It’s a tough job being a dinosaur artist, otherwise known as a palaeoartists. If we want to draw a picture of a cow or a lion we can always go out ad find ourselves a picture of one, or show up in a field somewhere and draw one. But dinosaurs have been extinct for at least 60 million years so it is a bit difficult to find one in your local paddock. All palaeoartists have to go on is a pile of old bones lying in laboratories around the world. And they don’t even have free and easy access to these bones, and the palaeontologists themselves are still arguing about how the skeletons fitted together.
That said, palaeoartists are getting better and better at their jobs as more information becomes available to them. Scientists are scanning the bones and building 3D computer images of these beasts, which are now getting published. They are also starting to work closely with the artists in an attempt to recreate the Mesozoic world, so us dinosaur fans are the fantastic new palaeoart that is bringing these creatures and their world back to life.
We often laugh at some of these early attempts to depict dinosaurs. The first attempt was in 1854 by sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins when he sculpted the dinosaurs at Crystal Palace in London. He worked closely with the preeminent biologist of his day, Sir Richard Owen and produced 15 beasts which looked more like dragons than dinosaurs. They are still there to this day. We need to remember that Hawkins had very little to go on at the time, so a brave attempt by him.
Then there were all of those pictures showing dinosaurs dragging their tails in the dirt or living in water – based on ideas that their tails were too heavy or body weight too great for them to live on land Well, most of those ideas have now been dumped in the rubbish bin. John Ostrom and Robert Bakker trashed those ideas. Bakker himself draw a picture in 1976 of a Deinonychus at top speed, so his ideas have been around for forty years now. However we still see some of those artists falling into the old ways, but things have improved a great deal.
There is now the challenge of feathered dinosaurs to face up to. New discoveries of dinosaurs have shown that some of them had feathers. So the question is, was the whole dinosaur covered in feathers, and what colour were they? We seem to like our dinosaurs scaly and featherless, probably due to the massive influence of Jurassic Park and Jurassic World. Our artists are now having to push back against what the general public thinks a dinosaur should look like. A tough call indeed.