Saturday, 1 January 2022

A map of the Prehistoric Continent of Sahul

Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea
joined together by low sea levels
sixty five thousand years ago

and the vanished megafauna of the late Pleistocene

prehistoric megafauna map of Australia

"When people lived alongside creatures unique
Giants of fur and pouch, tooth scale and beak"

It was an ice age.
Not the most recent one, but the ice age before that.

Sea levels were far lower than today as vast amounts of the Earth’s water was held frozen in glaciers.
The lower sea levels exposed great areas of continental shelf, joining the islands of New Guinea, Australia and Tasmania to form the prehistoric continent of Sahul.

Evidence suggests the first people had arrived by this time. This map shows the details of the land and the now extinct megafauna they may have encountered.

Made in respect and acknowledgement of the traditional owners of these lands, of Elders past, present and future, whose ancestors first settled the continent and whose descendants remain custodians to this day.

Why illustrate a map of Sahul?

Our perception of what these lands are today can be expanded by a clear depiction of what they were in the past.

This map represents a very specific slice of time, 65,000 years ago, and does so playfully and with great attention to researched details. Since this time a lot has changed; the climate, the diversity of plants and animals and even the shape of the land.

We learn that much of what we consider to be permanent is actually not. The world changes.

An exciting slice of prehistory

A perfect setting for a fun megafauna map! During the ice-age-before-the-last much of the continent’s megafauna were still around, the contours and climate of the land were dramatically different to today and evidence suggests modern humans had arrived on these shores.

Geeky note!
What we commonly call an ice age is referred to by scientists as a glacial.
The coldest bit of the glacial is called a glacial maximum.
The warmer times in between glacials are called interglacials.
We are living during an interglacial, one that has been going for about 7000 years.
There have been more than 50 glacials in the last 2.6 million years!

The megafauna

The animals on this map include giant marsupials, a giant monitor lizard, a long legged crocodile, a horned tortoise, a huge snake, enormous birds and even a giant monotreme. 

There is good evidence for most of these animals existing at the time.

They represent the extinct megafauna of Australia and New Guinea, in particular the creatures which are now gone but were still around when people first arrived.

Megafauna is not a scientific term, but is generally considered to be animals 45kg and heavier. Most of the animals on this map were huge, much bigger than a person, though a few were included who were not so big but are far too charismatic not to be included.

There are of course megafauna which still live in Australia today ie. salt water crocodiles, and many other amazing smaller animals besides! They are not on this map. I only depicted the ones that are gone and so hold a nostalgic mystery.

The animals have mostly been placed where they might have lived, though for balance and aesthetics I used a bit of license.

The landscape and climate

The sea level

Wow, it turns out the shape of Australia used to look very different! 
Sea levels were far lower 65,000 years ago. Exactly how low is debated. A moderate estimate I found and used was 85 metres below the present sea level.

To depict Australia’s outline with a sea level 85 metres lower than today I used GEBCO 2020 bathymetric (sea floor) data fed into QGIS mapping software, created a map exposing all land above the chosen level and traced it. Yes, I had to learn to use mapping software in the process >.<

The resulting outline joins the islands of New Guinea, Australia and Tasmania into one big continent. This continent is known as Sahul, named after the continental shelf Australia sits on.

Apparently being joined up is the usual state of these lands. We live in the unusual time!

The rivers

With so much extra land exposed by low sea levels there once existed mighty rivers where now there is ocean. To show the paleorivers with some level of accuracy i referenced a couple of papers and stared at a lot of bathymetric imagery. It turns out the old river beds are still there, hidden under the sea! With a little effort they can be traced out.

Its not totally certain they accurately show where the paleorivers were 65,000 years ago, rivers do move over time. But its a pretty good approximation.

The lakes

Gosh, both the Gulf of Carpentaria and Bass Strait used to be lakes. Big lakes! Their outlines can still be seen with sea floor imaging. In fact a lake of super cold dense water still forms most winters at the very bottom of Bass Strait. Weird.

