Monday, August 27, 2012


I haven’t done any book reviews on Land of the Dead because many of the paleontology books I read are filled with descriptions of bones and detailed analyses of evolutionary relationships.  Interesting for me, but pretty dry stuff for the non-specialist.  However, the just published volume, Dinosaur Art, is a different kind of book, one that both paleontologists and non-paleontologists will find fascinating.The specifics are Steve White (editor) 2012 Dinosaur Art: The World's Greatest PaleoArt.  Titan Books: 188 pages. $34.95

With a few notable exceptions, much of the fossil record of past animal life consists of only hard parts ---- jaws, teeth, shells, bones. In the case of many fossil vertebrates, skeletons may be diagnostically different but incomplete, sometimes woefully so. Given a good enough skeleton, or enough partial remains, a complete reconstruction of the skeleton can be undertaken.  That’s often as far as it goes for paleontologists.  Fleshing out those bones and bringing the dead, and the environment they lived in, back to life falls to those talented artists who specialize in paleontological art.  I’m not talking about scientific illustration, which serves technical publications by carefully and accurately showing anatomical details.  Rather these paleoartists, working in close collaboration with paleontologists, restore the past denizens of our planet in their full glory.  Their awesome talents leave us with our most striking visions of those long lost worlds.

The Cretaceous mammal Repenomamus robustus carrying off a young dinosaur.  Fossils of this mammal have been found with the bones of its last meal, hatchling Psittacosaurus dinosaurs, preserved in its stomach area (artist: Julius Csotonyi).

In the late Cretaceous of Asia a Tarbosaurus invites two Gallimimus to brunch (artist: John Conway).

Dinosaur Art: The World’s Greatest PaleoArt is a sumptuous book, a visual treat featuring numerous pieces by 10 of the world’s leading practitioners of these dark arts. It is oversized, allowing for large size reproductions which makes the pieces really shine.  The cover art, by Raul Martin, showing the giant Cretaceous crocodilian Deinosuchus preparing to dine on a tyannosaurid Albertosaurus, is one of the most striking pieces of paleoart I have ever seen.  It is dramatic, powerful, realistic, and certainly draws one’s attention to the book.  I don’t see how one cannot fail but to open this volume after seeing the cover.  Given the very large number of beautiful illustrations and the very high quality of those reproductions the $34.95 price is quite reasonable.

The remarkable large, horned, South American predatory dinosaur Carnotaurus sastrei (artist: Luis Rey).
Gone are the days of a restored dinosaur standing still on a blank background. Modern paleoartists often recreate not just the animal but the total environment it lived in, frequently in spectacular detail.  The scene is sometimes shown from an intriguing angle, a lizard’s view looking up at a massive sauropod dinosaur or a pterosaur’s view of a dinosaur herd as it soars effortlessly above the behemoths. Modern paleoartists use a wide range of media.  Acrylics, oils, pencil, ink, digital, and digital and photographic combinations are used to render powerful and dynamic images. Some are so detailed and realistic that they seem to be photographs of living animals.

Leedsichthys, a whale sized filter-feeding fish of the Mesozoic ocean (artist: Robert Nicholls).

360 million years ago, giant eurypterid sea scorpions (Pterygodus), swim above  the sea floor of New York (artist: Doug Henderson).

Each chapter in Dinosaur Art highlights a single artist.  In addition to showcasing the  artwork there is an interview with each artist that provides insight into how they became interested in paleoart, their approaches and techniques, which media they prefer and why, their inspirations, and many other fascinating details about these necromancers.

The long legged, running crocodilian Kaprosuchus saharicus, from the Late Cretaceous of Niger (artist: Todd Marshall).

Bad day at the tar pits, as a sabre-toothed cat (Smilodon) attacks an already entrapped giant ground sloth, Paramylodon (artist: Mauricio Anton).

The title Dinosaur Art is a wee bit misleading, although it will help sell the book.  Granted the bulk of the art is of dinosaurs, but there are many other fossil vertebrates featured, ranging from Paleozoic amphibians to Pliocene hominids. Maruricio Anton, one of the artists, specializes just in  rendering fossil mammals and Cenozoic environments.  The book focuses solely on two dimensional art, so no sculptures are shown. 

Towering nearly 15 feet tall, the aptly named Gigantoraptor, both toothless and feathered, struts its stuff in the Cretaceous of Asia (artist: Raul Martin).
The crocodilian Pristachampsus runs down two early horses (Hyracotherium) (artist: John Sibbick).

In this post I have reproduced one piece from each artist, to give you a sense of the book’s beauty and the range of fossil vertebrates illustrated.  It was difficult to pick just one, as there are many illustrations for each artist. If you find these interesting or enjoyable, get a copy of this book.  You will not be disappointed.  You will be amazed and enthralled.
Two giant pterosaurs (Quetzalcoatlus northropi) exchange insults with a juvenile T. rex (artist: Greg Paul).

1 comment:

  1. I love the look of your website, and the information is always fascinating. I check occasionally, to browse through your current posting (gorgeous art) and to catch up on any postings that I've missed, so I just saw the one on jellyfish. I live in the SF bay area and have been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium several times. Love the jellyfish! And your photos are wonderful.
    Thanks for a great website.