The big news! A new blog banner! Click to enlarge!
Dale McGowan, editor and author of the book Parenting Beyond Belief, and author of the blog The Meming of Life contacted me earlier this summer about creating a new blog banner. After the coffee table forcibly stopped me from running in little circles around the living room, I pulled out my sketchbook and .3mm pencil and got started.
With Dale's exuberant permission, here's a look at my process, and how the banner above for The Meming of Life developed.
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Step 1: Getting started
When I'm working on a blog banner, it's important to catch the essence of the author and the topics they post. We all see it, blogs are intensely personal, even if only a facet or two of the author's whole personality is represented. In this case, Dale is a multi-faceted and energetic blogger and as a fan, his posts leave me exploring the issues he raises. This needed to be more than a title and a couple of icons. It needed to leave people exploring.
I am also an artist who believes in research. Making things up out of thin air is always less surprising than reality. The best art is imagination coupled with reality and blurring the line between the two.
Step 2: Wait- colour already?
The first idea I had involved a beach ball. I find The Meming of Life to be a lot of fun, and I wanted to get that mood. I did a quick study, which I later developed a bit more into this oil sketch.
It's rare for me to break out full colour at this point in the process, but I had this yellow-saturated image very clear in my mind. I'm a strong believer in starting with an excellent drawing in advance. I described this as "parenting is a serious thing that can be studied and learned and whoops there's a beach ball".
Step 3: Footprint Family
From the start, Dale had ideas. He emailed me this photo of one of his daughters at the beach (next to the header "Love"). The mood and colours got me thinking. I liked the beach as well.
Good parenting must go back a lot further than any of the organised religions we see today. I began thinking about our ancestors in prehistory, and different ways parenting may have expressed itself. I remembered reading The Ergast's Tale in Richard Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale, and again I looked up the story of the Laetoli footprints. These are 3.7 million year old footprints in Tanzania, that appear to be of a parent and child (and possibly from the gait, the adult was carrying a baby as well) that were fleeing the ash from a volcano.
With the photo of Dale's daughter at the beach and the Laetoli footprints in mind, I played with another quick colour study:
The concept here was to have the modern girl pointing at the footprints on the beach which trail into a darkness of deep time, leading to the prehistoric family. The darkness would contain the blog title.
Step 4: Lascaux caves
Playing with the good-parenting-is-older-than-religion concept, I also thought about the 16,000 year old cave paintings at Lascaux. What if some kid just imitated the serious representation of the auroch-bull drawn on the wall?
I tried to go for that stage in most childrens' drawing when there is no differentiation between the head and body.
After a few days, Dale had a fantastic idea: combine the cave with the footprints.
Step 5: Plato's Cave and spiral illusions
Dale thought this would bring in another allusion, that of the parent and child leaving Plato's cave and the world of illusion behind, a perfect image for a secular humanist site.
At this point, I almost over-complicated things. I started getting hung up on trying to use the Fibonacci sequence spiral as a compositional guide. After a few days of shoehorning elements of the image together, I had to jettison the idea. Instead, I made this quick sketch:
The idea was to have a wall of rock in the center separating the cave painting on the left from the beach scene on the right. A narrow, diagonal shaft of light would draw the eye from the left to the right, passing through the title.
Refined the drawing, scanned it, tweaked the values to the warm side, and printed on canvas paper. Turned on some electro-beats and Hans Zimmer's Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack and began oil painting. I love those Micron series brushes! The filbert in particular was helpful. Step 6: Fueled by coffee
It is always a good idea to view your work from a distance as an artist. Use Photoshop or a mirror to flip the left-right of the image, or reverse the values. Another trick is to simply leave the painting, and come back to it after being heavily distracted. You will spot the problems quickly when you come back to it.
Fueled by coffee, I wanted to simplify. Get rid of the 'floor' of the cave, enlarge the auroch (the bull) add some texture to the flat rock, and maybe some algae as well. I sat down and blitzed this oil painting.
Using a hint of mauve in the payne's grey for the shoreline, I was happy with subtle colour of the sand. I emailed progress on both images to Dale: the new one was on the right track.
Step 7: The final 20%
Recently, I read in ImagineFX artist Francis Tsai say that the final 5% of a piece takes 50% of the time. That may be true. In this case the final 20% of the piece involved playing with different elements like puzzle pieces to get the image just right to both myself and Dale.
I scanned some fossil-rich rocks I found on a shoreline and added them as a texture on the painting using the clone tool. I also tried a technique for making water-drop letters, seen here on top of this splendid bivalve.
It's an interesting technique, as it allows real distortion of the image below. If I move the words around with the move tool over top of say, bright green, the green will shine through.
This ultimately ended up being a discarded concept. The word "Meming" is unusual enough that it really needs to be as legible as possible.
Here's an almost complete image containing a number of differences with the final above: can you spot them all?
So, the child's drawing: the purple one is re-drawn from one my nephew did while looking at a photo reference of Lascaux: I repainted it in purple and distorted the shape to match the wall contours. But Dale loves this little guy. He needed to come back!
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There you have it. I'm pretty pleased with the final result: I had no idea where Dale and I would end up when he first contacted me. Please enjoy The Meming of Life, and don't forget to pick up Parenting Beyond Belief, and Mr. McGowan's new book, Raising Freethinkers, coming soon!
All original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details. I am available for freelance illustration. Please visit my blog or gallery or shop to have a look.