However, not having the studio nor the talent of a Bruce Gray, it was a matter of keeping things small.
Also as mentioned previously, I share so many habits with Gila monsters that they’re practically my totem animal. The venomous bite that’s painful but rarely dangerous is a given, as is a taste for sucking eggs and eating baby bunnies in the spring, as well as looking very fetching in orange and black. No, the wisdom I learned from Heloderma suspectum that I most appreciate is “if you don’t have to be out in the heat, stay underground.” With summer finally kicking in, this means that days off, evenings, and weekends are spent as far away from the yellow hurty thing in the sky as I can manage. Others might fill that time with reading, online porn, or Russian roulette under tournament rules. Me, it’s a matter of getting ready for next October’s FenCon X show. If that means huffing europium paints until I sneeze luminous boogers, then it’s worth the effort.
The real surprise to Cybersaurus (2013), aside from the final plant arrangement in which it’ll appear in October, isn’t that obvious in full daylight. However, inspired by Raven and Scott’s work, most of its best detail is most visible in the dark or under ultraviolet. That all depends upon the amount of light it receives, as one of the best discoveries of the whole project was learning that europium absorbs enough energy in full sun that it glows in shade. (The plan for a subsequent sculpture involves built-in UV LEDs powered via solar cells on its back. I just need to find a suitable Spinosaurus or Acrocanthosaurus skeleton model to make it work.)
And it keeps coming. A very large order of custom glass means that several larger custom arrangements can be finished this summer, with comparably scaled cybersaurs of their own in them. A good wash of paint to bring out the metal, a bit more europium paint, and suitable weathering, and they should work quite well. And so it goes.
Posted onMay 29, 2013|Comments Off on Hints at upcoming projects
To quote Michelangelo, “When I steal an idea, I leave my knife.” This seemed to work for him, considering his career of artistic bootlegging, and it works here. Being a hopeless fan of the work of Alaska artists Scott Elyard and Raven Amos, I’ve argued for years that the gardening trade needs an alternative to flamingos and gnomes for garden ornamentation, and there’s no better alternative than a blatant plagiarism of Scott and Raven’s Dinosaurs and Robots exhibition. What better way to leave my knife than show the first part of a miniature garden series in progress?
Please note that this is just the bare start: besides constructing the rest of the series, this skeleton itself is nowhere near finished. Let’s just say that I’m very glad that I bought enough europium paint and ultraviolet LEDs for the project.
As for seeing the final series, you’ll have to wait. If this doesn’t add a bit of incentive for people to come out for FenCon X, I don’t know what will.
I’m starting to worry about the Czarina. Something’s wrong with her. For the last few days, she’s been oddly…agreeable. Since I, like Bill Cosby’s kids, cannot sleep through the night unless I’ve had a good beating, a few suggestions on garden ornamentation are usually enough to guarantee that I’m completely unconscious for twelve hours or more at a time. That could be the concussion talking, too, but I like to think it’s because I made particularly good suggestions.
However, I guess the dent in the top of my head left by her sharp elbows has made her remarkably sympathetic. Either that, or she’s worried that the top of my skull can double as a guacamole bowl, and she hates guacamole. (Hey, she puts up with my multiple foibles, including that horrible deformed tumor atop my neck, so I give her no grief about her one flaw.) The first sign was that she revoked a longrunning ban on new citrus. For years, she insisted that I was only allowed two citrus trees for my own personal use. If I felt so inclined to sell them, she stated, she was fine, but if they were staying, TWO. Only TWO. I kept that promise, sticking to a Rio Star ruby red grapefruit I grew from seed and a Buddha’s Hand citron. Now, though, she comes to me unbidden and asks “How hard would it be to raise a Mexican lime tree so we can make Key lime pie?”
You know, some guys would take horrible advantage of their wives being in such a flexible state, and she regularly thanks Crom, Issek, and Nyarlathotep that I have no interest in football or other pro sports. Instead, I brought her out to the local garden center and picked out a beautiful little Mexican lime tree of her very own, and a new “Pink Lemonade” blueberry bush to replace the one the drought took out last summer for myself. I wasn’t worried about her, but I was concerned.
