The Palaeoartist’s Handbook by Mark Witton

I am not an artist.

I wish I were.

Books such as these feed my frustration level immensely – and increase my appreciation for both the ability and techniques of those who produce such art, and the research and development which goes into creating it.

Not an ‘art book’ alone, the Handbook (while it describes some purely artistic techniques) concentrates more on the how and why of developing paleoart. Historically, palaeoart has attracted some remarkable artists, and as theories and discoveries have been made it is unfortunate that many have been left behind in the shifting sands of accuracy. Unfortunate, but important in their own way, if for no other reason that to illustrate (yes, pun) the difficulties of a demanding and rewarding field.

Most of the book, though, deals with the practicalities. How to recreate a creature long gone from its skeleton – and deal with missing features with intelligent and informed guesswork. Using non-skeletal evidence such as trackways which hint as more details, and how to extrapolate final appearance when muscles and bulk are added. I found the section on how underlying bone can indicate skin type (crocodile snout, for example, has a rough texture linked to its ‘cracked skin/scale’ facial covering). In fact, this book contains a lot of interesting bits I’d like to have read more detail about.

Rather than go over ‘how to paint a leaf’, it delves into how to give the feeling of being there. How to hint at a likely setting using plant fossils and climatology, how to give a feeling of scale, how to select likely colouring, and extrapolation of likely behaviours.

aIt is a very good, general, introduction to paleoart which, I think, can only help give a greater understanding of how much work goes into it before pencil is lad to paper – or computer is turned on, for those working digitally.

The problem with this book is that it could easily have covered everything in more depth (plants? insects? fish? general wierdies?), at which point it would have become a) unaffordable and b) required a heavy lifting warning . . . but I don’t regret its purchase for an instant.


1 thought on “The Palaeoartist’s Handbook by Mark Witton”

  1. I would now like to read this from the scientific point of view- I don’t even bother to wish I could ‘art any more! . Great review.

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