Monday, 28 November 2022

Happy 10th birthday, Mark P. Witton's blog

The very first image posted at this blog, way, way back in November 2012. It shows a coloured version of a piece I created for the Pterosaur.Net blog earlier in the same year. How time — like so many quad-launching, cowboy-riding azhdarchids — has flown.

I don’t normally worry about blog anniversaries, but today marks a full ten years since I started writing this blog and a decade of writing and uploading artwork in the same venue feels like an achievement worth mentioning. According to Blogger stats, over 3 million people have checked in here in the last decade and, while I have no idea how genuine that number is, it implies someone is reading this stuff, even if it's just bots. If you are among those who have stopped by in the last few years, know that your visit is appreciated: I owe a big thanks to everyone who has read one of my posts, left a comment or shared my articles and artwork around the internet. And that applies to the bots, too: thanks for stopping by, fellas, and for all your weirdly-worded comments trying to get us to click stuff. We're not going to, but it's nice that you try.

It’s funny looking back on the very first days of this blog. I initially imagined this would be little more than a “picture of the day/week” style affair to promote my artwork in the wake of finishing my first book: Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy. That explains two pterosaur-themed first posts, and also why the third featured Tyrannosaurus: I chose T. rex as a palate cleanser after drawing and writing about pterosaurs for several years. There’s an ironic twist to this that I can’t reveal yet: let’s just say that the roles of those taxa might end up being reversed soon. A newly-released book called All Yesterdays formed the subject of post five, and my coverage of that saw the abandonment of any pretence that this would be a short-format blog.

From post 3, my first attempt to restore Tyrannosaurus as a semi-professional palaeoartist. It's pretty wonky to my modern eyes and — shock — even has exposed teeth. That won't fly in a few years, 2012 Mark, and we might want to talk about that facial reconstruction too (and, hey, 2022 Mark, when will you finish writing the paper on that?). This image would resurface a few years later in a modified form for one of the most popular articles on this site: "Revenge of the scaly Tyrannosaurus".

Since then, we’ve covered a fairly broad set of topics within palaeontology, with subject matter mostly divided across the science of extinct animal life appearance, deep-dives into animal palaeobiology, portrayals of palaeontology in the media, and the history of palaeoart. Although I’ve enjoyed writing virtually everything I’ve posted, a few pieces stand out as personal favourites. They aren’t the most popular articles, but those posts where I sought to answer a simple question and found a complex rabbit hole to explore, or the ones where I found conventional wisdom was incorrect and I could present an alternative based on peer-reviewed publications. Among these are my three articles on geomythology (covering the alleged fossil origins of griffins, dragons, cyclopes, unicorns and others), all of which found reason to question mainstream views linking certain fossils and mythological creations. I also enjoyed digging into the literature on the many fraudulent claims about mastodon hair: who’d have thought, with thousands of images of mastodons covered in brown, shaggy hair, that our evidence for such an integument would be near zero? In truth, writing about anything where the mainstream interpretation is at odds with science is fun because we get to explore why and how our wires have become crossed, whether that's just because something has been overlooked (e.g. Megaloceros as a powerful, fast runner and not just a pair of giant antlers) or we've been misled by popular culture (e.g. the actual science behind predicting dinosaur vocalisations). I could list articles I've enjoyed researching, writing and illustrating all day but that would be pretty dull for all of us. I'll instead point to the navigation panel on the right that can be used to explore my full catalogue of blog content.

I don't have much new art I can share at the moment, so here's the latest sharable painting I worked on, just so we have some new art content for this anniversary post: it's Yutyrannus huali bellowing on a chilly morning. And yes, it does have a bit of a Christmas card vibe.

It is, admittedly, increasingly difficult to find time to blog as my workload and personal responsibilities have increased in the last ten years. Following the first few years where I was able to post multiple times a month (looking back, I don’t remember ever having that much time on my hands!), I now aim for one post each month, along with regular updates on Facebook, Twitter and Mastodon — do check me out if you’re on the same platforms. I have every intention of keeping the blog going, especially as the line between it and my professional writing is now pretty blurred. Blog posts have become articles and books, and research for books and papers has become blog content. A lot of what you’ve read here has been overspill that I can’t work into other projects, especially from The Palaeoartist’s Handbook an The Art and Science of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. At the risk of dipping my hand too far, you’ve also already seen some overflow from my unannounced sixth book — but in which posts, dear reader, which posts?

But I'm saying too much. Sincere thanks to you, my readers, for ten years of blogging fun and especially anyone who’s been around since the beginning. And an even bigger thanks to people who support me at Patreon, without whom I may not be writing here anymore, nor doing any of my other projects, for that matter. Here’s to another decade!