TODAY |

The scientist turned artist who captures Aotearoa's extinct bird life

As conservation week comes to a close it's easy to focus on things like trapping, breeding and saving our endangered wildlife.

But when TVNZ1's Seven Sharp asked for your conservation stories, one phone call got their attention. 

It was about a man who uses his artistic ability to warn us about what we are missing.

Paul Martinson is a scientist who started off his career as a science technician but has now embraced the art of painting.

In 1990s the painter was asked if he would work on a book of extinct New Zealand birds.

"In those days there was almost nothing known about them," he says. 

“I would go along to scientists and ask, 'ok, what do you think this looked like? because I haven’t got a clue.'

“And they would say 'actually I don’t know either'.”

And so his work began.

“We laid the bones out that we had of a particular skeleton,” says Mr Martinson.

“The whole process is like a jigsaw.”

He says he has to piece together genetic information with fossils.

Huge sections are missing, and colours are gone. He says he has to make calculated guesses based on the information he has.

“You toil away on this picture and an expert comes around and goes “come on Paul, that's rubbish,” he laughs.

He says he tries to get his work as perfect as possible.

But when no living person can tell you what the images looked like and there aren't any photos, mistakes can be made.

“Such as the case of the giant moa - we were completely wrong,” he says.

“So the neck went straight up to make it as tall as possible and then they realised the articulation of the skeleton meant the neck would have been the same height as the back of the bird,” he says.

Mr Martinson enjoys being able to give people something they’ve never seen before. 

“You’re giving people a chance to see what might have been and that's very rewarding I’d have to say.”


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Paul Martinson will keep on painting, looking for what the rest of us can never see. Source: Seven Sharp