Monday 29 September 2008

Artwork Mondays: Art is Hard

Art is hard.

Last year I posted this:

The idea was a steampunkish device to aid the painter. I called it the Hyperferrule. Hooked up to the visual centre of the brain, it would enable me --uhhh, I mean the artist, heh-- to rapidly paint the image in their mind's eye. Swap out those mechanical finger-tip brushes, and the little arms could draw something using graphite and an eraser. Maybe a tortillon smudger would be in there too, to get some nice shadows going.

Lately, I keep thinking about this image. I'd love to do a self-portrait about it. Me, standing next to a canvas, one hand furiously painting, the other drawing. There'd need to be some stark shadows and studio light, an out-of-focus model nearby, perhaps human, perhaps fossil.

I keep thinking about it. And at the moment, that's all I can do.

This isn't intended to be a whiny, whinging complaint. I'm really striving for a lofty lament about the torturous and demanding muse so many artistic types suffer from. It's hard to tell the difference. If I was whining, I'd stamp my foot.

Creative blocks have never hit me. The more I sketch, or think about sketching, the more ideas start flowing. On my way home today, I stopped on the
Queen West sidewalk near Claremont, pulled out my Moleskine and had to sketch a full-blown image of a landscape while blocking foot traffic. I struggle a bit with landscapes, and this one excited me. Stay tuned for the surprise.

Art is hard. There's a steady flow of ideas and I strive to get some of them down at least a bit in pencil. Aim for something interesting and maybe if I'm on my game, someone finds it astounding.

I wish I had Degas' money. Idle rich, nothing to do all day but
paint vampiric-looking ballerinas and go to the track. Like many of the artists (and probably everyone) I don't have enough time. I have a full-time job, work with some great people and freelance on the side. The freelance is going well, I've got four projects currently on the go. They're a blast to do, people who really get me, I think.

But this Artwork Monday is all about the things unfinished, the ideas I haven't forgotten but I've left alone to wander and prowl about in my studio.

Remember this Dimetrodon-Sphinx?

I've played with it a bit digitally, to practice my digital work. I plan on getting a computer tablet later this year and I'd love to play with a couple of backgrounds. A mountain terrain, a street at night.

Over the summer I played with a piece I really enjoy, and in my head is filled with a soft riot of colour, Trilobitlepidoptology:
It needs some shadows, and colour.

Last year, I embarrassed myself a little bit trying to do a portrait of Richard Dawkins. I even emailed his website folks.
Then, I tried a different technique, and killed the drawing. It only exists as a digital file now. I can resurrect it, print it on canvas paper and paint over it. I meant it to be a diptych with Carl Sagan. I'd really love to get back to it, Richard Dawkins' writing has inspired so much of my work. A humble tribute, sidetracked for now.

There's more. A dress based on a fossil, sketches for a kids' book of aliens evolving, a trilobite graveyard...


Next week on Artwork Mondays: Art is Easy

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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.
Please visit my blog, gallery and reproduction store.

Saturday 27 September 2008

Flying Trilobite recommends: The Day After

A good friend of mine in the offline world has launched a blog to showcase his new artwork.

Please check out The Day After: art for those left at the end by Chris Zenga.

Chris is a killer painter, musician and muralist, and The Day After is starting off as his showcasing venue for his new series of drawings and paintings about zombie teddy bears.

The Day After will also be featuring scary movie reviews, and slices from Chris's other art projects. He describes himself as, "a Husband, Friend and Father, a Brother and a Son, a Nephew, Cousin and Grandchild all rolled into one, An Artist and an Atheist a servant to none
,". While over at Chris's place a couple of weeks ago, I got a sneak peek at a few of the upcoming bears, and they are progressively more and more entertaining.

And knowing this young man as I do, Chris will likely post some pieces sure to cause an uproar. Freedom of speech is often likely to offend.

So please visit The Day After, introduce yourself, and watch a new atheist/artist-based blog unfold.

Just don't make any "grisly" jokes about the zombie bears. I've tapped that well already.

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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. Please visit my blog, gallery and reproduction store.

Sunday 21 September 2008

Artwork Mondays: referencing, gazing and Mitochondrial Eve

This week, I've been thinking a lot about social-consciousness in art. Y'know, being political and having a message for the public sphere.

There's some reasons for my preoccupation.

Tyler Handley at The Edger wondered how to classify atheist art. Jessica Palmer at Bioephemera shows the tension between illustration/photojournalism and fine art, and how poorly played it can both enhance and upset a career. Coturnix at A Blog Around the Clock has an interesting round-up of articles about art about science; I'm struck by how many are about global warming, but not surprised.

