Monday 27 July 2009

Art Monday: remembering my first time

I'll never forget the first time I felt my artwork had reached 'professional' quality.

Every piece of artwork on this blog was created after this one drawing. It is the second page of a narrative assignment done in my first year of Fine Arts at university. The series is called The Three Fates and the Acorns, and it consisted of 10 drawings in total. This was page 2, but the first part I had completed and I felt I had created something special.

I had been using .3mm leads since high school, and still had many unformed opinions about mythology, religion and folklore. I was using acorns as a motif that year, both to symbolize nascent wisdom and to represent birth. In the series, each of the three fates (Norse, Roman or Greek, I didn't specify) was dying due to acorns. The one above is drowning because a tiny cluster of acorns is tied to her toe. Fate defeated by wisdom.

Mainly I was really happy with the tightness and quality of my cross-hatching, and the minimal style of disconnected pieces of sinewy bodies.

On critique day, I was initially disheartened as our professor made his way around to see the work before group crit started. He said he didn't get it, it didn't flow, and it was up to me if I wanted to show it to the group. I insisted I should.

In group crit, I went through each piece. Some "ooo"'s, some comments about the line work. A couple of people agreed the deaths depicted in the series were misogynistic. I was taken aback by the accusation. Misogynistic! It had never entered my mind. (Some would say that's the problem, I suppose.)

The professor replied before I could. He had done a complete about-face on the series due to my presentation. He loved it! He began to vigorously defend it as decidedly not misogynistic and said that was overly dismissive, or some such. He marveled to the group that he had not "gotten it" when I showed it to him before crit.

After class, one of my female classmates stopped me to tell me that it was the most beautiful series of the year. A couple of others with her agreed. I left class with a huge rush at the overall responses. To this day though, I worry myself with possible misinterpretations of my art, particularly because so much is secular and science-based.

Sometimes I wonder. How much of the positive response was from my brief explanation, and how much from the images? Does it make the images less potent if they must be explained?

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery
*** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***

Friday 24 July 2009

Meeting Bloggers - Science Online '09

Since taking my artwork into the blogohedron, one of the privileges that has resulted is meeting other bloggers I admire. I've stated before how the first half of this year has been excellent for me, and meeting other bloggers in person is a definite highlight. So I've started this series of posts in no chronological order since I'm an artist and we can therefore presume I'm flaky.

I'll start with a few pics from Science Online'09 back in January. You can see my posts about the un-conference here. So far I have neglected to put photos up. Using a borrowed camera, some of the shots came out a little fuzzy. I like using ambient lighting without a flash, but apparently drank too much coffee. Ah well. For the record.

Kevin Zelnio, Karen James, Miriam Goldstein and Southern Fried Scientist. Having an intense discussion about sea chanteys, I believe.

The Beagle Project is a serious, serious endeavor. Karen James is its serious spokesperson. Seriously.

Jason Robertshaw and Cephalopodcast for a better tomorrow! Jason saved my hide during my session presentation. Turns out I know nothing about using laptops for projecting useful images. Hm.

Having din-din with Bora Zivkovic, Karen James and Brian Switek. Bora stole someone's chair.

Blake Stacey is an awesome dinner companion. He keeps an extra brain in his hat. Both are witty.

There were coffee, sugary confections and wine. Me with Southern Fried Scientist after dinner. The Minnesota Posse. Greg Laden, Ben Zvan and Stephanie Zvan. After this picture was taken I tried to jump Ben and steal his outfit, but it turns out he knows ninjitsu. Dang.

Tanja Sova, my presentation-partner gave me a sweet wooden flying trilobite necklace! Go to her Etsy shop. Right now. Skip the rest of the pictures.

Oh, that's all.

Definitely looking forward to Science Online 2010!

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence. Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***

Tuesday 21 July 2009


Some paint is on canvas.

I hesitate.

Traditional painting involves planning. Sketches. A clear vision. There is no "undo" function. Oil paints are capricious. As they dry, they darken but also become more transparent. Mistakes are revealed, old compositional frameworks exposed. The graphite in pencil can float to visibility on the surface.

Bah. I don't worry about the graphite. These days I aim to immortalize the pigments and oil with pixels and photons. But I must get the composition right. I want this painting to be able to be framed as an oil.

I need to begin my altered chess pieces. They make the painting. This is only the background.

Yet I hesitate.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***

Monday 20 July 2009

Art Monday: sketching with iPod Brushes

Still getting used to it. Brushes is a pretty powerful program for digitally painting on the iPod Touch. I'm hoping to grow in skill with Brushes as I go - perhaps I need a stylus. Right now, I'm using my fingers.

When the idea for my Major Billy Barker & his Pterosaur Squadron hit me,
I was walking in a park and tried to sketch it out. The final colours ended up looking pretty different. But it caught the perspective and clouds.

