Monday 31 January 2011

Charlotte Observer Blog Spotlight

Today on the Charlotte Observer Science & Technology Blog Spotlight, you can find an interview by Tyler Dukes with me, done while I was attending Science Online 2011.  It's called, Blending art and science with a little fantasy.

For more media interviews and podcasts about my own artwork and the science-art scene at large, you can see my Media page. I've done a number of interviews lately, and it's really opened my eyes to new facets of the science-art impact.  The questions are varied and intelligent.  Tyler, like Desiree, Mike and Adrian and the others, had done his homework and looked at the usefulness of science-art in an interesting way. 

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Saturday 29 January 2011

Scumble #11


"A painting technique in which semi-opaque or thin opaque colors are loosely brushed over an underpainted area so that patches of the color beneath show through." 
From The Artist's Handbook, by Ray Smith.  

A weekly highlight of some of posts I found interesting, most provocative, or otherwise caught my eye from the Science Artists Feed, and other sources. Sit back, have a machiatto with a dollop of foam and enjoy.  Lots to look at this week!

Click here for earlier Scumbles.

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Vision science: Seeing without seeing, Corie Lok, Nature News.

ROM Drawings, Sketchkrieg!

It's WHAT?, etcetera.  Painting with blood. Awesome.

Recycling, Drawing the Motmot.

What the Hell is a T.Rex?, Don't Mess With Dinosaurs. This is an excellent post, about the trendiness of certain scientific illustrations. Even that most noble of science-art traditions can fall prey to fashion.

Early science art, O'Reilly Science Art.

Visual art leading research - it's not happening, The Flying Trilobite, and followed by Examples of Visual Art Inspiring Science.

Cleaner Eurypterid, The Episiarch.

Couldn't help but notice..., O'Reilly Science Art.  Make your own molecular protein bunny!

Nucleosome Cross-stich, Fresh Photons.

Another warbird, A Curious Bestiary.

Runaway Star Plows Through Space, An Eye for Science.

Sue Johnson's hybrid organisms re-imagine second collection of General Pitt Rivers,
ulture 24.  Weird hybrid plants!

Art Evolved Call-Out: speed-painting Friday, Art Evolved.  David Maas suggests the Art Evolved crew and fans attempt to speed paint images based on questions at Ask A Biologist.  Click to the main Art Evolved page to see the resulting posts.

Eradicating Plant-Blindness in the 21st Century, ArtPlantae Today.

Fly Cankles and Literary Evolution, Biodiversity in Focus. Insect photographer + entomologist Morgan D. Jackson celebrates his 100th post with this phat entry.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Friday 28 January 2011

Octopus Limbs - speedpaint challenge

For David Maas's Ask A Biologist speedpaint challenge on Art Evolved, I chose the question, Do octopus limbs grow back?

Though the answer is no, I gave my octopus a few split digits, as though a new tip grew next to a partially severed one. Painted in ArtRage in 30 minutes.  Still learning to speedpaint digitally: I didn't expect the "glitter" setting to make that much texture under the other layers of paint.

Cross-posted on Art Evolved

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Darwin Day is coming!

Darwin Took Steps  © Glendon Mellow 2008. Oil on canvas paper.

Darwin Day is coming up on February 12th!

If there's any painting I've done that's iconic of my work, it's this one.  Darwin Took Steps has appeared on books, magazines and around the intertubes.  It's available as prints, greeting cards, postcards, t-shirts and even stickers in my online shop.  Great time to order, and half the profit goes to The Beagle Project.

The image also appears in two of my calendar collections (one version in pencil).  Not too late to order those either.  You can pick what month the calendar starts. 

Click here to go to the Darwin Took Steps gallery + shop.
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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Examples of visual art inspiring science

Following my last post, "Visual art leading research - it's not happening", I thought it may be useful to compile a list of examples of visual art -painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, collage- that directly influenced the course of scientific research somehow.

I would love to hear of any more!

Triceratops butting heads.
Inspired by scientific illustrator Bill Parsons and others.
Research subsequently done by Andrew Farke to detemine whether or not triceratops could butt heads together as scientific illustrations commonly suggest. Andy suggested this example to me here.

