Posts Tagged 'Darwin'

Interview with Scott Hartman

Deinonychus4articleWell it’s been quite a while but this was never forgotten, so I’m delighted to get the palaeoart interviews rumbling to life again by bringing you a one on one with Scott Hartman, most famous for his dinosaur skeletals but also well into the more ‘traditional’ branches of life reconstructions. There’s plenty on his website and DeviantArt pages, but Scott has also been good enough to share some new and upcoming stuff too. As ever, everything is copyright to Scott so play nice and no sharing without asking him first, it’s his work not mine.

How long have you been an artist?

I’m afraid I don’t have a straightforward answer to that – while I drew a bit growing up I never really kept up with it. For a long time I approached technical illustration as a tool rather than art; even my life reconstructions were originally little more than a way to show off anatomy for quite a while. I guess the transition probably occurred when I started to do artwork regularly to help supply the Wyoming Dinosaur Center with imagery for displays; since I was doing “arty” things on a regular basis I started to learn new techniques, began to think more about composition, lighting, etc. So in terms of when I felt I had personally become an artist then it’s been a decade or so.


How long have you been producing palaeoart?

Based on my previous answer I have to say that it’s been for longer than I’ve been an artist! The first paleoart pieces I produced that were shown in art shows was back in 1995, but they were…well, let’s just say I still had much to learn. The first skeletal reconstructions I produced that I would consider sufficiently professional so as to stand on their own was 1997, while the first life reconstructions that I would still want to take responsibility for probably date to around 2001-2002.

scelidosaurus WIP

What first got you interested in dinosaurs and art?

I have always been interested in dinosaurs – some of my earliest memories include having the Little Golden Book of Dinosaurs read to me (often several times a day). I guess from there I never really grew up. Art, on the other hand, was really just a re-occuring fancy until my work with dinosaurs demanded I take it more seriously, and from there it has grown into its own interest rather later than I imagine occurs from other artists. I expect this put me at something of a disadvantage compared to the many talented young artists I see out there that dedicate far more time to honing their craft, but luckily I’ve play a bit of catch-up later in life.


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

I guess it would be Dawn Fisher (above), which depicts Unenlagia fishing in the early morning hours. It’s not really a complicated painting, but it’s one of the few pieces where I truly approached it as a compositional piece rather than a technical reconstruction, and lo and behold it turned out with the tone and feel that I had originally envisioned. I have a few others pieces that I’ve also been working on from an “art-first” perspective, but alas they are also more complex and I haven’t had time to finish them (so far!).

Othnielioaurus rutting sneak peak

Who is your favourite palaeoartist or piece of palaeoart?

There are just so many ways to take (and answer) who my favorite paleoartist is – my favorite as a person? My favorite in terms of technique? In terms of accuracy? I’ve done this long enough to have several paleoartists that I am lucky enough to enjoy as friends, while the internet has also allowed for an even larger influx of new talent to be seen that perhaps would have been missed in previous decades. All of which sounds like I’m wussing out really. I guess if I had to pick one name it would be David Krentz, as I’ve always found his artwork delightful and he’s been a fantastic coworker on a myriad of different projects, from education to film and TV. My favorite piece of paleoart requires no such beating around the bush; it’s Mike Trcic’s Daspletosaurus sculpture that he did back when he was working on the original Jurassic Park dinosaurs. I’m sure a lot of it was timing (I originally laid eyes on it at my first SVP way back in Seattle), that it was one of the first paleo sculptures I’d seen in person, and the way it encapsulated much of the paleoart revolution up until then, but no other piece has made such a strong visceral impression on me. I’m just sad I didn’t have the means to pick one up back when they were available.


What is your favourite dinosaur / archosaur?
I always have a soft-spot for the animals I’ve spent time working with, including Archaeopteryx, Supersaurus, Camarasaurus, and Medusaceratops. I’m also pretty darn fascinated with all things archosaurian in the Triassic (and even the synapsids, but this clearly is neither the time nor place to talk about those one-window wannabees).

Darwin speed painting

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

All of them? I really love coming up with new visions of prehistoric life, but there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to get it done. And I’m about to have a lot less free time this fall.

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

Obviously good technique is important, but I feel that what makes paleoart fascinating is that it’s always in a state of tension between what constrains an artist (data and plausibility) and the freedom to follow his or her imagination. Being able to navigate that tension to produce something that is simultaneously data-driven yet fresh and imaginative is the intangible “it” that the best paleoart has in my view.

Ceratosaurus vs Allosaurus - juvenile smackdown web-sized

The historical impact of Archaeopteryx

Believe it or not, I’m trying to cut down on the Archaeopteryx posts but well, it is a big anniversary and it is such a very cool animal with many interesting and important facets to it’s scientific life that I don’t seem to be able to stop. One thing that really should get a mention is the small role it played it buoying up Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the initial publication of the Origin lead to rather  mixed reviews. While it did have a number of important and influential supporters, it also inevitably came in for some really strong criticism. Darwin has quite rightly noted a number of major problems with his own work and there were certainly some gaps that needed to be filled sooner or later. One of these (which is of course still ludicrously trumpeted by the creationists) was the apparent lack of transitional fossils. If Darwin was right and birds and mammals had come from reptiles, amphibians from fish and so one, then where were all those in-betweens?