Here's a slightly more detailed sketch for a new piece I am working on about the accomodationist / science communication uproar that's been happening on science-based blogs for the last little while.
It was again, one of those ideas that I needed to sketch immediately. I filled a couple of pages of my sketchbook, and this image before beginning the final piece. It's a great way to do a quick colour study without the mess. Not sure if the DNA pawn will make the final image though.

The stuff at the Brushes site is pretty inspiring, and illustrator Eric Orchard did some nice work with it recently. I think the key is to spend time with it, as you would any painting medium, rather than solely for sketching as I have done so far. I'm sure I'll be posting new images as they come.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***

Monday 13 July 2009

Art Monday: science vocabulary = better art

Today in keeping with the general discussion of evolution culture (see Goldstein's article) and evopunk (see badass Renaissance Oaf) I thought I would re-post a piece I originally wrote for Alternate Reality Existence back in May.

(The painting Symbiosis was at one time, my personal benchmark as a painting so I threw it in there.)

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An Increase In Our Allegorical Vocabulary

Realism in painting has a long history, from the linear narratives of the ancient world to the shattered realities of the Twentieth Century. For the lay-gallery-goer, the artwork of the Renaissance Masters, Symbolists, and the Surrealists captures the viewer's gaze through the feat of technical ability. Immediately recognizable figures surrounded by unfamiliar objects help the viewer to enter the unusual world by connecting through the shared human experience.

In my own painting, this is the sort of challenge I place in front of myself. The recognizable objects are the hook: the less-familiar organisms are the mystery that invites people to look further. Science, paleontology and biology have always figured into my work. The natural world is full of a staggering variety of forms to challenge a representational artist.

About a dozen years ago, I had a gallery show that encouraged me to pursue this path with renewed vigor. This oil painting, entitled Symbiosis, was garnering a fair bit of attention from friends and visitors attending the show's opening. A coffee-shop colleague and zoology-major stopped me and asked, "Ok -if this makes no sense to you, forget it- but is that a tardigrade?" I smiled and replied that it was, and she grinned, "Oh I could tell. They have those distinctive hooked feet!"

That was inspiring. Art for scientists who get it. Symbiosis, about the microbes in our ecosystem and in our guts. In these scientifically exciting times, why not stretch the public perception and appeal to everyone's curiosity? Why not delight scientists in their myriad disciplines?

When Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion debuted, I was excited, having enjoyed his previous books. In it, he held a challenge for every artist. If you are interested in science -atheist, agnostic, Bright, or not- take the time to consider this artistic call-to-arms:

"If history had worked out differently, and Michelangelo had been commissioned to paint a ceiling for a giant Museum of Science, mightn't he have produced something at least as inspirational as as the Sistine Chapel? How sad that we shall never hear Beethoven's Mesozoic Symphony, or Mozart's opera The Expanding Universe."
(Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p 86-87)

Will we see a scientifically-inspired artistic genius of that stature this century? It is my sincere hope that we we will. The world deserves to be that inspired, and to experience the wonder scientists engage in our universe.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery
*** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***

Sunday 12 July 2009

My 2 cents on Francis Collins

The National Post newspaper here in Canada I read both print and electronic formats of. It is the only paper up here that generally recognizes the culture wars and plays both sides. There is a regular columnist who is a priest, and they carry pretty much any article Christopher Hitchens writes for Slate.

A little while back they launched the Holy Post blog to round up their rationality vs religious articles. "Get down on your knees and blog" is the tagline. Funny, but I'll stand, thanks.

Regarding Francis Collins' recent appointment to the National Institute of Health in the 'States, it didn't take long before they trotted out NOMA and paraded it around like it's new, obvious and a smart thing to say.

My response to Stackhouse's article:

For myself, as someone raised without religion, the problem is trust. Though his scientific endeavours in the past have showed rigor and good management from what accounts I have read, I find it very hard to trust the intellectual stamina of someone who converts on the spot to Christianity because of a beautiful frozen waterfall.

The religious impossibilities that so many people believe in while still being able to understand the natural world are examples of compartmentalizing.

But Collins' waterfall conversion is absurd. It's like he began believing in the Invisible Pink Unicorn because it started snowing.

He looked at the beauty of the natural world and it wasn't enough. He had to paint the scene with specific, irrelevant ideas to accept his feelings.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.
Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***

Friday 10 July 2009

Ooo, I like this term: "evolution culture"

What a great description. "Evolution culture".

Adam Goldstein has penned an academic's guide for blog-newbies in the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach, entitled Blogging Evolution. After discussing the style and structure of blogs, Adam Goldstein turns to an insightful and apt look at some loose categories of evolution blogs.
Over at Laelaps, Brian Switek has a careful analysis and there's some interesting comments shaping up about missing categories. I find the practice of categorizing the interconnected community of blogs apt and self-referential -and funny. An organizational tree of evolution blogs sprang immediately to mind.

