Dallas, Oregon, United States
MARK HALLETT has been an innovator in the field of paleo-art since 1974. Hallett’s pieces show extinct animals
in artistically beautiful compositions,
he is known for his attention to detail, his beautiful landscape settings, and his use of light to create dramatic and elegant pieces of art. When we asked the artists featured in this exhibit who had inspired their own work there were two names that came up every time, Charles R. Knight, and Mark Hallett.
His work has been featured in numerous magazines, books, articles, and movies. Hallett was chosen as artist consultant by Steven Spielberg to help create the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. His work on display here was featured in the book
The Puzzle of the Dinosaur Bird. If you have seen the Disney movie Dinosaur or read a National Geographic article about prehistoric life, you have probably seen Mark Hallett’s work.
Mark's work has appeared in Life, Smithsonian, Natural History and National Geographic as well as scientific journals and popular books. In 1986 his paintings toured museums in the United States, Britain, Europe, Japan and Australia, among them the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History. Some of these exhibits in turn opened other doors: Mark was chosen as artist consultant by Steven Spielberg to help create the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, and later created many of the scenes and leading dinosaur characters for Disney Features' epic film, Dinosaur!
INterview with Mark Hallett:
How old were you when you first realized you wanted to become an artist?
The idea of becoming a professional artist started to creep in during high school at about 16 or 17.
Do you still have any of your early artwork?
Yes, going back to my kid drawings at 5 and a few high school pieces.
Have you studied art formally?
AA at Citrus Jr. College, Azusa CA (along with scientific illustration at City of Hope Medical Center, Duarte, CA); BA at Long Beach State U., Long Beach, CA.
Is there an artist whose work you admire? What is it about their work that intrigues you?
During high school I was really taken by the work of Andrew Wyeth, whose crisp rendering technique and naturalistic style made a debut in Time magazine around 1962/1963. As a professional paleoartist my all-round hero is Jay H. Matternes, who created the monumental Land Mammal Stage murals at the Smithsonian’s U.S. Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. In these he created an unsurpassed sense of “you are there” with his paleomammals.
How did you arrive at your current style, what techniques or authors inspired you?
The desire to draw well and paint forms in a naturalistic way has always been my main motivation (hence Wyeth), using the concept of “gray color” and high definition as well as the incredible subtilties of light and shadow in nature. Charles R. Knight and Ernest Thompson Seton inspired me to make my rendered animals alive, and have souls.
What are the sources of your inspiration? Do you have a muse? Do you have a process you employ to generate ideas?
Overwhelmingly, my main inspiration is nature, in all her exquisite beauty, terrible power and profound mystery. For me cats are probably the best muses I can think of, and our black cat Raksha (Hindi for “demoness protector”) exploits this whenever she can. Creative ideas can come when you least expect, but for me it’s often around 2:30 3:00 am at night—gotta write them down as soon as you can so you don’t forget!
Where do you find inspiration, concepts or images for your illustrations? Do you have a purpose, a key message about important topics you wish to portray through your art?
For a paleoartist like myself, hearing or reading about some weird, unheard-of beastie discovered as a fossil will get the creative juices flowing. As an environmentalist, I try to communicate the fate of Earth’s lost prehistoric creatures to that of the threats facing today’s wildlife.
What clues might you provide to help viewers understand your art?
Every fossil of a prehistoric animal or plant is unique snapshot of an individual caught in time, and each of us, the living, is the tiniest thread in a vast tapestry that spans the ages. The empty skull of a sabercat once held a fierce, beautiful golden eye, and if viewers can sense this I’ll feel rewarded.
Do you have cultural references to which you gravitate?
If you’re a citizen of the world, a multi-culturalist, every human perspective (whether you agree with it or not) can have meaning in helping you understand life—there are so many that can enlighten a creative mind.
What upcoming projects are you working on?
At the moment I’m at work reconstructing the appearance and behavior of some weird marine mammals, called desmostylians, with a team of paleontologists. I’m also creating a series of portraits of small wild cats around the world in their native habitats for the Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation; the original paintings and giclee prints will be auctioned to raise money for field research and habitat protection. Finally, as a member of the Sunrise Movement, I promote the idea of satellite-based solar radiation control to alleviate global warming.
How do you set up your job when you get a new contract?
In the case of restoring an extinct life form, I start by gathering as much information as I can online as well as input from the leading experts on the particular creature, followed by lots of reading and study, before I start to draw. Tracing paper and #2 pencils are my best friends, and I make sure I have lots!
Can you describe your creative process?
For most paleorestoration projects (dinosaurs, paleomammals, humans, etc.) having a look at what’s preserved of the life form comes first, either as resin cast of the bones or really precise 2D images (photos, scientific drawings) -- this is the raw material you need for bringing something to life. Next you apply your knowledge of the circumstances surrounding its discovery, leavened by your (often imperfect) knowledge of anatomy. This is where it gets fun, connecting the dots to come up with the appearance and behavior of something that hasn’t seen the light of day in thousands or millions of years.
What tools do you use most in your art?
Hard and soft graphite pencils, kneaded and firm erasers and tracing velum are at the top of the list for early sketching and later, more finished concepts; tracing paper allows you to progressively refine your drawings and incorporate accuracy as you make changes. For color concepts, I like to use gouache (aka designers’ colors, opaque water colors) because, along with their high opacity/thinnability, you can modify rendered images by redissolving/removing, re-rendering and making changes ad infinitum; they can harden up in the tube but are easy to reconstitute: just add water!
How do you recharge when a difficult assignment nears a deadline?
A 30-40 min. nap, around 2:00 pm, is a great recharger!
What is your favorite activity when you take a break from the studio?
Anything that takes you away from the concentration you put into a big project is great, from a few hours to a few days. Whatever helps you to look at your illustration with fresh eyes, seeing both mistakes and stuff that’s not as bad as you thought.
What would be your dream illustration assignment?
Wow. I’d be happy to do an illustrated article for National Geographic on new Neanderthal discoveries, or one on California’s lost Miocene inland sea, complete with a 3-page foldout of desmostylians, primitive walruses and fantastic fish romping underwater!