Interview with Jeff Martz

My thanks this time out to Jeff Martz for picking up the baton and taking time out to answer some palaeoart questions. Many of you will know Jeff from his blog Paleoerrata where he talks about the Triassic and other things. Given that he’s rather more embedded in the academic side of research than most other artists (and a regualr collaboarator with another well-know blogger, Bill Parker), it’s perhaps no surprise that Jeff produces a great deal of technical reconstructions as well as the more ‘traditional’ life reconstructions. Anyway, over to Jeff (and his intelelctual property, of course) and his artwork:

– How long have you been an artist?

I did my first drawing when I was about three, of some cows and horses.  My cow and horse phase lasted about a year or two, then I moved on to dragons and dinosaurs.  I took art classes and did a lot of drawing (and a little bit of painting) through elementary, middle, and high school; mostly fine art rather than scientific art.  My non-scientific artwork has largely fallen by the wayside unfortunately, and I miss it.

I got into technical art in my later undergraduate years, doing some scientific illustration of plants and stone flies for professors in the Biology Department at Colorado State University.  When I came to Texas Tech, I did a bunch of drawings of bat skulls and life portraits that were published in a book called the Bats of Puerto Rico, and several illustrations for my advisor, Dr. Chatterjee.  I am currently trying to finish illustrating the first few chapters of a book he is writing on the history of life.  Nearly all of my technical work is black and white; mostly black ink on paper, although I have started drawing things in Photoshop in the past few years, using a Wacom tablet.

How long have you been producing palaeoart?

My first piece of paleoart was a Parasaurolophus I drew when I was six.  It was pretty much a blob with arms and legs, but it had the crest so you could tell what it was.  I drew dinosaurs intermittently through my childhood, usually eating people and airplanes and jeeps and things.  I tended to draw them being extremely gigantic, Godzilla-sized. I thought they were cooler that way.  When I reached my early teens, I read Dinosaur Heresies and Predatory Dinosaurs of the World like a lot of young dinosaur nerds.  Seeing the way that Bakker and Paul used paleoart was a major inspiration, and I started trying to do work that was scientifically accurate.

I toyed around with paleoart in my teens and twenties, but I didn’t really have an excuse to indulge in artwork full time for most of my college career.  I have really only been doing paleoart with a purpose for the past few years as part of my graduate work, and my work at the park.  I started out with black ink drawings of aetosaur osteoderms and other skeletal elements for my dissertation work and a couple other projects, and I did a skeletal reconstruction of Desmatosuchus spurensis for Bill Parker’s review of the genus.  Since I have been at Petrified Forest, I’ve been doing quite a few pieces of technical illustration, including stratigraphic columns and a skeletal reconstruction Revueltosaurus callenderi for projects Bill and I have been working on.  I’ve also done a bunch of artwork for the interpretive division here at PEFO (the people who actually communicate with the public), including a bunch of life reconstructions of Late Triassic animals.

What first got you interested in dinosaurs and art?

I would have to say that my two big inspirations were Ray Harryhausen and William Stout.  Probably the most important reason I stayed interested in dinosaurs was the book Stout did with William Service in 1981.  Stout’s artwork was extraordinarily vivid and had this really neat abstract style, and the fictionalized text painted an elaborate picture of dinosaurs as living animals inhabiting an enormous and complex natural world over countless generations.  It painted a very un-sanitized picture of the natural world, and made the Mesozoic world real and organic to me in a way that no other children’s book on dinosaurs could manage.  My Dad used to read it to me sometimes for bedtime stories.  It’s a pretty hardcore book to read to a six-year old, which is good; I’m not sure when parents turned into such wusses about what they felt safe exposing their kids to.

I probably belong to the last generation of vertebrate paleontologists that grew up watching stop-motion dinosaurs instead of cg.  Jurassic Park came out the summer after I graduated from high school.  Harryhausen’s Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Valley of Gwangi, and One Million Years B.C. are the ones I remember especially well; they were all cheesy as hell, but I didn’t care.  Phil Tippit’s go-motion for the television show hosted by Christopher Reeve that came out during the mid-1980s was also a major inspiration.  Some of Tippit’s scenes and particular shots seem to come directly out of William Stout’s work.

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

Not a fair question, since I don’t draw many dinosaurs. [Well, when I started this, I was talking to the dinosaur-obsessed Luis Rey, in hindisght i should have made this more generic since I extended the series. Sorry Jeff!]  It would have to be a toss-up between the skeletal reconstruction of Revueltosaurus callenderi (for my favorite piece of technical art), just because it took me so long to do, and the Vancleavea life restoration I did, since it is one of my first color illustrations in Photoshop.  I also like the reconstructions of the Adamanian and Revueltian faunas I did for an in-press paper with Bill Parker on biostratigraphy in Petrified Forest.  I did that one just because I thought it would be a cool-looking piece of artwork to include in a fairly technical paper.

Who is your favourite palaeoartist or piece of palaeoart?

