What another one, already? Yes, the palaeoart section of the Musings is expanding again as this time Mike Skrepnick talks us through his artworks. As ever these are Mike’s property etc. and you can see still more lovely pictures over on his website.
How long have you been an artist?
I’ve been interested in artwork for most of my life and and participated in a commercial arts program as a student at the Alberta College of Art & Design in the late 1970’s.
How long have you been producing palaeoart?
The opening of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology here in Alberta (1985) enhanced a lifelong passion for dinosaurs and provided a catalyst toward the melding of two areas of personal interest (art and dinosaurs) . . . eventually a series of opportunities created the potential for me to establish a career dedicated to palaeo art, which I have pursued now for nearly 18 years.
What first got you interested in dinosaurs and art?
As with most kids, what’s not to like ? . . . an endless variety of bizarre creatures, the stuff of mystery and imagination, and with the added bonus of being real animals from the ancient past of the world we now live in.
What is your favourite piece of palaeo art that you have produced?
Although it sounds cliche’, it’s usually the piece I’m working on . . . what I enjoy is the diversity, especially when working on new discoveries. Being called upon to be the first artist to interpret / reconstruct an extinct species that no one has ever seen before, is both a challenging and rewarding responsibility. My hope being in spite of limitations in information associated with the fossil specimens, that the fleshed out restoration is plausible and allows the viewer to momentarily suspend disbelief in accepting the rendered image as that of the living organism under scrutiny. Ultimately, I want my work to objectively express an observation of a stage in the evolution of natural history. . . capturing a segment of extinct “wildlife” within their respective environments, involved in the day to day activities and behaviours that one might speculate are reasonable (in part based on, or inferred by similarities to that of extant, related forms, ie. birds, crocodilians, etc. . .).
Who is your favourite palaeoartist or piece of palaeoart?
I appreciate the work of the majority of my colleagues. As we are all equally disadvantaged in not being able to observe non-avian, terrestrial dinosaurs in life, and thus constrained to extrapolate from the same fossil evidence, I am fascinated by the similarities and differences articulated within our attempts at “accurate” reconstruction. While there are some shared commonalities in the overall perception of anatomical structure, each artist brings a unique and personal vision and style to the work that separates us as individuals. It also inspires a burning curiosity on my part concerning how close to the original subjects, our artistic portrayals actually are. . . I would love to know what we are getting right, as much as how much are we missing. Although preserved soft anatomy and trace fossils offer tantalizing clues. . . these random bits and pieces fall well short of the cohesive whole. Even if we assume our interpretation of skeletal structure and musculature falls within acceptable tolerances, considerations in terms of outer integument, patterning and coloration introduce another array of variables that lead to significant potential alternatives, that dramatically effect the postulated final “look” of any given restoration.
What is your favourite dinosaur / archosaur?
I gravitate towards tyrannosaurs . . . in addition to teeth and claws, I like the streamlined, efficient body structure and design, a successfully evolved solution to a particular, predatory model. In addition to ongoing projects involving dinosauria, I hope in future to also devote some time to working on Permian vertebrates.
Is there any animal you would like to paint but have not?
In recent times, the number of new discoveries seems to exponentially outstrip any one artist’s ability to keep up with the growing demand and number of exciting possibilities. . . a case in point being the glut of newly descibed ceratopsians, with even more currently in preparation. . .
What do you think is the most important part of good palaeoart?
The artist’s vision serves as a kind of portal between past and present, so ideally the resulting imagery should inform and educate as well as captivate the public with a sense of wonder. It is often the way in which the complexities of the science of paleontology are conveyed to the viewer in a manner they can most easily comprehend and embrace. The art allows them to focus and see a world that they otherwise could not as readily or clearly imagine on their own. As multidisciplinary innovations within the science continue to advance and refine the data collected, historically the imagery has mirrored and defined the results of this ongoing research, providing visual support and a platform through which the public is made aware and encouraged to enjoy each new leading edge discovery.