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All Your Yesterdays, our new book

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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All Your Yesterdays is here. The cover art (featuring juvenile troodontids) is by Alvaro Rozalen.

Last year, John ConwayMemo Kosemen and myself published All Yesterdays (it also features skeletal reconstructions by the brilliant Scott Hartman), a book that focused specifically on the more speculative aspects of palaeoart: follow the links below for more on this project. If you liked All Yesterdays, you’ll be pleased to hear that there’s a sequel, now online and available to download here. It’s called All Your Yesterdays and it’s essentially a crowdsourced book: we invited people to send in their own, All Yesterdays-style illustrations and the best and most interesting (in the purely subjective sense, of course) are the ones that feature in the book. Memo put the whole thing together and wrote the entries; I wrote an Introduction but my contribution was otherwise minimal. And because I don’t have time to generate anything new, here’s a slightly edited version of said Introduction…

When C. M. “Memo” Kosemen told me and John of his plans to invite people to send in their own All Yesterdays style illustrations for an All Yesterdays-themed competition, I thought it was a tremendously bad idea. I expected a few poor to mediocre bits of art that would most likely be silly and outlandishly speculative. How wrong and stupid I was. The actual results – included in the volume now available here to download – are nothing short of spectacular; I’m blown away by the quantity and quality of the work the in­vitation attracted.

Those interested in palaeoart – wherever they find themselves in the world of science and art – will, I think, relish this book and the quality of its illustrations. Already I can’t stop thinking about some of my favourite images and I’m secretly afraid that some of them will stay in my mind whenever I look at, or think about, the crea­tures concerned. The project that Memo decided to title All Your Yesterdays has, in short, been an outstanding success. All Your Yesterdays is a thing of great beauty.

Emily Willoughby's work (here, a cycad-eating Microraptor) emerges as one of the real highlights of this book. Her work is fantastic and you're sure to see a lot more of it in coming years.

There are so many personal highlights in the volume that it’s difficult to know which pieces to honourably mention in a summary. The invitation attracted professionals and semi-professionals as well as interested amateurs; it’s thrill­ing to see several pieces by the brilliant and increasingly well known Emily Willoughby, I love Jaime Headden’s Dixon-inspired ‘Giraffapteryx’, and Raven Amos’s ‘Bower­tyrants’ piece is wonderful. Other highlights that make the book appear way more professional in appearance than I ever expected include the contributions of All Yesterdays tri­umvirate member John Conway, and the brilliantly innova­tive and imaginative works of Joschua Knuppe and Oscar Mendez. The invitation attracted contributions from several household names in the palaeoart ubernerd community: Mike Hanson, Mike Keesey, Julio Lacerda and Simon Roy among them. Seriously: wow. Just… wow!

Weird stuff happens to animals today (example: Masai giraffe dies after getting neck caught in tree-fork). Prediction: weird stuff happened to animals in the past (example: sauropod dies in similar way). The sauropod illustration - by Tuomas Koivurinne - appears in All Your Yesterdays. The photo of the deceased giraffe was featured on Tet Zoo back in 2008. The man is none other than Bernhard Grzimek.

Remember also that the contributions included in All Your Yesterdays were essentially done for fun, sent in by people purely because they wanted to, not because they were seeking financial gain. It’s probably best here that we don’t get into the whole issue of how palaeoartists (and, indeed, artists in general) can make a living from their work (for the record, the deal isn’t any different for writers and some scientists, either). The point worth making here is that the internet has changed everything: long gone are the days where an artist had to strive to get work published in a mainstream published outlet (like a magazine or book) be­fore their work was noticed or considered worthy. While – given the hardships – we wouldn’t necessarily recommend that anyone try to get into palaeoart or even writing as a possible career path, we sincerely hope that our promotion of the work included in All Your Yesterdays helps its creators in some way.

Does the world need more speculation in palaeoart? It’s complicated

All Yesterdays: Conway et al. (2012).

