Interview with Bob Nicholls

Following on from the successful interview with Luis Rey, I’ve managed to get Bob Nicholls of Paleocreations to chime in with a few answers. Enjoy (and the art of course, which is incidentally, Bob’s intellectual property). This should have appeared weeks ago but various IT problems in Dublin have left me with ‘issues’. More posts to come soon (I hope):

What first got you interested in dinosaurs and art?

I don’t know.  I cannot remember a time when I did not draw dinosaurs so if there was a trigger that set me off on the palaeoart track it was at a very early time in my life.

How long have you been a palaeoartist?

About ten years professionally, but like many palaeoartists I have been drawing prehistoric animals all my life.  I was drawing dinosaurs before I could even spell my own name and have never stopped.  My university lecturers use to think I was crazy when I told them I wanted to be a professional palaeoartist but I was never deterred.  It was the only job I wanted to have and I couldn’t imagine living my life without at least giving it a go.  It turned out to be ridiculously difficult at times but the feeling of accomplishment after ten years of making a living from my hobby is terrific.

By the way, many people I meet do not believe palaeoartist is a real profession.  Often I have to give them my website address so they can see what I do (  It can be hard to convince people I illustrate and sculpt very dead things.

What is your favourite piece of dinosaur art that you have produced?

It’s not easy to say because I am absurdly critical of my own work.  So much self criticism is both good and bad.  The positive is it keeps me driven to constantly improve but it also means I rarely feel happy with my own artworks.

I think my favourite painting might be ‘Leviathan’ (here) and my best 3D work is the juvenile Iguanodon (here). I am currently producing some images with new techniques that I think is going to be my best work.  I will send you an example or two when they are ready for release!

Who is your favourite palaeoartist?

The usual suspects I guess.  Zdenek Burian, Doug Henderson, Greg Paul, James Gurney, Mark Hallett, Mauricio Anton, John Sibbick, Luis Rey and a bunch of others too.  Artists like these constantly excite and inspire me; I have hundreds of books on my shelves full of their artworks.

What is your favourite dinosaur/archosaur?

All of them.  Anything that is extinct is fascinating to me, from algae mats to Homo neanderthalensis.  Thankfully I always work to client briefs but I think if I had to sit down and choose a creature to draw at random my brain would probably overload and freeze.  However, now I think about it, the boy in me tends to be interested in the biggest species.  I get so excited when I first learn about new giants such as Mapusaurus and Sauroposeidon.

Is there any animal you would like to paint but have not?

Yeah, all of them!  Or even better would be a species that no one has seen yet.  Being the first to illustrate a new species is the greatest honour of all.  If only I could look into the past and see species that didn’t make it into the fossil record, then illustrate them.  That would be the biggest thrill.

What do you think is the most important part of good palaeoart?

RESEARCH.  Research, research, research your subjects fully before starting the rendering and build it from the inside out.  By this I mean look at the fossil material first then use comparative anatomy to rebuild the skeleton, internal organs, muscle, fat, skin, feathers, etc.  Never try to illustrate an animal without knowing its anatomy first, otherwise how do you know its form?  Then give thought to how the animal might have interacted with its environment.  It was a living being once so try to give it life and behaviour.

IMAGINATION.  Be aware of what artwork is being produced by your peers but always use your own imagination and try to be original.

9 Responses to “Interview with Bob Nicholls”

  1. 1 Mike Taylor 09/09/2010 at 8:44 pm

    “Is there any animal you would like to paint but have not?

    Yeah, all of them! Or even better would be a species that no one has seen yet. Being the first to illustrate a new species is the greatest honour of all.”

    Well, Bob, the field is still open: someone, somewhere, is going to become the first person ever to produce a life restoration of Xenoposeidon! With all that material to work from, it’s a wonder no-one’s done it already.

    • 2 David Hone 09/09/2010 at 9:15 pm

      Bob might be cheating here slightly (or being a suck-up) since he has done just that for a taxon for me. Only it’s not been published yet, so we’ll have to wait for that one.

  2. 3 Mike Taylor 09/09/2010 at 8:45 pm

    [Vacuous comment so I can check the “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” box. For some reason you can only do that when posting a comment, so if you forget when you post, you have to then post another one.]

  3. 4 Tor Bertin 10/09/2010 at 12:00 am

    That last picture especially is absolutely remarkable. Very lifelike.

  4. 5 mattvr 10/09/2010 at 3:40 pm

    Bob’s underwater stuff is sublime!
    ‘Bait ball’ is great ‘every day behaviour’ stuff.

    The image with the pterosaur above looks like a 3D rendering, or even a photo-comp?

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