This is a really special interview for me as Doug is my personal favourite palaeoartist and I know a lot of the people currently working in the area admit something similar. His old website is no more, though fortunately some of it is archived here and actually Doug’s e-bay store has a good collection of quite high quality versions of his artwork (and of course sells prints!). I’ll leave it there and let his words and images tell the story. Oh yes, and do come back tomorrow – Doug has also sent me a selection of his field sketches of landscapes etc. and I’ll be putting these up in an additional post rather than overfill this one. As usual these works are Doug’s, he owns the copyrights to his artwork and these should not be reproduced or used without his permission blah blah etc. Now, go enjoy:
How long have you been producing paleo-art?
After cars and airplanes, I was drawing dinosaurs when I was just a few years old–a consequence of a dinosaur craze during the 1950’s. Not until 1977, when I was 28 and living in Montana, did I begin a self-taught effort to refine drawing and develop some sense of composition. I spent years drawing in the field–mostly simple sketches of trees, rivers, mountains, etc. and did early finished work. Dinosaurs walked into some of the images from time to time and I followed a few artistic interests that indirectly prepared me to do paleo-art. A good, long time went by before I could point to what I did as anything looking like legitimate employment and a career.
What first got you interested in dinosaurs and art?
I count books and TV as the first major influence, although there were also comic strips (Terry and the Pirates, I think), wax models and museum visits to the Smithsonian. The very first book I pulled down off a elementary school library shelf was titled So Long Ago–I remember looking up and seeing the title well over my head. It was a whimsical romp through early Earth History, specifically arranging the proper animals together in the proper time–and may have instilled a sort of prime directive I’ve followed ever after.
An interest in art seem to develop over time, especially after I found various books about landscape painters from the 19th Century. The finished work of artists like Frederick Church, William Turner and Thomas Moran was a very high star to reach toward, but their preliminary drawing and field sketches inspired me to try my own hand at working in a sequence from simple to more complex images. Going outside and taking the time to look at things in order to put them on paper was probably the most essential part of my becoming an artist and developing an approach to finished work. Field sketches gave me a better informed imagination.
What is your favorite piece of paleo-art that you have produced?
I don’t really think of favorite pieces, I’m actually pleased with a lot of my work–especially if a set of images work together to tell a paleontological tale. Some of the Two Medicine work still looks good to me. And a lot of the Triassic work I did for Petrified Forest. With time and new discoveries, some of this work preserves old, abandoned ideas, though. All the little dinosaurs in illustrations I did years ago ought probably to have feathers.
Who is your favorite paleo-artist or piece of paleo-art?
I think Charles Knight’s work played a part in my introduction to realistic dinosaur reconstruction. And Zdenek Burian, the Czech illustrator. Perhaps my favorite paleo-art, though, was the cover of some Classic Comic version of Journey to the Center of the Earth, the image of fighting marine reptiles. And also the stop-action animation from the 1933 movie King Kong, when Kong fights a T-rex (in lovely settings of a wild, primordial forest).
What is your favorite dinosaur / archosaur?
I don’t seem to have favorite animals, though I seem to especially like marine reptiles. I have favorite approaches to reconstructing about anything, though the less I know about some new animal or setting, the more work it is to get up to speed. I have to say, that I think dinosaurs have come too much to represent Earth History and paleo-art is a broader venue than just showing dinosaurs doing this and that. I see lots of things going neglected, including geologic stories dominated more by physics, climate, landscape and other forms of early life. But what gets done most often is what people want, or what publishers think people will buy. To really do original work, you have to be independently wealthy enough to put money concerns aside or find supporters prepared to give you long spans of time. This happens sometimes, but not often enough for me.
Is there any animal you would like to paint but have not?
I recently did some Pleistocene mammal drawings and can see there is a lot more to do with that subject. The early Paleozoic looks to be rarely treated in paleo-art. Burian did lots of such images and I see lots of things yet to do.
What do you think is the most important part of good paleo-art?
Every artist is going a find a different solution to the same task. For me, I want to see an illustration as representing a place, large or small. If you can play with light (and color), compose original scenes and poises and well present data new and old together, that’s an end to reach toward.