Are we wise in encouraging people to speculate when it comes to palaeoart? This is a complex subject. Scientists tend to think that palaeoart ‘belongs’ in some way to Science, and that people who produce reconstructions of extinct animals can only do so when they portray ancient animals and environments in rigorously accurate fashion, paying attention to the most up-to-date knowledge. Scien­tifically rigorous art of this sort certainly has its place: we would expect to see it, for example, accompanying a press release on a newly announced fossil animal, or adjacent to a fossil specimen in a museum: for palaeoart of this sort we very much recommend William Stout’s 2009 Prehistoric Life Murals (Stout 2009) and Steve White’s 2012 Dinosaur Art: the World’s Greatest Paleoart (White 2012).

However, the fact that palaeoart combines an element of artistry and speculation – be honest, even the most rigorous, most conservative piece of palaeoart still involves an amount of speculation – means that it is some­times unclear where the ‘facts’ end and the speculations begin. Remember that animals are often shown eating, standing or resting in certain postures, frequenting specific environments, and are decorated in a given livery. Those are speculations, and even when they appear conservative, they aren’t necessarily correct or worthy.

I think we can be pretty confident that stuff like this really happened in the distant past, even though we can never know for sure. A dust-bathing Struthiomimus, by the brilliant Joschua Knuppe. Many of his pieces feature in All Your Yesterdays.

One of the criticisms levelled at All Yesterdays is that the entire project seemingly made it ok for people to speculate away and do whatever the hell they liked, evidence, con­servatism and critical thinking be damned. By inviting peo­ple to speculate away and produce even more artwork of the same sort, maybe we’re exacerbating things, arguably opening the floodgates to an endless torrent of evidence-free arm-waving.

There are several responses that need to be made to this claim. As we tried to make clear in All Yesterdays (look at p. 10 in the Introduction), scientific reconstructions of fossil animals should indeed incorporate whatever hard data we have on ancient animals and their environments (Conway et al. 2012). We typically have detailed information on the bony anatomy and thus the proportions and basic shape of a given animal, for example; we can infer a lot about its musculature and integument based on what we know about its living relatives; and we should try to incorporate whatever data we have on environments, climates and the local vegetation. The scientific palaeoart that I and many of my colleagues would consider ‘good’ ticks all of these boxes (though, at the risk of sounding like a stuck record, I will repeat a point I often have: that some of the palaeontol­ogists who advise palaeoartists aren’t aware of the required technical data, or honestly don’t care about the way ancient animals are depicted. These two problems explain the many terrible illustrations we still see in some mainstream books).

Cropped segments of Raven Amos's brilliant Bower tyrants piece (see All Your Yesterdays for the full version). Some people will balk at pictures like this for speculatively superimposing behaviour like that shown here on fossil animals. That's fair enough, but is it wrong to disallow speculation of this sort entirely? I'm not so sure.

However, when it comes to soft tissue anatomy and behav­iour, many of the cherished ideas and themes of conven­tional palaeoart are not always obviously less speculative than the sorts of images we explored in All Yesterdays: they frequently represent historical tropes that were arrived at by accident, they represent assumptions and conven­tions, and they are even, arguably, reflective of cultural and societal expectations. Sure, there are some illustra­tions in All Yesterdays that might be a tad unlikely (exam­ple: a stegosaur with a giant flexible penis, a plesiosaur that camouflages itself by lying on the seafloor), but there aren’t any that are obviously more unlikely than many of the other illustrations that have been endorsed elsewhere (for example, stegosaurs with hyper-mobile plates, skim-feeding pterosaurs, ceratopsians that form defensive circles, theropods that roar at their prey, and so on).

In short, speculation in palaeoart should be seen as a slid­ing scale. At which point does a speculation render itself too extreme? And is it even possible to reach said extreme given the ridiculous soft tissue structures and absurd behaviours present in the modern world? It is, in fact, surprisingly difficult to come up with a speculative piece of palaeoart that is unconditionally ridiculous (at least, so long as the basic rules of anatomy, biology and physics are applied, as they are in science-based reconstructions). Critics and detractors would do well to remember this when criticising speculative palaeoart, especially when the art concerned is clearly labelled – as it is – as an exercise in speculation. Remember that, if we’ve learnt anything about living animals and about palaeobiology, it’s that things are more complex, stranger, and more wonderful than we have typically assumed.

