For our series on cherished books that formed a crucial stepping point in the development of illustrator members,  Dulcie Mascord has chosen James Gurney's remarkable fantasy adventure Dinotopia.

The book Dinotopia was not yet published when I was a child, yet the subject matter fascinated me. Never mind dolls and tea parties - the child-me was into dogs, and dinosaurs. Huge, wondrous creatures, they lumbered around my imagination like large scaly tanks, mystical like dragons yet at one point they were REAL. I learnt their names and dreamed my dreams.

As a slightly older child I wrote stories and illustrated them, some of them for myself or for schoolwork; others I wrote as entertainment for my younger brother Hugo. Sprawling, rambling, without the self-editing that comes with maturity. By then I had decided that I wanted to be an artist.

Dinotopia didn’t reach me until my teens, when I was buried in school work and becoming more ‘sensible’. My friends were all into Neighbours and Home and Away, this being the 90s. Dinosaurs weren’t my day-to-day thing any more. And yet, seeing the book my parents had bought for all of us to enjoy - it was breathtaking to see the dinosaurs come to life in gob-smacking detail. It was like my younger self tugging at my sleeve, saying ‘Look! Just look at this wonderful world! You might be a teenager now, but you’ll still love this!’

And I did. It was wonderful to see how he brought together the world of dinosaurs and humans in such a plausible and interesting way. I loved how the book was just as readable when browsing and flipping through the pages like a magazine, marvelling at all the detail - like walking down a street in Dinotopia, taking in the view of all around me. This was in fact, my favourite way to absorb the book. Sketchbook diary style, leaving the meaty text for other occasions.

And those spreads! Double-page wonders, exquisitely painted. Now as an artist I study these pieces for their value control, lighting choices and carefully chosen colour palettes - but as a teen I just marvelled at it all and gobbled up the detail.

These days, thanks to James’ books explaining his methods, his blog and his Twitter feed - all very informative - it is only now that I appreciate just how much painstaking research goes into setting up these paintings. Building maquettes, doing mock-ups of the lighting, setting up and taking reference pictures of friends all dressed up to match the scene - it is a lifetime of hard work that has gone into these pictures. Though the end results are magical, they didn’t appear like magic. Now that I try to tread my own path in illustration, I realise ever more acutely that the reality of getting to that stage as an artist is one long hard road of graft.

So I salute James for his artistic achievements, which are considerable and well-celebrated indeed. But there is one aspect of this book that I like almost as much as the quality of art itself - that he took a book concept which is ostensibly for children, but took the treatment of it quite seriously. That an illustrated book appealing to children deserved the highest-quality art, and great care in its design and execution. Why not do dozens of painstaking oil paintings about dinosaurs and set them in a fanciful crossover world of their own? Why not indeed? It felt unique at the time and I think it still stands out today, 25 years later.

What did it teach me? To aim high, for sure. To strive to create my own worlds, and to bring my own stories to life as vibrantly and vividly as possible, so that the person reading my book would see my story just as I did. It showed me that it was possible to transport someone into a totally new world, simply through the power of illustration. No special effects here, no surround sound or video needed - just a totally traditional method, executed with skill and care.

As an adult, I’m ever more aware of the importance of research, dedication, perseverance. Looking through the art in Dinotopia, I can see a love of people and a wonder at all the details in the world. It does not surprise me, while researching this article, to learn that James Gurney studied archaeology and then anthropology. I will strive to keep cultivating my own sense of wonder at all the goings-on around me.

And of course, it taught me that you’re never too old to enjoy a good book about dinosaurs!

James Gurney -
Dinotopia website:

Do you have a book on your shelf that inspired you as an illustrator? We love to showcase members' inspirations, so get in touch!!


Dulcie Mascord is a surface pattern designer, illustrator and aspiring children’s book writer. She runs her own craft business which she designs for, and lives with her husband and two small boys near Bristol.
Also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram under @dulciemascord.


  1. Wonderful tribute! I shall be trawling those links! Thanks.

  2. This is such a great choice of cherished book, and such a fascinating read, well done Dulcie!


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