Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Back from TetZooCon

I am slowly recuperating from the TetZooCon event in London that took place on last Saturday and Sunday (that's short for 'Tetrapod Zoology Convention'). I had not been to a TetZooCon before, for the simple reason that the timing in October had always interfered with my work: October is a very popular month for all kinds of scientific conventions. But this time I had taken time off in October, and by pure coincidence TetZooCon happened to fall right in that period. I definitely will want to go to next year's TetZooCon. They're fun! I learned about whale population recovery, straight-tusked elephants, the influence of city lights on the biological clocks of birds, music in wildlife documentaries, and many, many other things. I expect that there will be a discussion of the programme on tetzoo.com, so I will not go into details here. I will just hint at one or two things.
I was very curious about the Palaeoart workshop. The programme stated talks by Luis Rey and Mark Witton, and there was a discussion in which John Conway and Bob Nicholls also took part. In this blog I have never devoted much attention to palaeoart, although I think it can fall under the heading of 'allied matters' in the title of this blog. After all, much of palaeoart is speculative, and in that sense it is part of speculative biology. Part of the discussion was about to which extent those who like art in general would also like palaeoart. Personally I doubt that: the admittedly little I have seen of the general art world suggested surprisingly closed minds, with some Art Schools not even deigning tot teach representational art at all. Do not even mention digital painting there; that seems to lie outside that particular micro-universe altogether. The discussion also dealt with the current preference for photorealism in palaeoart. Some of the photorealistic work done by experts in that field is stunning. But I grew up with the work of people like Zdenek Burian, who worked in a much more impressionist manner. The irony here is that, whenever I aim to do something in a Burian-like style, it always turns out much more photorealistic than I wanted to.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk
That twist brings me to the workshop itself: John Conway asked the participants to produce palaeoart in an art style that would be new and foreign to the artist, challenging people to use materials they were otherwise unfamiliar with. I found that so much of a challenge that I missed the first 10 minutes of Luis Rey's talk altogether (sorry). In the end, I used pastels, even though I stopped touching crayons, charcoal and similar materials as soon as my school teachers allowed me to let them lie. I chose to draw a triceratops in the style used by Stone Age painters, using an Altamira bison as inspiration. The coarse effects of the pastel really fitted the subject matter well, which was more luck than intention.

On Sunday afternoon Darren Naish led a discussion about speculative biology, with Dougal Dixon and me as speakers. Dougal was his usual enthusiastic self and did very well. He had brought along a model of Greenworld (for posts on Greenworld see here and here), as well as many sketchbooks of Greenworld, that were laying on a table so everyone had ample time to browse through them during the conference. I showed a 15-slide presentation of Furaha that contained nine paintings that had not been publicly shown before, so I wondered whether people would pick up on those (so far, I haven't seen them pop up yet). Because this was just a quick introduction I did not provide much in the way of background knowledge.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk
Here is a slide of a subject that was published before: it is part of the banner at the top of this blog, but the one here is a reworked digital version, while the one in the banner is still the old oil painting. Hexapods form the last group I need to do to complete The Book, taking up some 10 to 12 spreads. I am thinking of giving them a thorough makeover, with important changes to their jaws and leg structures.

I showed some animations that have been shown on these blog before such as the one above, but the bigger projection scale really helps. The one above is of course a short-cloaked cloakfish. Such animations take an enormous amount of time to make, and I had stopped creating them because of that. But one of the TetZooCons talks changed my mind: Fiona Taylor spoke about the music accompanying music documentaries, and made a very strong case that music adds to the image. So I will reconsider the feasability of creating a four- or five-minute documentary about cloakfish adaptive radiation one day after all. Perhaps there will even be a professional sound track. Don't hold your breath though, as producing even one scene takes an awfully long time...