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Sep. 12, 2012

Paleoartists Flesh out Fossil Finds

by Annette Heist

Click to enlarge images
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Close your eyes and picture a dinosaur. If you're a paleontologist, you might imagine a dusty fossil poking out of a dry, barren landscape. The other 99.999 percent of us probably have artists to thank for the dinosaur images our brains conjure up.
 
The work of ten such artists is featured in the new book Dinosaur Art: The World's Greatest Paleoart (Titan Books, 2012), edited by Steve White. In a brief introductory chapter White, an artist himself, traces the history of paleoart, and the influence that paleoartists have had on the interpretation of the fossil record (including the debate over the relationship of dinosaurs to birds).
 
 
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White also laments the damage done to the public's understanding of dinosaurs when art takes precedence over science. He cites Jurassic Park as a prime example of how "films can do serious damage to their subject matter."  As he writes: "Anyone in the know...would tell you that Tyrannosaurus could not out-run a jeep." (Although he recognizes that those same less-than-scientific images can pique the public's interest.)
 
 
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Tucked between the many full-page (and spectacular) illustrations in the book are bios of the featured artists and first-person accounts of their inspiration, methodology and tools. Many of the artists' careers started with a pencil drawing sometime in grade school, and have progressed to Photoshop, though as White writes "there is still a lot to be said for pencils and acrylics and oils."
 
 
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Even though the illustrators may take some artistic license (in color choice and pattern, for example), the ten artists White profiles are as concerned with dinosaur anatomy and ecology as they are with fantastic images.
 
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About Annette Heist

Annette Heist is a former senior producer for Science Friday.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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