Medieval Islamic Architecture decoration and Penrose Tilings.
Found in medieval Islamic architecture, and described by Peter J. Lu and Paul J. Steinhardt. They realized that these tiles pre-date the "Penrose Tilings" discovered by Roger Penrose in the 1970's by about 500 years.  This example isn't a direct-link of visual art leading research, however, since the significance of the geometry was only noted by Lu and Steinhardt after Penrose investigated the pattern. I think it shows how visual art can possibly lead to fruitful areas of research.

Painting with penicillin: Alexander Fleming.
Possibly inspired by the syphilis-stricken artists he cared for, Fleming began to paint with bacteria when he wasn't using watercolours.  The pattern that emerged, a dark sun, led to his discovery of antibiotics. Article by Rob Dunn, Smithsonian Magazine. Suggested to me by science-artist James King.

Are there more?

* Please note: the opposite phenomena, namely artists being influenced by science is much, much more common, even though our modern culture often suggests that art + science are separate cultural realms. I'm not specifically searching for those examples here.  For that, I maintain a Science-Artists Feed.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Monday 24 January 2011

Visual art leading research - it's not happening.

Can the production of and inspiration by visual art lead to new areas of scientific research?
It's not happening. At least not often, and not in any organized sense.

Anthropometry, 2009 © Glendon Mellow. Ink on latex gloves.

A couple of years ago while attending ScienceOnline09, I spoke to the group about my not-yet-fully-formed ideas on this matter. I said that visual art ("art", for the sake of brevity in this post) was largely parasitic on science.  It takes a lot of cues and inspiration from science, but seldom do sculpture, painting, drawing, collage or even photography give anything back.  

Some in the room were not having any of this: they cited the inspiration of film and movies, and of children's book illustrations as being catalytic to becoming interested in science in the first place.  Scientific illustration aside - and leaving aside the grand inspiration from film, which is not the type of visual art I am referring to- the field of science-art may contribute heavily to the cloud of inspiring the next generation of scientists, but it doesn't shine down, illuminating new areas of research. 

At the time, I put out a sort of open call to anyone who could think of specific examples of art leading to a new field of research.  

I've really only received one example, from paleontologist Andy Farke: 
In fact, it was art that led me down a very productive avenue of my own research. I had seen depiction after depiction of horned dinosaurs fighting each other. . .(a rendering by Bill Parsons sticks out in my mind, in particular). . .and this got me thinking. What evidence actually was there for such behavior? Could Triceratops even physically lock horns? I used scaled sculptures of Triceratops skulls (artwork in their own right) to test this idea. . .the results were published in Palaeontologia Electronica. This in turn has led to other projects (all ultimately inspired by those artistic restorations).  (Comment made here)

Since then, there have been other examples from literature, from film again, from science-fiction novels, but not visual art. And thanks to everyone who has provided these examples; it has people's minds ticking, and I appreciate that.  I so-o-o appreciate that.

I've briefly raised the issue at each ScienceOnline I've moderated a session at ('09, '10 and recently #scio11) and each time at least a few people tell me they can't let go of the idea. It's intriguing isn't it?  

But perhaps some of the fault is mine. You see, in my recent post for Scientific American's Guest Blog I criticized the idea underlying a symposium discussing "Art as a Way of Knowing".  I said that art is more a Way of Exploring. It doesn't provide new knowledge, only creates new, imaginative, metaphorical links between areas of knowledge.  And that really isn't the same as creating new knowledge, it's more a kind of visual noise, albeit a provocative, fun and challenging type of noise. 

I put wings on trilobites in my paintings. That isn't new knowledge, but it raises questions we can explore. Trilobites were aquatic arthropods that lived before wings.  Could they have evolved them? Does it recall the hoax of the Fiji Mermaid? If animals had a Creator, why are the forms only explainable through evolution? Bat wings on trilobites seem more Creator-ish.

Just because you can put two things together in a composition, doesn't mean you've created new knowledge, any more than saying "tension along the Afghanistan/Michigan border" has created new information in a sentence.