Poor effort at combining surrealism with dinosaurs, dated to c. 1990 and with the usual obvious GSP derivations. Read on... (and - no - this image is not in All Your Yesterdays!).

It should also be accepted that depictions of ancient ani­mals do not ‘belong’ wholly to science. Images of living animals are frequently incorporated into abstract, fantasti­cal and surrealist works of art: nobody ever said that every image of an animal, ever, has to be an anatomically correct study that faithfully depicts the creature in its natural envi­ronment. Art depicting extinct animals can obviously play the same game. Speculative, fun, and even deliberately ‘wrong’ depictions of extinct animals are therefore ‘al­lowed’ in cases where the artist is not claiming to produce a rigorous scientific reconstruction. Some of the art included in All Your Yesterdays can be seen in this vein. It is not necessarily offered as a scientific bit of palaeoart, but as a stylized image that features a fossil animal.

My retro therizinosaurs - none of these illustrations are accurate, they're all historic depictions. But we can't pretend that they don't exist. Some of you might recognise certain of these images (or the originals that they're based on). Images by Darren Naish, composited by C. M. Kosemen.

On that note, much of the palaeoart of the past is now regarded as woefully wrong. The animals have the wrong body shapes, the wrong postures, they are shown engag­ing in unlikely or absurd behaviours, they are in the wrong environments, the wrong climates, and so on. This does not stop them being worthy, and even beautiful, pieces of art. A few people that admire and love the style created by Knight, Burian, Parker and many of the other great artists of the past are depicting ‘retro’ palaeoart that does not pre­tend to be scientifically accurate – rather, it is a homage to a specific style. Again, this is ‘allowed’ as an artistic conven­tion; it doesn’t mean that the artist is necessarily trying to portray an imagined reality.

The human experience is rich. We should love what we do; we are passionate, we enjoy thinking about and depicting scenes from the world, from the past, from our lives and from our minds. Art can be driven by science, but it can be divorced from it entirely. Speculative art, ‘retro’ palaeoart, and accurate, high-fidelity reconstructions all have their place in the way we choose to portray the animals of the past. We hope you enjoy the remarkable selection of images we include in All Your Yesterdays. And well done and thank you to everyone that contributed.

Sauropod Giraffatitan, lounging, by John Conway. For full-size version see All Your Yesterdays.

All Your Yesterdays can be downloaded here at Irregular Books.

For previous articles on the All Yesterdays project, and our next one – the Cryptozoologicon – go here…

Refs – -

Conway, J., Kosemen, C. M. & Naish, D. 2012. All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals. Irregular Books.

Stout, W. 2009. Prehistoric Life Murals. Flesk, Santa Cruz.

White, S. 2012. Dinosaur Art: the World’s Greatest Paleoart. Titan Books, London.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at! Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Raptormimus456 8:29 am 09/27/2013

    “Hesperonyhus” and “Hesperonchus”.

    I’m pretty sure they meant “Hesperonychus”, but a typo is a typo, and it’s no book ruiner.

    Well, there’s also “Shuuvia” (reffering to Shuvuuia (is the correct spelling Shuuvia or Shuvuuia? I think it’s the latter, myself, but not sure.)..

    But again, no book-ruiners, just the same sort of typos we get when these names are typed. At least their more understandable then mispelling Tyrannosaurus as Tyranosaurus, though.

    Again, not being rude, just observing the book and mercilessly picking it apart like the hopelessly sad dinosaur nerd I am. :P

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  2. 2. naishd 8:36 am 09/27/2013

    Yeah, there are assorted dumb typos in the book.. Thanks for pointing them out, hopefully we can correct in the future.