Many of Australia’s inland lakes, which are nowadays usually salt flats, were permanently full at this time. This is because it was cold and evaporation rates were low, and because of monsoon rains falling further south than usual. 

Imagine the extra life all this fresh water would bring to the heart of the continent. It would have been amazing to see.

The climate

As it was an ice age the world was colder than today. Accordingly snow lines were lower, as were the tree lines. There were even permanent glaciers in the Great Dividing Range and the Tasmanian highlands. 

Ocean currents were different, profoundly affecting the pattern of rainfall over the land. The north of the continent was cool and wet, with monsoonal rains reaching further south than today. The south of the continent was cold, dry and windy. Brrr!

This map was a lockdown project that took me a year to research and illustrate in my free time.
I hope you enjoy it!
R : )

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The Prehistoric Continent of Sahul
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Sunday, 16 July 2017

meeting at the cinema

drawing of the westgarth cinema

I saw two people outside a cinema lean over a motor scooter to kiss and I knew had to make an artwork of it.

In this drawing, behind the kissing couple, is a building based on the Westgarth Cinema in Northcote, Melbourne. It used to be called the Valhalla, a fondly remembered arthouse cinema. I have watched hundreds of films in this place, but haven’t kissed anyone here while on a movie date… yet.

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The artwork was hand drawn in pen and ink and coloured digitally. If you are familiar with the Westgarth Cinema you will probably notice I changed a few details. For instance you can't really park a motor scooter on that corner, and I removed a power pole because it looked visually odd and distracting imbedded in the awning as it actually is in real life.

I created the artwork as an entry to Illustrators Australia's art exhibition Paper to Pixel. So if you went to the exhibition this artwork will probably (hopefully) be familiar to you.

Pen and ink drawing of the Westgarth Cinema

Look at that big menacing ink blob right under the couple. Gaaagh!
Good thing there is digital editing.

To show some of the process here's the pencil rough and the ink drawing before I coloured it.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Well, I wait around the train station. Waitin' for that train

Sure, I'll illustrate and typeset an A1 historical map of Sydney's rail system. How many stations will need placing and labelling? Oh, 255 stations on 27 lines. Hmmm, that's quite a few. Okay then, lets see how we go fitting all that information in...

Earlier this year I was commissioned to illustrate a historical map of Sydney's rail lines and stations. I was supplied with a rough layout and information of when the lines and stations opened, moved, extended, renamed or closed. A complex document to layout! I would like to think the result remains visually simple and easy to follow.

Truth is I enjoy putting together a historically based info-graphic like this and it makes me happy thinking of the historical train enthusiasts eagerly pouring over the carefully presented information.

If historical rail maps of Australia are your thing you can find this map and others available for purchase on Steve Watson's website


Saturday, 22 October 2016

Aliens Ghosts and Vanishings

Aliens Ghosts and Vanishings

Aliens Ghosts and Vanishings Strange and Possibly True Australian Stories Written by Stella Tarakson illustrated by Richard Morden Penguin Random House Australia

In store November 2016!!

A year ago I was approached to illustrate Aliens Ghosts and Vanishings a book examining the most bizarre stories from Australia’s culture and history. It is a joyride of Australian gothic weirdness written for 10 to 15 year olds, however I enjoyed reading it and I’m quite a bit older than that.

Did a UFO drag a family’s car off the road in the middle of the outback? How did rocks rain from the sky in WA? And what became of the prime minister who went into the surf and was never seen again?

Explore the strangest tales, most incredible encounters and creepiest urban legends in Australia’s history. Read about the investigations and weigh up the facts – do you believe the official explanations for these weird and wonderful events?

Here's a few examples of the strange tales it examines...

Hawkesbury River Monster
Mythical creatures! This particular beastie is the Hawkesbury River monster, illustrated with the appearance of a plesiosaur. Next time you’re dabbling your toes in a river look carefully to be sure there is not one of these lurking in the deep. Chomp chomp!