Social activism and controversies are always a part of the fine artists' agenda. It's not surprising. And it's a good thing the global warming crisis is a part of the agenda! I remember in university about 10 years ago, some wag put up a list of "10 images to be an art hack" too high up on a support pillar to take down. On it were things like, "Coca-Cola logo" (to signify evil corporations), "Kate Moss" (to signify male-controlled body image), "fetus" (to signify the abortion debate).

My friends and I used the term, "shake and bake" for this type of art; by putting an image on canvas of say, Kate Moss you were automatically addressing bulimia, women's body image, the perpetuation of the male-gaze in art, heroin chic (Trainspotting was a big movie when I was in Uni) and being "ironic" and "conflicted" by both showing her and "referencing" her. Ooo, edgy, a half-naked painting of a photo of Kate Moss.

Referencing was a big buzz word in Fine Art back then. It meant copying something, or including it in there. It was supposed to be a dialogue, while perhaps being vague on what you were saying.

It meant you didn't have to come up or reveal a new conflict to the viewer, you simply added to the dialogue. Shale and bake. Truly new conflicts were hard to smash through with. In my own small way, I tried. After reading River Out of Eden by Richard Dawkins over and over, I tried numerous pieces about the Mitochondrial Eve concept. It enthralled me that we could figure out things like this bottleneck in our prehistory. But it wasn't new of the day, so it was hard to spread the wonderment. Frustrating.

Here is that painting, Mitochondrial Eve:

Not perhaps my strongest work back then, and I've almost painted over it a few times. This one was painted on an antique wood panel to prevent warping, using traditional materials (rabbit-skin glue....eewwww) so it will likely look at me with it's not-up-to-my-standards look for quite some time.

I had roommates also in the Fine Arts, one majoring in dance, one in theatre. We'd joke a bit that in both their disciplines, collaboration is essential; whereas in visual art, you're expected to stand smoking in the corner saying, "They're all hacks, no one understands my genius. puff".

But back to social messages. Are they all shake and bake? All instantly microwaveable into some sort of painting/sculpture/installation that everyone brings their own political/social/media-savvy background to?

No. There can be something strong enough to break through and galvanise people. But I think the world of visual Fine Art is tough. We are surrounded by astounding images every day, so standing still and letting a painting perform long enough to affect one's mindset as it unravels and wraps up a viewer is a difficult thing. I try it from time to time.

And once, I was so overcome, I simply sat down in the middle of the gallery, on the floor. I stretched my legs out, and just enjoyed the still oil painting on the wall and let it affect me. Security didn't mind this gothy-punk just sitting there; I was causing no harm and others could walk around me. And the painting was marvelous. I consider it now my very favourite. Science and myth thrown together on a canvas. John Atkins Grimshaw's Iris. (The science comes from the part you cannot see in a photo: thin glazes of oil forming a rainbow following the tragic arch of Iris's body).

Try it. Find an image about a current issue like global warming. Perhaps it's a block of ice in a gallery kept at temperatures cool enough to drip only slowly, or tiny plastic polar bears on the floor of the gallery. Perhaps something on the computer screen, something from antiquity, something in your local museum or art gallery or a book.

Ponder it slowly.

Be unafraid to find it shallow.

Be unafraid to say, "that's it?"

Be willing to enjoy the art of the small message for its small message.

And keep moving on, and slowing down to look until one commands your gaze. Let it mesmerise you with its memes and forms. My hope is that it will provide a rallying point for rationality in its beauty.

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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. Please visit my blog, gallery and reproduction store.


Registration for ScienceOnline'09 is open.

Bora Zivkovic, Anton Zuiker, Abel Pharmboy with help from Brian Russell and Paul Jones, are planning the big event in January 2009.

You can visit the conference wiki here, and see a list of registrants here. There's also details about Open Laboratory 2009, and submissions are being taken for what you consider the best science blogging of the year. There's a lot of great writing out there, and no limit to how many submissions you send in.

I've registered for the conference, and I'll be bringing my sketchbook.

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All original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence.
Please visit my blog, gallery and The Flying Trilobite Reproduction Store.

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Darwin kickin' it on the Edge...r

Darwin is my Charlie!

Yesterday, I spotted our energetic and vigorous friend over at The Edger.

Tyler Handley has written a terrific post taking a stab at defining types of atheist art, with his article The Art of New-Atheism. Tyler has included a link to The Flying Trilobite art gallery over at DeviantArt, under the heading, "Art that is made for the purpose of representing a passion for science and its promotion".