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  3. 3. Dartian 8:40 am 09/27/2013

    they frequently represent historical tropes

    Interesting that you chose to use that word, Dr. I-have-my-own-TV-Tropes-page Naish… ;)

    Poor effort at combining surrealism with dinosaurs, dated to c. 1990

    Very Guernica! I like it! :)

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  4. 4. David Marjanović 11:51 am 09/27/2013

    The correct spelling is Shuvuuia, from Mongolian шувуу (shuvuu), “bird”. And yes, typos are rather plentiful in this awesome book.

    Interesting that you chose to use that word, Dr. I-have-my-own-TV-Tropes-page Naish… ;-)

    He doesn’t. Tetrapod Zoology does… this way I get my 15 kB of fame, too. :-] I’m surprised you aren’t mentioned!

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  5. 5. David Marjanović 11:54 am 09/27/2013

    Oh, wow. Tyrannosaurus rex has a page, with Osborn as the Trope Namer!

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  6. 6. David Marjanović 11:55 am 09/27/2013

    Massive HTML fail. Here goes Tyrannosaurus rex.

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  7. 7. Jerzy v. 3.0. 2:07 pm 09/27/2013

    Cool! BTW, All Yesterdays also has its own tv trope.

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  8. 8. David Marjanović 2:24 pm 09/27/2013

    …I have emerged from TV Tropes. *sigh*

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  9. 9. Christopher Taylor 7:04 pm 09/27/2013

    I was impressed, and I’d recommend people download this book (are there any plans to produce it in meatspace-tangible form?)

    For the record, I did go back after downloading it myself to try and make a donation, but Paypal was being Paypal and didn’t understand that there are no counties in Australia.

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  10. 10. Neil K. 1:11 am 09/28/2013

    “I think we can be pretty confident that stuff like this really happened in the distant past, even though we can never know for sure.”

    Well, it would be tough, but the emerging paleopigment field would seem to be a good enough case to never say never. I can armchair hypothesize some seemingly plausible geochemical or feather-wear proxies for dust bathing, not that I would necessarily count on them surviving 65 Ma of geological processing.

    Anyway though, Knuppe’s work is so real and rich that my inclination too is just to say “yup, that’s about right” and move along.

    I’ve been enjoying AYY. On the whole, I note a slightly more conservative bent relative to the original AY, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing given the obvious temptation to go rogue.

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  11. 11. CS Shelton 5:04 am 09/28/2013

    Charles Knight’s art remains “impostant.” Typos XD

    It’s great! Sorry I checked it out without donating. I am the veriest of paupers.

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  12. 12. naishd 5:41 am 09/28/2013

    Yeah, yeah, Knight was very impostant. It’s a new word, means a combination of important and imposterish. Thanks to all for comments, glad the book is being enjoyed.


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  13. 13. Jerzy v. 3.0. 8:11 am 09/28/2013

    Enjoyed the book. Especially the idea of dinosaurs shredding and growing feathers with the change of the seasons!

    Actually, many feathered maniraptorians should have distinct breeding and non-breeding plumage as modern birds.

    One minor thing which I don’t much like is the occasional copying complete colors of a living animal to an extinct one. There are crowned crane- tragopan- and little ringed plover-dinosaurs. It is so much better to invent something new!

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  14. 14. Perisoreus 10:37 am 09/28/2013

    Good scientific art, as well as good science in general, is always speculative. Not that its particular value lies in its speculative character, but rather because its speculative character is a prerequisite for good work (which includes reliable models, inspiring hints and the credibility of scientific results). Take, for example, Greg Paul’s shrink-wraps: clearly not the state of the art as of today, but an important step away from the bulky, phlegmatic reconstructions of earlier decades. What Paul did was to take a risky step away from these depictions (he risked being ignored, laughed at, or being completely wrong in the end) in order to give bones, skeletons and biomechanics an appropriate place in our imagination. And he was at least partially successful.

    I thnik fictions of that type are not cherished enough in some paleontological circles, simply because they’re “just” fictions. We shouldn’t forget, however, that most scientific work – not only paleontology – consists and relies on fictions (what-ifs, try-to-pictures, retelling-adventures), starting from atom models and ending with the position of continents millions of years ago. I think you’re perfectly right to stress that the value of the fictions in All Yesterdays is of a different type than the ones employed in most scientific papers. Whoever puts his or her trust into the work of paleontologists should also be allowed and encouraged to celebrate the worlds they bring forth – after all, that’s what got all of us interested in the first place! Paleoart is a way of adding more reality to stones and bones. Not the only one, for sure, but the same applies to science. It’s not like there is an intrinsic conflict between the two of them.

