Drawing Dinosaurs! A Colored Pencil How-To for Kids and Adults

Hi, artists of all ages! I said a little while ago that I might be doing more crafts-focused posts, and this is the first of them. You may recall (I mentioned it in my post on rockslide-dodging paleontologist Mary Anning) that we have a great kids' guide to drawing dinosaurs: Ready, Set, Draw…Dinosaurs!

It's specifically designed for young artists, but I think it's a pretty excellent introduction to drawing dinosaurs for dino-fans of any age.* Artist Kerren Barbas Steckler has given ultra-simple visual step-by-step instructions for drawing 18 dinos (and dino-proximates; see footnote). They're easy to follow, and the results are most fierce.

Today, I thought I'd give a quick colored pencil demonstration for anyone who's mastered the dino outlines and wants to get a little fancy. Detailed colored pencil drawing may seem a bit intimidating at first (no erasing? What?!), but all it takes is a little practice, and once you begin to get the hang of it, it's tons of fun.

 We'll be drawing velociraptor today! Despite the reputation a certain popular dinosaur movie gave raptors, they weren't (evidence suggests) particularly diabolical fiends. Nor were they especially large. They were, in fact, about the size of a turkey. A really scary turkey. Our drawing of velociraptor is feather-free, but recent evidence suggests they may have been feathered.

Follow along to draw velociraptor, or pick another dinosaur from the book if you have it, and use the suggestions here to create your own many-colored dino!




1. To start, pick a very light colored pencil (I used pale green here), and sketch the outline of your dinosaur. Follow the book, copy my sketch, or do your own sketch–whatever makes you happy! You may find it to lightly draw a sort of "stick figure" version of your dinosaur first.

2. Once you've outlined your dinosaur, lightly sketch in details like eyes, claws, stripes, and teeth. Give your dino a personality. My velociraptor is definitely grouchy. Or maybe just in need of a snack. Perhaps I shouldn't have my hand so close to her jaws…

3. Now the fun starts: shading! Pick a color that's slightly darker than the color you used to outline your dino, but is still pretty light. I used a dark yellow. The color doesn't matter too much, as you'll be coloring over it. Press lightly for this step. Don't worry about being super-realistic here–we're drawing dinosaurs for fun, after all. Put a little shadow below your dinosaur's jaw, along the bottom of its neck, on the bottom of its stomach and tail, and on one side of each of its arms and/or legs.

4. Time to start adding more color! Pick five or six colors, including at least one very light color and one very dark color. I find it's helpful to choose a pair of complementary colors (opposite colors; see the link for details) like blue and orange or purple and yellow, and use shades of one color for light areas, and the other color for dark areas. In this drawing, I am using yellow for light areas, and purple for dark areas. If there are any areas that you want to be a particular color, add that color lightly now so you don't forget. (I did that with the light purple stripes.) Then, pick a dark-colored pencil and shade over where you put your shading earlier.

5. Now, choose your darkest pencil and make sure it's sharp. Fill in a few very small areas, like your dinosaur's eye, its nostril, the bottoms of its claws, and the backs of its teeth, that you want to be very dark. It's okay to press hard when you fill these areas in, in order to get the color really dark–you won't be layering any more color over these small areas. You can also make some of the dark areas of shading a little darker, if you like.

6. Very lightly fill in your dinosaur's body with your light color. (I used yellow.) Then, with a medium shade of your dark color (I used light purple), lightly shade around your areas of dark shading. Add some new shading as well, if you wish. Tip: Press lightly until you're sure you like how something you've shaded looks. You can't really erase colored pencils very well, especially once you've started layering colors, but you can make things less noticeable and blend in colors you don't like if you put them down lightly.

7. Color in your dinosaur fully as you started to do in step 6, layering one color over another so that they blend in places, but making sure to keep your light areas light and your dark areas dark. If you're using complementary colors, you'll notice that layering your colors over one another will sometimes make an area appear brown or grey, but that you can still see traces of both original colors in the brown or grey color. Cool, huh? I think this is much more interesting than just using a brown or grey pencil! Feel free to fill in your solid-colored areas (like the light purple stripes on my dino's back) in this step.

8. Add in any finishing touches (I put in some lines on my velociraptor's brow ridge), and voilà! You've drawn a full-color dinosaur!

FYI, I used a Peter Pauper Sketchbook here for the first time, and found (disclosure of bias self-evident) that the paper was quite good for colored pencil drawings. It's thick and sturdy (a necessity if you don't want to see an imprint of your drawing through half the pad, or worse, risk tearing the paper by pressing too hard), and just a tiny bit textured, so it picks up color nicely and you can get a lot of rich layering in before it's saturated.

*I should note, with apologies to anyone irked by this usage, that the word "dinosaur" in this and any other blog posts on the subject will sometimes be used according to its popular definition, not its scientific (i.e., actually accurate) one. So when animals such as ichthyosaur and archaeopteryx, despite not really being dinosaurs, are referred to under the dinosaur heading, I'm invoking the term as it's often used in popular culture: to mean "non-mammalian animal that had its heyday in the Mesozoic Era."