Over the past few months, several good friends announced impending gardening books or book deals, and it shouldn’t be any surprise that my friend Janit Calvo is working on one for Timber Press on miniature garden design. Not only do I wish her the best on this, but I’m buying a copy the moment it becomes available. In the meantime, what laughingly passes for spare time at the Triffid Ranch goes mostly to research, and I realized a little while back that I had one of the best guides to miniature garden design in my library, and that I’d bought it a quarter-century ago this summer.
You’re going to laugh.
Without realizing it, this book taught me everything I know about composition of miniature garden scenes. It taught me the difference between symmetry and balance, where balance is necessary for a proper composition but symmetry merely makes it look artificial and forced. It taught me to take advantage of what I already had, and to scratchbuild the items I needed to make a scene work. It taught me the basics on natural versus artificial lighting, proper scale, and making sure that the scene was neither too large or too small.
Oh, you’re definitely going to laugh.
Best of all, until a few years ago, there’s almost no chance that gardeners would have come across this book. It’s not that it’s rare or obscure, but that its enthusiasts usually don’t share notes with gardeners. A shame, really, because Janit’s push on miniature garden arrangement means that they’re going to start running into each other more often, and we’re going to have a ridiculous amount of fun when that happens.
To wit, the book in question is How To Build Dioramas by Sheperd Paine, subtitled “Your Complete How-To-Do-It Guide To Diorama Planning, Construction, and Detailing For All Types of Models”. Originally published in 1980, it was in its fourth printing by the time I discovered it in an MJDesigns north of Dallas in the summer of 1987. I already had a fascination with diorama design, but this one made me think about their design.
The reason why I recommend every last miniature gardener needs a copy of this book? Well, when you think about it, the only difference between a well-composed miniature garden and a well-composed diorama is that the latter can be put in a closet or on a shelf somewhere without worry about anything dying. Otherwise, the idea of both is to tell some type of story, or at least hint at one, with the materials at hand. With a diorama involving plastic model kits, the kit can be the centerpiece of the scene, or it can be a supporting character or situation, but it has to stay within context of the whole arrangement. With a miniature garden, the plants are absolutely essential, but they can also be centerpieces or supporting characters. In both case, put in too much, put in features that detract from each other, or otherwise remind viewers that they’re looking at a construct instead of a vignette, and they’re ruined.
In my case, I’m very fond of both the original edition and the 1999 second edition for different reasons. Not only is the second edition full of new material, but it goes into detail on utilizing resin-cast figures (as well as making them), and new materials for customization that simply weren’t available in the early Eighties. You might not think this is such a big deal, until you come across the nearly-perfect item for a miniature garden, but realize that it needs a new backing or just the right ornamentation to complete the effect. I’m not even going to start on how valuable knowing how to wire supplemental lighting can be, especially considering the options with LEDs and solar-charged batteries these days.
The biggest reason why I hang onto my copies of this book (heck, I won’t even let the Czarina borrow them, because the first edition has that much sentimental attachment for me) is because this was the book that really made me consider stories in miniature garden arrangement. Since we’re very visual creatures at heart, we instinctively block out the plants in arrangements unless they have especially intriguing foliage or flowers. When the subject is a particularly impressive plant or plant arrangement, and viewers are too busy focusing on the little animal or human figures placed therein, then You’re Doing It Wrong. Sheperd Paine understood that these have their place, but that they should always be helping the viewer recognize the real center of the display. Just as bonsai is much more than hacking a sapling or shrub into something approximating a miniature tree, miniature gardening is much more than plopping a few toys and miniatures among randomly selected plants in a terra-cotta bowl. Read through either edition, and just feel the garden ideas percolating through your head while doing so.
