Tuesday 29 June 2010

Making of The Last Refuge

Earlier this month I debuted a new painting, commissioned by Kevin Zelnio of Deep Sea News and The Other 95%.  You can see Kevin's post about The Last Refuge here, and who it was for. 

Here's a little about the process of making that painting. 

Kevin had mentioned it to me quite a while earlier, the first time we met in person.  The idea rattled around in my head quite a bit, so there wasn't a lot of prep work needed for this one. 

I started with the sketch above, done using my Faber-Castell Pitt pens.  It's a typical type of starting sketch for me, not a lot of stuff that may make sense to someone else.  I'll try to explain it after the jump.

First of all, it's two sketches side by side.  Let's look at the right one: the little "x" marks all around are a typical comic book notation for all black background. I knew I wanted heavy black shadows, and the light source coming from behind. 

You can see the original composition was quite symmetrical:  I wanted almost a reverent feel, almost like a religious landscape.  It's an easier feeling to invoke with obvious geometry and I thought black smoker thermal vents on either side would evoke that. 

Turned on Die Antwoord  and Massive Attack videos on my 'puter, made some coffee (mocha java) and got started painting.  Used black acrylic for a base in the background. As oil paints age, they become darker and more transparent, so a dark ground will prevent the painting from bleaching over time. 

But at the last second I changed the composition.

Something about all that indanthrene blue...I needed to give the ocean itself more space.  I jettisoned the symmetrical composition for a more natural one.  Also, I wanted a series of lines of light that would direct the eye around the painting in a trangular way, and the submersible hiding behind a smoker wouldn't have helped.

I stayed with a classical compositions with three distances.  The first distance, is the rock at the bottom left with the big standard trilobite (Elrathia kingi is one of my favourites).  This typically gives the viewer an entryway into the painting, and since we're in the West, starting on the left is typical.  The trilobite kind of gazes and points into the rest of the painting. The 2nd, or middle distance, brings in more detail, and shows the "story" of the painting.

When painting the submersible, originally I hadn't add much in the way of light.  I knew I wanted to make some dramatic beams, and a halo, but if I did that and it looked awful, I wouldn't be able to get that smooth deep blue of the surrounding water without starting completely over in the background.

Had to go for it. I was happy with the result, but I still miss that deep mysterious blue cutting down the left hand side.  The light is more dramatic, less tranquil.  

The shape of the light beam is actually inspired by comics. I still pick up Marvel or Dark Horse comics now and then, (love New Avengers) and the shape of the light beams is roughly the same as when a ninja throws multiple stars: the arc of their hand intercut with the path of the throwing stars. If you read comics, you probably know what I mean. 

For the title, I kicked around names like "Deep Discovery" and suchlike, but Kevn supplied the perfect one:  The Last Refuge.

My aim for The Last Refuge was to create a painting the recipient could sit still and look at, and notice little details in the edges.  The cluster of trilobites on the right. The tubeworms rising out of the dark. The shape and texture of the sulpherous smoke. 

It's about a dream, isn't it?  Richard Fortey in Trilobite!  Eyewitness to Evolution said, "Hope has faded that, when today's mid-ocean ridges were explored by bathyscape, in some dimly-known abyss there might still dwell a solitary trilobite to bring Paleozoic virtues into the age of the soundbite..,". 

I hope Kevin and the painting's recipient enjoy The Last Refuge for many years to come. 
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The Last Refuge is also available in a variety of prints from my online print shop. I recommend the laminated print (shown below) or the charcoal frame with dark mat

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

Monday 21 June 2010

Art Monday: invert. No, the other kind of invert.

Sometimes I like to invert pencil drawings. It allows the artist to view the pencil strokes with new eyes, revealing the contrast and altering the mood. It makes the familiar unfamiliar.  

More after the jump. 

You may have seen last week I altered my blog, shop and portfolio to be black, and changed the header image to match.  Although I love the artwork on a black background, it just felt to harsh in contrast, and I switched back to the art-gallery-wall-white. 

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


Print Shop

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Flying Trilobite Print Sale!

From now until June 22nd, The Flying Trilobite Print Shop is having a "10% off almost everything sale"!

Great time to pick up a laminated print of The Last Refuge. Lots of other print formats available, and my artwork looks perfect with RedBubble's print quality.

There's also a new hoodie available, featuring The Flying Trilobite logo in shades of green! Baffle your paleontologist friends. Hoodie available in heaps of colours, and as a t-shirt.

