Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Member Bio: Craig Dylke

Craig Dylke

Site Administrator

Craig Dylke is a primary teacher currently working in Hong Kong. He is originally from Alberta, Canada and grew up mere hours away from some of the richest dinosaur fossil fields in the world. Though not formally trained in Palaeontology, Craig spent his childhood pretending to be in prehistory, took as many palaeontology options as possible during university, and spent four years at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology working as a science educator.

Craig's palaeontologic reconstructions are created digitally using the 3D software Carrara. In some pieces the creatures are composited into the artist's own photographs, and in others whole environments were created within the computer. Craig can be commissioned to do reconstructions.

Contact him at fossil3d@gmail.com. As Craig is passionate about science eduaction and outreach, he is willing to do volunteer artistic work for non-profit scientific or educational purposes such as scientific papers. Send him your project's proposal if you are interested in gratis artwork.

Craig has a dedicated porfoilo here, and maintains a blog that includes work in progress reports here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Graduating to the big leagues

A very long running competition has come to an end. Sadly I lost... Please give me a moment *sniffle*

When we launched ART Evolved both of us co founders, myself and Peter Bond, entered into a friendly contest to see who could get their palaeo-art published in an official capacity first. Today after nearly 4 years Bond takes the victory with this reconstruction of a new species of Thescelosaurus described by our mutual friend Caleb Brown.

I tip my hat to Peter.

Hopefully once his schedule lightens in the holidays he can throw up a post about his road to success.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Dual-Terror of Dinosaurs: An Essay

Dinosaurs play in our dreams as children. Sometimes we’re hiding, afraid of their massive overwhelming power we’ve only seen highlighted by the remainder of their bones. Our imaginations fill them in, adding details like ridges, crayon-green skin and purple spots we’re not even sure they had. Other times, we’re riding them, flying on the wings of a pterodactyl or racing across the plains with the anchisaurus.

After all, it was the climate change that allowed our ancestors to thrive that wiped out the dinosaur’s population. In many ways, we were the victors, even if we weren’t actually saddling up a stegosaurus. That feeling, that we survived and they didn’t, gives us an optimistic view of the Earth when we’re kids. If we can survive what those big, strong dinosaurs couldn’t, then surely we can survive anything.

On the other hand, had we co-existed with the dinosaurs, a good number of us probably would have met our demise by being underfoot of a T-Rex.

This feeling of dominance and a lack of power carries us over into our high school years and beyond. As we move on to scarier places in our life with more responsibilities, we categorize the world into what we know we can conquer and what we know can conquer us. But dinosaurs remind us that sometimes it’s both. Sometimes we can out-live something that we couldn’t necessarily face head-on.

Though what attracts many to dinosaurs is their raw power and carnivorousness, I think a larger, less-talked about magnetism comes from the sense that mammals can outlive what they can’t conquer. We apply this lesson time and time again in our lives.

At the same time, we soften our impressions of dinosaurs in an attempt to rationalize this imperfect balance. As one part of our brain picks up on the victory of global climate change, another part of us is worried that if the king of the pre-historic world can fall, so can frail human beings.

We watch as a giant purple and green dinosaur becomes plush and starts singing about how he loves us. Because it wouldn’t make sense otherwise. How can something so strong and so dominating actually be wiped from the face of the earth? How can the bones we see in museums have been formed by a simple climate change?

The question haunts us as much as the answer does. We’re both the scared lab rats hiding in a corner and the ones who have successfully gotten to the cheese.

As college students, we open our minds to the facts, and we try to come up with solutions. We don’t say it out loud, but all education is essentially an exercise in not perishing. We learn science to cure disease. We learn English to be able to preserve thoughts. We learn history to pay it forward in a sense. But when we learn about dinosaurs, we learn about a civilization wiped down to their very bones. There is no “Greatest Poems of the Cretaceous
Period,” and in our hearts, we want our civilization to end differently or to go on forever.