Trilobitlepidoptology, © Glendon Mellow 2008. Pencil on bristol.

Let me jump tracks for a moment.  I devour atheist blogs, and love reading about the tension between science, truth, atheism and religion.  And something that comes up a lot from both theists and atheist accommodationists is the idea that religions can provide us with special knowledge, different from that of science. Most atheists, myself include, decry this idea, it's kind of silly.  Any real knowledge found in religious scripture is either blindingly obvious from the human experience or else there by cultural artifact or accident.  

Yet so many religious sites (looks askance at BioLogos) would like to be able to claim to provide Knowledge as Important as that of science.

And so I have to ask:  am I guilty of doing the same thing?  In my quest to find and perhaps one day, create visual art that leads to new areas of scientific research, perhaps I am overestimating art as a stimulus tool. A stimulus tool able to pique working researchers to drop what they're doing and pursue a notion they had while browsing some science-art.

It may be that science-art will remain a curiosity, an homage, fanfic tributes on canvas. Contributing to lay people's curiosity is a noble thing, but I still harbour hopes that art inspired by science will one day rise to become a catalyst generator for research.  Maybe we artists don't try hard enough yet.

I could write my feelings about science-art's potential off as science-envy. Showing art is about hearing stories on what thoughts and feelings the art generates.  And hearing stories about the thoughts and feelings my art generates amongst scientists and science enthusiasts nurtures selfish noble hope that I'm somehow contributing.  

Slate fragments, © Glendon Mellow 2010.  Oil on slate.
But I want to find a way to contribute more than fragments of ideas, more than droplets to the science-inspiration cloud.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Friday 21 January 2011

Scumble #10


"A painting technique in which semi-opaque or thin opaque colors are loosely brushed over an underpainted area so that patches of the color beneath show through." 
From The Artist's Handbook, by Ray Smith.  

A weekly highlight of some of posts I found interesting, most provocative, or otherwise caught my eye from the Science Artists Feed, and other sources. Sit back, have a latte with cinnamon (no foam) and enjoy.

Click here for earlier Scumbles.

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Imagine that: Images of nature shaping science, by Kat Austen, CultureL
ab. Yay!  This sounds excellent.

Art and Science, host Desiree Schell, Skeptically Speaking podcast, interviews with Glendon Mellow, Jenna Marie Griffith and Lauren Redniss.

Science, Love, and Radium, Clever Girl.  Jenn Hall reviews Lauren Redniss's new graphic novel.

Dinos Vs. Han Solo - Art Evolved.  It is what you think. Art by Jerry D. Harris Luke Campbell. (Thanks for catching my goof, ScottE!

Whoah. Few places on earth feel so otherworldly, An Eye for Science.

Canada geese design featured on gold coin!, News from the Studio.

Jessica Harrison is our new Hero, Hybrids of Art and Science.

ScienceOnline special: A Tale of Two Diablos, Love in the Time of the Chasmosaurs and Illustrating Dinosaurs: What's the difference?, drip.  Two important posts where a researcher defends his scientific illustrator from plagiarism, and bloggers show it just isn't so.

My Tyrrell Talk, Weapon of Mass Imagination.

Pareidolia, Illusions & Art, The Art of a Carbon-Based Lifeform.

5 steps to proper image use on blogs - a #scio11 tutorial, The Flying Trilobite.

ScienceOnline special: Gwawinapterus, Love in the Time of the Chasmosaurs.

The Great Big ScienceOnline Wrap-up, Love in the Time of the Chasmosaurs. David discusses the session about science-art.

Animal Art Online Exhibit, Heather Ward Wildlife Art.  Penguins!

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Skeptically Speaking Podcast #94 - Art and Science

In case you missed last week's Skeptically Speaking Podcast with host Desiree Schell:

This week, it’s an hour on the intersection between science and the creative arts. We’ll speak to Lauren Redniss, author and illustrator of Radioactive, a visual narrative about the work, life and love of Marie and Pierre Curie. Art historian Jenna Marie Griffith explains the historical influence of science on the visual arts. And we’re joined by Glendon Mellow, painter, illustrator, and author of the blog The Flying Trilobite, to discuss the tension between creativity and scientific accuracy.

