Palaeontological Illustration, a Tell-All Confession

I got an email a couple of months ago, asking my advice on how to study, and get into palaeontological illustration as a career. My first impulse was to try to seem like a pro, and make up some bullshit. But I reconsidered, and answered honestly.

Palaeontological illustration is not a career. It’s not a profession, and almost certainly isn’t even a living. Artists are quite cagey about how much, or little, they make at this game, so making definitive statements is difficult. But at a guess, I would say that the number of people making a living doing paleontological illustration alone is in the low single digits. Maybe as low as three, two, or none. A lot of the big names don’t make a living, or do something else to supplement their artwork, like model-making or illustrating other subjects.

I’ll just state flat I don’t make anything like a living. A few thousand pounds is a good year for me.

Part of the problem is that there are lot of people in this space, so competition was always going to be fierce. But the bigger problem is that the traditional market wasn’t all that big to begin with, and it’s getting smaller. Books are collapsing, and an illustrator’s cut is generally going to be pretty small. Both museums and books are increasingly using (awful) 3D-rendered images instead of 2D paintings in any case.

With the traditional way of making money from illustration, the financial relationship between you — my art appreciators — and me is complicated:

Books:

You → Bookshop → Publisher → Me

Documentaries:

You → (Advertisers? TV Licences? Taxes?) → TV Channel → Production Company → Me

Museums:

You → (Entry fee? Taxes? Philanthopists? Lottery money?) → Museum → Contractor? → Me

I’ve never been good at operating in this complex world of indirect relationships, and over the last few months I’ve been formulating a new plan. A bolder simpler direction. I want my main work to be selling my art straight to you. Yes you if you are reading this. I prefer this financial model:

You → Me

I make something you like, you pay me money to own it. Done. Since I have been pursuing this new strategy, I’ve been making a little more money. Print sales are promising (though not at all spectacular), and it looks like I could make a go of this.

So, if you like my art, please consider supporting my work by buying my prints or cards on my website, or my forthcoming book. If you’re broke, you can help me out by sharing my work with people who might like it.

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