Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dinosaur Art: it's quite pretty

Following David's review (not to mention Dave Hone's and Brian Switek's, whoever he is) is going to be quite some work. At the back of my mind is the persistent fear that I'll lose what respect (if any) you lot already had for me when you finally realise that I really don't know what I'm talking about. Far more importantly, publishers might not feel inclined to send me any more shiny shiny books in the mail for me to gloat over on Facebook.

Never mind, though. Wish me luck! And remember, all images are © the artist concerned and are used with the kind permission of Titan Books. Steal them and they will deploy the Lawyer-Bots.

Diplodocus by Raúl Martín
Dinosaur Art is a coffee table book par excellence; it's huge, glossy and every single page is slathered with visually arresting artworks. Both David and Dave have remarked that the book's title can occasionally seem something of a misnomer; on a few occasions, that ever-popular diapsid reptile clade takes a break that lasts a number of pages. Indeed, Mauricio Antón's (beautiful) chapter only contains one of the blighters across no fewer than sixteen pages (oh yes it does - it's in the sky, page 62). I have no quibbles with this, however. Let's face it - dinosaurs are inevitably the headline-grabbers, and it's a struggle to think of a snappier title. What's more, it's also quite a provocative title that marries two words rarely seen side-by-side in the popular media.

As has already been noted, the print quality is excellent, and shows off some artwork in a new light. David has remarked on some of the photo-composite work suffering a little, and I'll have to agree - while of course none of it approaches If Dinosaurs Were Alive Today levels of "Look, ma! Photoshop!" cringe, the contrast between the photographic elements and the animals can be jarring. On the other hand, some artists' work benefits hugely from such a quality reproduction, and that includes John Conway, who works predominantly in the digital medium. Having only ever seen his work online, it was a revelation to view it in this book - it really comes alive. Sibbick's work is even more mind-boggling than usual, and it's simply marvelous to see his hyper-detailed preliminary sketches.

Aucasaurus attacking titanosaur nests, by John Sibbick
The choice of artists is bound to be rather divisive. I know a lot of people have mixed feelings about Luis Rey's work (I'm a fan), and David mentioned that maybe Greg Paul should've been left out (or switched for someone else) as he doesn't really 'fit'. While I might be tempted to agree simply because he casually dismisses my beloved Zdeněk Burian (the cad!) and espouses dodgy taxonomy (yes, even here), his artwork is still bloody gorgeous. In particular, I found it fascinating to see the evolution of his Giraffatitan piece over the decades - from rubber-necked '70s-o-pods to the more robust-looking, spiny beasts as featured in his Field Guide.

If there was something that I wish I could have seen more of in this book then it would have to be the science behind the art, and more particularly the artists' reasoning behind some of the necessary speculative decisions they had to make when creating a piece. For example - why does John Conway illustrate his theropods with 'lips', whereas Robert Nicholls opts for exposed gums? Why does Julius Csotonyi only feather the arms (and very minimally, the backs) of his tyrannosaurs? While it's absolutely fascinating to learn of the artistic techniques being deployed, and how they have evolved over time, a little more of the history of some of the pieces - and the decisions that went into them - wouldn't have gone amiss.

Brachylophosaurus and Daspletosaurus, by Julius Csotonyi
Of course, this is all a reflection of my own biases and interests - which might seem like an Attack of the Obvious, but do allow me to explain. Given my lack of artistic training and insight, I am naturally more interested in the scientific side of things. If you have a keen interest in the art from a purely artistic perspective, you are bound to get more from this book than if you are simply a comparatively ignorant and uncultured dinosaur nut suffering a quarter-life crisis.

Still, I am very keen to make it clear that I am not really complaining; you can never please everyone, but absolutely anyone with an interest in dinosaurs, or prehistoric animals more broadly, will get something out of this book - even if they just stare at the flabbergasting Raúl Martín cover for days on end. I very much enjoyed reading it, and still regularly peruse the pages and find something new in a work I thought I was very familiar with.

So buy it. It also has Todd Marshall, who is awesome and that's the end of it.

Rugops primus by Todd 'Awesome' Marshall


  1. "If there was something that I wish I could have seen more of in this book then it would have to be the science behind the art, and more particularly the artists' reasoning behind some of the necessary speculative decisions they had to make when creating a piece."

    Out of curiosity, was this part of your review influenced by my 1st comment in Orr's review or just coincidental? In any case, thanks for including it in your review. I was originally hoping for something like "Dinosaur Imagery" w/newer paleoart, but that doesn't seem to be the case now. If I do get "Dinosaur Art", it won't be for my Serious Dino Book collection (the most important rule of which is that a book must be about dino lives/evolution to some extent).

    "a comparatively ignorant and uncultured dinosaur nut suffering a quarter-life crisis"

    That's me alright.

    "Rugops primus by Todd 'Awesome' Marshall"

    Is Rugops known from fossil evidence to have hand claws? I haven't yet been able to get a clear answer.

    1. I would still urge you to get it. But I'm hushing for now and saving my thoughts for my section. I think it still passes muster among a Serious Dino Book Collection for the sheer quality of work represented alone.

      Blast, I should have saved that sentence too.

    2. I did take a quick look at the comments on David's article yesterday, but it's honestly just coincidence.

      I don't know about the hand claws for Rugops. As far as I'm aware its arms are unknown, but it probably didn't have them, or they were quite minimal. I'm not sure how old that Todd piece is (I would check in the book, but I'm at work...)


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