That is a tough one; there are so many.  From a semi-technical standpoint, I still owe a big debt to Bob Bakker and Greg Paul for showing how attractive black and white drawings can be used as a form of technical illustration.  A lot of Bakker’s line drawings are simple, almost crude, but they get the point across beautifully.  The illustration I did of the Adamanian and Revueltian faunas in PEFO was inspired by the faunal comparison drawings he did for his paper in the 1980 Cold-Look At The Warm Blooded Dinosaurs volume.  I just thought it was really cool they way that he laid out the different faunas in a way that was simple and diagrammatic, and yet enjoyable to look at.  Greg Paul’s books are wonderful from a technical illustration point of view, combining clear technical drawings with really beautiful and life-like reconstructions of animals and environments.  I really want to strive for that combination of clarity and attractiveness in the illustrations I do for my own papers.

I am also fond of Doug Henderson’s work, partly because he used to be one of the only guys who did a lot of Triassic restorations that weren’t obsessed with Coelophysis.  Most Triassic pieces you see just have a group of Coleophysis, sometimes with some plants, or possibly a dicynodont or rauisuchian in the background.  Henderson did a bunch of lovely pieces with phytosaurs, rauisuchians, aetosaurs, and other faunal elements you don’t normally see getting restored.

At Petrified Forest, we have also been working with an extremely talented artist named Victor Leshyk to produce some Triassic artwork for a new exhibit in the Rainbow Forest Museum, and the artwork he has produced has been exceptional.  He just finished a beautiful and gigantic mural for the exhibit of the Adamanian vertebrate fauna preserved in the Blue Mesa Member, which is probably the most accurate and up-to-date piece of Triassic art that anyone has ever done.  We made sure that he represented the fauna fairly; phytosaurs and metoposaurs (the most commonly encountered fossils in the Blue Mesa Member) are right up front; dinosauromorphs are in the background, and they are all being attacked and eaten by pseudosuchians, which is how it should be.  Better yet, the aetosaurs are all alive.  Aetosaurs are almost always dead and being eaten by rauisuchians in paintings and museum displays, and even Henderson is guilty of that.  Leshyk’s aetosaurs look happy to be alive and eating plants.  His mural really gets across what a fantastic array of animals existed in the Late Triassic.

What is your favourite dinosaur / archosaur?

Definitely aetosaurs, just because my research has focused on them, but I am also fascinated by other pseudosuchian (crocodile-line) archosaurs.  They are a neglected group of animals.  As I said above, they tend to get pushed into the background behind early theropods in Triassic reconstructions, in spite of the fact that they were the dominant land animals.  They pioneered a lot of the basic body plans later adopted by other archosaurs, including crocodilians, theropods, and ankylosaurs.

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

There is a lot I would still like to do with paleoart.  My life restorations are mostly still stuck in two-dimensional side-view mode.  Showing animals from other angles like I did with Revueltosaurus is something I need to play with more. I also haven’t given myself the time or freedom to start doing elaborate environmental reconstructions; I am planning on doing a bunch of black and white pencil drawings of various Late Triassic faunas for a couple papers I have in the works.  Perhaps someday I’ll even delve into color environmental reconstructions.  I haven’t done nearly enough aetosaurs, mostly because they are tricky animals to figures out in three dimensions.

Also, tyrannosaurs.  Everybody draws them, but they are so awesome.  Someday I’ll do a big color mural of tyrannosaurs and sell posters of it for millions and millions of dollars.

Oh yes, last question: What do you think is the most important part of good palaeoart?

When doing life restorations, a combination of accuracy and a willingness to indulge in plausible speculation; adhering to the known facts, but also emphasizing how much about anatomy, behavior and environment that we will never know.  I love what Luis Rey does with theropod restorations.  His theropods are, strictly speaking, anatomically accurate, but he adds all kinds of elaborate soft tissue frills and wattles and makes them look totally freaky and weird, but modern birds and reptiles DO look freaky and weird.  Look at all the elaborate feather and soft-tissue structures that birds encumber themselves with in order to get laid, in spite of the fact that they actually be able to fly in order to survive.  It is pretty easy to imagine ground-based theropods that didn’t need to fly pimping themselves out with all sorts of crazy soft-tissue structures, and the same may have been true for pseudosuchians.  I experimented a little bit by putting a couple funky frills and wattles on Shuvosaurus in order to break up the familiar outline, but chickened out and did a version where I shaved the frills off in Photoshop.

For technical illustration, it is important to make the piece as attractive at possible, while also keeping it as clear and simple as possible.  Less is more with technical illustration.  You want the viewer to want to keep looking at the piece, yet keep it simple enough that they don’t get encumbered by a lot of unnecessary detail.  The purpose of technical art is to get a point across, not to show off how good you can draw…although it is cool if you can do both.

23 Responses to “Interview with Jeff Martz”

  1. 1 dmaas 01/10/2010 at 10:14 am

    Thanks much for these interviews… fantastic. Jeff Martz wasn’t even on my radar… now he’s a role model!

  2. 2 Mike Taylor 01/10/2010 at 12:48 pm

    Great stuff, Jeff, I’d not realised you had such a great selection of artwork. It was also an eye-opener for me to see how many different forms you have in that big Tetrapod fauna of the Upper Triassic Chinle Formation of Petrified Forest National Park, Northern Arizona illustration. Just one question: what’s the “Rioarribasuchus” thing?