Hmm, is that a decent description of what I do?

Later, under the heading, "Art that is made for the purpose of iconically depicting giants of science, skepticism, and atheism", Mr. Darwin and his stairs made an appearance.

I'll quote my comment on the article here for discussion, (and a bit of promotion for The Beagle Project and the support I'm offering from my Reproduction Shop), or please follow the link, and see the rest of the images Tyler has compiled.

Here's my comment:

Thank you for including my Flying Trilobite gallery and Darwin Took Steps piece
in this important post, Tyler.

I hope you don’t mind if I add that proceeds from the sales of
Darwin Took Steps shirts, prints and cards goes to the Beagle Project in support of their noble and educational work.

This is an interesting topic I wrestle with daily. I am sorely tempted to create some overtly atheist art; for me, I find it hard to think of anything other than satire or horror of religion. So instead, I focus on the wonder of science. Do other artists have this problem? (
emphasis added)

It's pretty exciting for me that my Darwin Took Steps was included on the same discussion as Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot photo. It'll sink in eventually.

Even Jesus riding on a dinosaur can't take that feeling away.

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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. Please visit my

blog, gallery and reproduction store. Support The Beagle Project!

Sunday 14 September 2008

Artwork Mondays: Of Two Minds banner

In the new year, Shelley Batts formerly of the Scienceblog Retrospectacle prepared to launch a new blog, with the inimitable Steve Higgins of Omni Brain. The new blog is Of Two Minds.

Doing blog banner art is something I immensely enjoy; the collaboration in illustrating someone else's visual voice can lead to unexpected places, and in each instance, I learn more about what I am capable of as an artist.

Since I never posted my "Making of" the Of Two Minds banner, here it is.

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Immediately I began to think about the Thalia/Melopomene tragedy/comedy masks. I whipped off a quick sketch, and played with some colours. At this stage it's all amorphous in my head, like the strange scroll-things on the masks: what're those?

Next, using some photos from their Facebook pages, I found what I needed: a picture of one author looking up, and the other down. I don't often use a projector, but in this case I did just to rough in their facial structures. A drawing like this can take about 20 minutes, being careful not to rock the easel.
Using some other photo references of Shelley and Steve, I polished off the portrait stage. As I've mentioned, using a projector sometimes felt like cheating. But after 20 minutes of using the projector for the rough above, I spent about 2 more hours without the projector finishing the portraits.

I like beginning with a portrait; it feels like a classic, solid foundation on which to start. Since blogs are so personal, it's an appropriate way to illustrate the blog in some instances.

Not wanting to ruin my original drawing, I scanned it into Photoshop, changed the pencil lines to blue, and kept drawing in some more elements to the piece.
Perhaps I should've realised here that the brains were a little lopsided and that this may not work. What I liked about it though, was the idea that our personas are masks, and we all wear a face in front of our brains.

Here's my set up, and the beginning of painting the background. You can see I've once again scanned the image, and changed all the pencil tones to a burnt sienna colour, so it will provide a warmer undertone for the oil paint on top.
I went for an unusual colour combination: orange, green and grey. It's not something the eye sees every day, so I hoped it worked. Here is the painting, as it was scanned before using Photoshop.
Sometimes, the artist just mucks up the paint, despite all the planning and careful drawing. I wasn't happy with the faces, and so using Photoshop, I tinted the original drawings, and overlayed the pencil faces over the painted ones. You can also see an early attempt at the text, with shadows hovering above the blurred Photoshop-extended banner. The brains are removed, giving it a cleaner feel. Scienceblog banners are pretty long and narrow, and the brains were perhaps not as pretty as they should have been.
At this point, I think the faces became a little too far-removed from being masks. Shelley and Steve were concerned. We began discussing something more mask like. It's good to know how far the client would like to push changes, so in the middle of the night, feeling all macabre listening to Juno Reactor and Delerium, I drew this:
Okay, too far. Shelley pitched the idea of going darker, and extending the floating banner to the right, and further into the colour spectrum. I hesitated a bit at the last suggestion: painting a spectrum on black is a sort-of shortcut to being eye-catching. I had to use my brightest paints, including real cadmium red. If you are going to go for it, you gotta go for it.

How to extend an image on a canvas-paper painted to the edge? Simple. One of the amazing things about a technology like Photoshop for even a mainly traditional oil painter like myself, is flexibility.

