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


davor said...

Very cool! I'm reading the Fortey book right now. Love that quote.

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks David! Fortey is a wonderful writer.

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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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