Archive for the 'Palaeoart' Category



Interview with William Stout

Today I’m delighted to bring an interview with William Stout. A well known artist in his own right with movie posters, comics and sci fi credits to his name, he also has a major ‘sideline’ in dinosaurs and fossil animals.
As ever please respect this artwork and don’t use it or link to it. I have it on generous loan from William.

When palaeontologists drink….

Personally I blame the supervisors for this degenerate and possibly copyright breaking actions. Legal threats to be addressed to: SVPCA, the Pilot Boat pub, Lyme Regis.

What secrets lurk unknown?

In addition to the official talks and posters at SVPCA there’s always various discussions and meet-ups to get people talking and the science discussed. This year however there was a bonus presentation by John Conway on ideas that might just be possible (if incredibly unlikely) for dinosaurs that we can’t disprove becuase we have only bones and tracks. In short, John was deliberately pushing into the territory of the deeply implausible and reasonably unreasonable reconstructions to give us a good laugh, but also make us think.

This was described by Mike Taylor as “Brilliant but retarded” and it was an apt description. The images were, as ever fro John, beautiful and evocative, but the ideas mental and would be ludicrous were it not for the fact that they are just sort of remotely possible and he knew full well what he was doing. Anyway here are a few of them. My thank to John for letting me use them and a reminder that these come courtesy of John’s Ontograph Studios.

First off, a near impossibly well camoflaged Majungasaurus:

Second here’s some monstrously fat Parasaurolophus. They rather remind me of sheep in their shape, though of course without the wool.

Moving towards sauropods, here’s a Camarasaurus (well, a young one) rolling in mud as a sunblock and general skin treatment plan. The point here is not so much the mud rolling, which seems pretty likely to me, but really could a sauropod get down and really roll around like that?

Next up, John’s tribute to a famous photo of a duck. Who knows, maybe Citipati really did have this:

And finally this picture of Tenontosaurus. As John notes, contrary to every other piece of palaeoart of this animal ever, at least some individuals probably spent some of their time not being torn aprat by a pack of Deinonychus.

Interview with Adam Smith

It’s been a while but I now have the latest interview ready. Today it’s Adam Smith who I’ve known since I was starting my PhD at Bristol and Adam was doing the Masters course there. Adam’s art has appeared in a number of museums and books, but there’s a ton of it online in his various websites. Like me Adam is very big on his outreach and was one of the key people to help Dinobase up and running before starting Plesiosauria, the Dinosaur Toy blog and of course, Dinosaurs and their Biscuits. Oh yes, and i should add that Adam is currently based at Think Tank in Birmingham as the Natural Science Curator, home of, amongst other things, a hell of a nice Tricertaops skull.



How long have you been producing palaeoart?
I doodled dinosaurs all through my childhood. This eventually lead to a productive phase in my early 20s when I produced most of my ‘proper’ illustrations. These days other work keeps me busy so I only pick up
the pencils occasionally.

What first got you interested in dinosaurs and art?
The urge to draw dinosaurs was always a manifestation of my fascination with prehistoric life. But who knows where that came from? I’d love to indulge in fascinating anecdotes but I can’t truthfully point my finger at anything in particular – I enjoyed drawing dinosaurs so I did. Something must have lodged deep inside my brain at an early age. I do have photographic evidence of a trip to the Natural History Museum in London when I was about five years old – so maybe that’s it!

What is your favourite piece of palaeo art that you have produced?
The illustration I’m most pleased with is my Elasmosaurus (above). Some illustrations come together without a hitch, whereas others require constant tweaking or modifying. This one came together easily and I feel I captured a certain grace. It’s also the image that receives the most enquiries from people who want to use it, which I think also says a lot. Most of my artwork consists of pencil illustrations and I rarely break out the paints, so for this reason I’m also fond of my painting of a Scelidosaurus (below).

Who is your favourite palaeoartist or piece of palaeoart?

Every artist brings something different to the table so the more the merrier. Previous interviewees have already mentioned the big players in the world of palaeoart (the interviewees often are the big players!) and I enjoy them all too. But as a youngster I was also hugely inspired by the work of Graham Rosewarne whose work populated the pages of a magazine (‘Dinosaurs!’) and some popular books I read in the early 90s. His crisp, sharp style of illustration influenced mine considerably.

