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Like many of us, my professional career began with my graduation from the Engineering Dept. at the University of Toronto. For me, this occurred in the late 1970s. As computer programming kept me indoors and being the outdoors type, I soon developed an interest for all that is natural with an emphasis on fossil collecting. I soon found that acting in a professional capacity as an engineer was not as gratifying to me as the adventures associated with the discovery of ancient organisms and soon felt that I could earn my keep with just a fossil collecting business. So, armed with an insatiable appetite to add as much as I could to the fossil record, my geological adventure began by taking a few courses in this field.

My first significant fossil collecting project came with the original discovery, exploration and subsequent excavation (with permission) of what is now considered one of the largest and most important eurypterid sites in the world - the Silurian eurypterid beds near Herkimer in the State of New York. My first trek to this site involved its exploration which was then a heavily wooded area, far from any civilization, until I came across a ravine that I expected, since I had previously spotted it on a topo map. Here, in the middle of fallen trees, wild flowers and a massive natural beehive, I soon spotted several rocks with complete and partial eurypterids along the walls of the ravine. I knew then that my calculations had been correct and that I had found an important fossil treasure trove. Barely containing my excitement I eventually worked the site for three summers finding numerous complete museum quality specimens. Accumulating a substantial eurypterid collection, I also shared some of these with museums, researchers and private collectors everywhere for a good many years.

Looking to add to my fossil collecting treks, I then opted, for a full decade, for the exploration of the exceptionally fossil-rich Ordovician Cobourg, Verulam and Bobcaygeon formations of Southern Ontario. Again, over this period, thousands of high quality specimens were excavated that included the trilobite-rich fauna of the relatively deep water sediments of the Cobourg Fm.( i.e., the famous Colborne and Bowmanville quarries) to the awesome echinoderm fauna of the world-renowned Bobcaygeon Fm. (the famous Brechin and Carden quarries). Here again, many of these specimens ended up in museums everywhere, in private collections and in the hands of researchers investigating these type of fossils. Throughout this exploration the excitement of finding what I considered to be exceptional and important fossils never waned.

My final (?) major exploration was that of the Ordovician Neuville formation in Québec. Two main sites exist here. First, the Famous Neuville Quarry with its rich trilobite-bearing fauna and the second, a semi-abandoned quarry that can be found just east of Québec City. In spite of the fact that the latter quarry has very little in the way of rocks I can work with, these never cease to amaze me in that they keep turning out elegant specimens adding to an already astonishing array of echinoderms for this formation, many being new species...a collector and researcher's delight. Again, academics have regularly shown interest in this type of material.

To date, I am overjoyed at having had the opportunity to add so many significant fossils to the fossil record and my fossil collecting adventures are still ongoing.

On a more academic side, my main interest in paleontology has always been the study of the possible role that the inherently unstable Earth, as a rotating body with a dynamic interior, may have had on the number of organic extinctions and concomitant significant changes in Earth's environments during the Phanerozoic.

My drawings

My next quest in relating with fossils is an attempt at reconstructing some of them and generally the ones I choose to draw are basically those that I can directly relate to by either being able to collect them, have them in my private collection or just draw them for their sheer beauty or fame. When I find a fossil, which is basically just a rock, it is important for me to try to imagine what this organism might have looked like, what its behaviour might have been like or how it interacted in its environment. It's not always easy to capture this in a single image but by doing so helps me to "relate" with this organism that once was. Of course, some of the anatomical parts or even the organism's real coloration or texture is quite subjective in my drawings but not totally void of logic. An example of this is my interpretation of Marrella where eye-like textures where applied to its head, a form of mimicry and a feature that may have been helpful for such a small eyeless organism living in an environment full of predators much bigger that it. Elsewhere, the trilobite Cryptolithus is known to have rows of indentations around the anterior margin of its cephalon. The purpose of these is not always clear in the literature. My interpretation here is for these to bear a type of 'feeler system', helping the otherwise blind trilobite in its search for food. If this interpretation is not accurate I am happy that it could at least generate discussion on the subject.

To achieve such drawings I basically use state-of-the-art 2D and 3D graphics software packages. These I have purchased and self taught their contents which are more often then not quite complex to handle, the learning curve being long and tedious. But again, my passion for the subject is the driving force behind my drawings.

Initially I used Autodesk's 3D software Maya to generate images of the organisms themselves but I eventually (and finally) got familiar with Pixologic's Zbrush's much more complex (but ultimately more rewarding for me) graphics package to generate the 3D phases of the drawings. Adobe’s Photoshop was then used to generate the 2D background images on which the reconstructed fossil was eventually merged.

So far my drawings include:
Marrella, Ceraurus, Eurypterus, Cryptolithus, Carcinosoma, Ctenopyge, Dicranurus, Bothriolepis, Isotelus, Drepanaspis, Eustenopteron and Pterygotus and a few more in the making.

With twelve such images, I eventually plan to build and publish a quality, full-color calendar I hope the public will be interested in.

John Iellamo

All images are the property of John Iellamo and all forms of reproduction are  forbidden without the written consent of the author. All rights reserved.