Adam shared via my twitobite account that he had included The Flying Trilobite under the taxonomic family category of "Imaginative" along with Carl Zimmer's cool The Loom. From the article:

I hesitate to call blogs focused on art and culture “imaginative,” because doing so suggests a contrast with the other categories of blogs as “non-imaginative.” I see science as an imaginative endeavor, even at its most arcane. Perhaps “evolution culture” would be a better name for this category.

I like that. We need more of that. We need Richard Dawkins' suggestion for a Mesozoic Symphony. We need evolution hipsters. Oh no wait, hipsters are out. Evolution b-boys then. That never goes away. I sound flippant, but I'm quite serious. Evolution as a concept in nature is tremendously cool, and infinitely fashionable. It needs to reach heights of creative output - and not be mixed up synonymously with development. Understood as it is, simple rules leading to emergent, beautiful, myriad forms and behaviours.

Goldstein's article showcases some interesting categories and a number of blogs. Including some that are not ones I'm familiar with. Seeing it from an outsider's perspective also interests me. Blogs I can't live without were missed, though I credit the author with hitting on so many of the of blogs about evolution. The Flying Trilobite appears alongside The Loom, and with Pharyngula, The Beagle Project, Why Evolution is True, The Evilutionary Biologist and The Wild Side. (How have I missed Genomicron? He's like an hour away from me!) Be sure to check it out - this is not an accomodationist list. This is an (albeit incomplete) list of the right stuff.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.
Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop *** Twitter

Monday 6 July 2009

Art Monday: turning point?

Apologies for the length of time this painting takes to download. Should be nice and pretty when you click to enlarge, though. Enjoy it and then prepare for some indulgent introspection on my part. 2009 is half-over. It has begun as a great year for me. My artwork has been published on two book covers and a magazine cover. Another text (currently available online) features 5 of my images and an interview. I travelled to ScienceOnline09 and met amazing people. Participated in SciBarCamp here in Toronto, met more stellar people. Completed another blog banner I'm quite proud of. Asked to be an inaugural member of Art Evolved. Been interviewed three times. Yeah. It's been a fantastic year so far!

So now where do I go?

I've re-enrolled in school for the fall, so that will keep me busy. I continue to work in management full-time. Lately I've been playing with commercial properties, doing a bit of fan-art involving Transformers and Marvel comic characters. Started work on the next Art Evolved gallery about anomalocarids (you think "primeval predator", I think "high fashion"). I have an idea for an original painting I'd like to auction off and donate the money. And Major Billy Barker & his Pterosaur Squadron up there has surprised me in how interested I am in continuing the world on that little canvas.

With the amount of projects burning to go forward past the sketch stage, I could easily be as busy creating art as a full-time job. At the moment, it's an alluring thought, but not enough to pay the bills. (Yet?)

Where am I going? Am I spinning my wheels or is this taking me somewhere?

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Major Billy Barker & his Pterosaur Squadron

Major Billy Barker & his Pterosaur Squadron
(click to enlarge, or visit my gallery for a larger view)

The paint is still wet, thus, the photo at a weird angle to prevent glare. I'll see if I can get a better shot up for my next Art Monday. Oil paint on canvas. This is my submission to the third Art Evolved group gallery, which happens to be launching July 1st, Canada Day.

In my generation, a lot of history learned in school was rote memorization. Dates, names, places. My high school had a vast amount of letters from former students to their teachers in the World Wars that we read each Remembrance Day. Perhaps the advantage of the internet is the ease at which you can learn now. No trip to the library, not knowing what you are looking for. Click, click, and there it is. Perhaps this is Gen X apathy, I'm not sure.

Sometimes as an artist, rarely, I get an image full-blown in my mind. That was the case here. Composition, lighting, hues. I needed some details for the biplanes.

So I did a bit of online poking to look up biplanes, and found the story of a true Canadian adventurer, perfect to add to my (perhaps audacious) idea. Major William George "Billy" Barker was a World War 1 flying ace and Victoria Cross recipient who flew Sopwith Camels against German Fokkers. Although I could not find any information indicating he fought against the infamous Red Baron, Manfred Von Richtofen, I thought the drama of these two excellent pilots would heighten the alternate history in this concept painting. Of course, our Canadian hero Major Billy Barker has a trick up those RAF sleeves: his fighting pterosaur squadron, made up of Quetzalcoatlus northropi.

The Red Baron will live to fight another day. Some theories have it that he was shot and wounded by other Canadian pilots though that remains controversial. Whatever the case, I love that the idea that popped into my mind led me to reading about Major Barker in time for Canada Day, and Art Evolved.

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Art Evolved Pterosaur Gallery
Major Billy Barker on Wikipedia
Major Billy Barker & his Sopwith Camel at Ace Pilots
The Red Baron on Wikipedia
The Red Baron & his Fokker at Ace Pilots

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***
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