Monday 28 April 2008

Artwork Mondays: Graphite Camouflage

Graphite is an amazing substance.

Chemically speaking, it is similar to diamond. Pencils have never been made of lead, but graphite was once known as "white lead", or plumbago which is Latin for lead ore, so that's why we have the modern confusion. There's some interesting, but not fully comprehensive stuff on good ol' Wikipedia about pencils and the magical material, graphite. Little "sheets" of it rub off and onto the paper with friction, leaving smudgeable marks. Graphite will not harm humans. Unless you do that annoying flicking the pencil between all your fingers, in which case it's game on.

The last couple of Artwork Mondays, I've been revamping an old concept of mine for a Dimtrodon Sphinx (at right), which was a detail of another drawing.

I'm using a .3mm mechanical pencil, as well as a more standard 2mm pencil for the larger areas. Both are packing HB leads; a lot of artists like softer (think B for black) or lighter (think H for hard) leads, but I like how easy it is to get a hold of HB. It's in the middle of the spectrum, and easy to shop for. The grey piece of putty-stuff is my wonderful kneadable eraser. Kneadable erasers can be shaped to erase in any nook and cranny, and leave no little eraser bits behind on the page. Brilliant. I used the same materials on the original (above), which I tinted blue using Photoshop for the sake of whimsy.

This has been a busy week for me and I did not make a lot of progress on this piece. However, I did decide to go with a slightly different reference photo than what I started with. It's always important to try different lighting, and when I took the model photos, I took two of each pose, one with the flash, and one with natural light coming from the window behind and to the right of the model. This week, I made a decision to switch to the latter.

I was reluctant at first, since this model has an excellent back, and the flash-lit photo showed that more clearly. However, being backlit can lend the piece the lighting of a full moon, or perhaps lightning which works better at making this beautiful half-human, half-dimetrodon sphinx look like a dangerous predator.

Needing a background, I started roughing in some rocks, and a scraggly tree to the left. I may try to make the sail-fin on the back partially translucent, with the silhouette of the rocky background darkening the fin near the spine.

I'm also debating with myself about whether or not this homo-synapsid will have hair; I've begun sketching a second sail on her neck and head. The sail makes her more "other" and alien, and hair makes her more beautiful and accessible for most viewers to immediately engage in. I'm currently leaning toward hair whipping in the wind.

Although the leading theories say that dimetrodon, edaphosaurus and the much-later-on spinosaurus may have had sails for thermal-regulation, I believe they must also have been there for sexual display, much like a peacock's tail. In nature, large flamboyant features with no immediately obvious use often turn out to be the result of sexual selection pressure. If this is so, what colour or pattern would be present? Since anything I choose will be speculation, there is a lot of freedom here.

In the inspiring book, The New Dinosaurs, by Dougal Dixon, artist Philip Hood depicted a creature called a Dingum, a small hopping, fuzzy creature with a spiky frill and a sail-fin on it's back. The interesting feature the artist added, was a pattern like that of a monarch butterfly on the sail-fin. As I say, there is a lot of freedom for an artist here.

Because the synapsids like Dimetrodon are more closely related to mammals than any other modern beasties, I'm leaning toward some sort of mammalian pattern to make it interesting. Perhaps an orca? Doubtful it would need that type of camouflage, since orcas, like penguins and herring gulls have evolved dark on the dorsal so animals looking down through the water at them are less likely to see them against the depths, and vice versa when looking up at their backlit ventral side. However, that type of colouration seems exciting, even if a cheetah pattern or tiger stripes are more likely. It's just that leopard print is like, so late 90's.

Orcas, baby. I'll see if I can finish this drawing in time for Artwork Monday next week.
- -
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.


Unknown said...

Exactly the medium I prefer to use.

I was always understanding that "B" stood for "base" (not that it matters).

Kneadable erasers are a miracle. I don't know what I'd do without mine.

Nice work by the way.

It's crazy, I've just recently removed my slide show of drawings from Ungodly Cynic, but I'll post the link here: My Drawings

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks for checking it out, Larro!

I think we Friends of Charles Darwin need a secret handshake.

You should at least keep a link to your Picasa album or drawings. The female forms in particular are very strong, and I like the contrast you used on the seated female nude, and the alien.