We use the word “dinosaur” in our modern times as a negative thing. Dinosaurs don’t have cellphones and use dial-up internet, if any at all. We belittle what we don’t know, and we simply can’t know that much about dinosaurs. We can study their bones as much as we want, but the truth is that they could have sat up all night talking and singing in their own guttural language for all we know.

Unlike dinosaurs, we want to be remembered for more than just the shape of our skulls. As historians work to piece together what happened to our ancestors, we push forward, trying to make something of ourselves, even if it’s just to a small group of people. After all, the fascination of dinosaurs comes from not becoming them.

Jesse Langley lives in the Midwest, where he divides his time between work, family, and his plethora of Apple products. He writes on behalf of Colorado Technical University.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Can you escape style?

Can palaeo-art reconstructions escape unintended effects from their creators style?

I'm not pretended to be the first to ask this question, nor is this as serious stab at really answering it. I present for your two takes on the same subject that demonstrate how the artist's style can really affect a palaeo-art reconstruction.

I threw together the shader for this Taniwhasaurus to celebrate New Zealand finally winning a Rugby world cup on home soil (after the awful time they've been having in Christchurch this past year). The model is a long standing one I have been rebuilding and overhauling since 2007!

The white line pattern you see on the Mosasaur's hide is a common New Zealand artistic motif influenced by traditional Maori art. Of course there is next to nothing natural about such a colour scheme. No animal is going to adorn itself in nationalistic patterns to conveniently match the human nation state it lives (or lived) in.

Still I choose it because I wanted to make a kiwitastic Mosasaur. A few years ago and I could claim a scientific basis for this move. As originally Taniwhasaurs were only known from New Zealand, and thought to be an isolated genus of kiwi marine reptile. The name Taniwha itself is kiwi being the name of Maori mythological monsters.

If Taniwhasaurs were just from New Zealand my version while not being"realistic", could be argued to be a metaphoric accuracy. Maori patterns are quite recognizable as kiwi, and so my Taniwhasaurus is locked to its place in the world...

The problem is recent fossil discoveries of Taniwhasaurus elsewhere show that it existed throughout the whole southern Pacific in Cretaceous times. Meaning my stylistic choice is actually very misleading (especially in conjunction with the Maori name). In the old paradigm of Mosasaur wisdom Taniwhasaurus was a quaint remote relative of the better known Tylosaurus of North America.

My piece lends visual support to this, by tying Taniwha to just New Zealand in its visual connotation. In reality Taniwhasaurus is starting to look the widespread animal (through out the open Pacific) and Tylosaurus was the remote isolates genus (to just the North American interior seaway).

Now my choice really wasn't made out scientific reality one way or the other. When I Maori tattooed my Taniwhasaurus I was simply merging some of my fondest bits of Kiwiana. Taniwhasaurus being my favourite NZ prehistoric critter, Taniwha monsters being among my favourite Maori myths, and the Maori fishhook design being my favourite Maori motif. So I ended up with this critter made solely out of my nostalgia.

A critter so loaded with implying visual language about Taniwhasaurus' geographic origin, in hindsight I feel a little guilty. It is a very misleading rendition from an educational standpoint. Taniwhasaurus should be thought of as a far more widespread and important animal than it currently is, yet this one ties it solely to New Zealand.

We have been going through something of a Mosasaur revolution the past 2 years. We know a great deal more about how they look and should be reconstructed then ever before. Back in the old days they were depicted as weird finned water dragons, but this was based on incorrect information. So despite having gotten past this traditional view of Mosasaurs, before 2010 there was a lot of uncertainty as to how one reconstructed a Mosasaur "properly". Really the only certainty offered was don't follow the "old school" approach.

There were clues and hints as to what would become common knowledge in 2010, but in the period before that we artists had a lot of wiggle room...

Of course I took that inch of doubt and ran the mile with it. At that stage I was fascinated with the idea of Mosasaurs being giant marine lizards (literally what they were... however I wanted to make this completely literal!). They were still seen as swimming like giant lizards so I wanted a completely lizardified Tylosaurus.

