Mesozoic Art: Dinosaurs and Other Ancient Animals in Art

Image of Mesozoic Art: Dinosaurs and Other Ancient Animals in Art
Release Date: 
November 22, 2022
Bloomsbury Wildlife
Reviewed by: 

“The print quality equals that of the best fine art books. Paleontology enthusiasts, and perhaps even Audubon aficionados, will not be disappointed.”

Move over John James Audubon, there’s a new wildlife drawing craze in town. Well, maybe it’s an old craze with new artistic flare: palaeoart—art that depicts prehistoric life (i.e., dinosaurs) based on fossil evidence. Readers are in for a wild ride as they peruse the 20 palaeoartists in this Mesozoic Art collection.

Over the last 10 to 20 years, digital technologies have developed to such a sophisticated level that computer software has become a critical tool for scientists and researchers. Advanced techniques for data collection and artificial intelligence allow for a fleshing out of subjects and a reimagining of possibilities like never before.

An entire artistic specialty has also grown up with these technologies, and a new breed of artists can now literally create, “the soft tissue anatomy and life appearance of . . . prehistoric animals; in some cases even providing evidence on the colors of their external appearances . . . dinosaur biomechanics . . . distribution of feathers . . .” and other perennial questions paleontologists debate—all from some readily available software.

Editors Naish and White explain in their introduction that anyone can have access to this artistic niche thanks to the prevalence of information on the internet. What used to be limited to professional scientists and a handful of technical draftsmen is now open to anyone with an inclination and a certain curiosity. It’s an interesting new avenue for creative expression and interpretation.

Most of the artists in this volume had a deep seeded fascination with dinosaurs and the facts and figures around the Mesozoic Era of the earth’s lifecycle. Some of them loved drawing dinosaurs as kids; some of them fell into palaeoart as hobbyists; some of them are trained scientists and found artistic expression as a new passion; others are professional artists focusing exclusively on palaeoart. The vast vault of fossil data, the ease of digital art tools, and the extraordinary outreach of a dedicated palaeoart community made fertile ground for an entire genre to emerge. It is unique and intriguing—“revolutionary,” as Naish and White would say.

It is critical that the reader understand that the creators of this book, and the artists featured within, know that what they are depicting is speculative. One would venture to say that this is precisely what makes the genre so much fun to dabble in. They create entire scenes from the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods and intertwine ideas of how the animals and plants might have existed in that environment. They place several species together, take liberties with integument textures and colorations, and integrate movements and settings that may stretch the edge of some commonly agreed upon habits of these creatures. In essence, they make up everything, but justify based on factual extrapolation.

The artists selected for this volume run the stylistic gamut. There are traditionalists reminiscent of Audubon’s approach, or make one recall the dioramas they saw on their Natural History Museum field trips. There are talented photo-realism specialists tricking the eye so completely that one might actually believe the artists took the photo of the Mesozoic beast standing right in front of them. Reproducing a 200-million-year-old fossil in as lifelike a manner as possible is truly artistic genius.

A comic book style, a print-making Japanese ukiyo-e style, and an impressionist/post-impressionist style are also represented here, making for an eclectic mix of talents and perspectives. Regardless of the style an artist has chosen to work in, all artists have joined in the digital revolution. Each image has been posted in the palaeoart online community and has been scrutinized under their peer-reviewed social media following. They have come out the other side of this vetting process and have landed here, in this book, designated as the best of the best.

Mesozoic Art pulls together a powerful subset of palaeoartists. Each artist has a short biographical blurb followed by beautiful full color reproductions of several examples of their work. The images are accompanied with descriptions of the piece, the animal, the setting, or the conceptual inspirations at play for the artist. The print quality equals that of the best fine art books. Paleontology enthusiasts, and perhaps even Audubon aficionados, will not be disappointed.