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Paleo-Science Artists; A Unique Blend

Updated on October 22, 2020
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Kathi writes about fossils and other earthly subjects, plus the natural fauna of Michigan, features in her community, poetry, and more.

Don't you agree it's interesting how people follow certain paths in life to ultimately discover what they do best? In the case of artists who draw fossils and their interpretations of the once living beings, I find them especially fascinating! After reading several bios, I learned that many of them started as doodling young children often scolded in school for their paleo-scribbles. Some of them were interested in dinosaurs to the degree of obsession and it grew from there. Later, they went to school to be paleontologists, but after a dose of reality as to how many years of college it would require, some decided to take a detour in their paths.

Others were artists first with an interest in natural science. They entered college to hone in on their artistic skills subsidizing them with a combination of paleontology, geology and/or anatomy in order to accurately render prehistoric animals based on fossil remains. Then there are those who were influenced as young children by their parents, as in the case of natural history artist, Karen Carr. At any rate, many natural history artists or paleo-artists have thriving careers motivated by the passion to draw, paint or sculpt extinct animals as well as living species. Without their unique blend of expertise, we would sadly be left wondering what thousands of prehistoric animal's might have looked like in the flesh.

One consistency without a doubt among successful paleo-artists, is that they are a well educated sort who skillfully combine science, art and technology! I have featured five artists, all of which have websites with links provided below their write-ups so you can see more of their art, learn more interesting facts about them and even purchase their various products for the offering. You can also learn where their artwork may be publicly displayed or information about their traveling exhibits.


Joseph Marovec

Josef Marovec
Josef Marovec
Precambrian Earth (4600 - 570mya)
Precambrian Earth (4600 - 570mya)
Cambrian Seascape (570-550mya)
Cambrian Seascape (570-550mya)
Plesiosaurus (Jurassic Period)
Plesiosaurus (Jurassic Period)
Wooly Mammoth  (Pleistocene Period 10,000 years ago)
Wooly Mammoth (Pleistocene Period 10,000 years ago)

Josef Moravec

Josef Moravec is an example of a paleo-artist who was fascinated with the prehistoric world since early childhood. It happened when he first caught glimpses of museum dioramas and reconstructed fossils. Visions of enormous sea creatures and landscapes uninhabited by humans containing giant dinosaurs captured his young imagination. Josef first began drawing dinosaurs at the young age of three and created his first oil painting at the age of ten.


Although formally schooled in graphics, he studied the “Old Masters” such as Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt. Clearly their influence can be seen in his beautiful works. Josef’s most important influence has been Czech paleo-artist Zdenek Burian, whom he has admired and studied from a young age. His abilities for painting prehistoric scenes with realistic renderings have been accomplished partially by his tireless studies in paleontology and anatomy. He’s a known master paleo-artist who can interpret skeletal remains, often incomplete, with detailed accuracy. His work is highly respected and receives praise from Natural History Museums throughout Europe and the United States.


Josef's work represents the entire range of the time scale. On his website there is the added bonus with detailed descriptions of the time period animals and other interesting facts depicted in his paintings.

Glendon Mellow

The Flying Trilobite by Glendon Mellow
The Flying Trilobite by Glendon Mellow
Ammonite Form
Ammonite Form
Encrinurus Trilobite
Encrinurus Trilobite
Trilobite Boy with gargoyles
Trilobite Boy with gargoyles

Glendon Mellow

Glendon Mellow synthesizes art, biology and evolution with a high degree of creativity and imagination. He likes to paint fanciful and surreal images of Earth's earliest organisms on canvas and shale. Shale is an interesting choice of medium since many fossils are discovered within the earthly material. It results in an interesting authenticity to his paleo-art. Trilobites are among his most popular subjects to paint. They were one of Earth's first dominant complex organisms beginning as early as the Cambrian Period some 550 million years ago! As arthropods possessing a hard exoskeleton, they left an enormous amount of fossil evidence for scientists to study and a popular subject matter for natural history artists to render.

Glendon Mellow's inspirational statements taken from his website:

"Regard the resilient stony success of the legions of trilobite species waiting in the rocks."

"I can stand here, separated by 550 million years and look at this long dead animal and understand some things about it. I can imagine adventures for it. The absurdity of unimaginable time, and my eyes and hands crafting an image of a fossil still make me shake my head in wonder."


Emily Damstra

Emily Damstra
Emily Damstra
DEVONIAN AMMONITE
DEVONIAN AMMONITE
DEVONIAN HORN CORAL
DEVONIAN HORN CORAL
Indonesian Fish
Indonesian Fish
DEVONIAN GASTROPODS (SNAILS)
DEVONIAN GASTROPODS (SNAILS)

Emily Damstra

Since 2000, Emily's been involved with freelance science illustration full-time. Including Paleozoic fossils, she works on any natural science subject in a variety of media for various audiences and applications worldwide. Her work is very detailed and refined; something you might see in a science journal. She creates distinctive illustrations for businesses, individuals, publishers, non-profit, advertising and design firms. I first caught sight of her work while web searching information about horn corals when her heliophyllum, halli drawing showed up. I was mesmerized by the quality of her work and by never having seen a live rendition. Emily resides in the Great Lakes Region of North America.