I’m planning to come back to this subject quite a bit more in the next few months, but let’s just say I suspect that we’re going to be seeing a lot more crossover between traditional gardening and traditional model-building as miniature gardening continues to increase in popularity. This, by the way, is why I’m now checking on what UV inhibitors work best with traditional resin and polystyrene composition, and why I’m planning to have a very long and hearty talk with a few resin kit designer friends. The field won’t know what hit it.
Posted onJanuary 20, 2012|Comments Off on Ensuring marital bliss, one aneurysm at a time
The end of January, particularly this January, can be the most cruel of times for Texas gardeners. The wild fluctuations in temperature and humidity, one day below freezing and the next too warm for jackets, tempt even the most wizened souls to attempt something in the garden. Logic tells you that anyone planting anything frost-intolerant in North Texas before the middle of March is an idiot, and that your only options are putting in dormant fruit trees and maybe a batch of brassicas, such as bok choi or Brussels sprouts. One look outside on a morning like today, though, and logic gets shouted down: “C’mon. LOOK at it. We could probably get in a good two dozen orange trees and a row of tomatoes before lunch.”
It’s especially rough on me because of the weather. Having barely survived the big bout of flu that took us both down over the last two weeks, the Czarina listened to my coughing nearly to the point of vomiting and stated with authority “You are NOT allowed to get pneumonia this year.” Although I fear her proclamations as much as her elbows, I think she’s being completely unfair. If I get pneumonia, syphilis, Dutch Elm Blight, and kuru before May, I’ll have enough purchase points to get Captain Trips and hemmorhagic fever for free. The dealer will even throw in a couple of intestinal parasites and an ingrown toenail if I get in before the deadline.
The Czarina’s complete and total inflexibility on these matters is why I don’t tell her about some of the new projects I have planned. She won’t let me get a crocodile monitor, she won’t let me get a display case for a crocodile monitor, and she definitely won’t let me set up my orbital laboratory and death ray, even if I pay for it from my own allowance. Is it really my fault, then, that I spend my rainy day fund on new garden sculpture?
And yes, the sound you hear from the horizon is the sound of Czarina elbow piercing the top of my skull. You’d think I’d have learned after I told her I wanted to have a Meet the Feebles-themed birthday party just after we got married.
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In the incessant kvetching about Dallas weather, I should bring up that we have a phrase for it: “If you don’t like it, hang around for ten minutes and it’ll change.” Last week? Subfreezing temperatures. This week? Rain and highs more suitable for Miami. I don’t recommend North Texas for anyone with respiratory issues such as a proclivity toward pneumonia, because if the pollen doesn’t kill you, the wild fluctuations in ambient temperatures will shiv you in the bathtub and watch you die.
That’s what hit Friday morning: sore throat, voice like a five-pack-a-day cigar smoker, and just enough of a fever to bring on some particularly interesting auditory hallucinations. Either that, or the cats really did learn how to talk. All I can say for sure is that I woke up late on Friday afternoon, fever burned out, and I did what any sane person would do. I started to clean the house.
Before I start into the details, consider the warring factions in my psyche that I inherited from both sides of my family. As mentioned previously, my father’s Scot heritage generally manifests itself as a thriftiness and frugality that comes dangerously close to packrat tendencies. Oh, who am I kidding? My sister constantly and bitterly complains about the two-seat hovercraft my dad bought at a police auction in the Nineties, and I refuse to get involved, partly because it’s none of my business and partly because I would have done the same thing. My mother, though, manifests her Irish/German/Cherokee heritage through control of her surroundings that pushes minimalism. The worst fight I ever saw them get into involved her donating his high school prom tuxedo to Goodwill, only some quarter-century later. What this means is that all of their kids collect…and collate…and make plans only to get delayed…and then BOOM!
(I’d like to note for the record that if I thought there was a market for it, I’d market a proposal for a comic book miniseries involving a nice Dunwich boy who married a nice Innsmouth girl, and the exploits of their adult children. It would be a combination of horror and comedy, and completely autobiographical.)