I pulled out my oil paints, and simply painted the new elements on a new sheet of canvas-paper, and it looked like this: Much better! Using a bit of an emboss tool, I added a gradation-shadow to the faces. The background was digitally painted black, and a bit of the blur and smudge tools helped bring the red and orange paint together - even though in reality they exist on two separate sheets of canvas.

Shelley had an awesome idea for the font, Blackadder ITC. It is based on Guy Fawkes handwriting after three days of torture. Goes nicely with the masks. The masks themselves were re-positioned, and a little clone tool digitally filled in where the real paint was now missing.

The final piece!

Click to enlarge, or better yet, visit Of Two Minds.

Special thanks to Shelley Batts and Steve Higgins, and to Len of Monster by Mail, who shares blog banner duty with yours truly.

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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. Please visit my
blog, gallery and reproduction store.

Friday 12 September 2008

Congratulations, Humanist of the Year!

Congratulations to Dale McGowan, Harvard's Humanist of the Year!

If you're a parent, teacher or someone concerned with rational thinking in children, you should totally check out the book Parenting Beyond Belief, and Dale's ever-so-pretty blog, The Meming of Life. I found the chapters dealing with science and with death to be illuminating for myself as well.

And watch for Dale's new book, Raising Freethinkers.

Richly deserved. I will raise a mug of Kicking Horse coffee in honour.

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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. Please visit my
blog, gallery and new! reproduction store.

A perfect fanboy moment

Little known 'round these parts is that my 7 year old nephew and I are huge Star Wars fans. I've been collecting the 3.75" figures since I was three, and we rip open the packages and play with them all the time. Lately the Clones have been trying to thwart Indiana Jones from rescuing an Ewok cub, but that's another story. Admiral Ackbar is one of my favourites for his infamous, "It's a trap!" line.

You know when something that feels made for you comes along? I went into Silver Snail recently and found this:

...trilobite shield and shoulder pads included.

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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. Please visit my
blog, gallery and reproduction store. Admiral Ackbar Rulez.

Monday 8 September 2008

Artwork Mondays: two by two all twisted

Today, Artwork Monday is a bit different. Prepare for a rant.

I don't normally comment negatively on another artists' work. And indeed, I think the technical work displayed below is superb. Suuuu-perb! It's the subject matter that raises my ire.

My wife and I came across this tremendous sand sculpture last week at the Canadian National Exhibition, or The Ex, as we Torontonians refer to it.

Cutesy Noah's Ark. Mythological extinction for the kiddies.

As you can see, all the animals, two-by-two in their little happy smiles, are getting away from the Abrahamic god's cataclysmic flood. Alas, the poor unicorns are struggling to keep up, and we know what happened to them don't we? Did they make it?

Don't know? Read the sign:

So it doesn't matter how hard they paddle, for as author Timothy Findley showed, they are not wanted on the voyage.

I get it, I do. The Noah fable is easy for kids. The young toddlers can stretch their neurons a little, counting to the number two, matching everyone up, and trying to remember and pronounce each pair of animals. Some will be easy: dog! Some will be harder, and you must chuckle to yourself with pride when a baby attempts rhinoceros or hippopotamus. Noah always looks like Santa, white beard and a smile while feeding and petting the animals.

It's got plenty of play value for a tiny human brain to learn from. Often, they're even puzzles as well as toys!

It's the focus of the Noah's Ark story that bothers me. A myth where some ancient god drowns the world of sinners and only saves a few individuals from the animal kingdom. Okay fine, let's assume in this tale that the humans all deserved it, or something. (Even the babies?) Just leave that notion over there on the table for a moment.

How to explain the wholesale slaughter, nay, extinction of all the other land animals on Earth? Umm, "yay, the filthy unicorns are all dead?" Don't tell the Church of You-Know-Who. Take that, lemur population! Take that, wallabies! Take that, star-nosed moles! Yes my, what a cheering story.

It's so twisted. The kids are encouraged to focus on the survivors, as if the flood is a natural disaster, and Noah's elite are snug in their berths. But the fable says this was done by an intelligent entity. It's not a cataclysm, it's callous pre-meditated murder. The millions and millions of organisms (billions with the insects) that drown are just left out of focus. The fable even reinforces the whole two-by-two-hetero-only stereotype.

Richard Dawkins' critics often claim he is a big meanie, and I suspect they are thinking of this quote:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all
fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a
vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic-cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist,
infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomanical,
sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p31.

If you ask me, he left out "extinction-generator" or "species-cidal" or something of the like.

