Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Department of Paleobiology
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution
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Why not use a photograph?
Photographs are unsurpassed at recording information exactly as it appears. Therefore, it is rare that a paleo illustrator will be asked to draw a specimen unless modifications to what can be seen literally by a camera are needed. Fossils are often fragmentary, and artifacts from the aging process can obscure structure, distort, and flatten specimens. Matrix often covers parts of the fossil. Important diagnostic features, such as skull sutures, are frequently too subtle to be seen when photographed. Any interpretive or corrective work must be portrayed through illustration.
Fossil, two skeletal reconstruction drawings, one life restoration drawing.

Reconstruction of the earliest known pinneped, Enaliarctos mealsi: A) Original fossil material; B) Reconstruction of Enaliarctos mealsi (USNM 374272); C) Life restoration of B; D) comparison with the closest living relative, the Southern Sea Lion, Otaria flavescenes (redrawn from Blainville). Illustrations by Mary Parrish under the direction of Annalisa Berta and Clayton Ray. Published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. The stipple technique (A, B) and graphite pencil technique (C) were used to render the illustration.

Other problems encountered when photographing specimens include the poor depth of field (the inability of a camera to focus throughout the depth of a specimen) and parallax (size distortion caused by the camera lens). Lastly, in order to show the extinct plant or animal as it may have appeared in life, an artist must create a reconstruction. No camera will ever be able to photograph something that no longer exists.


PALEO ART HOME
Illustration Care
ILLUSTRATION TECHNIQUES

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