Category Archives: Paleo Art

Sean Murtha

Sean Murtha, birds, nature art, plein air landscape painting
Connecticut based artist Sean Murtha brings his experience and sensibilities as a plein air landscape painter to his naturalist paintings of birds, imbuing them with a sense of being part of their environment — a feeling sometimes lacking in wildlife painting where too often the landscape is simply a backdrop for the animal subject.

Ironically, Murtha knows something about providing backgrounds for naturalist subjects from his role in painting murals and diorama backgrounds for museums like the American Museum of Natural History in NY, and the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT.

His work as an illustrator extends to paleo art and other natural history subjects. His affinity for both dinosaurs and birds is unsurprising, as birds are essentially the living branch of the dinosaur family tree. To all of his subjects, Murtha brings a knowledge of the light, color and textures of the natural world gleaned from the practice of plein air painting.

I particularly enjoy the way many of his studies of birds are almost indistinguishable from landscape paintings, in which birds — however accurately observed — just happen to be part of the landscape.

Murtha grew up on Long Island near Long Island Sound, and now lives in Connecticut, where he views the sound from the other side. Many of his paintings reflect the sound and its changing character in the light of different seasons and weather.

His sensitivity to atmosphere and its effect on light gives his paintings a refined sense of color, contributing to the immediacy and immersive feeling of the natural world that he evokes.

In addition to his regular gallery representation (linked below), Murtha’s work will be on display at the mark Gruber Gallery in New Paltz, NY, in a group exhibit titled “Birds and Art” that runs until May 23, 2015.

[Suggestion courtesy of Tess Kissinger of Walters & Kissinger Paleo Art (see my post on their recent book, Discovering Dinosaurs)]


Dinotopia: The Fantastical Art of James Gurney at Stamford Museum

Dinotopia: The Fantastical Art of James Gurney at Stamford Museum
James Gurney has become widely known for his instructional books and videos as well as his role as a plein air painter, lecturer and popular blogger, but it was his series of fantastic Dinotopia adventure picture books that originally attracted the most notice — in the art community, the paleo art community and among the dedicated readers who came to love the books.

In the Dinotopia series, Gurney brings to bear his study of classical artists and techniques — and in particular, late 19th century academic art — to create a world in which dinosaurs and humans co-exist amid architectural and natural splendor.

Dinotopia: The Fantastical Art of James Gurney is an exhibit of over 50 original paintings from the series, along with maquettes, models and related material, currently on display at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center in Stamford, CT.

You can read a post from Gurney’s blog about the exhibit, which runs until May 25, 2015.

Gurney points out that this exhibit is completely different from the one that was at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in CT a few years ago, but I think it is similar in scope and contents to the Dinotopia exhibits at the New Hampshire Institute of Art in 2013, and the one I had the pleasure of seeing at the Delaware Art Museum in 2010. If so, I can vouch for it as a terrific show, one of broader interest than you might think. Gurney’s influences and technique transcend the genres of paleo and fantasy art, and encompass classical art in many ways.

As far as I know, there isn’t a gallery of works specifically from the exhibition, but you can see Dinotopia art in general on the Dinotopia website, James Gurney’s website, and his blog, Gurney Journey.


Discovering Dinosaurs, Walters & Kissinger

Discovering Dinosaurs, huge new dinosaur book by Bob Walters and Tess Kissinger
There is something particularly fascinating about dinosaurs and dinosaur art. Here are the dragons and monsters of myth and story, but actually real — science with all the dazzle and mystery of fantasy.

Those of us who remember a fascination with dinosaurs as children, whether or not we have been fortunate enough to keep it as adults, will recognize particular dinosaur books as “Wow!” books.

These are the kind of dinosaur books that are so spectacular they make kids’ eyes bug out of their heads and cause them to produce involuntary exclamations like “Woah!” and “Cool!” as they grip the book, nose to the pages, in absolute fascination.

Discovering Dinosaurs, a new dinosaur book by the highly regarded paleo art team of Bob Walters and Tess Kssinger, is one of those books — a dinosaur “Wow!” book.

The book is huge — physically big in size at over 10 x 13 inches, hugely entertaining and hugely informative. It’s loaded with information on over 160 fascinating and bizarre dinosaurs, arranged by period and family, with page after page of striking images, lots of two page spreads and three huge triple-page fold out banners.

Publisher Cider Mill Press has done an amazing job. The book design is beautiful and well thought out, and the book is rich with wonderful details, from the dinosaur-pattern end papers, to the foldouts, to the cover — which is, well, cool. The images I’ve been able to provide here don’t convey it, but the scales on the cover are actually physical bumps. Pick up the book and you can feel the scale texture on the front and back covers. In addition, the eyes and horns of the dinosaur, along with the title text, are glossy with spot-varnish, lending even more punch to the image. Somehow, they managed to price this thing, all 140+ pages of it, at $25.00.

One of the things I particularly like about Walters’ work, which I’ve written about previously, is that I know he is one of the relatively small percentage of paleo artists who makes a point of working with paleontologists who are also anatomists (which many paleontologists are not). Despite the dramatic appeal of his striking and detailed renderings, they are mercifully free of paleo-fantasy like enormous sauropods standing on their hind legs, or multi-ton tyrannosaurs running at a gallop. (These things are fine in fantasy art, but not appropriate for books that are supposed to be scientifically accurate.)

In addition to holding fast to scientific accuracy, the book is very up to date, with lots of the latest dinosaur discoveries and information. Game of Thrones author Geroge R.R. Martin gave Discovering Dinosaurs a nice plug in his blog.