My thanks to producer K.O. Myers and host Desiree Schell for the interview.  A lot of fun, and great questions - one of them is edited out, and Desiree asked a question I was stumped to answer. Total brain freeze. The interview is also a good overview of the topics I raised at ScienceOnline11, though you'll have to wait for the video to see how David Orr, John Hawks and I handled even more than that.

After I speak, the segments with Jenna Marie Griffith and Lauren Redniss are fascinating. 

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Sunday 16 January 2011

5 steps to proper image use on blogs - a #scio11 tutorial

Something that David, John and I brought up today in our session about Science-art - and elsewhere here at ScienceOnline - is the need to properly credit images used on blogs. Here are my quick tips on doing it properly, to give image creators the credit they deserve. 

This stuff is my opinion after a number of years as an image-maker online. I don't think there's a gold standard anywhere or a law that the Internetz Police will bust you over. 

  1. Go beyond Google Images or Wikipedia to the original photographer, illustrator or artist.
  2. Check for a Creative Commons Licence*.
  3. Ask. Just ask if permission is unclear. 
  4. Credit the photographer, illustrator or artist by name.
  5. Link back to their site.

Saying "Credit: Google Images" is like saying "Credit: Someone on Earth".

If you search for more than 10 minutes online and cannot find the original creator and are desperate to use that specific image, perhaps put it up and ask your readers for help identifying who created it.  A knowledgeable blog readership on a niche topic will often know. 

Be prepared to take an image down if asked.

*A note about Creative Commons Licences: it means some sort of sharing is allowed, but the most restrictive licence still says a) You must credit the artist b) You must not alter the image in any way and c) You must not make any money from it.  It's one of the reasons an artist may allow free use on a blog, but ask for money if it will be in mainstream media.

These are my opinion on the subject of credit: thoughts? 


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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Science-art at ScienceOnline11

This weekend I'll be tweeting and blogging from ScienceOnline11 in North Carolina.  It's my third year participating and continuing the discussion about science-related visual art.

The first year I raised the idea of science-art being somewhat parasitic on science - it's rare if ever that artwork directs the course of research.  The group in session convinced me that much of art's value is in contributing to an atmosphere of inspiration.

Last year, I was joined by my co-moderator, Felice Frankel.  We discussed the value of metaphor in science comprehension, and exploring visual metaphors as thought experiments.

This year, the session will be moderated by anthropologist-artist John Hawks and graphic designer, dinosaur-dynamo David Orr of Love in the Time of the Chasmosaurs and myself. You can see our official wiki page here.

David has posted an interesting starting point I want to explore a bit more. Wheels are spinning.

In his post David says,

But looking back at LITC as it has evolved, I realize that much of what I write about has to do with the line between the two. Glendon approaches it from a fine art background. I approach it from a design background and lifelong love of illustration. 

This has me thinking a bit about the other difference between David's blog, my own, and John's. How "serious" the science is, and the type of artwork on it.

The artwork David frequently highlights on Love in the Time of the Chasmosaurs with regularity is dinosaur illustrations - and most often, out-of-date, erroneous, quirky and fantastical dinosaur illustrations.  Take a look at this and this.  (And don't miss these wonderful vector birds by David himself!)

Compare David's work to say, John's sketchbook.  In both cases a deft hand and artistic skill is evident.  However, if asked, which would you say is the more "serious"?

To remove the discussion from my colleagues art, please compare these two images of my own.

If you were studying a Red Knot, a shorebird sometimes seen in Cyprus, you would likely trust this image to some degree:

(Created for blogger-conservationist Dan Rhoads Migrations blog.)

I can tell you that the length of the wings is a bit long, but overall I was aiming for natural, scientific accuracy in colour and form.

Compare that to this Pink Parasaurolophus, a duck-billed hadrosaur with a magnificent crest/horn:

(Created for the Art Evolved Pink Dinosaurs for Breast Cancer Research Charity Drive.)

Would you trust this as a reference?  Why not?  What about each fold and contour along the pink dino's belly?  Accurate?  The width and length of the tail?

