This week I will attend my first ever SVPCA. This year, the host city is York, famous for its Viking heritage and impressive architecture. Within spitting distance (kind of) of the Jurassic Coast, vertebrate palaeontologists, biologists, artists and many other interested people will descend upon the city from far and wide to watch presentations by researchers and experts, to network, and generally catch up with colleagues and friends. For me, this will a very important event, as it will be the first palaeontological conference I've attended, and the first opportunity I've had to meet many of the palaeontologists whose work is crucial to some of my chosen areas of interest.
Rewind to 2001. I was at uni studying for my BA in Scientific and Natural History Illustration. I'd written to Oxford University Museum in the hope of securing an 'Industrial Placement' which turned into handful of commissions, producing illustrations for the museum's new displays. Later on, in 2004, the museum offered me a year's worth of work, so I quite my day job and began working on the one-hundred illustrations required to complete the displays, for which the museum had received a sizable award from the National Lottery. The first day of work coincided with the birth of my son, Drew, so it's all very memorable. Unfortunately, there was a major drawback to the whole deal, one which is a big problem for an unknown artist: if you're producing a year's worth of work for a museum display, no one's going to see you're work for at least a year.
So, at the completion of the work, the hunt for new work was on. Unfortunately, as I was to find out, there really isn't that much work out there for aspiring palaeoartists. There is only handful of palaeoartists making a living from the discipline, more-often-than-not supplementing it with work from outside the subject. Another limiting factor is that many potential commissions come from commercial entities which simply do not require a high level of palaeontological knowledge in their artists, and will gladly use generalists to produce their artwork. The end result was that I went back to my day job and, aside from a couple of small commissions for publishers, things went quiet.
Around Christmas 2012, I received a small commission from the States, followed by a commission statement from the Natural History Museum, which manages some of my artwork. It came at a time with I'd resigned myself to the fact I'd probably never work in palaeoart, and it was enough to rekindle my interest. So, I've spent the last 21 months or so actively pursuing my interest, though this time I've made the decision that I should keep the security of the day job. The All Your Yesterdays competition was also instrumental in keeping me going, and I submitted a speculative reconstruction showing a flock of courting nyctosaurs with bioluminscent head crests. This lead directly to my decision to write a short graphic novel about the life and death of an individual Nyctosaurus, the intention being that if commissions were slow coming, then a book might be a way to get noticed. That 'short graphic novel' quickly grew into something bigger and, as such, is still in progress, with a tentative completion date of 'sometime early next year'. A bit of a vague time frame, but that's what comes from juggling day-jobs and not-day-jobs.
Which brings us up to SVPCA '15. At the very least I'll meet some people I only know through social media, and hopefully I'll be able to get some feedback on some of the samples from the book. Slightly nervous as I'm trying hard not to feel like some sort of imposter, but I'll report back in a week!