  3. 3 Mike Taylor 01/10/2010 at 12:49 pm


    As always, I forgot to turn on the “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” thing, and for for some dumb reason it’s not possible to do that without submitting a comment, hence this completely vacuous followup comment.

  4. 4 David 01/10/2010 at 2:03 pm

    “Look at all the elaborate feather and soft-tissue structures that birds encumber themselves with in order to get laid…”

    Pretty well sums up why I love reading Jeff’s stuff. And this artwork is really stunning. One day, Nat Geo will do a FREAKIEST TRIASSIC CRITTERS THAT AREN’T DINOSAURS issue, and Jeff’s drawings will be front and center. I hope.

  5. 5 Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. 01/10/2010 at 2:09 pm

    Great interview. And Jeff: these are awesome illustrations! Love the PEFO faunas and the skeleton of Revueltosaurus especially.

    • 6 17/03/2013 at 5:33 pm

      thomas holtz is like my favorite paleontologist and rey my favorite paleoartist! both of you please keep doing what you are doing in the world it is fantastic!

  6. 7 Steven 01/10/2010 at 3:32 pm

    I always neglect the fact that non-dinosaurian archosaurs can be just as cool too. I didn’t know Jeff Martz dabbled in paleoart also. Really cool artwork. Is that Coelophysis done in crayon? By the way I really like these interviews David. Please do more!!!!

    • 8 David Hone 01/10/2010 at 4:03 pm

      “I always neglect the fact that non-dinosaurian archosaurs can be just as cool too.”

      Careful, to people like Tom Holtz, them’s fightin’ words! 😉

      I would do more interviews but i’m a) rapidly running out of people I know who are willing to do them (I’ve been asking around) and b) right now at least, i don’t want to swamp the blog. It’s been very palaeoart heavy of late and I’d like to get back to a more even balance of talking anatomy and research and sci comms stuff.

      Still, there are at least another couple of people I expect to cave into my begging e-mails so expect more at some point, but you might have to wait a fair while.

      • 9 Steven 01/10/2010 at 9:52 pm

        I don’t want any conflict (especially with the likes of Tom Holtz), but I think it still needed to be said! ;-p

        That’s okay Dave. I’ll be keeping a look out to any further interviews.

  7. 10 Richard 01/10/2010 at 5:16 pm

    Jeff – for those of us with considerably less artistic ability, would you recommend a Wacom tablet for producing simple line-drawings of specimens from photos in Photoshop? And are the cheaper Bamboo models functional, or is a more expensive model required…

  8. 11 Bill Parker 02/10/2010 at 12:37 am

    More kudos, all of the correlation figures(and the geological sections in the supplemental files) in our 2010 PLoS ONE paper on the stratigraphy of the south end of Petrified Forest National Park (Martz and Parker 2010) were also hand drawn by Jeff in Photoshop.

  9. 12 David 02/10/2010 at 4:59 am

    @richard I use a Bamboo at home, and it does the trick. I would definitely recommend it to a Wacom newbie.

  10. 14 Jeffrey Martz 02/10/2010 at 5:11 am

    Mike: Rioarribasuchus is a stolen aetosaur. It is a filthy name, and we shall not speak it out loud, even if we have to use it in print 🙂

    Richard: I’ve only owned a Wacom tablet, so I can’t speak as to any other brand, but with most cheaper models of anything you tend to get what you pay for. I’ve been very happy with my Wacom tablet for years, as have other people I know with one. Also, you don’t have to get the biggest and most expensive; I’ve got a middle-sized model (Intuous 3) and the smaller model supposedly works just fine.

    Steven: The Shuvosaurus (at the top) and Coelophsis were both drawn with colored pencil. I still do some stuff in pencil, as it often goes faster than doing it in Photoshop; with the latter, there is often the temptation to zoom in super close and do things really detailed, which can make it take forever. With the faunal menagerie, I made myself only draw at a certain magnification.

    • 15 Jeffrey Martz 02/10/2010 at 5:22 am

      p.s. Even with my colored pencil stuff, I clean it up in Photoshop. If you look carefully at the teeth and claws of Coelophysis, you can tell they’ve been retouched.

      • 16 mattvr 02/10/2010 at 6:41 am

        Beautiful stuff Jeffrey.
        The patterning on your animals is to die for, both realistic and beautiful.

        I’m always stunned at the variety in the wider archosaur family, it’s a pity Dinosaurs get all the attention!

  11. 17 Bill Mueller 03/10/2010 at 2:33 am

    Good interview Jeff

  12. 18 Penny Martz 05/10/2010 at 8:56 pm

    I am Jeff’s Mother, who is very proud of her son. Jeff has been an artist since he was old enough to hold a pencil. Every school paper, every homework assignment, every test taken, from elementary school forward had dinosaurs/dragons doodled in the margins. Prior to this moment, Jeff did not know that I read his blog, but now my secret is out! I love you Jeff!

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