Ghost hunting with an EMF detector
Haunted places! Some ghost hunters believe haunting spirits can be located with an electromagnetic field detector. Well I'm not so sure about that, but you can decide for yourself.

The falling rocks of Manyup
Mysterious locations! Have you heard of the falling stones of Mayanup, Western Australia? This is Audrey of Mayanup in the 1950s, around whom things would move strangely and rocks would appear, slowly falling to the ground. I'm not sure if she could actually levitate, but it felt appropriately telekinetic and spooky, so thats how I illustrated her. 

Westall UFO sighting
UFO Sightings! In 1966 in the Melbourne suburb of Westall more than 200 students and teachers from two schools saw a mysterious object land in a nearby grassy field. I was delighted when I learned I was to be illustrating a scene form the Westal UFO sighting. I had heard some of the witnesses speak at a convention and personally asked them to describe what they remember seeing and feeling when they approached the object. Best illustration reference ever.

Conspiracy theories behind behind the disappearance of Harold Holt
Bizarre disappearances! What was behind the disappearance of Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt? The conspiracy theories speak of a shark attack, CIA intervention, eloping with a love interest, UFO abduction, and even a Chinese submarine waiting to take him away! 
This was the first illustration completed for Aliens Ghosts and Vanishings, setting the style for the rest of the images. The plan was to create dark, mysterious illustrations with simple line work and lots of texture. I was also keen not to patronise the teenage readers with twee illustrations, instead aiming high and assuming an audience of sophistication.

The Gosford Glyphs
Strange happenings! Does the existence of the Gosford Glyphs prove ancient Egyptians travelled to Australia, or are the markings simply a prank by some cheeky school children? Hmmm, what would be more likely... let me think. Ancient Egyptians, obviously!

So many wonderfully strange tales. A book I thoroughly enjoyed illustrating. 
Aliens Ghosts and Vanishings is available in stores and on-line November 2016.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Christmas Whale Christmas card

Christmas Whale

Will the Christmas whale be climbing down your chimney this year?
One can only hope!

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to shop for Christmas Whale on Christmas cards,
t-shirts and other fun decorated gift items

Christmas Whale Christmas card
The Christmas whale is here with its friends the Christmas dolphins. Echo locating by Christmas carol they bring their cetacean joy to all the boys and girls of the ocean.

The Christmas Whale is part of an ongoing personal challenge to create the most absurd yet fun Christmas card I can. There is so much of the Christmas festival I find utterly bewildering yet enjoyable, so I feel a little nonsense actually makes a Christmas card design more relevant not less!

Combining ocean going creatures and Christmas festivities has been a bit of a theme for me this year. Nothing says absurd as much as a whale wearing a hat and fake beard, so I am pretty happy with this card. Hopefully it hits the right balance of mad, festive and cute for you too.

Roller Skating Robot Santa Christmas card

Roller Skating Robot Santa Stencil art
Roller Skating Robot Santa.
Scanned stencil art.

There is no reason for Robot Santa to be on skates. No underlying metaphor, or commentary on the Christmas season. It's just how he rolls.

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Roller Skating Robot Santa as Christmas cards,
t-shirts. mugs, tote bags and other decorated gift items

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Christmas Beetle Christmas cards

stencil art Christmas beetleChristmas beetle flying stencil art

Christmas beetle flying and Christmas beetle.
Originally designed as stencil art styled Christmas cards, now available on a whole lot of gift items.

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gift cards, t-shirts and other decorated gift items

Christmas beetles Anoplognathus pallidicollis can appear in large numbers approaching the Christmas holiday season in Australia. They are large beetles, often appearing shiny gold or metallic green.

The original versions of these Christmas beetles were hand printed by sponging paint through stencils. The prints looked lovely but didn't scan very well thanks to a very thick bumpy paint application. I needed clean well defined digital files to sell the artworks online, so I actually scanned the hand cut stencil forms and coloured the resulting shapes digitally. So these beetles are a bit digital and a bit hand made. I do a lot of combining digital and hand made art. Hopefully I am good enough at this that it is hard to tell where the digital ends and the hand made starts.

