Welcome to A Field Guide to Flying Trilobites. We hope you learn something from our team of unruly-haired naturalists wearing smart coats stained with ink, as they share what they’ve gathered in the field.
A theme this year’s Inktober. Quick and fun sketches for something I’ve been kicking around for years.
Illustrating a fossil skeleton correctly and clearly is an enticing paleoart puzzle. It takes deep knowledge of morphology, anatomy, and taxonomy.
Sketching the fossils as they are is inviting yourself into their mystery and grandeur. The agelessness and distortions of deep time, understandable only as math and not experience.
I love sketching fossils as they appear, distortions and all. A little part of the mystery.
I turned 45 recently, and it was the right time to finally get a tattoo I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Here it is, and a few thoughts about what it means to me.
Where it started
Paleontology-author, science communicator and friend Riley Black asked me to design a series of tattoos a few years ago, based on the Morrison Formation predators: Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus and Torvosaurus.
Riley was quote specific about wanting the skeletons in the death pose: some fossils are found in a distinct arched-back pose, most likely due to their spine being close to the surface of their skin, and drying out and tightening after death. I played with a couple of variations of black line designs, and we settled on an outline of the spine, ribs, and tail, and silhouettes of the skull and limbs. I added some distressed and broken bits, and even some hidden shapes of states where Riley has lived on one of them, thinking that even if someone copies the tattoo, it will remain specifically theirs.
I’ve always loved Dilophosaurus, ever since a childhood dinosaur book showed one sprinting and turning toward some fast-moving lizard prey. My childhood was in the late 70’s and 80’s, and Jurassic Park’s velociraptors hadn’t hit mainstream popularity yet. Most books focused on Tyrannosaurus, and one book I had, also showed the big bulky Gorgosaurus and Tarbosaurus. But here was this illustrated paperback, The MacMillan Book of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Creatures with an illustration of Dilophosaurus by John Hamberger.
It had crests! It was fast! It looked more nimble than the big guys. It blew me away. It was something I hadn’t imagined before.
I sketched out the design using ArtRage 5, my favourite digital painting program, and used photos of two specimens for reference.
As an adult, the other aspect of Dilophosaurus that appeals to me is that the holotype specimen shows signs of injuries and healing. It was bashed around a lot during its life, and still kept going. That feels like a significant metaphor for myself at turning age 45. The last few years have been both joyous, thanks to my family, and tough economically and professionally.
I’ve written before about cycling - taking Nucala for my lifelong severe asthma has changed my main mode of transportation into a serious pursuit. It’s a fantastic way to out-ride stress, and I’m in danger of becoming a MAMIL.
So I needed to put some cycling bits in the design. Highlighted below are parts of a chain, gear and derailleur.
One of my regrets with my previous tattoos is not staying in touch with the artists who did the work inking my designs.
So this time I wanted that to be different. I know a few tattoo artists in person, and in my head there was no question I wanted German Shible to ink this tattoo. Watching his Instagram and traditional and neo-trad style over the last few years, I had absolute confidence in him, and he delivered.
I mentioned to German that I’d love if he could keep some of the sketchiness of my lines, and he agreed that would work. I’m so thrilled German did this tattoo. It means so much to me to have an artist I admire do this work.
This tattoo needed to be on my “cycling leg” - typically when you’re cycling and wearing pants, you roll up your right pants on your right calf so the hem doesn’t get caught in the chain. Best spot to show it off. Plus, I’ve liked how black line tattoos on legs looked ever since playing Fable II years ago, lol.
Getting a tattoo is a real confidence booster. Thank you German!
Damn it looks good.
See more of my scienceink tattoo designs at glendonmellow.com/tattoos.
Appointment is booked, deposit down, and prep for my next tattoo is underway.
Basic idea: dilophosaurus fossil with bicycle parts. Black line. Similar to my other dinosaur and ancient reptile tattoo designs.
Skull study. I need to lengthen the weird notched part of the nose tip and jaw.
Simple bicycle forms to consider.
Playing with alternate designs.
More on this as it goes. Appointment booked for my 45th birthday.
Went for an autumn bike ride. Don Valley, Taylor Creek, Beaches, Tommy Thompson Park, Lakeshore.
Happy 15th Anniversary, Michelle.
You enchant, fascinate, and thrill me. That rainy October evening 15 years ago has led us to so many incredible memories. I hope we have many more.