Wrestling the Savanna King

Wrestling the Savanna King

The king of the savanna has met his match in this contest of leonine brawn and ferocity against human cunning and agility!

In other words, I wanted to channel my inner Edgar Rice Burroughs by drawing a chick wrestling a lion. It’s the sort of simple, yet timeless and high-concept theme that is just plain fun to illustrate.

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Hellenic Lion

Hellenic Lion

Did you know that lions roamed Greece in ancient times? That’s why you find so many of them mentioned in classical Greek myths, most notably the story of Heracles and the Nemean lion (Nemea is in the Peloponnesian peninsula of southern Greece). It seems they were finally extirpated from the region sometime in the first millennium AD, although they persisted in the Caucasus until the tenth century.

For my portrayal of the Hellenic lion, I hybridized aspects of the modern African lion and the extinct European steppe lion (better known to the public as the “cave lion”), the latter of which appears to have been spotted according to Paleolithic cave paintings. I have not heard of any genomic analysis of ancient lion remains recovered from Greece, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were indeed mixed between the earlier steppe lions and later arrivals from Africa via the Middle East.

The First Lion

The First LionIt may look like a big leopard, but this is my reconstruction of how the earliest lions (Panthera leo) would have looked when their species evolved in Africa during the Pliocene epoch (5.3 to 2.6 million years ago). We know from recent genetic research that, among the big cats, lions are most closely related to leopards (Panthera pardus) and then jaguars (Panthera onca), so it seems reasonable to assume that the first lions would have also inherited a spotted coat from a common ancestor with those other species. Even today, lion cubs have faint leopard-like spots that fade away as they grow up.

The scruffy mane on this ancestral lion’s neck is only my own artistic speculation, but I wanted to get the point across that this animal was still of the leonine lineage.

Hunting Partners

Hunting Partners

Some hunters like to bring dogs with them to help with tracking and chasing down their quarry. This Egyptian huntress, on the other hand, is more of a cat person. A BIG cat person, to be exact.

I drew the lioness on a separate piece of paper from her human counterpart before I combined them into one file using Photoshop. Thank Adobe for the wondrous power of layer masks!

UPDATE 2/9/18

Hunting Partners

Added some colors and a background, as well as fixing the huntress’s crouching pose.

A couple of Smilodon pieces

smilodon-bust

Quick portrait of Smilodon fatalis, the great saber-toothed cat. It wasn’t really a tiger, but it would have filled an almost equivalent niche in its Pleistocene North American domain.

When coloring the Smilodon, I prefer to give it a gray coat with white spots. That would fit a snowy Ice Age environment very well in my opinion.

smilodon-and-the-snowman

Smilodon fatalis, the most famous saber-toothed cat, doesn’t know what to make of a snowman that the local Native American children have made. Is it prey, or simply a funny-looking accumulation of snow?

I don’t know if Native Americans of any era would have made snowmen, or whether that’s an exclusively Western invention. Nonetheless, I am sure Native American children would have still played with snow wherever available, and of course prehistoric people’s art wouldn’t have been limited to cave paintings like we tend to imagine.

European Lion

European Lion

The European lion (Panthera leo spelaea) was a subspecies of lion that prowled the subcontinent of Europe during the Pleistocene “Ice Age” epoch all the way to the 10th century AD in Transcaucasia. They would have been 8-10% bigger than the surviving African subspecies, but not quite as big as the American lions (Panthera leo atrox). Not only would they have terrorized Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon humans during the ice age, but they would earn prominent places in ancient Greek and Roman mythology; Herakles/Hercules for example slew one tough specimen of these known as the Nemean lion.

Many modern reconstructions draw the European lion, as well as its American cousin, as almost maneless based on certain Paleolithic cave paintings, but then classical Greek artwork shows them as having full manes like the African subspecies, so I prefer to think they did have manes and those cave paintings (possibly produced by female artists themselves) were simply showing lionesses on the hunt rather than the males of the species. Besides, a thick mane would make sense in the cooler European climate.

I was experimenting again with a more painter-like, line-free version of digital art with this piece. I’m still inexperienced with that method, but I like to think I’m getting better at it with practice.