I’m not sure I have an absolute favourite piece of palaeoart though, so I’ll pick something a little different instead – dinosaur toys! I don’t know who sculpted the Natural History Museum’s old Invicta line of prehistoric animal replicas, but they are by far and away my favourite pieces of palaeoart.


What is your favourite dinosaur / archosaur?

As a researcher I work mainly on plesiosaurs and other fossil marine reptiles, so it will come as no surprise that my favourite prehistoric beastie is a plesiosaur – Attenborosaurus.


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

I should really get around to drawing Attenborosaurus.

Bob & Tess Update

After the palaeoart interview of last week Bob and Tess got back in touch with two revised images. A large sample of the Carnegie museum mural and a revised version of the Giganotosaurs art with (hopfully) slightly less bright greens. People might have missed these updates, hence the separate post.

 

 

Double palaeoart interview with Bob & Tess

Often known by just their first names, Bob Walters and Tess Kissinger form the Bob & Tess team that run their own palaeoart studio. I pitched them the usual bunch of questions, but the nature of their collaborative work means that the replies are a mix of their answers. So sit back and enjoy a sort of a double interview. All images theirs, copyright, blah blah, kind permission, you know the drill by now.

How long have you been an artist?

Bob and Tess: we have both been artists since we could pick up a crayon.  Each of us was the class cartoonist and went from taking every art class we could in High School directly to Art School.  Bob graduated from The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and did his science academics at University of Pennsylvania, Tess at Carnegie-Mellon University.

Bob:  I really flummoxed this fine old fine art institution which graduated Mary Cassatt and Thomas Eakins and many other early American painters by wanting to illustrate science.  It may have been the late 60s but there was no hipness to the curriculum at PAFA which suited me just fine.  Anatomy came first and foremost.  I took additional graphics classes and learned all I could about the process of various kinds of printing too.

Tess: Carnegie had a school of engineering as well as art and I found myself gravitating toward art and science as well, but for me it was the interface between art and physics.  Until I met Bob anyway – although we still enjoy a glass of wine and a discussion of the nature of gravity in the garden on warm summer nights.  What nerds we are!

Plateosaurus by Bobby W. 1953

How long have you been producing palaeoart?

Bob: here is an example of some of my paleoart at age 4.I have pretty much been drawing dinosaurs all my life but I didn’t get my first paying dinosaur art job until 1978 when I produced a large-format illustration children’s dinosaur book called “Dinosaurs, The Terrible Lizards” from E. P. Dutton.  I had improved a lot by then.

Plateosaurus by Bob Walters 1978

Tess: I enjoyed hanging around with paleontologists but I didn’t start illustrating dinosaurs until I worked with Bob on the Creative Discovery Museum in 1995.  We moved to the new studio, I quit my job and we decided to try to make a go of it as a new company, Walters & Kissinger.

What first got you interested in dinosaurs and art?

Bob: That’s an easy one, I remember the exact day, year, almost the exact hour- September 7, 1953 at around 4 o’clock in the afternoon- when I saw the gatefold cover to LIFE Magazine with the illustration of Zallinger’s mural from the Peabody on it.  I asked my mother if dinosaurs were real and she said they were and we traveled to see exhibits of them at museums up and down the East Coast. (I was raised in Delaware)  It was just a natural fit I think, to live in a place so immersed in the Brandywine tradition of illustrators and have access to so many dinosaur museums- being a dinosaur illustrator was what I wanted to do right from the start.  The funny thing is that I thought it was my unique place in my family and then I found out that my great uncle Robert, after whom I was named, traveled with Marsh on dinosaur digs when he was at Yale. Maybe it was in my genes AND my environment!

Tess: I really fell in love with the beauty of the fossils first.  As an adult.  And I enjoyed the company of paleontologists so well that their natural enthusiasms sort of rubbed off. And then of course, I was living with Bob!

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

I think we would both agree that it is the mural of the Hell Creek environment (below) that we did for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.  The museum specified a morning, rainy environment for the Triassic (Chinle) mural, an afternoon lighting for the Jurassic (Morrison) mural and the sun setting on the dinosaurs for the Cretaceous ( Hell Creek) mural.  This fading light gave us an opportunity to do such a pretty painting as well as a description of the environment.


Who is your favourite palaeoartist or piece of palaeoart?