Celebration Sunfish, probably a Christmas card

Celebration Sunfish

Celebration Sunfish
The Ocean Sunfish, also known as a Mola Mola, loves a reason to celebrate. Christmas, holidays, birthdays, whatever the occasion it will be there dressed as a present with a big bow on its head.

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Not quite sure why those jellyfish look so happy. Sunfish eat jellyfish.

When I drew this I had it in mind that it was to be for Christmas card. Now that I look at it I can see it would work equally well as a card for birthdays or in fact any celebration. A versatile sunfish!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Dinosaur Hamlet

Dinosaur Hamlet painting

Dinosaur Hamlet is my entry to the 2015 Illustrators Australia 9x5 art show. 

It took much longer to paint than anticipated, and being no expert with acrylic paints I battled with the medium throughout the entire process. Oh well, the battle is over, the painting is completed and has been delivered to the gallery in time to be part of the show.

The theme this year is 'Playtime', so I painted a Troodon, which is small relatively intelligent bird-like dinosaur from the Cretaceous period. It poses with a dinosaur skull as if performing the famous 'Alas poor Yorick' monologue from Shakespear's Hamlet. An obvious response to the theme, don't you think? 

This Illustrators Australia 9x5 art show will be up until 5 Dec 2015. More than 60 illustrators have each done an artwork in response to the theme 'playtime' on a 9x5 inch ply board. So if you are in Melbourne get along to the Abbotsford Convent and have a look. You will be glad you did!  

Oh, and I illustrated and designed this year's invite featuring a playtime kitten. Inspired by Miso the wonder cat attacking my toes in the middle of the night. 

'Playtime' the Illustrators Australia 2015 9x5 exhibition

And finally, here is an animated gif of the Dinosaur Hamlet in progress, so you can see how I went about painting it. It took a lot longer than this gif does!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

lace monitor makes lace

lace monitor makes crochet lace knickers

Lace Monitor crochets lace underwear.
Her name is Anna. Go Anna!

This lace monitor was originally one half of a spot-the-difference puzzle in a book of Aussie Puzzle Adventures. I think she is sweet enough to be crocheting out in the big wide world on her own merit. So now she is on Redbubble and Society 6 as prints, gift cards, t shirts and the like. Long may she craft!

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Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Make your own paper cat mask

Print out a cat mask, colour it in, and wear it!

I have prepared two versions of a cat mask for you to print out and put on.
The first is pre coloured in grey. The second is for you to colour in as you like.
Make whichever cat mask you prefer.
See below for instructions.

These cat masks and the electronic files they appear on are © Richard Morden. 
They are for private use only. They are not to be altered or reproduced for any commercial use.
paper cat mask
colour in paper cat mask


Remember: Always have a grown up around when using scissors.

  1. Right click and open the image in a new window. 
  2. Print at full A4 size.
  3. Paste the A4 paper to some card cut from an old cereal packet to make the mask STRONG. Use a glue stick for pasting, as it won't dampen the paper and make it all bubbly and yuk.
  4. Colour in the cat mask however you like. It could be coloured to look like a pirate, like a princess, like a rockstar, or even to just look like a cat. You could use crayons, paint, ink, textas or glitter. Be creative and have fun doing it.
  5. Cut out around the cat mask and cut holes in the irises for you to see through. 
  6. Poke holes through the dots beside the eyes for the string to go through. A sharp pencil would poke a nice hole, or maybe use a safety pin and wiggle it around a little to make the hole big enough for the string.
  7. Tie a piece of string to each hole. Tie strings together behind the head.
  8. Now wear the mask and behave like a cat. Meow!
It would be great to hear how your mask making went. Leave a comment to let me know.
R :)

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Collect Ten Flowers for a Pavlova Picnic

Handsome Yowie has a Flower
 Beautiful Bunyip has a Pavlova

Handsome Yowie has a Flower. Beautiful Bunyip has a Pavlova.