Why not plan ahead, and pick up some Darwin Took Steps cards for next year's Darwin Day? A portion of the money goes in support of The Beagle Project! Also available as a swanky framed print. People will look at it on your wall and think, "Wow. That person's smart. I'm glad I'm friends with them. And Darwin has a staircase on his head."
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Original artwork on
The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***
Details about sale ending date here.

Promotional images by RedBubble who rock.

Monday 14 June 2010

Art Monday: dinosaur skull sketches

A few past dinosaur skull sketches, mostly made at the Royal Ontario Museum. All done with .3mm or 2mm technical pencil in my trusty Moleskine sketchbooks.

. Original post here.

. Original post here.

. Original post here.

Gryposaurus. Original post here.

The contours and shadows are endlessly fascinating to draw. I gotta get a new ROM membership.

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

Thursday 10 June 2010

Green paint.

Based on a recollection. Names changed, paraphrasing abounds. This ain't how it really went.

Me: Art Supply Shop, how can I help you?

Customer [Let's call them "Green-Required-Event-Eventually-Needs".]: I'm looking for some green paint, like eco-friendly paint.

Me: Like a particular brand?

Green: I don't know a specific brand. Whichever brand is the most green.

Me: Okay, let's see...what are you using it for?

Green: It's for the eco-home show, at the convention centre. We want to have a kids' station, for them to do crafts, so we need whatever's the most green paint you have. Isn't there enviro-friendly paint?

Me: Well, I don't think any of the paint brands we have market themselves that way. Lots of the sketch papers do; hydro-powered or wind-powered production plants --

Green: --Yes. Like that. The wind-powered paint.

Me: Okay. As I say, I can't think of a paint manufacturer who markets themselv--

Green: --Just whichever one is the most GREEN.

Me: Alright. Well, let's start with this. Since it's for children, the most common type of paint would be tempera, sometimes called gouache. It rinses off with water, and it's made from gum arabic, some binder agents, maybe resin, and pigment.

Green: So it's the most eco-friendly?

Me: Well. Yes and no. Okay, just to be a bit on the technical side: All paints are made of a vehicle, and pigments. The pigments used in any kind of paint, or brand of paint are the same pigments. They're what give it the colour. The vehicle is what the paint is carried in. Oils are carried in usually linseed oil from flax, acrylic are in an acrylic polymer and water-colours are in gum arabic, which is water-soluble. The tempera I mentioned is a lot like watercolour, only the colours used are more opaque, and their may be other chemical binding agents in it. I think they used to use egg sometim--

Green: --I don't want other chemical agents or whatever. I want the best enviro-friendly, natural paint. This is for children!

Me: Okay, yeah, I understand that. Here's the thing. The chemicals themselves in that paint are non-toxic, that's one reason it's popular for kids. Okay, so all paints have a vehicle, and pigments. Vehicle-wise, if you want the most "natural" that would actually be oil paints.

Green: But oils are toxic.

Me: Not necessarily. The pigments are usually mixed in linseed oil, which is just oil from flax. Hmm, probably the most natural of the paints, really. If you use solvents to clean up it would be toxic, but there's non-toxic solvents out now. But it's hard to get out of clothes, so for kids maybe not so good, but if "natural" matters, it might be the best bet.

Green: I heard there's fumes from oils, I can't use that.

Me: The fumes are mostly from solvents people use to clean it up. Using oil paint is like leaving any vegetable oil open in the kitchen. Like having a dish of olive oil on the dinner table. I don't really recommend oils for little kids anyway without direct supervision. It's an interesting idea: "green" paint.

Green: Are you sure there isn't anything? I really need to get something.

Me: Well to be technical again, I guess there's a lot to consider. Let's start with the vehicles. Oils are probably the most natural, acrylics probably the most un-enviro-friendly, since I think the acrylic is probably a petroleum derivative. To think about the pigments, some are more natural than others --

Green: Okay. Give me those, in all the primary colours, and a bunch of other colours.

Me: Well, natural and non-toxic aren't the same thing. Flake white has lead in it. Lead is more natural than say, quinacradone which is used in a lot of reds, but quinacradone is non-toxic in typical use. And I can't gather up a whole rainbow of colours. Some are more arguable more earth-friendly, like the browns. They're usually made from clay silica, like from different regions, which is why they're called raw sienna and burnt umber and such. Arguable they're more eco-friendly.

Green: Only the browns?