The obvious short answer is that 150 years ago the fossil record had only just begun to be explored. We didn’t have many dinosaurs yet (which were nice and big and preserved in big numbers in well explored countries like the US and Belgium) let alone all manner of well, just about everything. Palaeontology as a field was only just getting going and there were very few researchers doing relatively little research and they’d not done much. We now of course have enormously detailed and complete transitional series for the origins of whales and amphibians and vertebrates and all kinds of others. We do of course also know a great deal about the origin of birds, but in addition to its important phylogenetic position, Archaeopteryx very publicly plugged one of those big gaps.

Coming to light a just a couple of years after the publication of the Origin, it was a clear and obvious fillup for Darwin and vindication of his ideas. Here was something that was obviously a bird (it had feathers) but obviously not quite a bird (it had teeth and a long tail and clawed fingers). It was part bird and part reptile –  a halfway house. Darwin obviously recognised the fact and it must have been enormously gratifying to see something like this turn up. In a letter to a colleague in 1893 he wrote:

“The fossil Bird with the long tail & fingers to its wings is by far the greatest prodigy of recent times. It is a grand case for me; as no group was so isolated as Birds; & it shows how little we know what lived during former times.”

And he also took a letter from another colleague that same year that clearly referenced this fact as well:

““You were never more missed—at any rate by me—for there has been this grand Darwinian case of the Archaeopteryx for you and me to have a long jaw about”.

Darwin was therefore well aware of just what Archaeopteryx could do for his ideas and as he notes, the birds had seemed an especially disparate group compared to other vertebrates yet here was an obvious transition, or at least possible connection, between birds and reptiles. Perhaps more importantly, this obviously was recognised by his colleagues as well and provided a strong case that the fossil record had much more to say about the theory of evolution and that what it would say might well support Darwin. The timing was really quite perfect then.

Thanks to Rich Tabor and Brian Switek for helping me track down those quotes.

Great biologists

If you are sick of posts based around the exhibits and displays of Oxford then I am afraid there are still a few more to go. However, my visit provided me with so much good material for posts with dinosaurs, pterosaurs, models, art and historical stuff that this was all but inescapable. I am starting to run out though, but in the meantime it would be a shame to let this go past.

Modern museums understandably tend to emphasise the specimens on display and the conveyance of information about them. Nothing wrong with this in any way at all I hasten to add, but there is something about the grandeur of classic museums that tends to be lacking. Partly that comes from the architecture – no matter how awesome the Fukui dinosaur museum is as a building (it’s a 100 m [ish]) silver dome) it’s not really the Natural History Museum in London either. Some of that quite indescribable and ephemeral feeling can however certainly be captured by things like this -marble statues of great biologists and scientists through the ages.

Here of course the emphasis is on zoology and palaeontology with Buckland (above) and Darwin and Hunter (below) featuring and other such as Aristotle and Cuvier (as I recall) also being present. Little to do with a traditional display admit, but it’s hard not to appreciate them for their aesthetics alone, in addition to their contribution of celebrating the work of such important people.

Darwin in Beijing

imgp1674Charles Darwin of course never made it to China on his very extensive travels, but inevitably this year, and indeed on this day, he has a presence at the IVPP. I mentioned briefly before about a planned exhibition that has gone through with typical Chinese speed (in the end it was too short notice to include English notes for the admittedly few foreign visitors to the galleries, so I barely did anything for this) and was unveiled this morning.

It’s mostly a series of panels covering Darwin’s life and works and showing how modern evidence (most notably fossils in the IVPP of course) supports the theory of evolution by natural selection. As I say, it’s in Chinese, so few of my readers are likely to get much from it, but I took a couple of quick photos to show off a few of the panels, and especially the nice world map that shows the voyage of the Beagle and key events or finds from the journey. (Sorry about the odd angles of some of the photos it was necessary to avoid the gallery lights reflecting).

Three great protagonists, but probably not as they saw themselves

Three great protagonists, but probably not as they saw themselves

It’s good to see so many museums and institutes using this year as an excuse or motivation to get across some of the inspiring ideas and works of Darwin, and what has followed, plus to dispel a few of the worse and more perpetuated fictions. My only complaint would be that while an opportunity like this is too good to miss, (and certainly more funds and interest would be available than in other years) it is just a shame that something like this is needed to trigger it.

imgp16581While many museums have exhibits or even whole galleries on evolution, many small and even large ones do not even mention it. Surely something this fundamental to a natural history / science museum (and this goes for botanical gardens, aquaria and zoos as well) needs to be featured, and prominently at that? I honestly can’t think of a non-permanent exhibit to Darwin or evolution as a whole that I have ever seen in any museum (though as ever I may have just missed them). Many do have them, great, but for those that don’t, to have to wait for such an anniversary seems a bit silly to say the least.

Still, the work is being done and the word is being spread. For this we must be grateful, and I am certainly pleased that the IVPP are doing their part.


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