Friday, 15 August 2008

Making of The Meming of Life blog banner

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.

- - -

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!

- - -

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.

11 comments:

Dale McGowan said...

Woohoo!

Glendon Mellow: The Flying Trilobite said...

Exactly, Dale!

Exactly.

Prehistoric Insanity said...

Wow,

I think a big reason I never really carried through with anything in the arts as a career is my ADD.

I seriously can't spend more than a day on any project before it loses my attention.

Seriously awesome on all the different versions. Anything that needs that many goes on I just do 2 or 3 and pick the one that sucks the least. Kudos on the perfectionism.

Glendon Mellow: The Flying Trilobite said...

Thanks for the compliments, Craig.

I often feel the same way with my own concepts, and leave them for a while usually at the pencil stage.

Collaboration with a client is totally different. The back-and-forth feeds into my energy on the project, and it kind of becomes all-consuming. I might have missed my turn at the dishes more than once on this one. :-)

Eric T. Jones said...

I like the work. I actually saw it on Dale's blog first, but I was on a computer that wouldn't show the site. All that came up was some pictures and a bunch of code. I knew right away that it was your work, and had to hurry home to read about it.

Glendon Mellow: The Flying Trilobite said...

I didn't realise this was recognisable as my work, Eric! It has more background than I often focus on.

leslie said...

I saw your header on Dales' blog the other day, and became momentarily confused as to which blog I was reading...

Oh, ok. I'm typically confused, but this really worked on me :)

It looks spectatular, Trilobite!

Lucky guy, that Dale...

leslie said...

I, too, like the little Lascaux auroch.
He puts me in mind of the flying spaghetti monster.

Eric T. Jones said...

It definitely had your style in it, even though it was a distinct piece as well. I really like it, especially after reading about all the double meanings for Dale.

Glendon Mellow: The Flying Trilobite said...

Thank you Leslie!

Perhaps to increase your confusion, I'll include a big photo of Dale on my blog's banner.

I was just bursting to show it to you and FreeRangeAcademy, since I know you both read Meming of Life and Flying Trilobite.

Glendon Mellow: The Flying Trilobite said...

Eric:

Dale's post is interesting. I knew some of the things he liked about it while in process, but not always the "why" he liked it.

The part I feel slightly embarrased (sorta) is that the story of Jesus on the beach with the 'I carried you' thing is a story I'd never heard before, until I showed a rought sketch to another artist I know. I was surprised this was well-known.

Oh well. The Laetoli foot prints actually exist, and reality is always an interesting starting point for inspiration.

Post a Comment

Posts over 14 days old have their comments held in moderation - I've been getting an unusual amount of spam for a guy who paints trilobites. I'll release it lickety-split though.

Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 Glendon Mellow. All rights reserved. See Creative Commons Licence above in the sidebar for details.