The Indonesian Fish is one of her most recent illustrations - Quote "A watercolor and gouache painting of a newly described Indonesian fish. It is based upon the detailed descriptions, measurements, and (with permission) color photographs found in the 2010 paper by Gerald R. Allen and Mark V. Erdmann in the journal aqua: Two new species of Calumia (Teleostei: Eleotridae) from West Papua, Indonesia. As far as I know, it’s the only existing illustration of the species at this time."

Sean Craven

Sean's personal bio from the Art Evolve website is not only interesting, but it's also a fun read about how his life path lead him to a paleo-art career. I thought for the purpose of this article it would be most entertaining to show it here in its entirety.

Hey, everybody! I’m Sean Craven and I have to confess that I’m not exactly sure how to approach this bio piece. See, in the past I’ve usually used these autobiographies as an excuse to either lie or tell deprecating truths about myself. But I’m trying to kick the habit…

I’m a writer, artist, and musician based in Berkeley, California, where I live with my spouse Karen Casino. I come from a blue-collar background and started working as a janitor and child-care assistant when I was thirteen and, with occasional breaks for education, I stayed in the workforce until my late thirties.

While I’m currently a full-time student, in the past I have made a living by writing internet cartoon scripts and my art has appeared in a variety of magazines. I’m also the art director and assistant editor of a small-press literary magazine, Swill. Right now I’m trying to find a way to make a living in some kind of creative capacity. My novel-in-progress is my main focus but I’m also trying to put my art out into the world. It’s all a gamble but hey. If you don’t play you can’t win, right?

I was lucky enough to have Maurice Lapp for my first art teacher. He had a classic approach to teaching art and everything I’ve got has its roots in what he taught me. Since those first lessons I’ve supplemented my education with classes in everything from botanical illustration to architectural perspective. But while I’ve studied a lot of the best current paleo artists, my scientific illustration and reconstruction techniques are self-taught.

Dinosaurs were the first real obsession I ever had; it’s interesting that I didn’t start trying to draw them until I was in my thirties, when I picked up a copy of Predatory Dinosaurs Of The World by Gregory Paul. This fit into a pattern – I’d find myself drifting away from my interest in paleontology only to run across some piece of media that captured my imagination and sucked me right back in.

When I was a small child, it was plastic dinosaurs. When I was in the fourth grade it was Robert Bakker’s Dinosaur Renaissance article in Scientific American. When I was a teenager, it was The Dinosaurs by William Stout, Bryon Preiss, and William Service. Then Predatory Dinosaurs Of The World. My most recent, and most serious involvement sprang from… Okay, it was the comic book Cavewoman by Budd Root. In the back of the comic he recommended Prehistoric Times magazine. I was intrigued, I got a subscription, and I fell in love with Tracy Ford's, How To Draw Dinosaurs column.

My first real introduction to the blogosphere came when Brian Switek of Laelaps used my Cambrian cartoon, first published in Prehistoric Times magazine, in a blog post.


I have two different approaches to paleo art. With one I start off with a good photograph of a mounted skeleton or a skeletal diagram. I figure out a pose, then trace the skeleton to fit the pose.

After that I flesh the animal out, basing my approach on as much research as is possible.


At other times, I prefer to work more loosely, drawing from my imagination.


In the future, I hope to bring these two approaches closer to one another, adding accuracy and detail to my imaginary drawings and adding life and flexibility to my more scientific pieces. I’m really thrilled to have been asked to join the Art Evolved crew and I hope you enjoy my efforts.

Karen Carr

Karen Carr
Karen Carr
Anomolocaris 500mya (Cambrian)
Anomolocaris 500mya (Cambrian)
Mortoniceras Ammonite (Cretateous)
Mortoniceras Ammonite (Cretateous)
Dimetrodon & Edaphosaurus (Jurassic)
Dimetrodon & Edaphosaurus (Jurassic)

Karen Carr

Karen Carr is one of today’s most accomplished wild-life and natural history artists with many of her works spread across the globe. What shaped her amazing life’s work? Well, her father was an artist and sculptor, Bill Carr, and her mother was a scientist. Shake these two influences up in a blender and vwa-la, out comes a brilliant and talented science artist. In due course, she headed for college to study fine arts and subsequently took graduate courses in anatomy and business. With much respect, she apprenticed under her father for several years after she graduated.

Her most recent art projects include major illustrations for prestigious organizations such as the Smithsonian Institute, the Audubon Society, Random House, and Harper Colins. She has also authored and illustrated more than a half-dozen books for young readers. In addition to the institutions already listed, she has worked with some of the most prominent research organizations and scientific publications including The Royal Tyrell, Museums of Paleontology, Scientific American, Science, The Dinosaurs Society and more. You can also find her lecturing in the classroom about the transition to digital art which you can learn more about on her website linked below.

In addition to painting traditional style prints for various uses, Karen also paints large murals displayed on museum walls in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Some are massive in size up to sixty feet long depicting the actual size of giant dinosaurs. Her art is realistic and beautifully detailed with the use of rich tones.

When she's not painting or lecturing, Karen spends time with her family in the mountains of southwestern New Mexico where they enjoy horseback riding, camping, bird watching and other outdoor activities.

Jurassic mural stands two stories tall and 60ft long
Jurassic mural stands two stories tall and 60ft long
Early Humans Sharing Food
Early Humans Sharing Food

© 2011 Kathi Mirto

working

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