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March 23, 2007
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The Theory

Journal Entry: Fri Mar 23, 2007, 11:38 AM

<img class='logo' src='palaeo.jconway.co.uk/_images/l… / width='75px' height='100px'> palaeo'jconway'co'uk AKA palaeo'pterus'net
Visit my palaontographical website, and get a free dinosaur!


I'm going to take a stab at something positive, rather than just moaning about the lacklustre state of palaeontography. Let's start building a theory:

It seems to me that there are two basic approaches to palaeontography, firstly as a personal account of how we see nature; lets call it "personal naturalism", and secondly, as a visual representation of science; we'll call that "scientific visualisation".

i. Personal Naturalism
The first we've all been doing for quite some time, but without any guts. A lot of leading artists these days (not naming names), have virtually indistinguishable styles. No one's style is "out there". The solution is probably to have more faith in ourselves as artists, and develop styles as if no one were looking. How we see nature is as much about what we think is unimportant as what is important. Reality is not a photograph, and what we perceive is base more on what we focus our attention on than what is out there.

Traditionally palaeoart has done some playing with this: think Doug Henderson's emphasis on landscape versus Greg Paul's emphasis on anatomy. Both often leave out, or simplify the other concerns. We need more of that, too many people are thinking "if I could put Greg Paul dinosaurs in a Doug Henderson landscape, it will be twice as good!" Surpise! Wrong! And there are themes to be explored in this way, that so far haven't been: behaviour being an obvious one off the top of my head.

ii. Scientific Visualisation
The more conceptual and challenging approach is to take the science and make it visual. What does evolution look like? What does homology look like? How could we represent palaeoecology visually?

The trick is to make this an aesthetic experience, and hence art, rather than just make neat diagrams and graphs (although that would certainly be one way to approach it). The scientific visualisation approach is about conceptual reality, not visual reality. The game is to sneak new concepts into people's brains while giving them aesthetic experience.

The two approaches are not mutually exclusive, indeed, one will inform the other. If a piece of art lacks in both regards, it shall be regarded as vacuous and be derided as drivel by all serious palaeontographers. Thoughts?

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:iconoutlier:
Outlier Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2007
...marching in late on the conversation...

Nicely put - hadn't thought about the impossibility of meshing Paul and Henderson.

I think my development was some sort of parallel process, interest in art and dinosaurs since my first book (2 or 3 years old). But I drew other things as I wanted to be a good artist, and was interested in other aspects of science (cosmology and natural history being the main players). So I think I went through the more traditional 'artists' path, with an interest in other things that infulenced the subject matter (dinosaurs and sci fi), but did work at drawing from life (people, objects, landscapes) and trying different media. And was interested in history of art and different styles etc., as parents used had a couple of small art galleries over the years which influenced me as I grew up. Generally like most art up until Dali, then it all just got silly (though do like some later artists - actually really like Brett Whitely)

Personally my favourite styles are impressionism and art nouvaeu, and sketches like da vinci could whip out. So I do try to weave that in when I can. But only seem to get the chance to draw a few times a year.

Anyway, enough about me...

So, are you separating ';palaeontography' from more technical scientific illustration? If so I would place Paul more in an illustration category, he's showing informative detail that probably wouldn't be visible in real life, and Henderson edging more towards the artistic ';palaeontography'. Something about conveying for the 'look, feel and atmosphere'. Art vs Illustration

Stout, a personal favouite of mine, I would definitely put in the latter category.
It's easy to forget that in his day there were few artists depicting dinosaurs as anatomically correct as he was, or at least knew the skeletal anatomy behind the art. (I mention Stout again in another reply above)

