Hello Ask a Biologist,

I have been drawing and painting dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures for a while now, and I am wondering what it is to be a "paleo-artist?"  Is there much need for prehistoric art?  What sorts of jobs are out there for "paleo-artists?"


There certainly is a need for palaeo-artists, especially as many of us palaeontologists are such awful artists ourselves. Typically 'scientific' (line) drawings of fossils will be done by palaeontologists, but I do know of at least one palaeontologist that has his own artist to do such drawings for him.

The main job of a palaeo-artist would be doing reconstructions - drawings of the critters as they would have looked in life. Such reconstructions necessarily owe as much, if not more, to art than science. Such jobs could come as commissions from palaeontologists (e.g. for a technical paper describing a new animal), a museum (e.g. for a large mural) or the popular media (newspapers etc.). I'm guessing most artists are necessarily freelance and rely heavily on a strong set of contacts, although some museums may have a resident artist position.

You might want to look up some of my favourite palaeo-artists:

John Sibbick: http://www.johnsibbick.com/
William Stout: http://www.williamstout.com/
Mauricio Anton: http://www.syncreta.com/associates/bios/anton_m.php

All have brief biographies that may be of interest.

Good luck!

"Palaeo-artist" is a fairly recent term. As a "palaeo artist" myself (whatever that means) I was told by professional palaeontologists that we were their "eyes"... we concretized their  investigative efforts and discoveries in imaginative trips to the past.

Not only paleo art is necessary but >diverse< paleo art is necessary. Palaeontology is not "hard science" (we are studying animals in environments that have both been extinct for many millions of years) and possibilities can flourish (at least in those areas that are open to interpretation); we have the possibility of translating that in many imaginative answers to the hard data that the study of fossils provide us.
It is the ultimate sleuth trip (with many possibly valid answers to many real problems)! The important thing to take in consideration as you do the restorations is that these were real animals, real products of evolution in real environments, so the animals have to be believable in those senses.

Regarding jobs: well... as I said, we need as many paleoartists as possible and I reckon it is not extremely easy to make a living from this, but the important thing is that you love and are convinced of what you do. Be yourself and forget that you are competing with so many people... the rest will come (or not!) naturally, but at least you will have the satisfaction of doing what you love to do. The most important thing is: do your homework. The science behind the palaeo-artwork is more important than the mastering of the art techniques (at least for me).
At least you can say that whatever is behind your artwork is solid and you did your best as a researcher.
Don't be afraid of mistakes or risks though... either your work becomes honorable memorabilia or simply can be re-reconstructed or updated with Photoshop at a later stage!

I collect the work of many of those fellow paleo art colleagues that I admire (for inspiration and they also help me to remind me >not< to do what they have done)... Many great names come to mind (adding to the list: Greg Paul, Douglas Henderson, Mark Hallett and Donna Braginetz among many) but above all I don't care for the work of slick professional artists whose work can pass as pretty illustrations but make lousy and careless reconstructions (many times copying other illustrations from the past)... originality and scientific accuracy are a must!

Keep going and yes I agree... good luck!

Luis Rey