Palaeontological illustration is not a career. It’s not a profession, and almost certainly isn’t even a living. Artists are quite cagey about how much, or little, they make at this game, so making definitive statements is difficult. But at a guess, I would say that the number of people making a living doing paleontological illustration alone is in the low single digits. Maybe as low as three, two, or none. A lot of the big names don’t make a living, or do something else to supplement their artwork, like model-making or illustrating other subjects.- From Palaeontological Illustration, a Tell-All Confession by John Conway.
Reading this reminded me once again of the minor paleoart controversy stoked in spring of 2011, specifically Greg Paul's missive to the Dinosaur Mailing List, chastising Mark Witton, among others, for taking a similarly bleak view on the prospects of paleontological illustration as a career path in its own right. As I've worked to establish myself as a freelancer myself (though in graphic design, not illustration) and kept an eye on the stunning work routinely produced by both professional and amateur paleoartists on the web, I've thought about that DML thread. I'd love to see all of these artists thrive doing paleoart, of course, but the point Conway makes here and others have made elsewhere, is well-taken: just like so many other creatives, paleoartists need to be flexible and diverse in their pursuits. The model Conway endorses in his new piece echoes what other artists, writers, and musicians are adopting: a direct relationship between creator and audience, free of middle-men.
Read the rest of Conway's post linked above, and pick up a copy of Dinosaur Art, which features quite a nice sampling of his work.