Dinosaur Bones and Derring-Do!

As it's Women's History Month, and every month is a good month for dinosaurs, I thought I'd dedicate this fine Tuesday to the landslide-dodging academic! The exhumer of ichthyosaurs! The discoverer of everyone's favorite swan-necked sauropterygian (that's the Loch Ness Monster plesiosaur, folks): Mary Anning!
Mary Anning would probably have been my childhood hero if I'd known of her. The landslide-dodging is not an exaggeration–the cliffs of Lyme Regis, England, where Mary made her historic fossil discoveries, have a habit of shedding bits of themselves unexpectedly and at speed. She had some very near misses with falling cliff debris, but escaped time and again with both her life and the bones of twelve-foot-long seafaring lizard ancestors (a.k.a. ichthyosaurs).

She supported herself by selling fossils, at first to the curious tourists who flocked to her seaside town on holiday, and then to to the scientific community, which at that time consisted largely of wealthy gentlemen. The latter had an unfortunate habit of writing up her discoveries in scientific journals without crediting her in any fashion, though any taxonomic insights such papers contained often belonged to Mary as much as the physical unearthing of the fossil in question. Persons of authority, uncomfortable with the notion that a woman (especially one without significant financial means) could be a paleontological superhero, tended to write of her somewhat condescendingly when they did so at all. She found this irksome, to say the least, but went on making landmark discoveries.

One of her most important breakthroughs should appeal to the ten-year-old in all of us. Check out the illustration to the right. It's now called a coprolite. When Mary Anning began her work, paleontologists were finding plenty of those, but no one could fathom what they were. Mary Anning correctly deduced that they're…(drumroll) dinosaur poop!

No, no, don't look at me like that. Ask anyone who studies animals–you can learn an astounding amount about how they live from the little presents they leave behind. For starters, dino coprolites can be used to determine whether a dinosaur was carnivorous or herbivorous. In some recent cases, scientists have even been able to figure out specifically what the dinosaur that extruded the coprolite ate!

We also owe most people's mental picture of Nessie (a.k.a the Loch Ness Monster) to Mary Anning. The dinosaur to the left, perhaps popularly thought of as Nessie, is a plesiosaur, and Mary Anning found the first (and second) fossilized plesiosaur remains known to science. (They didn't live in Loch Ness, in case anyone was holding out hope. In fact, not much of anything lives in Loch Ness. I know. I'm as disappointed as you.) After study, she concluded that it was a wholly new species of dinosaur.

It's nothing less than a tragedy that brilliant and intrepid Mary Anning didn't receive proper recognition for her work in her lifetime. I'm glad for the chance to talk about her now, though, in no small part because acknowledging women's contributions in the past helps to prepare the way for today's and tomorrow's innovating women. And it affirms for young girls that their ideas matter, and their knowledge, work, and bravery deserve respect.

On that note, this post is dedicated to every (other) little girl or former little girl who stared up at a rearing brachiosaurus skeleton and thought, "WHOA, COOL!"

Profuse thanks to Missed in History's podcast on Mary Anning, available in the iTunes store, through which I first learned of her; and to those who collaboratively penned the excellent and thorough Wikipedia article on Ms. Anning (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Anning).

Image credits:

Plesiosaur skeleton: Shutterstock.com/Lefteris Papaulakis

Coprolite: Shutterstock.com/IgorGolovniov

Plesiosaur rendering: Shutterstock.com/Bob Orsillo


If you (or a dino-thusiastic kid you know) are interested in fun dinosaur crafts and entertaining little dinosaur fact-snippets penned by yours truly, check out PPP's Ready, Set, Draw…Dinosaurs!

Or if you're up for something in three dimensions, check out illustrator and paper artist Mary Beth Cryan's book of Paper Craft Dinosaurs!

12 Days of Holiday Giveaways! Day 9 — What’s your favorite nostalgic holiday toy?

Welcome to PPP's 12 (working) days of holiday fun & giveaways! Each business day through December 21, we'll be asking a holiday-related question. One reply to each question (whether on this blog, Twitter, or Facebook) will be randomly chosen as our winner! That person may select one item ($20 retail and under) from our Web site as their prize. We enthusiastically welcome fun stories and photos. Best of luck!

Today's question:

What's your favorite nostalgic holiday toy?

I remember well the year Tickle Me Elmo landed on the shelves (and spent an average of five seconds there before departing in the hands of eager gift-givers). As a tweenager, I was mystified and intrigued by the intense appeal of this fuzzy red chortling thing. What drew people so inexorably to its giggles? Five years earlier, of course, I was deep in my generation's transient obsession with a kind of doll that, courtesy of rapid spinning generated by a pull-cord mechanism, could achieve helicopterlike flight over impressive distances. Not so long at all before the onset of thirteen-year-old cynicism, I had coveted and (joy!) received a light-up, moving, talking plush Pikachu from the Pokemon series. I still have the latter. Impressively, it still more or less functions, though nowadays its mechanized gestures have acquired a sluggish quality.