Both of us would have to say Charles R. Knight. Just love him as a colorist and a “painterly” painter.  These days, everything is so 3D digital that we ask ourselves, “How real is too real?”  I mean, we are giving the impression with 3D digital that we know the size and mass and color and environment of these things and we sure don’t.  We both like digital media and use it, but we prefer an artists’ life restoration to be more artistic- and we worry that paleoart is trying to convince the public that we know more than we do.

 
What is your favourite dinosaur / archosaur?

Bob: it is usually the ones I am working on currently but perennial faves are T. rex and Deinonychus. And I have a special place in my heart for Giganotosaurus.  I did the first scientific life restoration of it, my first SVP poster about it, and its skull lived here in the studio while its body was mounted at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

Tess:  I am a fan of Stegosaurus.  It is just so “showy”.

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

Bob: I ‘d like a chance to work on mammal-like reptiles more. Particularly the pelicosaurs.  And Dimetrodon which I have only gotten to work on a couple of times, especially after a conversation with Bob Bakker a couple of years ago about Dimetrodon ecology.


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

Bob and Tess:  We both think the most important part of being a paleoartist is working with paleontologists and doing our own research to reconstruct from the fossil evidence to fleshed-out animal.  Careful measuring of material, consultation with the paleontologists who are most familiar with the animal – these are the ways that you can be assured that, if not right forever, you have done the best work with what we knew at the time. Right now, working on the mural for Dinosaur National Monument, we have to portray 64 different species of plants and animals which are represented by fossils at the site, many of whom have never been illustrated before, and are known from fragmentary evidence – that is when the paleoartist most has to rely on the paleontologists who discovered these species to come as close as possible to a correct representation of the animals. Can’t release any pics of the work until October – sorry.

Interview with Jim Robins

Today Jim Robins kindly submits to the rigour of a Musings palaeoart interview. He also near buried me in art so while there’s the normal selection through the interview, some of the extras are included at the end. And Jim also has a blog where you can see still more images.

How long have you been an artist?

I graduated from Brighton College of Art in 1971 as an illustrator, husband and father….a traumatic condition requiring income, and substantial quantities of it. Art college education in those days didn’t really prepare one for the harsh world of commerce ( still doesn’t, I understand ) but I was up for anything and, sadly, still am. Was launched into the world of encyclopedias – Mitchell Beazley, Joy of Knowledge – which would require in short order drawings of anything and everything, from Dinosaurs to steam locomotion, from political analysis to psychological problems. Then to DK, cookbooks, gardening books, health books, sex books, DIY books, a phenomenal variety of stuff. Early in my career, in fact as a student, I fell in with Giovanni Caselli, who was a strong influence over my style of working. Haven’t seen him for decades, but manage to stay in occasional e-mail contact.

How long have you been producing palaeoart ?

First Dinosaur book was 1974, but I think we ought to skirt around that one….by the 1980’s, because my favoured technique tended to be line and wash you’d most often find me in the add-on ‘technical’ sections of palaeontological publication, the skeletons, the muscle structures etc, especially in a ground breaking series of books for Kingfisher ( I believe then still Grisewood + Dempsey ) authored by a young fellow by the name of Michael Benton…..The line and wash thing was then a bit of a bug-bear, publishers disliked it because if the printing register was off by a micron you had a nightmare, or they did. I tried to be John Sibbick, but it just didn’t work…..

What first got you interested in dinosaurs and art ?

For the former, being dragged around the Nat.Hist.Mus. on wet Sundays…..for the latter, there’s not much else I’m competent at……..

What’s your favourite piece of palaeo art that you have produced ?

Don’t think I’ve done it yet. There are odd things that I’ve felt happy with as a job competently done, Caudipteryx four-view for instance (shown below), drawn from the first published fossils, in need of serious reappraisal now, but at the time satisfyingly close to the mark. There was a time in the mid 1990’s when I was energetically proposing that this was the way to read Dinosaurs, four-view aviation style diagrams, much in the style of Profile publications much beloved of airheads and motor-nuts in the ’60’s and ’70’s. Unfortunately this coincided with the first ‘Walking with….’ where they did just that, digitally and in motion. Fortunately by that time I was a political cartoonist…….

Who is your favourite palaeoartist or piece of palaeoart ?

