Typical isn’t it, you wait six months for a new palaeoart interview and then two come along at once. Today’s entry is Steve White. Steve may not have the profile of some of his colleagues but has produced some beautiful artworks. Most importantly perhaps, he is the editor of a soon-to-be-released book on the palaeoart of dinosaurs and featuring new works and words from an absolute hatful of artists, many of whom have featured here over the years and will no doubt be of great interest. Anyway, back to Steve and his art and as per usual please do not take or reuse these without permission and my thanks to Steve for his generous loan of his work:
I have always drawn for fun – probably since about the age of four – but I really started producing artwork for a living in 1993; not surprisingly, this coincided with the release of Jurassic Park. I was a freelance illustrator for about five years but was also writing and editing at the same time. To be honest, I’ve never really seen myself as an artist, more like an editor who just happens to draw as well.
How long have you been producing palaeoart?
Well, the first things I ever drew were dinosaurs! But my first real efforts at drawing dinosaurs professionally, so to speak, was for a series of graphic novels I did in 1991, when I worked for Marvel Comics, called Dinosaurs: A Celebration. It was a four-part series that attempted to dovetail ‘day-in-the-life-of…’ comic strips with illustrated text features. I had nothing like the sort of contacts I have now and although I managed to get some fairly decent names, there were no real paleoartists, with one exception: Luis Rey. I had met him at dinosaur lecture and as the dino community was so much smaller then (pre-internet!) it was inevitable that we stayed in touch. He ended up doing one of the strips – pachycephalosaurs fending off an attack by a tyrannosaur. Anyway, because I had a very limited budget, I ended up doing a few spot illustrations myself. Up until then it had been the occasional piece for a friend or doodles in editorial meetings, a tradition I uphold to this day. Looking back, I would love to do that series again knowing what and whom I know now.
What first got you interested in dinosaurs and art?
The two were more or less synonymous. I have a very clear memory of seeing dinosaurs for the first time in the back of an animal encyclopaedia. They were pretty dreadful drawings but they were easy for me to copy and I began tracing them until the pictures were more or less scoured on the page! Then I went to the Natural History Museum in London and remember the murals they used to have in the old Dinosaur Hall. There was a Styracosaurus with babies and I used to love drawing dinosaur families because you rarely saw mothers and young back then (the late sixties, early seventies). But the real thrill was a book with artwork by Neave Parker. I copied the Triceratops in there until I knew it by memory!
However, Star Wars resulted in my passion for dinosaurs being superseded by a love of sci-fi (though I loved the Dewbacks…). However, it was seriously rebooted when I was Bob Bakker’s pencils on an ancient TV show called Before The Ark, hosted by eminent British palaeontologist, Alan Charig. It was like the paleoart I’d been waiting for to really fire up my enthusiasm for dinosaurs again. Then I read The Hot-Blooded Dinosaurs and that was that.
What is your favourite piece of palaeo art that you have produced?
Hmmm. I’ve recently discovered using negative space – colouring on coloured paper. It’s been a revelation for me and I’ve been able to do very large pieces very quickly because you’re using the colour of the paper as your base line. I’ve done a couple that I’ve really loved: a pair of Triceratops I did (above) for Trike-mad girlfriend, Mercedes (although I controversially did the male with a Torosaurus-style frill). I learnt a helluva lot from that one. I then did a Smilodon that I was very pleased with as well, although it did raise one issue of using coloured paper, in that the scan was rather dark (below). I need to work on that a little.
Aside from those, there was a large piece I did of a feeding frenzy in the Cretaceous Inland Seaway. There’s a few things about it that I’m unhappy with but was very pleased with some of the effects I achieved on that image and taken as a whole I was very happy with it. It was the picture that resulted in the late and much-lamented Dan Varner calling me the ‘John Milius of Paleoart’., which was praise from Caesar indeed.
Who is your favourite palaeoartist or piece of palaeoart?
Having just edited Dinosaur Art: The World’s Greatest Paleoartists, which features work by ten of the best artists around, I need to be careful here… However, if someone put a gun to my head and made me choose, I’d have to go with Raul Martin. It was amazing for me when he sent over his illustrations for the book; some of them were just staggering. He’s really led the way in the transition from traditional to digital artwork, and he seems to have gone from naught to sixty really fast. I just aspire to be that good.
But I also have a great love of Doug Henderson’s artwork, just from the point of pure art. His sense of light and shadow are wonderful, and was massively influential on me. Again, it was a great privilege for me to work with him on Dinosaur Art.
What is your favourite dinosaur / archosaur?
Triceratops. It was the first dinosaur I remember drawing as a kid and I think it will always have that special ‘my first love’ place in my heart. Nothing is more fun to draw than a charging trike!
Is there any animal you would like to paint but have not?
Many. I have a whole bundle of ideas in my head that I want to throw myself at in the very near future, although many are not dinosaurs. I love doing marine animals, especially sharks prehistoric and modern. I also really enjoy illustrating prehistoric mammals; in fact, there’s one piece of mine that my girlfriend is constantly pressuring me to get finished which is three entelodonts battling over a carcass in a mudhole. It’s about a quarter done but will be a lot of work and I’m one of those artists who finds it hard to go back to something if I’ve stopped working on it for whatever reason.
What do you think is the most important part of good palaeoart?
I think it’s the balance between technical accuracy and portraying the subject as a living creature. Someone once told me I pick quite odd angles for the animals in my illustrations, but that can be a rod for your own back because sometimes it’s difficult to find the correct ref you need to accurately draw, for instance, what the hips and spinal column of one type of hadrosaur looks like at an head-on oblique angle. You can find dozens of photos of an elephant or lion like that but most dinosaur refs and generally profile or head-on. Amateurs like myself are lucky to have the likes of Greg Paul who do overheads and rear shots as well at the usual, and that’s a great help. Otherwise, you just cheat and have it throwing up a lot of dust… Then there’s the environment: making sure the foliage etc is as accurate as you can make it. It does make me wonder what the hell I did before the internet.
However, I find a lot of my inspiration comes from the modern world, especially natural history photography. I have a particular love of the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition. Every year I get the book and/or go to the exhibition, and there’s usually at least half a dozen pictures that I imagine transposing the modern subject for something prehistoric. It makes for a great starting point.
I also love doing dynamic stuff. For me, the two principal rules are: as few feet on the ground as possible; and as crazily angled as you can. Plus, lots of dust and dirt. I love drawing dust and dirt…