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  15. 15. Heteromeles 3:46 pm 09/28/2013

    It’s a nice book. My grumble (and note, my entry wasn’t included in it, so I’m definitely biased), was that the original contest called for art and said something along the lines of “it doesn’t have to be good, just original.” The book appears to contain the good art, probably at the expense of originality.

    Obviously, what’s done is done, and this is an intriguing book. If Irregular Books ever does this again, might you consider being a little more forthcoming and/or consistent about asking for submissions? If you want publishable-quality paleoart, ask for it. If you want originality, use it. I think that comment about importing living bird plumage to extinct maniraptorans does speak for itself, and not in a good way.

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  16. 16. naishd 5:37 pm 09/28/2013

    At the risk of appearing lily-livered, I want to add that I had no role whatsoever in selecting the pieces that went into the book. As goes colour schemes and integumentary details, it’s a pet peeve of mine when a fossil animal’s livery is all too obviously based on that of an extant species.


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  17. 17. LeeB 1 8:21 pm 09/28/2013

    Well then make fun of it.
    How about a Tyrannosaur in Giant Panda colours.


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  18. 18. naishd 5:21 am 09/29/2013

    If you mean therizinosaur instead of tyrannosaur, it’s been done…


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  19. 19. David Marjanović 7:01 am 09/29/2013

    The book appears to contain the good art, probably at the expense of originality.

    I share this fear. The book has turned out really beautiful, so I’m not complaining, but I do hope there’ll be a next time. :-)

    (…Disclaimer: I didn’t submit anything. This is not about me.)

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  20. 20. David Marjanović 7:08 am 09/29/2013

    Oh, the typos… they extend to people’s names. Our Fb friend Vladimir Nikolov (Владимир Николов) is consistently spelled “Vladmir”.

    I’m not sure about Bulgarian, but in Russian the missing i is even stressed in pronunciation…

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  21. 21. Jerzy v. 3.0. 8:00 am 09/29/2013

    You could make an online contest of paleo art. First prize – shake of hand with famous Dr Naish.

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  22. 22. Jerzy v. 3.0. 8:01 am 09/29/2013

    No offence meant :)

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  23. 23. vdinets 9:59 am 09/29/2013

    David: there is something about the name “Vladimir” that makes it virtually impossible to spell correctly for English speakers. I got used to it a long time ago.

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  24. 24. LeeB 1 3:33 pm 09/29/2013

    Nice therizinosaur but I did mean tyrannosaur.
    The concept of a fierce tyrannosaur in cute panda colours just appealed to my sense of the ridiculous.


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  25. 25. mojojojo 5:03 pm 09/29/2013

    So when are we going to get some more info about the Cryptozoologicon? So far from the pics that have been released we know the book will cover the yeti, surviving megalodons,chupacabre,tatzelwurm (at least that is what it looked like) and some giant canine creature (maybe the The Beast of Gévaudan?)Can we get any other clues?

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  26. 26. David Marjanović 6:48 am 09/30/2013

    there is something about the name “Vladimir” that makes it virtually impossible to spell correctly for English speakers

    They like closed syllables, and they like putting the stress on the first syllables. American politicians like talking about Vladmr Pootn.