Anyway, one of the sore points in the house as of late was the office. When we moved in the spring of 2010, we were already horribly behind on getting ready for the move for various reasons, and I horribly underestimated exactly how many books I had in the library. Ever get that sick feeling when starting what should be a ten-minute chore that stretches into hours and days? By the end of May, that was my basic state of being. Get up, go to the Day Job, go home, pack, haul another truckload over to the new house, go to sleep, get up another four hours later…and all of this on top of getting ready for our big show of the year. After a while, you stop worrying about deciding where everything is supposed to go, and you focus on just getting it into boxes. Those then go into a back corner of a room somewhere until you can deal with them, which you never do because you’re too busy dealing with everything else that needs to be done during a normal workweek and weekend. I’d plan vacation time after Christmas to dig into it, and the Czarina would have her post-Christmas meltdown and decree that we were leaving town for our anniversary. Combine that with our mutual book addictions and the number of friends and bystanders who’d send odd plant- or dinosaur-related items that would go atop the pile, and it’s no surprise that witnesses would ask “Are you SURE that Hunter S. Thompson is dead? It looks like he’s been camping out here for the last month.”
That last comment particularly hurts when your 11-year-old niece says it. Just saying.
I’d already planned to take the week after Christmas off and do nothing but focus on the mess. This included threatening the Czarina that if we went anywhere between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, I’d tell the investigating detective “I didn’t defenestrate her, sir. I just threw her out a window.” Well, that’s what I told myself: one view of her rapier-sharp elbows and the word “please” was used quite often, and not just as part of the phrase “please don’t kill me”. However, something about reaching the terminal stage of Dutch Elm Blight made my mother’s heritage grab my father’s in a rather rude place and scream “Shove off,” and I started pulling stacked books off the shelves and alphabetizing them where they belonged. And filling boxes full of obsolte gardening catalogs for recycling. And tearing through an already-impressive magazine collection and deciding what I’d keep and what was going to Half Price Books.
One of the nice things about having a very comfortable relationship with the Czarina is that I can drop all sorts of worrisome comments and she doesn’t kill me where I stand. For instance, last week, I finally admitted to her that after book tour events in 2009 and 2010, I slept with a fan immediately afterwards, and she beat me to saying “And you were already married to her, weren’t you?” This way, when she came home on Friday evening and the first words out of my mouth were “It’s not what it looks like,” she just blinked at the piles of boxes and magazines and blinked instead of preparing to show me my own gall bladder. Then she looked at the office and screamed. Even better, it was a good scream.
And so it continues. The gardening magazine sale at Half Price brought in enough money that I could get her another Christmas present. I’ve cracked open and discarded boxes that I’ve been dragging around, still sealed in packing tape, since 1996. I now understand why so many dedicated bibliophiles now have PDAs or smartphone apps that track all of their books, because I discovered a good two dozen that I’d repurchased at least once because I couldn’t remember if I already had it. (These will be up for an upcoming Joey Box giveaway after the holidays. I promise.) The Czarina dances through the house, giggling about how she expected to find me dead in a crapalanche by now, and I just tell her that with the change in my pockets, I’m still worth more dead than alive. Best of all, remember my mentioning the odd dinosaur-related stuff received from friends and cohorts? We found a home for one of the biggest pieces.
First, a bit of preamble. The Czarina and I have been friends of Mel Hynes, the writer of the classic Webcomic Two Lumps, for nearly a decade, and Mel has a habit of surprising friends with really odd acquisitions that she finds via eBay. One day, she called and asked us to meet her at her apartment, because she’d found “the absolute perfect Christmas present for Paul.” I loved it, but the Czarina just looked sick and asked Mel “And what did I do to you?”
Part of the Czarina’s concern was that we really didn’t have a place to display it. It couldn’t go over the mantelpiece because of a beautiful glass display given to her by a mutual friend, and she was insistent that it didn’t need to go up in the living room. It then sat in my old office for the next five years, and it went into the back closet of the new office when we moved in. The Czarina kept making noises about putting it in the garage, but that required risking massive catastrophic crapalanches to get to it. Now, with the extensive bulldozing and palaeoarchaeological expedition going on, one path leading to bedrock gave me strength, and it came out. And when you see where it went, blame the Czarina for it.