Difficult, there are so many, over the long term I guess I’ve been most in awe of Burian, then John Sibbick, a singular talent ( maybe coloured by not being able to do it myself ), Carl Buell, Anton, Csotonyi, Rauol Martin, Gurney etc etc. Luis Rey for brave ( and predictive ) eccentricity, of course Greg Paul – although I fear I’m well beyond the pale in reference to his recent palaeoart criticisms on DML. Similarly in awe of the digitalists, some of whom are also above, but I worry about an ‘over-plasticity’ ( probably ‘cos I can’t do that either ) but I also like Mr Witton – who makes it look like he didn’t use a computer at all.

What is your favourite dinosaur / archosaur ?

Love’em all……It’s the constantly evolving / reappraising thing about this branch of the study I enjoy. I have a long term unfinished project here on Australian Megafauna which is an occasional preoccupation. This also started in the mid 1990’s with a Platypus analysis – only hampered by there being no Platypi in the UK – but I’ll get there one day. In the meantime I’m a political cartoonist….or did I mention that ?

Is there any animal you would like to paint but haven’t ?

Probably.

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

I guess to describe the beast as completely as possible according to the available information. To make the viewer believe in what they’re looking at, if possible to place it convincingly in it’s environment…..not, as it would seem so many publishers want, to be constantly rushing at you out of page or screen, red in tooth and claw.

Perhaps at this stage I should declare myself a fraud and a charlatan…..there have been many years when most of my income and future aspirations were derived from palaeontological illustration……I have to admit it’s been a while since I earned a red (green, or gold) cent from palaeoart. Probably not talkin’ to the right people…….list me amongst the political cartoonists……  J.

