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Mark Witton; Pterosaurs has arrived!

My day was turning out to be the shitty culmination of a shitty week, when – dingdong! Mark Witton’s Pterosaurs alighted at my doorstep. What a beauty! I’m far from capable of reviewing it as I’ve only read the first 3 chapters (in about as many minutes), but it’s safe to say that my day is saved. More feedback later, but here a two-pointer spoiler for those of you anticipating your copies:

Mark has a gift. He presents the uncertainties of science but never shies away from making his opinion clear.  With historical cases, he complements via omission, neglecting to name the workers behind outlandish ideas, while highlighting those who were precociously on the mark. With more modern workers, he presents the ideas with open sympathy, even when discussing Peter’s hypothesis, only to summarize point for point why it seems “the most unlikely hypothesis currently under consideration”.

Similarly, he respects the complexities without allowing them to clump up the text. In a subnote, he writes: “I’ve stuck with the term “protorosaurs” at the time of writing, for the sake of brevity and readability. Readers are invited mentally substitute something like “nonarchosauriform archosauromorphs” for every use of “protorosaur” if they feel like being more taxonomically savvy.” Of course, I will now spend the rest of the week trying to slip “nonarchosauriform archosaromorph” in as many casual conversations as possible. How cool is that?

Again, Mark has a gift, and I say this as someone who never tires of telling people that anyone can draw assuming that they do, in fact, draw. Mark isn’t the craftiest of illustrators, but I wouldn’t change a single of his drawings for any pile of slickness. Mark understands illustration, and he illustrates. As opposed to visualizing. He presents a scribbled Pteranodon longiceps historically hanging off a cliff, and the reader – without reading – immediately understands that this is illustrating an outdated concept. More than any other artist currently working with palaeo subject matter, I feel mark makes use of illustration to show what might have been, instead of purporting to visualize what was. This has to do in part with a twinge of naivety in his style, but I suspect is much more indebted to the wealth of knowledge that is assessing his every pencil stroke before, during and after his hand draws it out.

I can wholeheartedly recommend the book already, but I have to return to the shittiness of my other activities. More later, if you’re interested. Leave a comment.

There are 3 Comments to this article

Mark Witton says:

Thanks for the kind words, David. Really appreciated. Glad the book brightened your day a bit!

Re. the illustrations: Your summation there is a good reflection on my work, I think. I’m very aware of my lack of artistic training in any capacity – my ‘naivety’ – and that does come through in my work. I’m sure all artists will say that ‘each new piece is an experiment’, but that’s all the more so with me because I’m still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t! I did learn a lot doing the art for this book though. If nothing else, I had to learn to paint quicker because of the size of the project. Virtually every diagram and painting was specifically crafted for the book and, combined with writing the text and trying to make a living with other jobs, this didn’t leave any spare time for really ‘polishing’ the paintings.

d maas says:

It’s all about the context, and yours works perfectly. It helps the overall message because it’s about the scientific imagination mounted upon really involved interpretation. I hope that all comes across as the praise it’s meant to be. (LoL!)
I feel it also goes hand-in-hand with your writing. The reader feels the passion, but also a refusal to take the words too seriously – while taking what they say seriously. I think that’s what I love about your art.
I believe your look can be made animatable with some leeway, and software development. This would make it feasible to have a small team work on the production, which is the source of all the reasons why scientific plausibility gets rationed out: we couldn’t afford to keep the team waiting. Unfortunately, no financer has had the imagination to see that that would be preferable to super realism. 🙁
Digital publishing, with pre-rendered and interactive illustration, will change this, me thinks. So if you are planning to make an interactive version of Pterosaurs… think of me 😉

drip | david’s really interesting pages… says:

[…] contacted Mark Witton, author of Pterosaurs, which I’ve been reading with some artist-centric questions about his book. Mark’s been great in answering, but I […]

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