Yes, this is a life-sized Nanotyrannus bust. Yes, this is in my bathroom. Directly over the toilet, in fact. I call him “Damocles”. This is a friendly warning: if I could do this much with a bout of Dutch Elm Blight, you’d best pray I never get smallpox.
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Regular readers of the blog may note that I tend to namedrop Janit Calvo at Two Green Thumbs Miniature Gardens from time to time. This stems from a mutual appreciation of the merits of miniature gardens, especially for those people who just don’t have the time or the space to work on a full garden. We’re both working toward the same purposes, but it depends upon whether you want miniature gardening design advice from Gertrude Jeckyll or Wayne Barlowe.
Well, a little while ago, Janit asked about recommendations on dinosaur figures for miniature garden spaces from friends and cohorts. I couldn’t help but chip in some advice, because the love of all things palaeontological goes a long ways back. I cannot remember a time where I was unable to read, and I apparently taught myself to read from a combination of my mother’s nursing textbooks and an edition of The New Book of Knowledge that came out the year I was born. By the time I was five, I’d worn out the “D” volume going through the entry on dinosaurs over and over, and my choice of reading material gave my kindergarten teacher lots and lots of headaches. (In one case, literally: in the middle of January, I’d become convinced that the snowdrift outside the classroom was full of dinosaur bones. She tried to get me back inside while I was excavating the snowdrift with a stick taller than I was, and the scene of her and four first graders trying to take away my stick was straight out of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.) By the time I started first grade, I was an addict, especially on the first day of classes, when my teacher asked everyone to name something that begins with “B” and I said “Brachiosaurus“. (She then accused me of making that up, and I got great satisfaction from proving it to her on our first trip to the school library. That was the origin of my attitude that it’s much better to be correct than right.)
In odd ways, a lot of my current gardening attitude was dependent upon my love of palaeontology when I was younger. When I was very young, I took advantage of local weeds that looked superficially like Lepidodendron trees and first understood the difference between balance and symmetry when putting toy dinosaurs in this miniature forest. Viewing Rudolph Zallinger’s classic mural Age of Reptiles over and over didn’t hurt, either. To this day, I can look at a well-done stone and cactus bed and think “All it needs is a few cowboys lassoing an Allosaurus.”
A terrarium design book of which I am inordinately fond, Successful Terrariums: A Step-By-Step Guide by Ken Kayatta and Steven Schmidt, came out right in the height of terrarium mania during the early Seventies. One of its regular lessons is to avoid the horrible purple elf figures then distressingly common in terrarium arrangements, because “purple elves eat terrarium plants”. At first, I laughed at the witticism, but then I realized that it was, in a way, absolutely true. Humans are hardwired to look for animals of any sort among undergrowth, and it’s absolutely impossible to make any kind of garden, miniature or otherwise, with an animal decoration without viewers first spotting it or hyperfocusing on it. (By way of example, the Museum of Science and Industry had, when I lived in Chicago, had a recreation of a 300-million-year-old Carboniferous forest as part of its coal mine exhibit. Even though the only animal life in the exhibit were giant dragonflies and cockroaches and one small early amphibian, visitors always looked for them and ignored the vistas of club moss and fern climbing to the ceiling.) Go with the palaeontological equivalent of a purple elf, and any sense of versimillitude is dead. Now, if you want to make the equivalent of a dinosaur tourist park, like Dinosaur Gardens in Ossineke, Michigan, don’t let me stop you.
The above figures sum up the general availability of dinosaur figures in the US until about 20 years ago. Back through the Fifties through the Seventies, the big manufacturer of dinosaur playsets was Louis Marx, which based its designs largely on Zallinger’s Age of Reptiles mural. Hence, while they’re great for eliciting nostalgia, these are the dinosaurs that time forgot. (The blue beast on the left is a giant ground sloth or Megatherium from competing playset manufacturer MPC.) The only critters that predated the dinosaurs were the early Permian pelycosaurs Dimetrodon and Sphenacodon and the late Permian dinocephalian Moschops, and usually the only post-Cretaceous additions were ground sloths, wooly mammoths, and saber-toothed cats. MPC made a few Cenozoic additions, such as a few more mammals and even the giant flightless bird Diatryma, which would work all right in miniature gardens if they weren’t in brilliant colors.