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  27. 27. AlHazen 9:40 pm 09/30/2013

    Philosophy of science comment–
    Re: “We shouldn’t forget, however, that most scientific work – not only paleontology – consists and relies on fictions (what-ifs, try-to-pictures, retelling-adventures), starting from atom models and ending with the position of continents millions of years ago.” (Perisoreus, comment #14)

    Well, yes, but… In physical theory there is an effort to eliminate, or at least bracket, any feature of the hypothetical model that isn’t directly related to some observational prediction. (Einstein’s move in formulating special relativity can be seen as an instance: the concept of simultaneity for events in different places wasn’t doing any work in the theory, so he tried to reformulate the theory leaving it out…) In an artistic life reconstruction of a fossil species you CAN’T eliminate the “non-load-bearing” parts of the hypothesis. ANY artistic depiction of the critter will have to have SOME features that aren’t currently connected to evidence: the picture will have to show SOME color pattern (in the generic sense, where even all-over uniform grey counts as a “pattern”). Even if you just do a dotted-line outline drawing you’ll have to draw it in some posture, and (as we know from discussions of Sauropod necks!) even that will be speculative.

    So… I’m all in favor of the sort of imaginative reconstructions Darren is describing. I think they’re great, they add to the fascination of palaeontology. But there is a sense in which they are (inevitably) of a MORE speculative nature than some other scientific speculations. Which is o.k.: theoretical physics doesn’t represent the ONLY way to be scientific.

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  28. 28. sjoshs 3:20 am 10/1/2013

    Oh Darren,

    I just come here all heartbroken from my personal life to find this book… You just made my week!


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  29. 29. CS Shelton 1:47 am 10/4/2013

    Second the thing about plumage, and I extend that to the otter-bulocetus pair. It felt like a cute joke, at least, but not believable.

    I can’t think of a better place to ask this, and it’s sort of related to the topic. My partner thinks I should be trying to do something involving paleontology for a living, as that’s a big passion of mine. I’m an artist first, so he thought of paleo-art.

    What I didn’t want to depress him with is that I know from reading here there’s no pay left in that gig. Publishers and producers are all wanting something for nothing, and the market is flooded with desperate talented people scratching for crumbs – or just giving it away.

    That leaves science work itself. I have a BFA in computer animation. What additional schooling would I need to work in paleontology, and what sort of paying work is available in that science? How hard is it to get a gig in radiometric dating or digitally modeling biomechanics or pushing data or rocks around or whatever? I know teaching is bad news these days too.

    I have pretty modest needs. I could probably get by on 35k a year or so. I am not hopeful that that’s even possible in the field without a doctorate.

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  30. 30. David Marjanović 10:52 am 10/4/2013

    and what sort of paying work is available in that science?

    There’s paying work available in that science? If you know any, please tell me about it… :-)

    I exaggerate. But not by all that much.

    What additional schooling would I need to work in paleontology

    Well, all of it. Start with a BSc in biology (or geology, but if you have to choose, biology is almost certainly better).

    I am not hopeful that that’s even possible in the field without a doctorate.


    The good news is…

    I know teaching is bad news these days too.

    Everything is bad news these days! *mad cackling* No matter what you do, you will waste time on preparing for jobs that don’t exist. You might as well have fun doing so!

    And you come with advance knowledge, so it’ll be easier, though probably not faster.

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  31. 31. CS Shelton 10:59 pm 10/6/2013

    Thanks for responding, DM. Sounds like my time would be better spent learning something I’m not interested in (but can tolerate) that will lead to a job. Like teaching children. The schools want inexperienced guys because they can pay us less. I’d be in demand! Woohoo.

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  32. 32. David Marjanović 6:28 am 10/10/2013

    You’d have lots of competition, though, too.

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  33. 33. CS Shelton 9:42 pm 10/10/2013

    Nothing’s ideal.

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  34. 34. ohnosir 5:40 pm 11/7/2013

    CS Shelton –
    I wouldn’t give up hope on paleoart just yet. I am also working towards eventually pulling myself along by the teeth in the paleo illustration field, and judging from what I have heard from other scientific illustrators and researchers, that BFA in animation gives you a pretty nice advantage over the rest of us schmucks sitting around drawing things. Especially if you have experience with computer graphics programs, you aren’t limited to editorial illustrations or drawing figures for manuscripts, you would be able to create computer models to reconstruct locomotion, and even extend in the 3D printing, etc. etc.

    I’m not saying the financial prospects are stellar either way, but if you’re really interested, you should know that you have a decided advantage in the field today.

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