Interview with Larry Felder

Here’s the latest in this little burst of palaeoart interviews. Following on from the recent ones by James Gurney and John Sibbick. This time out, it’s Larry Felder.
How long have you been an artist? 
I’ve been an artist about as long as I’m alive.  As soon as I became aware of paper and pencils, I picked them up and never looked back.  It’s also about the same time I became interested in dinosaurs.  And, I think if you ask any paleo artist, they’ll tell you it’s not when they got into dinosaurs, it’s that they never got over it.  I think all of us are afflicted with the same ‘disease’, and if we’re lucky, we’ll never get over it.
How long have you been producing palaeoart?
I’ve been in the field going on over 20 years.  I was always able to paint and was interested in dinosaurs, but didn’t put the two together until the early 90s.
What first got you interested in dinosaurs and art?
The thing about both dinosaurs and art is that they are so primal.  From the earliest, and I’m talking tens of thousands of years ago, the human species has had the need to transcribe what we see around us in some creative fashion. Look at cave paintings of 35,000 years ago.  What makes up the bulk of them?  Depictions of the animals these early artists shared their world with.  And, the fact that they exist at all points to a primal desire to depict that world in some visual fashion.  It’s still with us today, and as we become more ‘advanced’, though I’m not completely convinced that we’re all evolving at the same rate and in a linear fashion, the need to create and depict our world remains a basic human need.  When dinosaurs came to the awareness of the scientific and then general community, there immediately arose an intense desire to interpret these incredible remains in some sort of creative form.  Paleoartists today are can trace a direct line back to the works of Hawkins, Knight, Burian and Zallinger.  It’s neat to follow in the footsteps of people like them.  And, I think there will always exist in the human spirit a need to create, and an equal need to appreciate and depict life and the universe we exist in.  So there will always be an interest in dinosaurs and art.
What is your favourite piece of palaeo art that you have produced?
My favorite piece is more a life study of one of my favorite dinosaurs, Parasaurolophus, that I did for my book “In the Presence of Dinosaurs”.  I did an extended series of paintings of the animal, from adults, to courtship displays, nesting sites, hatchlings and behaviorial studies.
Who is your favourite palaeoartist or piece of palaeoart?
I honestly don’t have a single favorite paleoartist or piece.  I would have to answer this as a group appreciation.  I always had a thing for the works of Charles Knight, as the Father of PaleoArt.  And, Burian’s work was particularly interesting to me.  Today, there are several artists.  Dan LoRusso is one of the best sculptors around, as are Mike Trcic and Paul Hudson.  Visual artist I appreciate are Mauricio Anton, Tracy Ford.  I always liked Brian Franczak’s work, though he has been out of the field for a while.  And, there are artists working more and more with computers.  Luis Rey has been moving more towards that it seems.  And Julius Csotonyi has done some spectacular work with the computer.  As technology pushes the envelope more and more, it will be impossible to dismiss it’s impact on visual art.  It doesn’t mean that painting will go the way of the dinosaurs.  But paleoart will adapt.  There was an artist whose name escapes me, in the mid 1800s.  As soon as he saw a photograph for the first time, he said of the new technolgy, “That’s the end of painting.”  Of course, it didn’t prove to be the case.  But painting had to reinterpret itself and come to a new meaning in light of the new technology.  So will paleoart have to evolve in light of the computer.  But painters shouldn’t throw away their brushes and get new mouses.  Wildlife art continues to thrive, particularly significant in that lions, tigers and bears are still with us, and anyone with a digital camera can shoot some impressive shots of these animals.
What is your favourite dinosaur / archosaur?
I always had a fondness for Parasaurolophus, but again, there are several groups of animals I am drawn to.  Small theropods, the more bird-like the better I always thought were neat.  And pterosaurs are just in a league by themselves.
Is there any animal you would like to paint but have not?
I would actually like to do more work on pterosaurs, and would like to do some extended images of the wildlife of Cretaceous Australia/Antarctica.  The adaptations of the dinosaurs in that unique habitat, with the cool weather and extended darkness just cry out for interpretation, especially in light of the incredible record now of feathered and insulated dinosaurs.
What do you think is the most important part of good palaeoart?
Believability.  It is a multi-tiered reality, including a working knowledge of anatomy, good drawing, good draftsmenship, good art, a good eye for appreciating the natural world today, and some patience.  A good piece of paleoart works the same way a good wildlife painting does today.  You have to put the various elements together that segue seamlessly with each other in a way that either immediately clicks or doesn’t.  Especially with paleo art, since one of the main components is a believable color scheme and sense that this is an animal that is alive and can be seen as existing in its habitat without too much of a stretch of incredulity.
Finally, a little bit about myself.  I finished up a series of large paintings for several national parks a few years ago.  I’ve been working with Mike Triebold of the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center in Woodland Park, Colorado, USA, on a traveling exhibit for museums and science centers entitled, “Bringing Dinosaurs to Life.”  It is centered around one question, “How do we know what dinosaurs looked like?”  It is a combination of paintings, sculptures, fossils and source material that paleoartists use to recreate dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals and habitats.  The movie “Tree of Life” that just came out, (with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, directed by Terrence Malick, and that just won best in show at Cannes), features a filmed depiction of one of my paintings, an elasmosaur on a beach, about to nurse a wound.  I’m also a writer, and am finishing up a novel, a science thriller.  It’s about a physicist who inadvertantly comes up with a quantum gravity theory that allows thermonuclear detonations to proceed without producing radiation.  In trying to weaponize it, it turns into a spectator sport.

Interview with John Sibbick

My next palaeoart interview is with John Sibbick. John is one of a real cluster of Bristol-area palaeoartists in the UK with Jim Robbins (coming soon!), and Bob Nicholls. His work was some of the first I became really familiar with as a budding researcher as he illustrated Peter Wellnhofer’s classic encyclopedia of pterosaurs, and the companion dinosaur volume by David Norman as well as the classic undergrad handbook, “Vertebrate Palaeontology” by my PhD supervisor Mike Benton. Anyway, I’ll hand over to John who’s much more interesting talking about art than I am talking about him.

How long have you been an artist?

Artist?  That’s a tricky one.  I’ve been illustrating since 1973 but became freelance doing illustration for children’s books 35 years ago.

How long have you been producing palaeoart?

My first book of dinosaurs was in 1985 – a slim but illustration rich (around 40 images) project with David Norman.  I was very green and had a lot to learn.  I knew about deadlines but it was pretty scary getting through it.  But with a palaeontologist on board I must have been a paleoartist?

What first got you interested in dinosaurs and art?

I first got the bug for fossils looking in the old display cases in the Natural History Museum, London.  Life was pretty mono in the late fifties so I painted as a hobby which eventually became a possible career move as it was pretty obvious I didn’t want to do much else.  I just loved looking at illustrated books and postcards – Maurice Wilson and Neave Parker were my favourites.  I suppose I preferred the past to the present.

