Dinosaur Art: The World’s Greatest Paleoart -- exclusive excerpt

There are many forms of art –- still life, abstract, landscape, digital, cubism, marine, aviation, splatter, modern, photography etc but chances are, few people know what "paleoart" is. Well, simply put, it is the illustration of prehistoric life. Its practitioners combine an understanding of such broad disciplines as anatomy, geology and botany to open windows onto the ancient past, bringing to life as best they can organisms from across the planet’s four billion-year history. Everything from jellyfish to trilobites to mammoths to the first single-celled organisms – and, of course, dinosaurs.

Dinosaur Art is a collection -- and celebration -- of some the finest purveyors of paleoart. My primary reason in assembling this host of talent was to give them a voice. Generally their work is seen in books running the gamete from children’s to the most serious academic volume; from National Geographic’s website to illustrating a report on a BBC News feature. However, I couldn’t help but notice they rarely got to talk about themselves and their art. I hoped to rectify that and in doing so bring together a collection of amazing art that you don’t need to be a dinosaur enthusiast to enjoy -- although that helps!

Here’s a selection of some of my favorite images, from the book. -- Steve White, editor of Dinosaur Art


Douglas Henderson

I love the lighting on this. What filmmakers call ‘the Magic Hour’ – beautiful twilight colours. It is also preludes the event that heralded the demise of the dinosaurs (and untold other species) – the impact of a massive object, in this case illustrated as an asteroid but possibly a comet or meteor, that slammed into the area of what is now Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, unleashing a global catastrophe.


John Conway

Tarbosaurus is a very close relative to T-rex. In this beautiful shot by John, it’s chasing down the ostrich-mimicking Gallimimus, best known for its star turn in Jurassic Park, but here illustrated in a shaggy down. We don’t know for sure that Gallimimus was clad as such but here John is making use of the paleoartist’s best friend: the educated guess.


Luis Rey

Luis uses the newest tool in the paleoartist’s tookbox, the computer, and produces a great piece of photo-manipulation. Using grey herons as a starting point, he illustrates a very important maxim in Life Sciences: that small, predatory dinosaurs like Sinusonasus weren’t a million miles away from birds. Chances are they were in fact just around the corner.


Robert Nicholls

Bob does a brilliant job here in bringing to life the sheer terrifying mass of one of the truly giant marine reptiles, Liopleurodon. I also really love the light on this one; the rays of sun falling through the water and adding real depth to the picture.


Raul Martin

Another picture that makes wonderful use of sunlight. Raul is an amazing artist who uses computer software as effectively as he uses a pencil. This is digital painting par excellence, but it’s Raul’s use of light and shade that really sold this one to me.


Todd Marshall

I love this illustration. It’s more like a medical drawing than a piece of paleoart. Todd uses the cutaway of the carnivorous dinosaur, Aerosteon, to highlight its inner workings while at the same time maintaining an air of dynamism – this really is an x-ray on the run!


Julius Csotonyi

Another fine example of mixed media – the marriage of traditional and digital artwork. This looks more like someone’s snapshot from a time machine window than a piece of artwork, and the T-rex just looks plain awesome!


John Sibbick has an eye for detail. You may have gathered that from trying to count the number of ammonite shells he painted. But it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality: the texture of the sand and the rocks, the spines on the seed cones in the foreground, it’s all stunning complete. Little wonder John wears glasses.

Dinosaur Art: The World’s Greatest Paleoart


  1. I’m gonna buy this–these are gorgeous!  I’ve loved dinosaur art since I was a kid, and one of my most prized possessions is The Dinosaurs, by Stout, Service & Preiss.  My copy is autographed by Bill Stout his ownself… he even drew an oviraptor freehand for me!  Lots of great artwork in that one, but since it was published 28 years ago it might be a tad dated.  I can’t get enough of this stuff.

      1. Why is it only logical to assume most were camouflaged?  Considering birds as their descendants, a huge number of avian are very garishly clad for the purposes of sexual selection, and even a large number of reptiles display at least seasonal color expression for sexual selection purposes.

        I’d add that one of the hypothesies for dino plumage specifically revolves around sexual selection in at least some species (granted, for most dromeosaurs a more functional usage hypothesis seems to have the most support, though as with modern avian there is no reason it couldn’t be both purposes)

        1. Because it’s nearly impossible to guess what that sort of colouring or plumage will look like. It’s easy to guess what camouflage will look like and since a lot of the bigger killers depended on short bursts of  speed they’d need that camouflage to hunt. And let’s face it, dinos killing dinos is fun to draw.

          As an artist this gives you a lot to work with and the Sexual colourization are an excuse to add what ever design flare you feel like throwing in.

        2. It’s true that dinosaurs’ closest living relatives are birds, but in terms of ecological niche a triceratops is much closer to a rhinoceros than a parakeet. 

          Maybe some dinosaurs selected mates based on bright coloration, but it seems most likely that dinosaurs as a group had a wide range of colors and patterns adapted to individual species’ needs. We see this varied approach even within modern primates: some of us attract mates with brightly colored faces and/or buttocks, others have fur well-suited for camouflage, and some of us walk around buck naked.

  2. Any Dave Miller in there? He’s an old friend from my hometown, became one of the foremost paleo-illustrators around, his work was shown on the dino-floor of the Nat Hist Museum here in NYC. I’ve got one of his originals, an artist proof of this carnivorous subaquatic scene. 

  3. The computerized graphic are terrific BUT if scenes from “Prehistoric Animals” by Augusta and Burian (published 1956) are not included in the collection. it misses the source from where all else follows. The nomenclature may have changed over the years but the paintings are still incredible almost 60 years after publication

  4. If it doesn’t contain Rudolph Zallinger’s famous mural Age of Reptiles, it isn’t complete.


    This  in an old Time-Life book that fascinated me when was kid. I stared a that picture for hours.

    1. I reviewed this book earlier in the month for another website (pardon the plug:
      http://tophatsasquatch.com/dinosaur-art-worlds-greatest-paleoartists/) and it does not include Age of Reptiles.  But that’s because it’s looking at more modern artists that have been prominent since the Dinosaur Renaissance of the 1970s.  Zallinger’s work is gorgeous and iconic, but considering the mural was painted in 1947, it’s not exactly up-to-date on modern dinosaur theories, which this book tries to bring to the forefront with the excellent artwork inside.    

      In addition, each of the artists is interviewed for the book, and Zallinger died in 1995.

  5. Hmmm… this begs the question of whether colliding asteroids hang moonlike in the sky, waiting to be painted, or just flash in out of the blue at 30000 miles per hour and blow the shit out of everything.

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