Marsh Palaeoart Award – winners announced

We are excited to announce our three winners of the first Palaeontographical Society Marsh Palaeoart Award!

This new annual award was launched in 2023, and recognises talent in the depiction of fossil fauna and flora, in keeping with the foundational aims of the Society. It is supported by the Marsh Charitable Trust. Submissions were open from October to November 2023, and we received a fantastic response. The standard was incredibly high, with work ranging from traditional drawings and physical sculptures, to digital paintings, three-dimensional digital models and animations. Our judging panel included Dr Mark Witton, celebrated palaeoartist and palaeontologist, and four council members with a range of scientific interests and artistic backgrounds. They were looking for a combination of scientific accuracy, creativity, original composition, technique, and how well the works met their intended purpose.

Our three winners are featured below. They will all be invited to attend our AGM in Glasgow in April for the prize giving – more details coming soon!

Overall Winner: Bob Nicholls
The Primeval Clevedon Bay 

The Primeval Clevedon Bay, by Bob Nicholls (Overall Winner)

Description: A digital painting depicting the marine environment of Clevedon Bay (Somerset, England) during the Early Carboniferous Period. It is one of three paintings commissioned by Professor Sir Stephen Sparks and the Clevedon Pier & Heritage Trust to illustrate the ancient environments preserved in the Clevedon Bay geology. The painting is exhibited on a large graphic board overlooking Clevedon Bay, and on the Clevedon Pier website.

Judges Comments: This piece has a wonderful balance of being a bustling scene, full of life, without feeling staged or overcrowded. There is attention to detail in every organism, even those classically overlooked in palaeoartistic reconstructions. The composition and lighting are beautiful, and the judges were delighted to see invertebrates taking centre stage. The key made this piece both educational as well as creatively accomplished. We liked the fact that everything in this scene could be found in a single piece of rock from this formation. There is no one ‘hero’ in the piece, but a whole cast of interesting charismatic organisms. A wonderful example of breathing life into ‘everyday’ fossils, the kind you can find yourself when out fossil hunting as a member of the public.

Bob responded, “This is quite an emotional moment for me. I will be celebrating 25 years of freelance palaeo-reconstruction art this year, so it is fantastic to receive an honour from The Palaeontographical Society. I worked very hard on the composition, it is great to read that my attempt to reconstruct a whole environment in a natural way was appreciated.”

Find out more about Bob’s art here, and follow them on twitter, Facebook, and instagram.

Bob Nicholls, Overall Winner

Highly Commended: Júlia d’Oliveira
Turnersuchus: The Crocodile in the Sea of Belemnites

Turnersuchus: The Crocodile in the Sea of Belemnites, by Júlia d’Oliveira (Highly Commended)

Description: A Turnersuchus, the oldest known thalattosuchian (an extinct group of marine crocodile relatives), chases after a group of belemnites in a shallow sea environment. It is known from the Belemnite Marls Member of the Charmouth Mudstone Formation, dating to the Early Jurassic Period. In the background, we see some of the ammonites also found in this Formation (Uptonia and Phricodoceras). The work accompanied a paper by Wilberg et al. (2023), published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, and was also used as the cover for that issue.

Judges Comments: This piece was noted for its compelling creativity and visual expressiveness. It stood out for not only being scientifically accomplished, but for the stunning portrayal of light refracting and playing across the fossil crocodile and the sea bed. The artist imparted the feeling of a warm, shallow ocean floor, and the lively ‘brushstrokes’ injected life to the scene. The judges also noted the composition, which told a story about how this organism lived, breathed, and moved. The choice of companion ammonites and belemnites was appreciated. A simple composition, masterfully handled. 

Júlia said, “I feel flattered by the comments of the judges and happy to have my work as highly commended. This artwork has become very important to me both artistically and because of the visibility it has gained. As a young artist from the Global South, having my work recognized by a very traditional institution is very meaningful and gives me confidence to keep improving on my work.”

Find out more about Júlia’s work here, and follow them on twitter and instagram.

Júlia d’Oliveira, Highly Commended

Highly Commended: Matt Humpage
Asteroxylon mackiei: an extinct plant from the Rhynie Chert

Asteroxylon mackiei: an extinct plant from the Rhynie Chert, by Matt Humpage (Highly Commended)

Description: This photorealistic life reconstruction of the crown of Asteroxylon mackiei, an extinct genus of Devonian Lycopsid from the Rhynie Chert (Aberdeenshire, Scotland). The reconstruction shows the rare non-Fibonacci spiral pattern in the growth of this plant, overturning the long held assumption that Fibonacci spirals had ancient origins in all plants. It was commissioned to accompany the publication of Turner et al. (2023), published in Science. The model was used in the analysis and the figures in the paper, before being adapted to make this artwork, which was the main publicity image.

Judges Comments: This piece was noted for its impressive technical skill, and the ‘science to art journey’. The model in this photorealistic image was created from challenging thin-section data and used in actual scientific analyses, but then formed the basis for this unusual piece of botanical palaeoart. The creative use of water droplets and ‘macro’ perspective was a clever way to convey the small scale of this organism. The lighting is beautiful, and the novel perspective and tight focal range transported the viewer into the moment, as though they were looking down at this pioneer land plant first-hand. A unique work, the judges felt they had not seen anything quite like it before.

Matt said, “It’s rare to hear such detailed feedback on a piece, and even rarer to realise everything you hoped to convey in your work translated to the audience. I was very lucky to get to work with such a brilliant specimen, and talented co-authors, and was delighted to breath life into this incredible little Devonian pioneer from the Rhynie Chert.”

Find out more about Matt’s work here, and follow them on twitter.

Matt Humpage, Highly Commended

We’d like to thank all of the artists for their submissions, and our judges and sponsors. If you are interested in submitting a piece for the next Marsh Palaeoart Award, submissions will open again in Autumn 2024, keep an eye on our social media and website for updates.