Speaking on behalf of Andy, Jon, and myself, we are always striving to make the PLOS Paleo Community a useful venue for our readers (and you can help us even more by taking the PLOS Blogs reader survey before February 15!). In addition to presenting and reviewing the latest in paleontology Open Access research, we would like to provide other resources for our community, so that you, dear readers, have access to the latest in techniques, tools, method, and information to make your life as a paleontologist easier.
We have been discussing different things we could offer our audience, and the idea of featuring paleoartists came up. Paleoart is a critical part of paleontology. Since we cannot directly observe our organisms as they were, we study their anatomy and traces, and using our knowledge of living biota, we make inferences about their appearances, behaviors, and general existence on this planet. A competent paleoartist can take these scientific interpretations and bring them to life, thus furthering effective communication between scientists and the public, fostering debates between scientists themselves, and inspiring and engaging everyone to visualize the complex history of this planet.
And face it, we paleontologists really, really, really, love our animals, and we love to see them in all their glory.
I feel that featuring paleoartists is important because many paleontologists may want to see their chosen organisms come to life in an artistic medium, but may not know who to ask or where to start. So I hope that this regular feature will provide a venue for communication between artists and researchers, as well as provide everyone an opportunity to just see some cool art from members of our community.
Our first paleoartist to be featured is Stephen (Stevie) R. Moore, the artist behind Studiospectre. Stevie has a degree in Fine Arts from the University of Kentucky, and currently resides in Lexington, Kentucky. Stevie graciously agreed to be the guinea pig for this PLOS Blogs feature, and so I asked him to answer a few questions about himself and his art.
Tell me about yourself, and how you got started as a paleoartist?
I’m a professional fine artist and illustrator that specializes in natural history subject matter. My art is based entirely on my passions and interests, I know it doesn’t sound very novel, but I have so many interests that I’ve not yet come anywhere close to running out of subject matter. In the very beginning, I think back on it and I’m positively certain that dinosaurs and prehistoric animals were some of the first things I ever drew, although I am certain that my first artistic muses were trucks! I also went through a trainphase as well as aircrafts, which are still a passion running strong for me now.
At around age 3–5 would have been my early exploration of prehistoric creatures. Most of these images would have referenced my growing library of pre-dinosaur renaissance artwork, such as the Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs, and likely I was copying imagery from these types of children’s dinosaur literature of the late 70s and early 80s. I suppose it was a natural progression from being an amateur dinosaur/paleo enthusiast to become a professional artist post high school. I naturally resisted “art school” advice to paint spots and squares and the like, so I went back to the things I truly love and the images I wanted to make look cool. So I suppose that’s how I progressed into it, adopting art, design, and illustration proper as my trade; it only naturally meant that I would be seeking my favorite subjects to work on, and the top of the list is paleoart.
So far I’ve done giant paleoart murals, fine art, and even some scientific projects yet to be published, the latter having been a goal of mine for several years while I was gearing up my art skills to a professional level.
What excites you about art?
Many things excite me about art but overall, it is the ability for art to express so much information. Art can communicate information visually that other means never could. I enjoy creating things that I see in my head, bringing them from imagination to life, and also the reverse of that. Taking objects and images from life and mixing it with my imagination and creating a synthesis of the two.
Right now I’m very excited about new digital media and the new processes that are available to artists to create their work with. Processes such as 3D modeling and printing essentially involve the age-old processes of sculpture with new digital tangents.
What is your preferred medium for your art, and what do you specialize in, or what are your techniques?
Honestly, I love both traditional and digital media, and I don’t think I really have a preference between the two. They both have advantages and disadvantages and I use them both, sometimes separately and sometimes in conjunction with each other.
I would say I specialize in 2D illustration, and I use many media in order to create my final product. All projects essentially start with the same three basic requirements: (1) A brief, which includes data, information about what type of image is desired, how it should look, etc.; this is usually in the form of text or notes taken during a conversation (with the researcher/client). (2) I then collect references, of which there is no substitute; they are crucial to creating good artwork in general, especially when in a scientific discipline, such as scientific and paleo illustration. These would include things such as images and drawings of fossils (in the case of paleo), measurements and other data, as well as images or artwork of other artists. Depending on what is to be created, I often collect lots of photographic references of plants, landscapes, textures, living animals, all to use as a guide when recreating something that is no longer living to be observed. Current organisms and their environments often serve as a guide for recreating the past, along with information and advice provided by the researchers and scientists. (3) Sketches, lots and lots of sketches and studies! Sometimes several rounds will be produced before beginning work on a final image. Sometimes these start with just pencil and paper, sometimes the digital equivalent, but always loose, simple, and with lots of iterations.
How important do you think paleoart is in helping us to visualize science?
Extremely important! That may seem biased as I’m a freelance Illustrator, but I would love nothing more than a high demand for paleoart and the vocation it would provide to artists such as myself. However, I’ll back up a bit. I can recall what initially drew my interest to dinosaurs, fossils, and paleontology initially, and that was the imagery. When I was a youngster, I craved information on dinosaurs like most children do at some point, but specifically I liked the imagery. I used to look at them, compare them, copy them and imitate them. To some degree they directly contributed to my artistic education. I can distinctly remember realizing how to properly draw a tail turning 180 degrees and making it look realistic.
Although as a child I read the text of paleo literature, I inferred a lot of information from just looking at the artwork. It drew me to the subject matter first and foremost…and that’s why I think art is so important. It’s important to be able to see images that can demonstrate what the world is and was like, but more importantly it can ignite a fire in young people for scientific literacy. I think that’s the most enduring and important part of it.
What is your favorite palaeoart project?
I’ve loved working on many paleoart projects over the past few years, one that I think I’ve enjoyed working on the most, and that I think has been really great for educating people, is my BluegrassWild mural series from 2013. Not only are they the largest paintings I’ve ever created, either digital or traditional (they happen to be digital), but they involved a lot of fun research involving my home state and the Pleistocene ecosystem it once supported.
Who is your favorite up and coming paleoartist?
I like several newish paleoartists on the scene these days. I’m honestly drawn to artists that touch the paleoart sphere but don’t necessarily completely dwell in it. There are so many great paleoartists to name, but some that immediately come to mind are Simon Stålenhag, Ville Sinkkonen, and Tom Bjorklund. These artists may not necessarily specialize in paleoart, but I love their work.
Do you think art plays more of a role in paleontology than other branches of science?
I do, but I’m not saying that art doesn’t play a role in other parts of science…perhaps a different role is more fitting. Without an artistic restoration, how well can we really know and understand an extinct plant or animal? We can look at the actual fossils or bones, take pictures of them, even draw those as simple illustrations (which essentially is art), however that’s not exactly the definition of paleoart that I subscribe to. Scientific illustration is a good “cover all the bases” term of that type of art, but I personally feel that paleoart is a subgenre of wildlife art, it just happens that this wildlife, and the environment they inhabit, aren’t around any longer. I like the definition of paleoart as “artwork that depicts the earth’s past,” so by that definition all of the cave artists of ancient human history are now paleoartists!
Certainly it’s impossible to take a photograph of an extinct animal, and I think that factor alone makes art so crucial for communicating paleontology to both those that study it, as well as fans, hobbyists, and children who will become our future scientists, researchers, and stewards of our planet.