Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dinosaur Art: 'Time Machine Enough'

I am at a considerable disadvantage, following up David, Marc and Asher. Not only am I in possession of an inferior brain to those of the authors of this blog, I also happen not to have a copy of Dinosaur Art to hand, and am having to rely largely on my recollection of leafing through this gorgeous book from when Marc kindly shared his copy with me.

Given its title, I had initially imagined the book to be not dissimilar to Dinosaur Imagery in presenting almost a miscellany of renowned names in contemporary palaeo art. I was pleasantly surprised to learn of its focus on just ten artists, which affords a more in-depth look at their oeuvre and methods, as the others have already pointed out. This was especially welcome to me as an illustrator myself. On the purported premise of its featuring the very best in the genre, however, no doubt everyone will have their own quibbles as to who was left out of this exalted group. And in this, I have to agree with David that the absence of Mark Hallet and Michael Skrepnik is a notable one.

Raúl Martín; Sauropods

Of the ten represented though, it heartens me to see that there does seem to be a degree of variety in terms of style and approach, and to see what might be regarded as 'newer' names in the palaeo art world sitting alongside the long-established greats. I confess at once that Robert Nicholls and John Conway, for instance, were artists whom I had only discovered within the last year or so. It is refreshing to contrast the latter's more stylised but highly atmospheric -- sometimes even elegiac -- digital illustrations with the exquisitely detailed and resolutely traditional gouache paintings of John Sibbick (to whom I kowtow); or to see two quite differing sides of the same coin in the works of Todd Marshall and Luis Rey, both of whom relish the opportunities for dramatic perspectives, postures, and wilder speculative features in their animals. Whilst Douglas Henderson's 'truly artistic approach to paleoart' breathtakingly ravishes every scientific and aesthetic sensibility with his evocative landscapes, convincingly populated by fauna. I do take Asher's point that the greater weight does still tend to fall on the naturalistic or photo-realistic approaches on the whole, and fully agree that the inclusion of William Stout would have added yet another facet of this world to this gem of a book.

Todd Marshall; Kaprosuchus

Allow me, if you will, a brief moment of self-indulgence from the perspective of a traditional artist. I readily admit that I myself am guilty of the 'hand-wringing' which David mentioned with regard to digital media changing the craft. The exquisite watercolours and coloured pencil pieces of  Julius Csotonyi were what made me fall in love with his work in the first place, and as much as I admire his stunningly wrought digital paintings, I lament that they seem to have supplanted his traditional work both in actual terms and insofar as they are represented in this book. A watercolour of Einosaurus is the sole instance of this here. I should so much have preferred several more in lieu of one or two of his less successful combinations of photography and digital painting.

Julius Cstonyi; Brachylophosaurus. Awarded The Lanzendorf PaleoArt Prize for Two-Dimensional Art (2010) by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology

I do agree with Marc that a little more light could have been shed on some of the decisions for certain idiosyncratic features the artists gave to their depictions. Though the whole science and art of restoration are so broad that I see how difficult these would be to bring into each interview, and one which would be better served by focusing on an individual work in its entirety than by random questions in amongst each section. But this would require many more pages and much more expense. For me, the 'highlight taxon' for each artist as mentioned by David suffices comparatively well enough in this effort for the book's purposes. I also recall that at least one blog reader was concerned that more is not made of dinosaur lives and evolution itself; but this, too, would be to make even more of an attempt to be 'all things to all readers', as Asher aptly pointed out.

My overall opinion, however, is quite simple: secure yourself a copy of this book with what despatch you may! Of its production values, I have little else to add. As has already been mentioned, the quality of the printing is sterling and the book is a treasure, appealing fully to the bibliophile and the dinosaur art lover in me. I even had to remonstrate with Marc regarding his customary cavalier handling of books when he brought his copy along. Even if does not, indeed, quite succeed in being all things to all readers, what it does offer in terms of insight into the artists' processes together with the wealth and quality of the images ought to earn it a place on the bookshelf of any dinosaur enthusiast of whatever degree.


  1. Phwoar, Niroot - your writing is as exquisite as your art. Beautiful blog post!

  2. After reading what everyone here has to say about DA, I'll wait until I can see it in person b-4 deciding.


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