So then, what is the value of the Pink Parasaurolophus as opposed to the Red Knot?

In visual science communication, one of the most important roles for art to play is in hooking new minds into the science in the first place.  At a conference like ScienceOnline, where everyone is already engaged and married to science already, the value of a pink dinosaur is set aside a bit, like an old toy.  The Red Knot is sober, serious, striving for accuracy - it's important in a different way, as a reference and a study of the true form.

And that's what excites me about the panel this year. To paint everyone far too simply:
David Orr is the graphic designer, the toy-maker and introduction to science.
I'm the fine artist, metaphor-maker and science's distorted mirror.
John is the scientific illustrator, the study in clarity, the scientific backbone.

Can't wait to see who else joins in the session this year!  

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Ana and her pet Opabinia

In the bit of time I have to sketch lately, I'm still working on characters and pages for my work-in-progress Trilobite Boy comic. 

Here's another character, a child named Ana and her pet Opabinia, Opie. I may rename Opie "Oscar" later, I haven't decided.  Opie feels too much like an "Iggy the Iguana" type of name.  The colours here are a quick rough-in just to experiment.  I may go with more of a greenish colour for the opabinia.

Ana and her pet invade Trilobite Boy's dreams, the alternate pasts he dreams about when he's enrolled. Shortly after she appears, Trilobite Boy wakes up. 

If you're unsure as to what an Opabinia is (or rather, was) you can check out some info on Wikipedia here. I love using creatures like this (come on - it has 5 eyes!) from Earth's deep past to populate a story.  

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Science-Art Scumble #9

"A painting technique in which semi-opaque or thin opaque colors are loosely brushed over an underpainted area so that patches of the color beneath show through." 
From The Artist's Handbook, by Ray Smith.  

A weekly digest to highlight some of the posts I found most interesting, most provocative, or otherwise caught my eye from the Science Artists Feed, and other sources. Sit back, have an espresso and enjoy.

Click here for earlier scumbles.

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The Elephant Gallery, Art Evolved.  Bimonthly paleo-art themed gallery.  Don't miss cute/sad Craig Dylke's 3D mammoth and Lucy Walsh's highly detailed African elephant.  Also check out David Maas's speedpainted entry.

Hello, I'm an Atheist: Awe, Science, Reason and Critical Thinking.

Of These Bones & Branches, this is the blog of Heather Thompkins.

Project Art for Nature: On The Edge, ArtPlantae Today.  Important and impactful art+conservation event.

Is it art or a dorsal vertebra? , drip|david's really interesting pages. Ooo, an excellent question. Is context everything?

Sirius alabaster, Nobu Tamura. Breathtaking.

New Year... New Traumador, Weapon of Mass Imagination.

Lovely Weather, the End of Astronomy and the Need for ArtSci socio-economic indicators, Roger Malina.  Are scientist and artist collaborations worth the money?  Can that be determined?

Hendrick Avercamp and the "Little Ice Age", lines and colors.

The Street Anatomy Gallery Store is OPEN! , Street Anatomy.

Pilot and co-pilot fish, A Curious Bestiary.

Chromatic Adaptation, Gurney Journey.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Sunday 9 January 2011

Skeptically Speaking podcast coming

Busy week!

Today I recorded an interview with Desiree Schell for the Skeptically Speaking podcast, talking about science-art and my recent Scientific American Guest Blog post.  The full show, with art historian Jenna Marie Griffith and comic illustrator/author Lauren Redniss will be up this Friday 14 January, here.

The Scientific American post generated some discussion, which is great, leading up to the session at ScienceOnline11, (next week!) where I'll be talking about science-art with David Orr, John Hawks, and the group.  If past ScienceOnline sessions have taught me anything, it's that art inspired by and created with science in mind continue to both inspire and frustrate viewers.  Can't wait!

The post also generated some discussion on these links:
Exposed! Sensual Science - IdeaFestival
Ways of Exploring - John Hawks Weblog well as another blog which is now password protected.

On another note, I've created a new Media tab across the top of this blog, gathering audio and video links featuring yours truly. Some day I'll have to film myself painting with an appropriate electronic soundtrack. 

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

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