Shop Mobile More Submit  Join Login


Submitted on
March 7, 2013
Image Size
481 KB


2,375 (1 today)
172 (who?)
Extinct Emus by SageKorppi Extinct Emus by SageKorppi
Illustration of four emus, clockwise starting with the upper left head: extinct Tasmanian Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae diemenensis), the extant Common Emu (D. n. novaehollandiae), extinct Kangaroo Island Emu (D. baudinanus), and extinct King Island Emu (D. n. ater). The extinct emus all have speculative colors and features based on sparing writings and illustrations of preserved skins and of the animals before they went extinct in the early to mid 19th century. However illustrations of the King and Kangaroo Island emus do not have confirmed identities and to which species they each belong is unclear. This illustration portrays the animals to the best of the artist's ability, given the information found. Illustration by Jennifer Campbell-Smith, all rights reserved.


I was commissioned to do a painting for my good friend Todd Green's article in Emus Today & Tomorrow (a magazine for the emu farming industry). Todd's article is on extinct emus. (Here is a photo of Todd featured on the cover of a previous issue of the magazine for an incredible skeleton he articulated...Todd loves ratites!)

The trickiest thing about this illustration is figuring out what these emus looked like. The standard extant emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae novaehollandiae) was easy as I have a ton of my own reference photos from assisting Todd with his research. The Tasmanian emu subspecies (Dromaius novaehollandiae diemenensis) was also not too bad as there are pretty good written descriptions of them and a reasonably reliable illustration of one done by a 19th century illustrator. However, the King Island emu subspecies (Dromaius novaehollandiae ater), and the separate emu species (determined separate only very recently using genetic data), the Kangaroo Island emu (Dromaius baudinanus) were a lot more difficult and quite a bit more speculative. You can do a Wikipedia or Google search and come up with images right away, but it's not that easy in reality. The illustrations of the two, both dwarfs only standing about 3ft (~1m) tall as adults are not exactly labelled accurately, especially with the emus undergoing taxonomic renaming since the illustrations were created. To complicate things further, the two emus, despite being difference species, are so similar that the specimens collected by 19th century explorers were mixed up on the way back to Europe. So, the illustrations, one done from live animals and one done from a skin (post-extinction) may not even be properly labelled by the illustrators. Additionally, Victorian/turn-of-the-century taxidermy was not exactly something amazing and could skew the physical features of the animals. Not to mention taking the illustrators' style in to account.

So, what I did for this painting was take in to account the three illustrations of the extinct emus and written descriptions of the animals to recreate them. Accounts of the live animals place the Tasmanian emu about the same size, maybe slightly smaller, than the modern emu, and lighter in color with a white throat. The King Island and Kangaroo Island emus were both island dwarfs and I can assume, since their remains were confused and mixed up, that they stood about the same height. The King Island is hailed as the smallest emu though, so I made it slightly smaller. One article discussing the genetics of the King Island emu confidently used this illustration for the article, so I chose the King Island's colors based on that illustration and made the darker coloration the Kangaroo Island emu. It makes more sense to me that the separate species, versus subspecies, would have the most different coloration and slightly different head and neck feather densities.


I took a bunch of progress shots while working on this, so I wrote a blog entry on the process of this painting, if you are interested: [link]

Gouache and Watercolor on Watercolor Paper.
Add a Comment:
Mojomeerkat Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
This is the first time I've seen them all compared in a single illustration. Great job!
bonefish Featured By Owner May 5, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Too bad the island dwarf species are no longer extant. Emu farming is a big enough thing... can you imagine how much bigger it would be with "teacup" emus?

Great illustration, and props for the thorough research into the looks of the extinct species!
tehzebra Featured By Owner Mar 11, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I want tiny baby dwarf emus!!! I would be an emu farmer.....
chickaablet Featured By Owner Mar 10, 2013
I like how emus look like they smile if you photograph them at the right angle :)
SineSquared Featured By Owner Mar 8, 2013
Loving the idea behind this and how thorough you were in your research! Great job!
astercrow Featured By Owner Mar 8, 2013   General Artist
Just want to commend you on your patience. I also have done a -ton- of research on a lot of my illustrations, and I've even given up on doing extinct species just for this very reason. It seems like you hit so many dead ends or completely different paths leading all sorts of directions, and by the time you've gathered as much info as you can, you're so confused that you don't even want to bother with it anymore. Sometimes the research is the hardest/longest part of the piece.

A job very well done, in the end. And in the name of science! :D
Wolfsjal Featured By Owner Mar 8, 2013
Love the background, and of course these emu (read: dinosaurs) always make me happy. XD
Thanks for sharing the WIP of this too; it was neat to see your progress. :3
EWilloughby Featured By Owner Mar 8, 2013  Professional General Artist
Beautiful painting, and extraordinary research into the topic. It's always rather er... fun... to get back to traditional after having worked only digitally for a while!
Pristichampsus Featured By Owner Mar 8, 2013  Professional General Artist
Sorry, I think it was the kangaroo island emu that was black, even I get them confused. But I do recall the kangaroo island emu being referred to as the "black emu"
SageKorppi Featured By Owner Mar 8, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
The Kangaroo Island emu is, in fact, the black/dark one :)
Add a Comment: