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Ryan Steiskal

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University of Wisconsin Oshkosh senior Ryan Steiskal created artwork of dinosaurs that had been unseen to science - until now.
Ryan Steiskal

UW Oshkosh art student Ryan Steiskal

By Noell Dickmann
Student Multimedia Reporter

Leaving Dinosaur Prints

Like any budding artist, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh senior Ryan Steiskal had always hoped his artwork would someday gain widespread attention, but he never expected it would happen within the course of his college career.

A fortuitous encounter with a professor resulted in Steiskal’s artwork being featured on the Discovery Channel website, MSNBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

While on campus over summer, Steiskal ran into art professor Gail Panske and showed her some of the pieces he’d been working on. Little did he know, Panske knew another professor who was looking for an art student to create dinosaur illustrations for a paleontological study on dinosaur behavior. 

Panske recommended Steiskal to Dr. Joseph Peterson, assistant professor in the geology department. Peterson could have gone to a professional dinosaur artist, or paleo-artist, but he wanted this art project to be a learning experience, not just another gig for the illustrator. “I wanted someone who would learn from the science, and then put those facts into their work,” Peterson said. 

When creating dinosaur illustrations, or paleo-art, paleo-artists rely on what is known to science to frame their reconstructions, and then they add their own touches to bring the animals to life, Peterson said. But he felt for this particular dinosaur, the pachycephalosaurus, which had only been known to science through fossils, the artist should be someone who didn’t have any previous experience.

Steiskal started the project not with pen and paper, but with a camera. He studied fossils and casts and took many pictures of them, then used his imagination to fill in the blanks, he said. “It feels like you’re almost working for a CSI,” Steiskal said.

Head Hitting size 500

 Two pachycephalosaurs hitting heads, created by Ryan Steiskal.

The first illustration of two pachycephalosaurs crashing into each others’ heads was finished over the span of a few days. Peterson was blown away at how well the artwork demonstrated the results of his study.

When he got the image, Peterson immediately contacted his co-author, student Collin Dischler, who is a senior studying geology at UW Oshkosh, and said, “Ryan did it.THIS is how pachycephalosaurs used their heads!”

As a professional in the paleontology field, Peterson has high hopes for Steiskal’s work. “My hope is that this will give Ryan and his talents the attention they deserve, and that the work he is producing for us will be the image scientists see when they think of dinosaurs such as pachycephalosaurs,” Peterson said.

The illustration was shown at the UW Oshkosh Dean’s Symposium in September, where Peterson was a featured speaker, and showcased in Raleigh, N.C., where Peterson’s study was featured Oct. 17 at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP).

Next it will be submitted for peer-review and publication to the scientific journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica and last - but certainly not least - the Discovery Channel, which features a story and the artwork on its news website, Discovery News.

Peterson said The Discovery News article has been picked up by a variety of other news outlets worldwide, including MSNBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and Steiskal's artwork is featured in all versions of the article.

Peterson’s research has also been featured in Nature News, Scientific American and others.

Jennifer Viegas, the reporter for Discovery News who wrote the article featuring Steiskal’s artwork, was impressed with the drawings . “The image has a unique 3D quality to it, given the angles of the dinosaurs' bodies,” Viegas said. “That makes it even more compelling.”

Steiskal had no idea his drawings would garner such attention and is gratified to have had the opportunity to showcase his skills.  “I feel like I’m transitioning from the art student to a professional,” Steiskal said.

Hip Hitting size 700
Two pachycephalosaurs hitting hips, created by Ryan Steiskal

To access the article on Discovery News, please click this link:

To access the article on MSNBC, please click this link:

To access the article on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s website, please click this link:

In this audio podcast, student multimedia reporter Noell Dickmann sits down with Ryan Steiskal to discuss what it’s like to be in the shoes of a paleo-artist.
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