What is your favourite piece of palaeoart that you have produced?

So difficult ..favourite because I enjoyed the process or because the artwork turned out OK?
They are not always the same thing.  For me most of my paintings have a flaw in them and sometimes now I can see how to fix it.  But I never retouch or change a piece when it is ‘over’.  Favourite? – I can’t really answer that one easily – maybe an Estemenosuchus group in a glade of tree ferns (below).

Who is your favourite palaeoartist or piece of palaeoart?

I always love looking at Jay Matternes work…a true palaeoartist who knows his subject inside out.  If I find anything published of his I collect it.  Mauricio Anton does beautiful work – I still prefer his paintings and drawings to his digital work but his reconstructions are superb.  Peter Trusler is a master draughtsman who I greatly admire.  Doug Henderson has also brought prehistory to life and has become the biggest influence on how the Mesozoic landscape is portrayed.  His work is very underestimated in my opinion.  How can I choose a favourite example from these – you try!

What is your favourite dinosaur/archosaur?

Dinosaurs – I like the hadrosaurs – any of the crested types – maybe Parasaurolophus the best.  I am also very fond of Dimorphodon amongst the pterosaurs and phytosaurs are very elegant – crocs on tip-toe.

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

I feel that I haven’t made any impression yet..and probably I shouldn’t take on anything that I’ve done before.  I would like to work on the mammal-like reptiles and early amphibians and there are so many invertebrates still to look at, and I would also like to paint or draw my own lurcher whippet – he’s such a good model and sleeps most of the time! Which reminds me I would also like to look at the Eocene mammals…

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

If at the end of a project I haven’t learnt anything new about the process or subject then there is little point in doing it.  The collaboration is the key aspect.  I’ve worked with very generous experts who know that I have limited experience in their field, but have worked very closely to help me to the end result.  A key example was Dr Rachel Wood who had the patience to draw me in to the world of reef evolution.  I think the results are so improved working in that spirit.  The same applied to Dr Peter Wellnhofer -a draughtsman himself who made his pterosaur book a joy to work on. If the collaboration is a good one, then I think the results hopefully reflect this.

Interview with James Gurney

Today’s palaeoart interview comes courtesy of James Gurney (there’s lots more in the palaeoart section). He’s almost certainly most famous for his enormously popular series of Dinotopia books (an island where the dinosaurs survived the KT and live alongside humans), but James also does more traditional-type palaeoart. My thanks for him not just for agreeing to do this, but for getting back to me in just a few hours! Right, I’ll shut-up and let him take over. As ever all images etc. are courtesy of James, and oh yeah, do check out his blog too. We’ll start with a familiar pair of crania….

How long have you been an artist?
I’ve been drawing and painting since I was thirteen, and supporting myself as an artist since I was in high school. Back then I was doing calligraphy and pen and ink illustration. But I was drawing animals all along, especially our family’s dogs.

How long have you been producing palaeoart?
I was an archaeology major at UC Berkeley. My first taste of paleoart came in the late 1970s when I was in college during an undergraduate course on paleontology taught by J.A. Robinson, the plesiosaur expert. She had to leave class in the middle of the term to fly down to investigate that rotting carcass that the Japanese fishermen had pulled out. There was a rumor it might be a plesiosaur carcass, but it turned out to be a long-dead shark. We were all pretty excited, and then disappointed.

Anyway, in her class, I did a summer field workshop digging up extinct mammals on the Black Hawk Ranch. For my school project I drew charcoal drawings of all the fauna we found.

What first got you interested in dinosaurs and art?
I came at dinosaurs through a fascination with lost worlds and archaeology. I had been working for National Geographic all through the 1980s painting archaeological reconstructions for them, while also painting paperback covers in the science fiction genre. I combined those interests with my love of Jules Verne by coming up in my spare time with a series of lost world panoramas. One of them was called “Dinosaur Parade.” The idea was to reimagine dinosaurs not just as monsters or dull sluggards in the swamp, but to pick up on what Bakker and Horner were proposing about caregiving and warm bloodedness. One of the first paleontologists to help me out was Mike Brett-Surman of the Smithsonian, who, like many scientists, shared my love of both the science and the science fiction. Later on I was thrilled when Mike curated the Dinotopia exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History.