Two years almost to the day I completed the monitor lizard Mosasaur above. I was going for a super primitive lizardine Tylosaur, which I feel the texture and slight monitor lizard tweaks to the model really accomplish.

Was I right to do so though? At the time, 2009, it was not out of the question. I certainly wasn't going off solid science, but the science wasn't there to tell me no. A lot of people were implying the revision was coming down the pipes, but they weren't saying what the revisions actually would be.

In 2010 my primitive marine "lizard" suddenly became out of the question. It turns out adaptive pressures on ANY vertebrate trying to live in water will force you to evolve into essentially the form no matter how distantly related you are from one another.

So in hindsight the lizard direction for my Mosasaur is probably worse than my Maori one. Granted when I created him there was nothing outright wrong with this visual hypothesis (there was nothing right either!). Now he is just downright wrong, and frankly very misleading!

Turns out Mosasaurs had tail fins and swam more like Ichthyosaurs, dolphins, and fish rather than a lizard or crocodile as was once thought. They also were no where near as limber or flexible as once thought. They were in essence reptilian whales, who were the second line of such reptiles, and come to think of it whales should really be thought of mammalian knock offs of these reptiles...

I was right on board with the revision when it went down in 2010. I threw together this version, with direct input from one of the scientists who initiated the revision. How could anything go wrong with him?

Well at the time I didn't get around to switching the colour scheme. Which resulted in this funny version of my Taniwhasaurus. It has the sleek cutting edge marine physique that is supper modern and accurate (for the time being anyways), but yet primitiveness clings to this version through the skin colour and configuration. This sharp juxtaposition is best summed up as the newest model Aston Martin having interior upholstery done up in ultra retro hounds tooth...

The Maori paint job was my first crack at modernizing the colour pattern on this. Perhaps I modernized it too much. Bringing it into contemporary New Zealand and all.

I have nothing more profound than this to wrap up with.

That was all I wanted to do. Show a few examples from my own artistic past to perhaps help you consider the effects style can have on your own work. Whether intended or not.

I'm not finished with style though. Not by a long stretch. My recent tinkering and playing has me thinking about style like never before. I plan on rendering my AE pieces through different filters and settings for future galleries, in an attempt to see how different styles turn out or look. So expect more discussion on style in the future.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Bite Stuff

I'm not sure how I missed it for so long, and I'm sure many of our members have long known about its existence, but I just discovered Jaime Headden's blog The Bite Stuff.

If you haven't seen Jaime's site go check it out, there is a treasure trove of palaeo-reconstruction articles to be seen!

(I do note I'm going off SVPOW claiming this blog is by Jaime Headden, as I can not find the blog's author's name anywhere obvious on the site...)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Relaunch Gallery: Feathered Dinosaurs!

The votes are in, and you the people have spoken.

It was a tight race. The win was by a mere two votes. Still a win is a win and given the new reality of AE's administrators all having less time these days, it has been decided.

ART Evolved will be cutting back the time capsule galleries from every 2 months to every 3. So that is sadly a lose of 2 galleries, but hopefully the quantity and quality in the four increases with the extra time in between galleries to create more and/or better art.

So we will as of 2012 be holding galleries every February, May, August, and November of each year. We have tried to tailor these to avoid common busy times of the year as best we can (the Northern Hemisphere's summer is a tough one to avoid outright though). Let us know you're thoughts.

So our relaunch gallery in February of 2012 will be the Feathered Dinosaur gallery. While that sounds like it is ages away, it is actually in only another 3.5 months! Be sure to take advantage of this extra time! Also please help us spread the word about this gallery and the new schedule...

If you're new to the site, we accept any and all artwork submitted that is themed around any of our gallery topics. Just send your submission(s), along with any accompanying text you'd like with them, and the link to your website/blog/online picture gallery to our email artevolved@gmail.com, and we'll post them!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

How valuable is free?

How valuable is free art?