Knight had tackled this in an interesting way - quite a pioneer (when you compare his work to those before him, which mostly was bizzarre). Cast improvements in anatomical accuracy and style.
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:iconbensen-daniel:
bensen-daniel Featured By Owner May 20, 2007
Oh, and the point about Greg Paul versus Doug Henderson is very well taken. I thought _exactly_ that "why can't we have both" thing back in high school.
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:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner May 22, 2007
Me too. Then I saw it done, and thought "this is shite".
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:iconbensen-daniel:
bensen-daniel Featured By Owner May 20, 2007
Very insightful. You've summed up most of what I think about paleontography. Its gotten increasingly hard to keep doing as I've turned away from the science aspect. What is the point of a painting of a Velociraptor other than "hey, this is what a Velociraptor looks like"?
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:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner May 22, 2007
If you do it, maybe some point -- because you're pretty much the only one with a really distinctive style.
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:iconbensen-daniel:
bensen-daniel Featured By Owner May 22, 2007
:) So instead it should be "hey, this is what I made." :)

Thanks for the vote of confidence, John. Coming from you that means a hell of a lot.
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:icongreensprite:
GreenSprite Featured By Owner May 16, 2007  Professional Digital Artist
Now... this gives me a very interesting idea. I mean especially that bit about "Reality is not a photograph, and what we perceive is base more on what we focus our attention on than what is out there."
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:iconscotthartman:
ScottHartman Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2007  Professional Digital Artist
Good stuff John; I'm glad to see you spending some more time on your paleontography. I couldn't agree more about the need for paleoartists (err, -ogrophers) to develop differnet styles, and especially to understand where Greg Paul is accurate, vs where he is simply emphasizing the musculature.

Of course my life reconstructions are flagrant offenders in terms of lacking a strong aesthetic basis, but then I don't claim to be an artist. When I do life reconstructions they are usually for a specific educational need, and are not intended as much else.
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:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2007
Don't worry, scientists are exempt from my the wrath of the new palaeontographical (r)evolution! People (like myself) who consider themselves artists, however, better watch out.
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:iconashere:
Ashere Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2007  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Again, I'm stuck between my desire to call myself an artist and my desire to bring an animal to life to demonstrate the flesh on the bones.
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:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2007
You can to both. It's damn hard, but no one said it was meant to be easy. Like most things worth doing in life, it will take years of thinking, practice, and hard work.
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:iconnemo-ramjet:
nemo-ramjet Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2007
I think the root of these problems has a lot to do with a fact that no one wants to admit: There are not many paleographers with artistic training. Too many people (myself included) started p.graphy with the "dragon/alien/schoolbook doodle" foundation and never felt the need to improve upon it, aestethically. As a result, the emphasis on accuracy sometimes reduced everything else, making the pictures boring to everyone outside a select group of people.
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:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2007
Agreed, it seems a very typical development scenario is comics->fantasy/dragon art->dinosaur art->;palaeontological art. (Mine was more like dinosaur art->i8th century landscape painting->aesthetic minimalism->;palaeontological art.)

I usually like to go gentle on that because people can escape their aesthetic roots, and I'd rather gently encourage them to broaden their artistic horizons than beat them over the head with how aesthetically stunted they are. Although I have to admit I'm often quite disappointed in the taste of my fellow palaeontographers.
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:iconashere:
Ashere Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2007  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
For me, it was very different. I started with dinosaurs, developed accuracy (or orthodoxy...) and then started applying what I'd learned to dragons. Then I learned about the fun of monsterous details and charachter, and i then reapplied that to dinosaurs.
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:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2007
Hmm, circuitous. I can see in your drawing that you followed a slightly different path to a lot of others. But you touched on something there the "accuracy" we all talk about is just orthodoxy. There are other ways to be accurate.
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:iconashere:
Ashere Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2007  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Such as?
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:iconsainte-vincient:
Sainte-Vincient Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2007  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Haha! I love that you address the Paul and Henderson thing. I actually had a paleontologist tell me that I needed to attempt that project. I found out it's pretty much impossible. The result SUCKS! There's no focus and too much going on.

You have articulated my personal feelings about this much better than I have ever been able to. I've been stabbing in the dark to find a way to achieve this harmonious fusion of scientific and truly artistic thinking.

