Monday 9 June 2008

Artwork Mondays: Haldane's Precambrian Puzzle

Configuration 1: False Precambrian Rabbit

Configuration 2: True Precambrian Trilobites

*You can see a bit more about this painting, and some comments at the last edition of The Boneyard, hosted here by yours truly. The title and concept refer to a quote by biologist J.B.S. Haldane, who, when asked what it would take to falsify the fossil record of evolution by natural selection, replied, "Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian,".

Colours I used:
Naples Yellow - I actually tried not to use it. It's my favorite, I put it on everything. Can't help myself.
Zinc + Titanium White
Titanium White
Payne's Grey
Olive Green
Oxide Black
- whoever claimed mixing your own black looks the most real (probably one of the Impressionists) obviously never tried a really good black pigment. It's not true you can mix every colour from the primaries when it comes to painting. The pigments all have their own chemical composition and chromatic values, that interact when mixed in different ways.
Quinacradone Orange
Fragonard Red Brown
Fragonard Earth Yellow
- a sparkly colour I like using for the trilobite's eyes, and sometimes as a fringe around their bodies, the way Richard Fortey described pyrite from microbes outlining their soft body parts and legs in Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution. A most excellent book, thoroughly engaging.
Monochrome Tint Warm
Raw Umber

I mainly used linseed oil, with a smattering of walnut oil in some of the rabbit's whites. Linseed oil is a strong, flexible oil with a tendency to yellow a bit as it ages. Walnut is clear, not likely to turn yellow, and brittle and prone to cracking, especially after about 10 years on a canvas that bounces and bends. Since these pieces are on shale, I assume it will hold them up alright, and not bounce like it would on a stretched canvas.

The 9 pieces of shale are originally coasters for drinks, complete with felt on the bottom, which should keep them from shattering in ways to make me weep. It's a good enough idea I may use it on my other paintings on shale. I coated the shale with clear acrylic gesso to keep the oils from sinking into the stone. If oils do sink into a painting, whatever the surface, it makes it look splotchy, with some areas of glossy oil, and matte sunken areas. Retouching varnish should get the sunken oil back to bright glossiness.

For brushes, I used a variety of tiny soft synthetics, mostly with golden taklon bristles. The Shale can be a little rough on the brushes, so nothing too expensive. I'm falling in love with my Micron filbert brush.

For solvent, I used very little in the painting itself. I tend to use Turpenoid Natural, a non-toxic alternative to turpentine and odorless solvents. The problems with traditional solvents are legion. They tend to sit in your fatty tissues causing cancer for one thing. It also has a mild pine odor, not unpleasant. Breathing typical hydrocarbon-based odorless solvents is still bad for you.

Usually, when I tell people I paint in oil, they say, "Oh, I tried it but the oil fumes gave me headaches." It's not the oil, it's the solvents. Oil paint is literally a vegetable-derived oil mixed with some colourful pigment-particles. The pigments don't release toxins into the air, although with a few you need a proper mask if you are airbrushing. Breathing in the oil is the equivalent of breathing in the olive oil & balsamic vinegar you dip your bread in. Nothing to get worked up about. Unless you accidentally eat a jumbo chili flake.

I'm proud of this piece. Excuse me, I need to get some soy milk to wash the burning chili sensation out of my skull.

- -
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.


Anonymous said...

Glendon, The puzzle painting is awesome! Very clever interpretation of Haldane's rabbit comment; I like your sense of humor. The tile format reminds me of Barbara Page's "Rock of Ages, Sands of Time" work at PRI:, though hers lacks the playful reconfigurability of yours.

Anonymous said...

Holy COW. What an inspired way to embody that quote (a favorite of mine as well) in a work of art. It's funny and clever, but it's also a tiny illustration of how scientific puzzles often have solutions that are attractive but wrong. A beautiful concept, and a beautiful execution. Art in awe of science, indeed.

Glendon Mellow said...

Barbara Page's work is gorgeous! I wasn't aware of her before now. I'll have to keep exploring.

Thanks for the compliments. I'm still not sure what my bext niche is in art. I don't like to sell in galleries, I like to illustrate; I would like to keep trying scientific illustration, but unreal elements keep creeping in.

I'll keep trying to stretch, I guess.

Glendon Mellow said...

Brian -
Thanks! Attractive but wrong, that's it, that's what I was going for with the bunny. I was worried it would be misconstrued as a creationist Trojan horse or something.

(Trojan rabbit I guess. After nightfall, Lancelot, Galahad and I will leap out of the rabbit...)

Thanks Brian.

These comments are feeding my overblown artistic ego even more. Pretty soon I'll start demanding people feed me grapes.

Heather Ward said...

Wow, it came out so well! I love it. You'll find your niche. Your work is so original.

(I haven't even had time to go through Boneyard yet, I hope to do that soon.)

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks Heather!

I look at it now, and wonder if maybe I should have tried more subdued colours. I started thinking the rabbit needed to be stark white, and then made the trilobites brightly coloured to compete.

I'm in that post-painting phase where I wish I had done it differently.

I hope I can find more shale coasters...

Unknown said...

So when can I order a set of my very own Precambrian Puzzle coasters? Copies of course.

I'm not sure how much your artistic talent carries over into the digital realm, but I would love to have your art on my computer. Desktop backgrounds, screen savers, etc, kind of like digital blasphemies artwork but more organic. There is a serious lack of artwork for the computer with science/evolution/fantasy themes like your works. The computer background is the new mantle.

Jesse Graham said...

Hey Glendon. Really nice puzzle you have on your hands. I especially like the orangey-red trilobite!

Glendon Mellow said...

Eric, I'd love to sell some reproductions of my artwork. It's something I hope to set-up later this year.

When I do, you can sure it'll be obvious on this site.

The computer backgrounds would be interesting. Perhaps a little trilobite icon for the mouse? Heh.

The commissioned work I'm doing these days is another blog banner, similar to the ones I did for Retrospectacle, and Of Two Minds.

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks Jesse! It's still a pain to rearrange until the paint dries.

I'm not sure what to do with it at this point. Michelle suggested we need a coffee table with a glass top over a compartment underneath, so I can place it inside.

Anonymous said...

Wow! What a great way to illustrate Haldane's quote! I know I, for one, would certainly to pay to have my own precambrian puzzle coasters.

Great job...I know I'll visit this blog again.

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks Airtightnoodle!

Lately there have been a higher volume of requests than normal for copies of my work, so I will be aiming to make some available over the summer.

So far, in general I have been available for custom work only.

The coasters are a tough one. I may only offer a print for the time being. Thanks for feeding my roller-coaster artsy ego. :-)

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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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