What toys from your youth stick out in your memory, when you cast your mind back to holidays of yore? What did you most hope to find under the tree, or in the wrapped box your parents handed you that (could it be?) looked perhaps the right size? Did it live up to your wildest hopes? Do you still have it? (By all means post pictures, if so!)

Since we're discussing great holiday gifts, kindly permit me to end with a recommendation for Foil It!, which I can vouch (if my enjoyment of it can be considered a solid recommendation) has about the best crafty-fun to mess-potential ratio I've encountered in many a year. Seriously.


Image Credits:

First image: Shutterstock.com/stockcreations

Second image: Shutterstock.com/Charles Taylor

Travel Tuesdays Braves Thanksgiving Traffic

Salutations! Apologies for the radio silence on my end, fair readers. I threw out my neck rather spectacularly last week (was it the extreme laundry-basket-carrying? The high-octane reading-a-large-and-heavy-book? The three and a half whole push-ups I managed the previous day? The world may never know), and have since been scrambling to catch up. Because crafting is more or less out of the question for the moment, and because we’ve just come out the other side of a famously travel-heavy holiday, I thought I’d do another travel column this week. And so I shall henceforth dissemble on that chestnut of a Thanksgiving tradition, traffic.

Traffic is the horsefly in the ointment of adventure. I’ve been stuck atop the apex of Miami bridges, looking wistfully at the expanse of Art Deco silver and turquoise sea stretching far below. I’ve wished with carsick fervor that Atlanta would either implement a decent public transportation system or adequately accommodate the vehicular density that comes of not having one. I’ve stared ahead as I inched across the stocky grey George Washington Bridge, gradually losing all hope of seeing the other side. I’ve discovered the terrible truth about driving in Boston at rush hour: that it is a slow-motion but nonetheless terrifying game of chicken with every other animate occupant of the road—car, pedestrian, or intrepid pigeon-zilla—and whoever flinches first yields right of way. I’ve sat in gridlock near Philadelphia’s Centre Square; the friend in whose car I was a passenger took advantage of our stillness to point out the unusual pose of William Penn’s statue atop Philadelphia City Hall. I’ve lurched in stop-and-go up Maine’s coast, and rolled my windows down, soaking in the summer morning sunlight and smelling salt on the air. I’ve chugged past Berkshire cornfields in pummeling rain, blasting Queen’s “Seven Seas of Rhye” over and over on my car stereo so as not to fall asleep. (I dare you to hear Freddie Mercury bellow, “I challenge the mighty titan and his troubadours!”, look me in the eye, and tell me you’re still in the mood for a nap.) In the coming years I hope to sit idling in lines of motorists farther afield. I’ve heard L.A. is in a class all its own.

Somewhere in all of this, as those possessed of a vagabondish nature must do, I’ve made my peace with gridlock.  If you’re not late, exhausted, feeling the press of biological necessity, or on a very tight gas budget, traffic can be eminently bearable. The infamous day before Thanksgiving is over, but the next time you’re stuck, my recommendations (perhaps obvious, but eminently helpful to me):

–Audiobooks and serial podcast fiction will keep you from leaping out the car window yelling, “I’M FREEEEEEE!” I personally find stories with a certain amount of brio to be most effective in keeping spirits high while speed is low. I love a challenging novel that unfolds delicately. I adore subtle, understated wit. But if you’re like me, you may want something robust to distract you from dolefully eyeing the bumper ahead. A favorite of mine: Decoder Ring Theater’s Red Panda Adventures. It’s a jolly, cracking 1930s radio play–style serial recounting the deeds of the Red Panda, “Canada’s greatest superhero.” Banter! Gadgets! Evildoers! Derring-do!

–Especially if you’re driving, have chewing gum or mints on hand for when you get too tired or stir-crazy. Taste is stimulus and entertainment, and chewing provides some small outlet for pent-up energy.

–If you have backseat malcontents (children or passengers inclined to act like them), especially if they’re inclined to motion sickness, give them something to fiddle with that doesn’t have a screen. Playing with smartphones and tablets is a great distraction, but after a while spent doing so in the car, a lot of people start to feel ill. (Myself included. I am the sovereign of the backseat malcontents.) Give them a break with a non-messy tactile thing, like silly putty and its ilk, or a three-dimensional puzzle that doesn’t require too much hand-eye coordination. If you’ll permit me to sneak in a Peter Pauper item mention, Foil It is actually great on this score. It’s entertaining, and playing with it feels productive, but it doesn’t require the acute visual concentration that can make passengers woozy. Also, creating shiny things is a little addictive, which is seldom a bad thing on a long journey.

–Modify your seat—with pillows, padding, and whatever configuration-adjustment your car will allow—to compensate for the physical discomfort of moving from brake to gas and back, over and over. The next time you’re in traffic, pay attention to what starts to get tired or achy after a while, and experiment to determine what best alleviates that. It’ll pay off when you’re stuck on a long trip. I keep Tiger Balm in my car, though the applications thereof are obviously somewhat limited while driving. (I’ve been told I’m too young for such cares. I’ve also been told I’m too young to fear Facebook, though, and I do in abundance.)


And with that, I bid you au revoir! May your next round of travels be swift and smooth.