B probably does stand for base. I just think of it as B for black to help remember which ones tend to be darker.

And yes. All praise kneadable erasers! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Kneadable erasers ARE wonderful. But another cool tool is the SmudgeGuard glove. You should check it out at as it's great for smudges too! =)

Heather Ward said...

Wow, it's coming along great! I do like this pose better than your first. I can't wait to see how the sail will look.

Glendon Mellow said...

I'll have a look into the Smudgeguard. For now, a steady hand and a piece of paper under it are doing the trick.

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks Heather!


I think this pose works better too. Less contemplative.

I've always pictured the dimetrodon sails looking like ripple potato chips. Ripple, not ridged. Heh.

traumador said...

I'm getting out my magnifine glass to try and see that graphite layer next time I use a pencil...

Just one question how does one use a pencil? You know when a guys arms barely extend past his chest???

Glendon Mellow said...

Hi Traumador,

I would suggest using your left foot.

Using your moth is not a good idea, since as a carnivore, the wooden pencils will not taste very good.

Anonymous said...

Oh, man! You have GOT to be happy with how this is turning out!!

And somehow I think Traumador is looking very closely at the 'subject' with his magnifying glass, and maybe not so much at the graphite...
(I think he's in love)

Zach said...

Dougal Dixon's "The New Dinosaurs" makes me cry. He's basically taking modern animals and forcing them into dinosaurian morphotypes. Pterosaur giraffes? Naked mole-rat coelurosaurs? And in every Dougal Dixon "specworld" book, there's an anteater, and a saber-toothed something. Happened in "After Man" and "Man After Man."

It's entirely possible that, had the K/T not occured, dinosaurs would have evolved into a menagerie of forms we simply would not recognize today.

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks Leslie! It's still at a stage where I feel some trepidation. Especially if I go ahead and apply colour. Patterns on the sail may be hard to pick out otherwise.

I dunno, Traumador seems to be against inter-species dating. >smirk<

Glendon Mellow said...

Hi Zach! Thanks for flapping your wings on over.

I agree with you that some of the animal redesigns are too easy. The Whulk and flamingo pterosaurs come to mind as well as your examples. I guess he's making a point about convergent evolution; there were sabre-toothed marsupials as well as cats, so it could arise more than once.

There's still a lot of neat artwork, and Specworld-type things are relatively new, aren't they? I only read about that marvelous website while looking up Dixon on Wikipedia. Fantastic stuff. I recognised some of the names from the Pharyngula comments. I wonder how you join that club...

I still find some of the designs inspired though. As I mentioned, the butterfly pattern was nifty.

Even better is Wayne Barlowe's Expedition. That's a brilliant tour of alternate evolution!

one day, I'd love to have a coffee table edition-style book like one of those. Of course, now I can just throw one together and order it online...

traumador said...

On the subject of Spec worlds there's a cool internet effort someone threw together called the Speculative Dinosaur Project at

It has some really interesting takes on things... I really only remember the marine critters at moment. Including dolphin like Mosasaurs, and a balleen squid!

The art isn't too bad in some cases for a FREE website!

Glendon Mellow said...

That's the one I was referring to, Traumador. I added it to my blogroll this week. Fantastic stuff.

Maybe I'll be like an annoying groupie, and hang around their stage door, asking to be given a chance...

traumador said...

Oh sorry. I missed that you guys were talking about that. I thought it was just referring to Dixon's stuff...

My bad.

I'll go sit in the corner for a while...

Glendon Mellow said...

No, no, come out of the corner.

Are you a fan of Dixon, or do you ifnd it derivative?

traumador said...

I liked Dixon when I was younger, but I recall the last time I looked at it I was a little disappointed (which was a while ago so I don't recall specifics).

The spec project is definately a lot more interesting, and more imaginative. At the same time I don't think they'd have done it if NOT for Dixon, so in a lot of ways he was the key pioneer in non extinction "prediction"

On a side note about evolution has an awesome review of 7 terrible sci-fi mistakes about evolution. Including that terrible intellegent HADROSAUR?!? episode of Star Trek Voyager... so stupid!!!

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.
Share |