What is your favourite piece of palaeo art that you have produced?
I’m always a bit dissatisfied with my own work, but one that really came together was a painting of Titanoboa for the National Wildlife Federation (shown above). It was a tough challenge because it’s hard to convey the amazing size of a 10 meter snake without any obvious scale references. If I could have painted him eating a Wall Street bank executive, it would have been easier. The key to both scale and drama was to imagine him wrestling with a crocodylian. There are some YouTube videos of caimans and alligators in similar match-ups, but the action usually takes place underwater. I had to model the whole scene in miniature to figure out the dynamics and the lighting. I was moving fast on that one, and only had about five days from start to finish. I was thrilled when it was used as the poster for the recent exhibit “Focus on Nature,” which includes a lot of work from the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators.

Who is your favourite palaeoartist or piece of palaeoart?
Somehow, I missed Charles Knight when I was young, so Z. Burian was the paleoartist I first looked at. I loved the paintings he did in the Time/Life book Evolution, and like Mark Hallett said of Knight, I assumed that they were some form of photos. Although the scholarship has moved on since his day, his paintings have a sense of mise en scène that still holds up. Of course I admire all my fellow paleo painters and sculptors of today, but I also draw inspiration from wildlife and bird painters such as Raymond Ching, Robert Bateman, Carl Brenders, and Lars Jonsson, as well as the great animal painters of the past such as Rungius, Barye, and Landseer.

What is your favourite dinosaur / archosaur?
I love Mei long, and wanted to use my painting of the little sleeping dragon on the cover of my newest book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter. I spend a lot of time looking at photos and videos of birds, and sketching chickens and ducks at a nearby farm, and watching my own parakeet for clues about their non-avian cousins. I always wondered why I never saw renderings of small theropods sleeping on one foot. My friend Mick Ellison already owned the sleeping position, so I decided to try the standing pose, basing the color and light in my painting on photos I had seen of spoonbills and flamingos (pictured above).

Is there any animal you would like to paint but have not?
I was thrilled to get a chance to paint Sinornithomimus recently for Scientific American. There are a bunch of creatures I’d love to paint, such as Concavenator, Anchiornis, Xixianykus, or Raptorex. I’m equally interested in mammals, fish, and invertebrates.

What do you think is the most important part of good palaeoart?
Naturalism. Believability. It’s a sum total of the morphology, the surface covering, the lighting, the color, and the composition. I feel it’s just as important to spend time painting landscape studies and sketching living analogs in zoos as it is to study the skeletal morphology. Animals have to fit naturally into their environment, and behave convincingly with each other. I’m always trying to go beyond the obvious scene of the dinosaur running with their mouths open across dry lake beds (OK, I’ve done my share of those, too). I’m also interested in going against the knee-jerk media marketing of dinosaurs as ruthless monsters. There haven’t been enough images of dinosaurs hidden in camouflage, or sleeping, or regurgitating food, or preening, or playing, or scratching an itch. The best paleo paintings haven’t been done yet, and maybe a high school kid reading this will be inspired to paint an epic image that hasn’t yet been seen.

Zhuchengtyrannus art II

So in the last couple of days we have had Bob Nicholls talk about his beautiful vignette of Zhuchengtyrannus and an interview with artist Brian Choo. Now we can sort of combine the two. As Brian is based at the IVPP he soon found out about the upcoming description of the new tyrannosaur and excited by the new taxa being discovered he went away and produced this:

Continue reading ‘Zhuchengtyrannus art II’

Interview with Brian Choo

Today I’m pleased to bring to you an interview with artist (and researcher) Brian Choo. I first became aware of Brian’s art with his image of a very early fish giving birth based on a spectacular find of a fossil embryo from the Devonian. Brian himself works on fish so much of his art is based around his own research and that of his colleagues, but his love of dinosaurs and the fact that he’s Australian means he has a nice tendency to produce images of Auzzie taxa that tend to get overlooked when people tend to go for Allosaurus or Diplodocus. Brian is now installed in my old stomping ground at the IVPP so I ran into him recently when I was back there and managed to persuade him to add the latest in my palaeoart interviews. Here then is his interview and there’s a special bonus I’m saving for tomorrow so stay tuned.

Continue reading ‘Interview with Brian Choo’


@Dave_Hone on Twitter

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 553 other followers