How do paleoartists support themselves? It's hard enough for any artist, and illustrating ancient taxa and environments is a niche pursuit. Add to that the significant investment of time, equipment, and research effort required to make an original piece of paleoart that can stand up to scrutiny, and the challenges are obvious. It's damned hard to make a living doing it.
Some have taken to Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that allows for monthly pledges from a base of patrons to supplement, and hopefully sustain, careers. Having seen a number of my comrades take to Patreon over the last year or so, I've delved in and assembled a list of all of the paleoart Patreon campaigns I could find. Since there's not a huge list at the moment, I also included other dinosaur-related projects that deserve attention. Please feel free to add any in the comments that I may have missed.
Not all of these are Scientific Illustration in the strictest sense, but I'm of a mind that creative work that honors contemporary paleontological science and thoughtfully depicts ancient life in a way that provokes curiosity should be part of the conversation. Can a work like Mike Keesey's Paleocene spark an interest in paleontology even though it features talking animals? Of course it can.
Paleoart is part of the larger effort of paleontological outreach, and is therefore dependent on how much money flows to publishing researchers and their institutions. In an ideal world, researchers would earn enough to live comfortably and their work would be sufficiently funded to pay illustrators enough to do the same. While it's true that we arguably have more paleoartists turning out work than at any other point in history—flooding the market as it were—we also live in a time of unprecedented discovery and description of new taxa. The public deserves to have richly illustrated paleoart accompanying many of these publications, and scientists and artists deserve the compensation to fill that need.
Until we're closer to that ideal world, most paleoartists who hope to make a career of it have to add self-promotion, business management, and website development to their already-full plate. To sell their wares, they may choose one of many print-on-demand services like Zazzle, Society6, Redbubble, or DeviantArt. If they are able, they may choose to produce and fulfill prints on their own, with the risks and labor inherent in that.
Thanks for reading! I hope this post sends a few pledges these folks' way. While I've been busy enough with freelance projects and work that I've not been able to devote much time to LITC lately, I have a couple paleoart-related projects on the burners, with which I hope to address the needs of paleoartists and the sustainability of the craft as a field. Stay tuned for more on this over the next several months.