The big, immersive pages and images, succinctly informative text and fun touches make Discovering Dinosaurs the kind of dinosaur book that would have had 12 year old me curled up on the couch for hours, learning my brains out and involuntarily exclaiming “Woah!” and “Cool!”

You can see more on the Discovering Dinosaurs website.

Discovering Dinosaurs can be ordered from Amazon and other online booksellers, or, if you’re fortunate enough to have one, from your local independent bookstore.


Niroot Puttapipat (himmapaan)

Niroot Puttapipat (himmapaan), illustration and paleo art
Niroot Puttapipat is a London-based illustrator who uses the handle “Himmapaan”.

His work shows his admiration for Golden Age illustrators like Arthur Rackham, Howard Pyle and Edmund Dulac, as well as natural history and paleontological greats like Charles R. Knight.

Puttapipat works with a nice balance between detailed rendering and graphic shapes, particular in his series of illustrations for classics like Aladdin, and modern novels like Salman Rushdie’s Luka and the Fire of Life (images above, second and third from bottom).

He has provided illustration for a number of recent editions of classics. There is a list of publications here, and a listing of books for which he has done illustrations on Amazon.

As continuing Lines and Colors readers will not find surprising, I particularly enjoy his fanciful takes on dinosaurs and related subjects. Sometimes Puttapipat’s fondness for classic literature and paleontological art collide, as in his hilarious and wonderful “Brontesausus” (above, bottom).

[Via Wil Freeborn, (my post here)]


Paleo artist shows us new feathered dinosaur species, “The Chicken from Hell”

New feathered dinosaur, Anzu wyliei, paleo art by Robert F. Walters
When new discoveries are made in paleontology, most interestingly in the realm of dinosaurs, it’s up to paleo artists to interpret the findings and give them a visual form based on the available scientific data.

In this case, a new dinosaur species was discovered by scientists from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the University of Utah — not by digging in the earth, but by digging through existing fossils in the collections of several museums and piecing together the evidence.

Anzu wyliei, as the new dinosaur is called, sports some jaunty feathers and looks a bit like the nightmare chicken of your worst post bar-b-que dreams; and some of the scientists on the team have nicknamed it “The Chicken from Hell”.

As reported in the article, “One Scary Chicken—New species of large, feathered dinosaur discovered“, on Smithsonian Science, the name is taken in part from the name of a feathered demon from ancient Mesopotamian myths. The beast was about 5 feet tall at the hips and 11 feet long.

The new find is here brought to life by noted paleo artist Robert F. Walters, who I have profiled before. Walters and his partner, Tess Kissinger, created the dramatically large mural of the Hell Creek Formation at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and are well versed in the visual reconstruction of animals from this period.


James Gurney's How I Paint Dinosaurs

James Gurney's How I paint Dinosaurs
Long time readers of Lines and Colors will know that I’m an admirer of the work of illustrator and painter James Gurney. I also love dinosaurs and paleontological art, an area in which Gurney is one of the foremost artists working today, so I was delighted to receive a review copy of Gurney’s instructional DVD How I paint Dinosaurs.

In the hour long DVD, Gurney goes through his process of creating two dinosaur illustrations for Scientific American magazine, from initial concept and composition thumbnails through to the finished paintings.

He discusses and demonstrates the process of working out compositional variations, developing them from thumbnails to initial sketches to be submitted to the art director for approval. From there, he details the process he uses to create a maquette, or clay model, of his subjects for determining lighting. He moves on to the initial block in of the painting, refinement and development of various stages, and the eventual finish. He goes through this process, emphasizing different points along the way, for two different paintings.

As is sometimes the case with good art instruction videos, the techniques he presents go beyond the specific subject, and would be of value to nature and natural history artists (of which paleo art is a subset), as well as concept artists who base their work on realism, and illustrators in general.

If you’re familiar with Gurney’s other instructional material, particularly his books Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What doesn’t Exist (Amazon link, my review here) and Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter (Amazon link, my review here), you will find examples of the same kind of fundamental principles here of methods he has found successful. For example, the use of a limited gamut (color range) to achieve a certain kind of color harmony, and the advantages of pre-mixing piles of some colors in ranges of variation in value and chroma, to allow less distracted focus during the painting process.

Illustrators who have never worked from three dimensional models may wonder at the time devoted to constructing and painting the maquettes used as reference for the paintings here, but when you see Gurney searching for the best value arrangement in his composition by turning the models in the light, you’ll easily see why he and others at his level of expertise often find it worth the effort.

There were places I wanted to ask for more detail — to run the video back and say “Wait! Wait! How did you make the wrinkles on the dinosaur’s neck look so convincing?” or “Let’s hear more about that brush-pen you’re using to block out the thumbnail sketches!”; but there is plenty of detail to be had.

Like many of the best instructional art videos, on a second viewing, you’ll find little nuggets that you may have cruised over on initial viewing (like doing a pencil drawing on illustration board with the pencil held horizontally, so the point doesn’t indent the board, making it easier to erase and move lines). Much of the detail is visual, beyond the verbal instruction, in good close-ups of brush work and paint application.

Depending on your inclinations, you may also find some helpful examples in Gurney’s studio practices.

The video includes a short mini-feature on brushwork (that I would like to see expanded on in the future), and the DVD version includes a beautiful little print of one of the finished paintings.

There is a video trailer on YouTube, and additional information about the video (and a treasure trove of fascinating material in general) on Gurney’s blog Gurney Journey.

James Gurney’s How I Paint Dinosaurs is $32 for the DVD, available from Kunaki or Amazon, and $15 for a digital download through Gumroad.