Monday 19 May 2008

Artwork Mondays: Precambrian Rabbit

As noted on the last Artwork Monday, I am working on a new oil painting on a shale surface. The piece is a puzzle, inspired by the quote from the late biologist J.B.S. Haldane when asked what would disprove the fossil record of evolution:

"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian."

Painting on shale is not particularly difficult. Originally, I had completed some of the work on by using a clear acrylic gesso, and then simply painting in oil on top. Gesso, for the non-artsy folks reading my blog is a fancy fine art term for a primer. Real gesso is made from calcium carbonate and rabbit-skin glue. There are some purists who disdain using modern acrylic-based gesso and prefer to use the traditional method. Pshaw! I say, pshaw! Rabbit-skin glue tends to absorb and lose humidity to the air, which can cause flexing and cracking under the paint film. Acrylic polymers do not have this problem, unless foolishly watered-down. Three cheers for modern chemistry!

I don't use any toxic solvents in my work, as I think they are simply not worth the risk. Anyway, why use those when there are more and more nontoxic equivalents on the market? (Another cheer for the chemists!) I'm not sure what taltine or turpentine would do to the shale, but it doesn't matter with the technique I am using.

I tend to paint in thin layers of colour, not as many as the great Renaissance masters like Leonardo da Vinci, but perhaps about 3 to 6 layers on each piece. On some of my canvas pieces, such as Life With Diatoms and My Life With Trilobites, I have used thick-as-honey stand oil as a final surface, giving the pieces a glossy appearance, intuitively grasped as organic when viewed in person. Stand oil is simply linseed oil that had been thickened by heat. Flip a jar of it upside down and watch how slowly the bubble rises.

Once, when I tried to coat a quick sketch of a shale-painting in stand oil, it dried in a weird way, clumping in little contours and folds, almost completely obscuring the weird little face beneath.

When choosing colours for the fossil rabbit, I have to think forward to what the trilobites will look like, as well as make it match the subject matter. I considered making the rabbit fossils bright pink to illustrate their false position in the strata, show them to be impossible. However, I think a stark white will do the trick, since most fossils are not so clean and bony, the bones long since replaced by mineral content. And here we are so far:

I would definitely say this is right in the Ugly Phase, and I want to paint out the background with Payne's Grey s badly, but that will delay painting any trilobites. The colours here will allow me to make some interesting rock-like trilobites, hopefully more subtle and appealing to the eye as being the real-deal.

My apologies for the late post.
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Glendon Mellow said...

Uh-oh. Means I better not screw it up when the trilobites are added...

Thanks Zach.

Heather Ward said...

Looking good! Can't wait for those trilobites.

Anonymous said...

This is just fabulous! I am not seeing the ugly stage here.

Prehistoric Insanity said...

I think my only problem with it is that without "proper" fossil coloured trilobites the rabbit looks like it should be there ;p

Which frankly is a compliment

Excited to see what happens with the addition of everyones favourite arthopods

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks, Heather, Leslie and P.I.!

Leslie, it feels ugly right now because I want to get in there and tint the outlines of everything with a background colour, and it's too soon if I'm going to add the trilobites as well. But I wanna do it. My fingers are itchy.

You're right P.I., I want the rabbit to look like it belongs. I may add a small code of some kind in both configurations ,maybe something like the primer in the movie Contact that indicates false and true. Also, the whiteness of the bones looks too fresh to be fossils.

Hmm, some gorss flesh dissolving on them? Zombie rabbit?

Nah. I don't like zombies.

Jesse Graham said...

Right on Glendon. I'm really digging your posts these days. Who knew "stand oil" was linseed but heated up? You did - and that's the point. I'm also loving the progress on your "Precambrian Rabbit"

Take care.

Glendon Mellow said...

Hey, Jesse! Thanks a lot. The Artwork Mondays are fun for me to kick off my week. Glad you like 'em.

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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.

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