Collect Ten Flowers for a Pavlova Picnic!
Help the handsome Yowie find his way through the maze to a picnic with the beautiful Bunyip. If he collects 10 flowers along the way she will give him a great big slice of pavlova. Yum. This is another of my Aussie Puzzle Adventures

illustration of a maze with a yowie and a bunyip

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Collect Ten Flowers for a Pavlova Picnic,
Handsome Yowie and Beautiful Bunyip
on gift cards, posters, t-shirts and stuff

They are also available at
Pixbyrichard on Society6 

on tshirts and prints.

What are these strange beasties?

Yowies and Bunyips are Australian mythical animals or cryptids.
Yowies live in the darkest unexplored reaches of the Australian bush. They are big hairy ape-like beings similar to a Sasquatch or Yeti. Bunyips are dangerous magical creatures that inhabit isolated rivers and billabongs.

Both are to be feared and treated with the utmost caution, unless you are have brought flowers or pavlova.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Who threw which boomerang?

an Australian puzzle with boomerangs

Today the boomerang testing range is a whirl of confusion.
Can you tell who has thrown which boomerang?
Here’s a hint, the patterns on their helmets are coded to the boomerangs.
Who threw which Boomerang is another Aussie Puzzle Adventure

Thorny Devil

The Thorny Devil is available on its very own range of gifty items.
Also known as the Moloch or Thorny Dragon, these little lizards live in the Australian desert.
They are covered with spikes.
They are super cute.

Visit Pixbyrichard on Redbubble to shop for
Who Threw Which Boomerang
and for the Thorny Devil
on great things like tshirts, cushions, posters,
gift cards, and lots of other stuff.

Visit Pixbyrichard on Society6 to shop for
Who Threw Which Boomerang
and for the Thorny Devil
on tshirts and prints.

It's a stick.
And when you throw it... it comes back!

Despite the old stereotypes most Australians live in cities not in the outback, we almost never ride to work on kangaroos and most of us are not expert boomerang throwers. Though as it happens I actually do have a collection of returning boomerangs, some of which seem to be missing. I must have thrown them away. I wonder if they will come back?

R :)

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Spot the Tawny Frogmouths

pen and ink illustration of birds in a tree

Can you find all five Tawny Frogmouths?
Of course you can, but you have to admit they are pretty good at hiding.

Tawny Frogmouths are birds found (or not found) hiding in trees throughout Australia. They look like owls, but are actually more closely related to nightjars. Experts at camouflage they can look just like a tree stump, even up close! That is, until they open their big yellow eyes.

Spot the Tawny Frogmouths is one of my series of Aussie Puzzle Adventures.

It was originally in of a puzzle book of mine called Puzzles Down Under, published by Black Dog Books in 2009. The publisher has since reverted the rights, allowing me to make the puzzles available as beautifully printed posters gift cards, art prints and t-shirts. So you can expect a lot more of these puzzles very soon.

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to shop for Spot the Tawny Frogmouths
on gift cards, posters, cushions and stuff

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to shop for Spot the Tawny Frogmouths
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and all over print t-shirts 

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Rufous Songlark Sings

stencil art of a Rufous Songlark

Rufous Songlark is singing about the good things of Summer.

The Rufous Songlark is a small bird native to grasslands of Eastern Australia. Each Summer the male bird sings almost constantly.

This 2 colour stencil design was originally cut and hand printed to be part of the Bimblebox 153 Birds Project. 153 printmakers have each represented one of the 153 birds known to use the Bimblebox nature refuge. This nature refuge in central Western Queensland, Australia, is to be destroyed as it is in the path of a mega coal mine.

The prints contributed to the 153 Birds Project now form a touring exhibition raising awareness about the plight of the nature refuge and the potential threat these vast coal mines represent to the biodiversity of the region.

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to shop for Rufous Songlark Sings on gift cards, giclee art prints and home decor