If the recent trend of asking for open source spec art is anything to go off, apparently free art is not only worthless it is totally disposable.

"Spec work" is an accepted term within art circles meaning "speculative work". This is art done for free by an artist hoping it will "pay" off for them after its creation. That payment can be direct in the form of royalties on this piece after it gets noticed and/OR indirect payment where the piece gains the artist enough attention that they get other commissions.

This use of the term "open sourcing" is an almost misleading slant of the term used by design firms and art departments. In this singular definition, open sourcing means something akin to an open audition. There are a limited number of vacancies that need to be filled and anyone is free to try out to fill them. It there are more applicants than vacancies the excess will be turned away.

So my question amounts to how valuable is free art if it is subjected to a mass audition where most of it is not going to be used?

The reason I ask is that palaeontologists and museums are starting to try out open source spec work as a solution to cutbacks and finances being tight. The open sourcing tends to take the form of an art contest or competition, with the goal of generating lots of free palaeo-art from which the contest holder can select a piece for their uses.

I sympathize with their financial restraints. I really do (speaking as a former museum science educator). So don't get me wrong. I am not arguing against spec palaeo-art. In fact I have recommended doing palaeo-art for free in the past as a means of getting your foot in the palaeo-art door.

The issue I have is the open sourcing. Making volunteer work expendable devalues the effort, energy, and art created by the artists. Which when you consider that asking artistic work to be done for free already devalues the work, additionally making spec work disposable can be seen by some artists as rubbing salt in an already existing wound.

There is an implication with open soucring that art is easy to make. Why else would you so casually ask lots of people to make it and feel that only picking the cream of the crop is okay? Its not like the losers are going to notice their fruitless efforts, is what this says to me.

Sorry but art is not easy to make. It takes hours and hours Especially if we're talking scientific illustrations, which is what we've seen contests asking for now. The research, drafts, and final versions take hours and hours to complete. If a contest attracts any attention, and only picks a single winner, we're seeing hundreds of artist hours tossed out the window... for no gain to the artists, the science, or the world of palaeo-art in general...

To me this is like holding a contest to describe a new fossil, for scientists. Everyone has to submit a final paper, but only one will "win". All the other papers, research, and work will just be thrown out metaphorically and in spirit. Only that which is published exists in science, and funny enough art as well. No scientists would participate in this. So why do they think it is okay to do it to us artists?

I suspect they sense it is wrong, even if they can't actually articulate it. There are an awful lot of rationals that are used to try and pass off these contests as "fun" and "worthwhile" to artists. These include the chance to win glory and notoriety, a chance to finally break into the competitive world of palaeo-art, and you're helping out the science.

Superficially these are all true, but they are not really honest to the artist as to what they are going to get. To me these are just rationalizing a form of exploitation (whether it be intentional or not). Let me break it down for you

The "Glory" of Acknowledgement

If the gig was so important to truly gain real "glory" and "notoriety" every professional and their dog would be lining up for the job. Glory and notoriety imply something huge in impact and coverage. I've been noticing these palaeo-art gigs still attract professionals (though I don't know if they are paid or not).

So lets restate these words for what they really amount to in your average open source spec contest's project, recognition and attention. If your not going to pay your artist(s), the least you can do for them is give them the attention and acknowledgement their work deserves. This is not a prize, and please don't try to pass it off as one! Scientists expect their research and work to be acknowledged, why not the work of their artists too?!? You're not giving the art winner a "prize" with acknowledgement, you're just punishing the losers by withholding it from them, frankly...

Chance to break into Palaeo-art

If your piece is chosen out of the pile you'll finally get your work used in a legitimate capacity. I won't lie this is a prize, and a good one. So I'm not going to harp on it directly. There is a definite appeal for artists here (speaking myself as an aspiring amateur).

The problem I have is do we artists truly need to submit brand new work to get this chance?

I get that the contest is the scientist's way of buffering against the lack of a reliable and tested palaeo-artist. They can't be sure what a new name is going to bring to the table. The contest is a way of insuring quality control and an adequate pool of potential artwork. However the asking for brand new art frankly strikes me as laziness.

