Paleoart: Raven Amos

Raven Amos is a digital artist and illustrator living, working, and playing in the wilds of Alaska. Born in the era of far flung fantasy films and cheesy animation, Amos developed a love of reading, art, and dinosaurs at a very young age. She spent the majority of her primary education expanding her artistic talents and exploring many different artistic mediums, winning several ribbon awards for her watercolor illustrations and ceramic sculptural works at the Alaska State Fair in 1997 and 1998. She immediately enrolled in the Art Institute of Seattle in the Graphic Design and Animation Arts programs after graduating high school, and upon returning to her home state, continued to pursue a career in Graphic Design, where she met her future husband, Scott Elyard, while working at a press in Wasilla. In the years that followed, Amos and Elyard have collaborated on many projects together, including museum display pieces, art shows, and murals. Amos’ work appears in the e-book “All Your Yesterdays” by Dr. Darren Naish, John Conway, and Memo Kosemen (Irregular Books, 2013), the scientific paper “A Ceratopsian Dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of Western North America, and the Biogeography of Neoceratopsia” by Andrew Farke, et al (PLOSOne 2014), and “The Palaeoartists’ Handbook” by Dr. Mark Witton (The Crowood Press, 2018).

Describe your path to paleoart. Have you always been interested in ancient life? Did you come upon it randomly? Do you have science and/or art training?

Ichthyovenator laosensis cruises the coastal swamps, catching an unlucky courting male Siamamia fish in this speculative reconstruction of behavior, environment, and species in Early Cretaceous Laos. © Raven Amos

My path to paleoart began very shortly after I started reading spontaneously at age 4. I remember my brother and I sitting down to draw together and enjoying the results of our collaborations – he would draw Triceratops heads and I would draw the bodies and the background. When “The Land Before Time” came out in theaters, my mom took me to see it and immediately upon returning home, I wrote a very long letter to Don Bluth talking about how much I loved the movie and how I wanted to become an artist someday, adding some sketches for emphasis. I received a huge packet in reply, filled to bursting with production stills from the movie and a signed letter. After that, I became obsessed with dinosaurs– really, all things reptilian. My whole family, especially my grandmother, auntie, and mother, were very supportive and encouraged my insanity. Around age 10 or so, I got into the habit of tracing skeletons from my copies of “Dinosaurs and Other Archosaurs” by Zallinger, “Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs”, both Dr. David Norman and Dougal Dixon’s versions, and any other dinosaur books I could get my hands on – I would use those traced skeleton drawings as the basis for my early dinosaur art, tracing over the top on another sheet of paper and adding muscles, skin and details. I’d been studying the Walter-Foster published animation books of Preston Blair at this time and was looking toward attending art college after I graduated high school. I ended up attending the Art Institute for a little over 2 years. I don’t have formal science training (outside of my primary education), but I do have an insatiable curiosity – I love to read and learn about the world around me, and I have always enjoyed being out in nature observing the plants and animals that surround my home. It wasn’t until I attended my first Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting in 2009 that I became more actively involved in the scientific community.

Where do you draw much of your artistic inspiration from? Does living in Alaska help provide content inspiration and creativity?

A speculative look at the behaviors and habits of long-gone creatures, submitted for Irregular Books All Yesterdays contest. Gorgosaurus libratus the lesser bowertyrant courts a potential mate by constructing bowers of bone and driftwood and offering trophies of previous hunts or scavenging expeditions while displaying his iridescent feathers. © Raven Amos

I would definitely say living in Alaska provides inspiration – I live in an area dominated by forests and mountains, which seem to be a feature in lot of my work. The rest of my inspiration is varied, numerous, and ever-changing – as a kid, I grew up surrounded by art books of varying subject matters, chief among them the works of Brian Froud, the Stephen Cosgrove “Serendipity” books illustrated by Robin James, James Gurney’s “Dinotopia” book, in addition to the aforementioned Walter Foster animation books. I job shadowed under the late landscape painter and family friend Otis “Scott” McDaniel sometime around the age of 14, who instilled some important lessons in deriving inspiration and implementing compositions in paintings. At the same time, my brother had a friend who was attending art college and was willing and gracious enough to give me constructive criticism and advice. Possibly as a side-effect of wanting to dip my toes into animation, in high school I became interested in furry art, anime, manga, and Japanese video games, especially the character design aspects. I was also introduced to William Stout and Wayne Douglas Barlow in high school, thanks to what proved to be an exceedingly well-stocked school library. During and after college, I grew into Art Nouveau, especially the works of M.P. Verneuil and the Detmold Brothers.

What form of media do you use, most frequently, to create your art? Was this the same as when you first started as an artist? Do you have a favorite media?

© Raven Amos

I got my start as a kid sketching with mechanical pencils on copy paper or legal pads – all of which were in ample supply when I was growing up as both of my parents worked in office settings. I never felt confident with paint, so I would use ink pens, colored pencil and markers for most of my early works. I was introduced to the concept of using a computer to scan and enhance my artwork when my dad purchased a scanner that came bundled with Ulead Photoimpact in the mid-1990s (after much cajoling and wheedling on my part). Most of my work following college involved scanning inked outlines and using a mouse to fill in color and make cel-style shading. Even after purchasing my first used Wacom Intuos tablet in the mid 2000’s, it wasn’t until I met my husband, Scott Elyard, that I realized the benefits of creating from start to finish on the computer – fewer steps involved, easier to edit or correct if I get something wrong, and best of all, no more smudged ink or pencil. While digital is what I tend to gravitate towards nowadays, my favorite media is probably cheap Bic pens on paper – I always have one in my travel kit, and the loose, messy nature of the Bic pen is the best for getting down quick ideas. It’s also the most “Zen” media to work with – you learn very fast exactly how to work with “happy accidents” of splotches and broken lines.

I found some of your work online, much of it surrounds dinosaurs or large ancient life. Have you ever been interested in the small shelly extinct creatures or are you more intrigued by the larger forms of extinct life?

I admit that my interests have mainly skewed toward large, charismatic animals like dinosaurs. Especially after the discovery of the incredibly bizarre crustacean relative Dollocaris, I’d like to make a more concerted effort to emulate art noveau artist M.P. Verneuil’s approach, wherein he depicted what Victorian-era folk saw as typically “disgusting” and “vile” creatures such as mice, bats, and insects in as much lovingly rendered detail as any drawings he did of more traditionally “beautiful” animals like swan or deer. Creepy-crawly, fluttering, and “shelly” critters are just as important to understanding an extinct ecosystem as the charismatic megafauna and deserve to share the spotlight.

What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects about being a paleoartist?

Probably the most challenging aspect (apart from the inevitable “work/personal life” time struggles) is the countless hours of research and dead ends that can go into creating paleoart. Sometimes, you spend more time and energy on researching a particular animal (or plant) in a particular environment in a particular era than you do actually creating the work itself – one piece in particular, “Flower Dance”, took me months to finish, but only a fraction of that time was actually spent painting, with the rest occupied by 20 or more paleobotany papers and the several hundred browser tabs open to pictures of different flowering plants. The most rewarding aspects are the input I receive from scientists and other artists whose work I admire and introducing people to the unique natural history of Alaska and beyond.

© Raven Amos

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