Beginning his own relationship with the Children's Museum as an intern, Matt Tames went on to contribute artwork to the "Dragons Unearthed" exhibit, fancifully mixing paintings of dragons with those of dinosaurs. I asked Matt about his fascination with dinosaurs as well as his other interests and projects. He recently relocated from Indiana to Massachusetts. To see more of his work, I recommend you visit the sites he's set up for his freelance business, little BIG Illustrations and little BIG Pet Portraits. You can also follow him at Flickr. All images in this post are his property, of course.
When you were young, were you a kid who drew dinosaurs? Do you remember if you could distinguish dinosaurs as having been real animals rather than imaginary creatures?
When I was a kid I drew dinosaurs all the time, to the point where my parent got tired of me drawing dinosaurs. I knew the names of many dinosaurs when I was little, and I would read as much as I could about them. I always drew my dinosaurs as active animals, when I was little I didn't like the idea of T. rex walking down its prey, so I would draw it running or jumping.
How did you get involved with the Children's Museum? Had you been doing dragon artwork already or was it something you did just for them?
After I graduated IU I got an internship at the Museum. I was the Dino art and design intern. I would look at the interactive activities they had in the Dinosphere and try to work on new, engaging games for guests to play with. I created several activity diagrams and illustrations for the Museum to use. While I was an intern, Josh [Estes] and a few others saw my artwork and asked if I would like to do some contract artwork for the Museum after my internship ended. For several years I would come to the Dinosphere and create paleo art for guests to see and ask questions about. When the Museum got Dracorex, they approached me because they where in the process of swapping out some of the paleo art in the gallery and they wanted some artwork that would illustrate the connection between dragons and dinosaurs. I usually like to have some dinosaur influeces in my dragons to help ground them into reality. I had been drawing dragons almost as long as I have dinosaurs, and still do a lot of fantastical illustrations.
Do you have any favorite paleoartists, or particular pieces of artwork that inspire you?
I have always been a fan of Mark Hallett, Doug Henderson, Michael Skrepnick, and James Gurney. Mark Hallett was one of the first paleoartists I read about. I remember when I was little checking out the Zoobooks magazine on dinosaurs and gawking at all the illustrations he did for that issue. I didn't really discover Michael Skrepnick until I started working at the Museum. There I discovered all the hidden messages he put in some of his illustrations. He does some of the best sky's I've seen and his dinosaurs are very impressive. Doug Henderson's pastel paintings are amazing, his use of color is out of this world. I really like James Gurney's illustrative style, it reminds me of Rockwell. His Dinotopia series is very cool, and filled with some of the best paleo art out there.
Did you get a chance to visit museums when you were young? What kind of impression did they make on you, if so?
I always loved visiting zoos and museums. They were my favorite parts of summer vacations. We would frequent the Children's Museum, but also go to the Chicago Field Museum. I remember the first time I saw Sue the T. rex at the Field Museum, it was pretty awesome seeing her.
Can you talk a bit about your pet portrait business? Do you feel that there are similarities between capturing someone's beloved pet and a dinosaur that may be just as beloved to dinosaur lovers?
little BIG Pet Portraits has been a very fun side project. It allows me to draw and paint one of my other favorite subject matters. I love to draw dogs and cats, and I think a lot of people like to have an image of their furry friend they can keep forever. It's very similar to paleoart in many ways. Often I receive a picture of someone's pet and I need to create a painting that's interesting an accurate. The same process is done with my paleo art, I look at the bones to make sure my dinos are accurate, and then I need to make sure the illustration is fun and interesting.
Any works in progress or plans for future artwork? Any dream dinosaurs you think about painting?
That's a hard one, I've got a few paleoart pieces I've been chipping away at and hope to finish soon. I would love to do some illustrations of the new ceratopsians that were recently discovered (Utahceratops and Kosmoceratops). I'm still trying to wrap my head around some of Jack Horner's ideas that many species of dinosaurs were really different growth stages for other dinosaurs. I find it hard to accept that Triceratops is the same animal as Torosaurus, I don't see the advantage of losing a solid protective frill and gaining a long frill with large weight saving holes in it. I would also like to do a mural someday, and hopefully do some paleoart for the different science museums in Massachusetts too.
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Thanks to Matt for answering these questions, and also for putting me in contact with Josh Estes in the first place - it really was the spark for this series. Be sure to check out his print shop at Etsy. Besides his sites at little BIG Illustrations, little BIG Pet Portraits, and Flickr, you can also get in touch with him via Twitter and Facebook.