The scientist couldn't be bothered to do a little bit of homework in finding an artist, and so lots of artists have to make up for their lack of effort

Why couldn't the artists just submit portfolios of already completed work? Or why doesn't the scientist get involved in the large diverse palaeo-art communities on the web, such as here on ART Evolved or those on Flickr or DeviantArt, and find someone she/he can work with from those interactions? Only a tiny amount of energy would have to be expeded looking into potential amateur artists these days. There are more and more of us heavily promoting our selves on the web. You seriously couldn't just approach your favourites from the online portfolios?

The other problem I have is that this offer implies we can't make it on our own. While it might be true that this one scientist's offer could be our big break, it is by no means our only chance!

Instead of using (dare I say wasting?) your time on a piece that is specific to the spec art contest why not just create a unique portfolio piece? Creating work for this spec contest might fit in your portfolio too, but anyone paying attention will know about the contest and realize immediately you were one of the "losers". I can see this hurting you on occasion rather than helping it.

More to the point strengthening your portfolio to attract a more committed "client" is a safer bet than open source spec work. If a client approaches just you due to your portfolio your work is far more likely to be used than the crapshoot of entering into a contest. Why not invest your efforts into this model. Even if you generate just more spec work, at least you'll be actually guranteed a return on your artistic investment...

It is good for the science

This is just a lame thing to say! Manipulating our emotional and moral responsibility, just for your own personal gain!

Yes palaeo is in trouble these days, and yes we'd all love to help it out. Preying on our desire to help by guilting us into action though, that is just plain slimy.

How does a bunch of artists wasting time on art that will never see (the proper) light of day help anyone but that one lazy scientist exactly?

Just selecting one artist to do your project, and allow all those other artists to do their own thing and cover more of the science, rather than waste their art time on just you. More varied and diverse palaeo-art, that would be helping the science

Instead of a contest or any other open source spec art...

We need to stop this model of mass artist participation for little gain to anyone (other than the one receiving the art).

Right away scientists, museums, and other empowered parties in palaeontology please respect your artists work.

There are those who say not paying them is disrespectful enough. I'm not quite one of those. However simply acknowledging the fact the artist could have done any number of other things than helping you specifically out is the least you can do.

Engage only one artist on a final piece unless your willing to properly compensate them for their time.

If you still want the open audition format, which is fair when dealing with new unknown talent, please just ask for portfolios of existing work, rather than submissions of new art. It is way more respectful to the artist, nearly as informative about their abilities, and frankly doesn't waste participants efforts or art time!

Another fantastic model is David Hone's recent call for artists. While being open source and spec work, Dr. Hone is compensating participants with direct scientific feedback and critiques on their scientific reconstructions. This is Dr. Hone compensating ALL the interested artists with his own time on feedback that will help them in their quest for palaeo-art fame and glory in the future. This is a perfect model. Even the "losers" win something, and thus there are no losers. Only winners of varying degrees!

To artists, they'll stop asking for mass submissions of new non-paid art if we stop giving it to them. While there is some wiggle room in the paid vs. non-paid debate of art, simply respect for the art you produce should not be negotiable or given up. Participating in open source spec calls not only devalues your art and the work you put into it, but it encourages such tactics to spread.

Soon we could find ourselves doing pieces for free, and arriving at the end of the creative process expectations of mere publication and acknowledgement only to find suddenly our piece has been replaced because the "client" found another piece they liked better... (Don't say it couldn't happen... it has to me now twice. Thus this angry rant post!)

Artist's work should be respected and seen for what it is. Especially when it is done for free. It is a gift. Treat like such palaeontologic community!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dave Hone invites...

This is likely to garner some excitement among the evolved... Dave hone has called for artists to work on a new paper. Its an experiment and experience more than a commission, however, and might prove to be a prototype of matchmaking for artist-scientist collaborations.