As you state behaviour is becoming much more important to me. I attempt to put myself in the animal's skin and mind while working and behave as they would (not where people can see!) I'm really big on anatomical accuracy but in a different way from Paul (do you know he's never done dissection personally?) His approach to anatomy has been mostly visual. I seek out anatomical accuracy in the way a figure artist does; the anatomy must be correct or it looks wrong and therefore unbelievable, but the important thing is that the image speaks to the heart.

Thinking of portraying evolution through time begins to bring up the question of what role abstraction should play in this field. I'll leave that to really good minds with IQs fit for muscling such things.

It will be interesting to see what sort of path we (all of the younger set looking for a way out of artistic constipation) forge toward reaching a vision that works. I think that you are framing the debate nicely, if somewhat tentatively. :handshake:
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:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2007
Once I've set off in some direction I'll be happier. I'm all talk at the moment, in the hope that if I don't do it, someone else will. I think ~nemo-ramjet is a lot further along to realisation than I am.
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:iconsainte-vincient:
Sainte-Vincient Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2007  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Talk is important; it lets out what's going on internally and allows others to ruminate on it as well. You certainly have me thinking. I have a feeling that any change in our field will not resemble a revolution. The process will be far more evolutionary, with many of us branching off in our own directions from the basic idea that the way we work now it insufficient. I think you are probably just vocalizing what many of us have been feeling without having the courage to actually break the shackles of "tradition," and "orthodoxy" because everyone else is working that way and it seems to work. The important thing is that we actually find a way out of the morass.
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:iconashere:
Ashere Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2007  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I agree. I've been working to break myself out of the rut since I last posted, and i would welcome suggestions (in fact demand might be a better word :wink/razz:) on where I could go.
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:iconashere:
Ashere Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2007  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
gahh, bloody smilies.
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:iconashere:
Ashere Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2007  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
ummm. Yes, I agree, but (heres the reactionary side talking) I hesitate to sacrifice accuracy in pursuit of a style. I know that thats a bad thing, but there you go. However,-and here's the reasonable side talking- I agree with what your saying. I just don't know how to get the style I want. Personally, I love William Stout's Work, because of its incredible composition and detail. His stuff is unique. And creativity, sadly, is a hard act to follow.
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:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2007
Here's something to think about: "accuracy" as it is known in our little circle has actually come to mean a particular style, rather than an insistence on being correct. You can't see most of the muscle lines GSP puts on his dinosaurs in living animals. Conversely, leaving things out, when the style suggests that things like that would be left out, is not inaccuracy - to make that clearer: you always leave things out in drawings, because you can't draw everything. What you leave out is up to you, and not nearly so narrow as out little artistic tradition would have you think.

Re. Stout. Stout's style is actually pretty standard Art Nouveau poster art. Here's the trick: take a random art style from history, and render dinosaurs using it. You'll be amazed at how unique the result looks.
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:iconashere:
Ashere Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2007  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Wow. Thanks I'll try that.
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:iconoutlier:
Outlier Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2007
Yeah, I'm a big fan of Stout's (mention him in a reply way below). But I'd add there's a couple of other art styles in his work - his oils are heavily influence by impressionism and also the poster art of Frank Frazzetta (who influenced all the artists that do the Connan the Barbarian type cover art). (Out of interest, Australian heavy rock band Wolfmother have a Frazzetta painting on the front of their debut CD). Look up Frazzetta's website, I'm sure you'll recognise his stuff or recognise the style he started.
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:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2007
It's a great little trick that will teach you a lot about painting too.
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:iconsainte-vincient:
Sainte-Vincient Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2007  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Refusing to sacrifice accuracy for style is not a weakness, Asher. Even the great artists that have given us such strange and provocative modern works started out in schools and ateliers drawing from casts. Accuracy of eye and hand, as well as anatomy, is a prerequisite for really good work. You have to know the principles first; personal style comes with time. You're still young. Give it time.

Creativity should be defined as "Productive originality." It's highly personal. Don't get in the habit of thinking that it's a hard act to follow; you'll just start thinking that you're incapable of it. Not true. You have a lot of promise in your artwork.
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