Extinctions have fascinated me since I was a kid. The images painted by so many paleo-illustrators always had an eerie, otherworldly look to them: yellow clouds, sauropod heads looking up at the light on the horizon. Or dark cobalt skies, rife with clouds and lightning, as a few shrew-like mammals hide in the shelter of a predator's skeleton. I remember trying to stretch my mind into the expanse of years, and imagine how could the turtles and crocodiles survive?

When I drew Lord Extinction Yawns, I began with the two-by-two. I was not raised in any particular religion, and my brain had not really dawned into atheism yet. You can see the pair of trilobites I started with, though I later differentiated them with a very unlikely tail.

My idea behind this drawing was to put an allegorical face on the concept of extinction, much like many Symbolist paintings put a face on Death. I needed Extinction to be stranger, more primal, and powerful. When he idly yawned, that's when the spirits of extinct animals can swirl out of his maw of perfect teeth. Extinction is ugly. My apologies to the artist of such talent who created the Ark above, but I don't take the story that lightly.

Next time you need to buy a toddler some cutesy animal toys, why not a little rainforest set, or if you really need to hand them some scary extinction toys, be old-fashioned and grab some plastic prehistory. And then explain how some dinosaurs' descendants took flight, and marvel at the splendor of the history of the animal kingdom taking wing in a child's mind.

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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. Please visit my blog, gallery and reproduction store. Except, I ain't taking credit for the well-crafted sand sculpture. I hope next year the Ex has a Permian extinction in sand instead.

Monday 1 September 2008

Artwork Mondays: Life With Diatoms

Usually on Artwork Mondays, I endeavour to put up new pieces of my work. Today, I thought I'd re-post a piece from my first month online, entitled Life With Diatoms.

This is a painting in oil, with some acrylic paints used for the enlarged diatoms. Here's a short breakdown of techniques and materials.

I usually enjoy painting on a dark ground; in this case a carbon black acrylic over double-primed gessoed cotton canvas.

As oils age, they become more transparent, and darken. A darker ground, usually a brown, grey or black was common in the Renaissance, and fell seriously out of favour with artists such as the Impressionists, who were trying to transmit the brightness of light. When using a dark ground, it was common to leave a lightened area under any foreground figures, so they would retain a glow compared to their surroundings.

It's never a good idea to mix water-based acrylics on the same canvas as oil paint. I confess I broke those rules here. I used some wonderful Pebeo dyna-colours for the greens in the diatoms.

Dyna colours have a paint made from reflective mica flakes, coated with obscenely thin layers of titanium dioxide. The thinness of the layer can be manipulated to allow only certain wavelengths of light through. When mixed with a base colour, as these have been, you can get crazy combinations: a fuchsia pink with a blue sheen that catches the light, and so on. Other brands, such as Golden, refer to these as "interference" colours - they work best when mixed or applied over top and the difference is Pebeo's are pre-mixed with a colour.

For Life with Diatoms, I used yellow-green dyna, and green-yellow dyna, as well as a gold in oil paint mixed into the algae and the red hair.

Once the painting was done to my satisfaction, I poured stand oil over it to give it a glossy, honey-like sheen. Stand oil is linseed oil that has been heated, and has the consistency of liquid honey. It's tricky to use: it pools, and leaves dry spots; it takes months to dry to the point it doesn't pour in slow motion off the edge when upright; it collects dust on its surface like no tomorrow. Bloody hard to photograph without moving twin light sources off to the side, as well.

The model for this painting was my wife and muse. I haven't often posted paintings of her which I have painted, since they feel a bit more personal than most. This is not the first time I have painted her with diatoms, however. That was in another work, entitled, A Diatomaceous Soul, which I have not (and will not likely ever) show online. I am aware that the anatomy of the face and shoulders aren't perfect, neither is the stomach. This piece was expressive, and I wasn't overly concerned at the time with high-realism. It captured the glow of her face the way I see it, and her beauty in repose. I can say I have another piece along these lines started; it is one of those rare times the whole painting sprung visible in my head before completion.

The association in my mind of my wife with diatoms springs in part from the diatoms' glittering beauty in their opalescent structures, and in their ability to create so much of the oxygen we all breathe. For myself, I cannot live without either.

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Follow some of the links about diatoms at Wikipedia. Then marvel that these wonders are all around you, on tree bark, ocean rocks and in the soil.

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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. Please visit my
blog, gallery and reproduction store.
Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 Glendon Mellow. All rights reserved. See Creative Commons Licence above in the sidebar for details.
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