Where Art and Science Intersect: An Exhibit of Diane Scott’s Fossil Reconstruction Illustrations

Article by: Nina S Rafeek

What does an ancient fossil, digital software and a coquille board have in common?

They are all materials used in Diane Scott’s creative process to produce her one-of-a-kind paleo illustrations.  They are fossil reconstruction illustrations, used to tell the scientific community what the fossil would have looked like before millions of years of the earth’s environmental processes.

Scott started her career as a fossil illustrator in her second year of university and she admits that it was “just a fun way of earning a bit of cash”.  Scott’s talent and enthusiasm for fossil illustrations resulted in her landing a position as a scientific illustrator in Professor Robert Reisz’s lab.  Over 36 years later, her job now includes the preparation, analysis, identification, drawing and reconstruction of fossils, along with training students at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM).  Although she is a veteran in her field, Scott reveals that she is still learning: “My job has changed drastically over the years. With technology comes change. I am happy to say that I am still learning new techniques to present day. It makes work very enjoyable.”

The fossils were found in North America, some of which belong to the Araeoscelis, Captorhinus, Eudibamus, Labidosaurus, Limnoscelis and the Secodontosaurus, pictured below.  They are all around 300 million years old.

Although Scott’s work can be enjoyed from an artistic perspective, her fossil illustrations serves as a valuable tool in understanding the biology, the evolutionary history, the diversification and the extinction of these animals by the scientific community, especially Paleontologists.

“Scientific illustration is unique in that it has to be extremely accurate but very clear. There can be nothing left to interpretation. I should be able to look at an illustration and immediately see all the necessary information,” says Scott.

Dr. Robert Reisz is a Paleontologist, Vice-Dean Graduate and Distinguished Professor of Paleontology at the University of Toronto. His current research is focused on the vertebrate evolution of dinosaurs as well as the evolutionary history of these animals.  He is also a featured researcher on the Research2Reality website, which shines a spotlight on outstanding research in Canada.  An introductory video on his research can be viewed here.

Professor Reisz shared his thoughts on the value of Diane Scott’s fossil illustrations:

How do fossil illustrations allow us to better understand your field of research in vertebrate evolution?

“It is primary research, trying to understand the anatomy of these ancient, extinct animals who mostly have no exact living analogues. Thus, the illustrations inform us about the skeletal anatomy of these animals and are fundamental to research in vertebrate evolution. The fossils are the skeletal remnants of once living animals, they are generally modified, disarticulated, or distorted by earth processes after the death of the animal, and the drawings firstly document what the fossil looks like, and then the reconstructions are our interpretation of how the skeleton would have looked like in the living organism.”

The exhibit of Diane Scott’s paleo illustrations was curated by David Mazierski, associate professor in the Biomedical Communications Program. The exhibit was mounted for the recent meeting of the Canadian Society of Vertebrate Paleontology held at UTM from May 19th to 21st, 2016. The display includes more than 40 samples from a collection of paleontological specimen and fossil reconstruction illustrations.

Visitors are welcome to view the exhibit:

Monday to Friday between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm, available until Sept 30th 2016

Biomedical Communications hallway

3rd floor, Health Sciences Complex, University of Toronto Mississauga.