The bad news about these guys, other than the fact that they’re rather obsolete by today’s science, is that they’re almost impossible to repaint. Collectors regularly come across sets where the previous owner tried to color them with Testors model paints, and this only left flaking paint getting all over everything. If you come across them at a garage sale or swap meet, be warned that while they rarely fade in strong light, they’ll also keep that shocking coloration forever.
For those on the other side of the pond, the English company Invicta put out its own line of prehistoric figures, and these could be painted. In fact, purchasers in the UK could get many of them already painted. (From left to right, Triceratops, Mamenchisaurus, Muttaburrasaurus, and Tyrannosaurus.) In the States, these were usually available through the Edmund Scientific catalog, which is where I first ran into them circa 1976. These are a lot more scientifically accurate than the Marx figures, but that’s still a matter of perspective. Forget the cranberry color: the Tyrannosaurus was the epitome of palaeo theory circa 1975, and things have changed a LOT.
By way of example, check out the Stegosaurus in the set. Compared to it, most of the current reconstructions of Stegosaurus look like they’re about ready to look up, growl, and chase your ass down the street. These figures are, in both chemistry and balance, very stable. They’re also very, very dull.
The prevailing attitude toward dinosaur toys started to change in the late Eighties and early Nineties when Safari Ltd. started up a line of figures connected to the Carnegie Museum. That line was so successful that it was supplemented by the Wild Safari line. Both lines tend these days toward more obscure prehistoric animals (from the left in the above picture: the gorgonopsid Inostrancevia and the land crocodilian Kaprosuchus, and the dinosaurs Oviraptor and Hypacrosaurus), and about the only difference is price and scale. The Wild Safari line also includes a nice collection of prehistoric mammals, so that’s something to consider as well.
To give an example of how much has changed, the Mongolian theropod Oviraptor was first discovered atop a clutch of of presumably plundered eggs, leading to its name, which translates to “Egg thief”. The reality was that this first fossil, and many found since then, was actually of an animal brooding atop its own nest. Further discoveries of other oviraptorosaurs found that they had extensive feathery plumage, which is replicated in this specimen. 20 years ago, Oviraptor would have been shown both bare as a Christmas turkey and a uniform grey, green, or brown. My, how things change.
For those wanting little figures, or appropriate accessories, Safari also issues a line of “Toobs”, containing all sorts of prehistoric replicas. To date, this includes a line of prehistoric sea reptiles, early crocodilians, and even prehistoric sharks. The set above is a collection of fossil skull replicas, and for those seeking something a bit more subtle in an arrangement, the skulls may be preferable.
One of the great missed opportunities in palaeo recreations in the Nineties involved Battat, which put out a line of absolutely fantastic dinosaur figures between 1994 and 1998. These were based on the best evidence available at the time. (From left to right, the ankylosaur Euplocephalus, the iguanodont Ouranosaurus, the Canadian ceratopsian Styracosaurus, and the Texas predator Acrocanthosaurus.) As display pieces, they changed the dinosaur replica business forever, and Safari went into overload in its attempt to catch up. As miniature garden denizens, not only are they extremely rare outside of collections, but they were composed of plastic that tended to deform from the figure’s own weight. As you may notice, the Ouranosaurus above is having a few problems with standing, and that’s because its forelimbs bent over time in storage. If you’re like me and enjoy the screams of Cat Piss Men when I chop up Boba Fett Star Wars figures for succulent arrangements, go to town and invite a few toy dinosaur collectors over to your house to see your new display. Otherwise, go with a comparable Safari figure instead.
One of these days, though, I’m setting up a large enclosure with just one of Battat’s Pachycephalosaurus figures peeking off the side. Look at it as “Bambi leaving the forest” from 80 million years ago.
