Portraits of friends and dinosaur illustrations do not have so little in common. The imperative of realism in the representation of these subjects may seem to tie them together, but it is in fact how this requirement is thwarted that intertwines them. Both have a similar unrealizability in two dimensions. Yet the urgency to convey them in a way that seems familiar, tactile, and ultimately correct drives both these artistic concerns.
However, the ultimate appeal to a viewer’s sense of correctness has very little to do with the kind of details a photograph is able to detect and may or may not be present in a painting or illustration. A convincing portrait conveys insight into a subject’s character. Color, light, shadow, perspective and form are not pedantically recorded in a portrait as a document of where a subject happened to be at a certain point in time, but rather are harnessed in service of the subject. Portraits must serve a dual role: it must be recognizable as that individual to those that are closest to the subject, and it must be comprehensible as a familiar person to those that will never know the subject personally. In other words, a good portrait appeals to a viewer’s prior experience with people in presenting an individual.
Dinosaur illustrations can never withstand the scrutiny of those that have seen the subjects first-hand since no such audience exists today. Such images, however, need to appear as something comprehensible and familiar. To a large extent, this can be achieved by mimicking analogous animals that do exist in our environment, but current theories of animal behavior, paleontological findings, physics and physiology can only go so far. Ultimately, dinosaurs have to appeal to our sense of monstrosity. Dinosaurs are uniquely suited to tell us so much about ourselves - they rarify our fears of a monstrous Nature, a Nature out of control, or worse, bent on our terror and destruction. We then try to comfort ourselves with the thought they became extinct long ago, but dinosaurs do not only remind us of existing animals. Their scale is something that we are familiar with, but not from the natural world. These grotesque colossuses bear a resemblance to our own technological Molochs. We are dwarfed every day by our civilization’s achievements: skyscrapers, airplanes, factories. Dinosaurs remind us that once things reach a certain scale, we can no longer feel comfortable with them, because we know that we can no longer even pretend to exert control over them.
But this is not what dinosaur illustrations can or even should convey. Dinosaurs themselves already create this unease in the human psyche. A dinosaur illustration is then a contemplation on monstrosity. In my work, my focus has been on how it can beautiful, tender, thoughtful. Pencil sketches, ink drawings, paintings, cut-outs, sculpture, and most recently, 3d computer animation each offer different possibilities with which to explore these themes.
For the past 12 years, dinosaur illustration and portraiture have been my primary artistic interests, but not to the exclusion of others. In that time, I created a 5 piece, 240 sq. foot mural in a local cafe and worked for five and half years in children’s software creating concept art, game graphics, animation and interfaces. Nevertheless, these subject matter rarify the tasks and issues any artist must face - the creation of something new from something familiar.