Often known by just their first names, Bob Walters and Tess Kissinger form the Bob & Tess team that run their own palaeoart studio
. I pitched them the usual bunch of questions, but the nature of their collaborative work means that the replies are a mix of their answers. So sit back and enjoy a sort of a double interview. All images theirs, copyright, blah blah, kind permission, you know the drill by now.
How long have you been an artist?
Bob and Tess: we have both been artists since we could pick up a crayon. Each of us was the class cartoonist and went from taking every art class we could in High School directly to Art School. Bob graduated from The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and did his science academics at University of Pennsylvania, Tess at Carnegie-Mellon University.
Bob: I really flummoxed this fine old fine art institution which graduated Mary Cassatt and Thomas Eakins and many other early American painters by wanting to illustrate science. It may have been the late 60s but there was no hipness to the curriculum at PAFA which suited me just fine. Anatomy came first and foremost. I took additional graphics classes and learned all I could about the process of various kinds of printing too.
Tess: Carnegie had a school of engineering as well as art and I found myself gravitating toward art and science as well, but for me it was the interface between art and physics. Until I met Bob anyway – although we still enjoy a glass of wine and a discussion of the nature of gravity in the garden on warm summer nights. What nerds we are!
Plateosaurus by Bobby W. 1953
How long have you been producing palaeoart?
Bob: here is an example of some of my paleoart at age 4.I have pretty much been drawing dinosaurs all my life but I didn’t get my first paying dinosaur art job until 1978 when I produced a large-format illustration children’s dinosaur book called “Dinosaurs, The Terrible Lizards” from E. P. Dutton. I had improved a lot by then.
Plateosaurus by Bob Walters 1978
Tess: I enjoyed hanging around with paleontologists but I didn’t start illustrating dinosaurs until I worked with Bob on the Creative Discovery Museum in 1995. We moved to the new studio, I quit my job and we decided to try to make a go of it as a new company, Walters & Kissinger.
What first got you interested in dinosaurs and art?
Bob: That’s an easy one, I remember the exact day, year, almost the exact hour- September 7, 1953 at around 4 o’clock in the afternoon- when I saw the gatefold cover to LIFE Magazine with the illustration of Zallinger’s mural from the Peabody on it. I asked my mother if dinosaurs were real and she said they were and we traveled to see exhibits of them at museums up and down the East Coast. (I was raised in Delaware) It was just a natural fit I think, to live in a place so immersed in the Brandywine tradition of illustrators and have access to so many dinosaur museums- being a dinosaur illustrator was what I wanted to do right from the start. The funny thing is that I thought it was my unique place in my family and then I found out that my great uncle Robert, after whom I was named, traveled with Marsh on dinosaur digs when he was at Yale. Maybe it was in my genes AND my environment!
Tess: I really fell in love with the beauty of the fossils first. As an adult. And I enjoyed the company of paleontologists so well that their natural enthusiasms sort of rubbed off. And then of course, I was living with Bob!
What is your favourite piece of palaeo art that you have produced?
I think we would both agree that it is the mural of the Hell Creek environment (below) that we did for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The museum specified a morning, rainy environment for the Triassic (Chinle) mural, an afternoon lighting for the Jurassic (Morrison) mural and the sun setting on the dinosaurs for the Cretaceous ( Hell Creek) mural. This fading light gave us an opportunity to do such a pretty painting as well as a description of the environment.
Who is your favourite palaeoartist or piece of palaeoart?
Both of us would have to say Charles R. Knight. Just love him as a colorist and a “painterly” painter. These days, everything is so 3D digital that we ask ourselves, “How real is too real?” I mean, we are giving the impression with 3D digital that we know the size and mass and color and environment of these things and we sure don’t. We both like digital media and use it, but we prefer an artists’ life restoration to be more artistic- and we worry that paleoart is trying to convince the public that we know more than we do.
What is your favourite dinosaur / archosaur?
Bob: it is usually the ones I am working on currently but perennial faves are T. rex and Deinonychus. And I have a special place in my heart for Giganotosaurus. I did the first scientific life restoration of it, my first SVP poster about it, and its skull lived here in the studio while its body was mounted at the Academy of Natural Sciences.
Tess: I am a fan of Stegosaurus. It is just so “showy”.
Is there any animal you would like to paint but have not?
Bob: I ‘d like a chance to work on mammal-like reptiles more. Particularly the pelicosaurs. And Dimetrodon which I have only gotten to work on a couple of times, especially after a conversation with Bob Bakker a couple of years ago about Dimetrodon ecology.
What do you think is the most important part of good palaeoart?
Bob and Tess: We both think the most important part of being a paleoartist is working with paleontologists and doing our own research to reconstruct from the fossil evidence to fleshed-out animal. Careful measuring of material, consultation with the paleontologists who are most familiar with the animal – these are the ways that you can be assured that, if not right forever, you have done the best work with what we knew at the time. Right now, working on the mural for Dinosaur National Monument, we have to portray 64 different species of plants and animals which are represented by fossils at the site, many of whom have never been illustrated before, and are known from fragmentary evidence – that is when the paleoartist most has to rely on the paleontologists who discovered these species to come as close as possible to a correct representation of the animals. Can’t release any pics of the work until October – sorry.