Finally, we have Papo, a French company that got into the dinosaur figure business relatively recently. While its dinosaurs may not be the most accurate, they’re some of the most detailed I’ve ever seen. (From left to right, Parasaurolophus and Allosaurus.) Most of Papo’s predator figures, particularly the Tyrannosaurus and Spinosaurus figures, have articulated jaws, so they can be opened for a full roar or nearly closed for a pensive expression. These, my friends, beg for presentation in a large terrarium or saikei arrangement.
And now that you’ve considered some of the options, you should always consider two essentials. The first is scale. I know, the temptation is to go with a huge figure, but without comparable floral accompaniment, the figure will dominate the scene to the detriment of the plants. At absolute worst, the arrangement resembles a Godzilla playset more than anything realistic. Remember, the idea is to focus on flora and fauna, so if all you have is a small pot or tray for the display, go with a small figure. Save some of the big ones for the right circumstance.
The other essential is considering the stability of the figure. For obvious reasons, prehistoric miniature gardens will be irresistable to children, and they’re going to want to touch. Also for obvious reasons, most dinosaur figures aren’t designed for garden applications (would it be that someone did), so a figure that’s perfectly stable on a flat surface tends to flip when standing in potting mix. To get an idea, make up a big pile of sawdust or dead leaves, taller than you are, and try to stand upright on the top. Even the more stable figures may have to be shoved down into the potting mix deeply enough that they look like they’re trapped in mulch, and two-legged figures such as Tyrannosaurus or Deinonychus? It just isn’t happening.
The way around this is to make supports for the figures. This can be done easily by inserting plastic, bamboo, or metal rods through the feet of the figure and up into its legs and sticking the rods into the soil mix. This way, the figure looks as if it’s actually walking instead of trapped in quicksand. Another option is to attach the feet, with either epoxy or superglue, to a piece of slate or other flat rock, and carefully inserting it into the potting mix. (If you want the figure to appear as if it’s walking on rocks instead of potting mix, just attach it to the rock in question.) Check on an inobtrusive area with either epoxy or superglue to make sure that the adhesives don’t attack the plastic, but if the adhesives don’t react, go wild. After the adhesive is COMPLETELY DRY, bury the base just enough to hide or obscure it, but not so little that it damages the illusion.
Posted onJuly 5, 2011|Comments Off on Time for a bit of head explodey
I’m a big fan of living miniature gardens, even if my ideas tend to go a bit…dark. Now, it’s easy to go dark, but I also enjoy adding a bit of natural history to the mix. This is why I have ambitions for a couple of new penjing projects. Dinosaurs can be impressive, but how many people design miniature gardens around the creatures of the Burgess Shale, especially as a way to keep garden gnomes under control?
Posted onJuly 5, 2011|Comments Off on Things To Do In Dallas When You’re Dead
About the only way to improve upon this weekend’s Discover Dinosaurs event at the Museum of Nature & Science here in Dallas would be to offer a matching Beer & Bones event, and that’s just discussing the prehistoric gardens activities. It wouldn’t be all that hard to set up a seminar discussing serious landscaping options with Wollemi pines and other Cretaceous flora survivors. Maybe next time, eh?
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Oh, dear. I can hear the Czarina telling me “Where are we going to put it?” Naturally, the answer is “Out in the front yard. Add a tank and a Dalek, and we’ve got a life-sized Rowan Atkinson nativity set.”
Posted onMay 13, 2011|Comments Off on Dinosaurs (and worse) in the garden
Every six months or so, I look for a more effective tree-rat repellent. Traps haven’t worked, and most of the recommended repellents have no effect at all. In fact, I think they’re gargling the mothballs everyone has suggested for their aggravation. I suspect that it’s time for more determined measures, so I’ve looked into statuary. Aside from the obvious selection, which the Czarina will not stand for, it may be time for custom work. After all, what says “bog garden” like a custom fiberglass Cthulhu emerging from the muck?
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