Me: Probably not only, but now that I think about it, it could be they're worse than the manufactured pigments: how do they get the clay? Do they clear-cut a forest to get at the clay? Gently by the riverbed? I don't know. Clay's non-toxic, unless the dry pigments are breathed in, then it can damage your lungs, which doesn't normally happen when you're painting. Other colours like the madders are from plants, I think the roots. I assume they're greenhouse grown, that'd be efficient, but I don't actually know. And the non-toxic, manufactured pigments may have other waste chemicals from production that aren't good wherever they're disposed of.

Green: Okay. Umm..

Me, barreling onward: I remember speaking with a customer who was vegan who did murals, and loved our in-house student brand. She was worried the carbon black might use charred animal-bone soot. Carbon black always used to. So I called the manufacturer, and asked. They put me on with the chemist, and he explained these days they make it from acetylene, since it they can have more control. The vegan was happy.

Green: ...

Me: And I guess whatever you end up using, you'll have to consider disposal. Most people just rinse brushes in the sink. But you could have the kids rinse them in a basin, let the basin water evaporate, and you'd just have a bunch of pigments at the bottom. Don't breathe that in. You can see, there's different issues to consider for not only the type of paint, but also the individual colours.

Green: Okay. Well.

Me: The best bet, I recommend, is to just use kids' tempera paint, and maybe have them paint in recycled items, like egg cartons or something. I wouldn't advertise the paint as being eco-friendly, though.

Green. Okay. I'll have to check with someone. She said there'd be environmentally-friendly paint, I should just call the store. We just wanted to use whatever's the most green.

Me: Well if your friend knows of a specific brand, I'd love to know about it: call me back! As I say, a lot to consider. Go with something non-toxic and washable for kids, and that would be the best choice in my opinion.

Green. Okay. Thanks, bye.

Me: Let me know how it goes! Thanks.

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Me afterward, thinking: Damn, I read too many science blogs.

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Monday 7 June 2010

Art Monday: sketches of Richard Dawkins

Various dates, pencil on bristol.

I haven't been able to fully capture a decent portrait of Richard Dawkins -yet- despite a few attempts. With the top drawing, I tried a technique I had read about and accidentally killed the whole thing. I drew the image on paper able to take oil (Fabriano's Pittura) and coated it in clear gesso, so that if I made an error, I could scrape and wipe with solvent and start over (2nd image). Didn't work.

Instead, these days I scan the pencil image, and print it out on Fredrix canvas paper (which takes ink jet so well, I wish they'd advertise that it does!). Then if I muck up the painting, I can just print out a fresh one.

No other author about evolutionary biology has fired my imagination than Richard Dawkins, starting with when I first read River Out of Eden.

Hopefully when I go freelance at the end of the summer, this could be one of my side projects. Now, I'm kind of seeing a combination of these drawings as a painted portrait: 3/4 view,
DNA-Candle on his head, looking down, open-smile.

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New interviews at SONSI

Continuing the interview series on the SONSI (Southern Ontario Nature & Science Illustrators) site, I've posted a couple more.

Head over to read about SONSI president Emily Damstra and children's book illustrator Celia Godkin.

The SONSI site is getting increasingly heavy traffic. We've got a great many talented artists and illustrators there available for freelance work! Oooo and ahhhh at the amazing pictures.

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Friday 4 June 2010

New Painting: The Last Refuge

At ScienceOnline'09, a few minutes after arriving and meeting Kevin Zelnio of Deep Sea News (and Miriam and Southern Fried and Karen James - I was barely there two minutes and all these cool bloggers were talking out loud), Kevin pitched an idea for a painting he wanted to give as a gift.

He found the occasion, and commissioned the painting. He also came up with a great title: The Last Refuge.

I should have a "making of" up over the next couple of days. In the meantime, head over to Deep Sea News and see the emotional and personal investment Kevin has wrapped up in the gesture of giving art in awe of science.

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

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

I felt like I was taking a real chance with the halo and beams of light.
But it was so
Symbolist, and so perfect for finding creatures long
thought gone, huddled in the dark around stygian heat...

Blog tweaks.

A few more blog tweaks. You'll notice the button bar near the top. Check out the Shop button, there's some new formats in there! (Stickers!)

I've also added
reviews of my art with links to some of the projects and supportive comments I've received. Thanks to everyone who allowed me to use their quotes. Nice birthday present to read those again.

Down near the bottom of the posts, there's a little slideshow of available merchandise and prints: just hover over the image to see the price ranges, click to browse.

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

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