The Aura of Oil - classic Flying Trilobite

(This post originally appeared here on The Flying Trilobite back in November 2008.)
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The aura of painting exists in the mind of the viewer, and in some cases the mind of the illustrator when seeing their own work reproduced. The idea of paintings having an aura or presence is something that has fascinated me since university, as discussed last week. Some excellent comments were made by artists Sean Craven and Chris Zenga, check it out.

Okay so from my non-scientific anecdotal samplings and personal experiences (oh the sins against science I commit! I will say ten ATP-->ADP reactions in penance), I doubt the existence of original paintings having a quasi-mystical aura or emitting a presence to the viewer. You can read a bit more about this "aura of authenticity" from an art historical perspective 
here, and from the side of new age-laced artsy language here (10th paragraph), and here.

It's head-shakingly amazing how fear for loss of the aura is dovetailed with a fear of technology. 

Is there anything special or unique then, about an original painting that does not lie entirely within the biases of the viewer? In case of oil paintings, I say yes. And looking at last week's comments, Chris Zenga guessed the point of this week's Artwork Monday while thinking about a D.N.A Candle Vanitas painting I gave to him and his wife for their marriage (at rightoriginal post here). 

I love oil painting. I enjoy the scent of the oil, and the buttery consistency flowing 
together under a horizontally-held fan brush. And most of all, I love the depth glazing can bring about in the final work.

Oil painting differs from other types of painting in many ways. Oils do not evaporate as they dry like watercolour or acrylic painting; instead they absorb oxygen from the air. This is called a siccative quality. The way I think about this, is like the oxygen molecules are pineapple chunks being added to Jell-o in a confined bowl. Adding more will increase the density and stop the Jell-o from jiggling. I don't know that this is a chemically-apt description, so please feel free to tell me there's not room for Jell-o in the comments if I am mangling the science of siccatives.

For this reason, it's important that oil paintings are painted in thin layers with an increasing amount of oil in successive layers. It allows the oxygen to permeate evenly over the course of six months to a year after painting, and helps prevent cracking. The rule is referred to as "fat over lean".

So oil paintings, particularly by Renaissance and Baroque masters, contained many thin, mostly transparent layers of paint, each tinted with a little pigment. And herein lies the aura of a painting viewed live versus online.

When light hits all these layers of oil, it permeates each oily membrane and begins to reflect back out. But some photons will bounce back into the oil layers off of the pigments, and back to the lower layers before pinging back out of the painting, and onward to the viewers eyes. This optical effect literally creates a glow. It's also the reason for the incredibly deep blacks often found in the backgrounds of portraits.

So the illusion of depth in an oil painting can be profoundly eye-catching, and similar to looking at objects in water, the oil-glazes draw our eyes and captivate our pattern-seeking centers, making the paint feel alive. No unscientific aura necessary, just wonderful chemistry interacting on our biology.


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

Science Vocabulary = Better Art - repost

(This week I'm reposting some of the posts from the past 4 years I consider noteworthy.  Yesterday, "Inspiration and Drugs". Today, here is a post from July 2009.)


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Today in keeping with the general discussion of evolution culture (see Goldstein's article) and evopunk (see badassRenaissance Oaf) I thought I would re-post a piece I originally wrote for Alternate Reality Existence back in May 2009. 

(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

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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Art Monday: The Forever Painting variations

Original version of The Forever Painting
manipulated sketch


detail of top portion
detail of lower portion
Drawing for The Forever Painting II


Oil painting originally
seen here and more here.
Pencil drawing
seen here.

This thing is physically huge. Hard to take decent pictures of. For the original painted version, my wife stood in front of the canvas, and I traced her shadow in chalk.

Sometimes as an artist, you return to the same theme multiple times and keep exploring and refining it.  I'd love to make a new painting based on the trees, but haven't had a long enough gap in my schedule, so one day worked up the little drawing to make the mental note about it.

You may also notice that in addition to flying trilobites, it has a DNA-Candle, much like the ones I showed last week.

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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 ***

Art Monday: DNA-Candle Vanitas series




DNA-Candle Vanitas I, II and III
Each painting, oil on canvas; various years, see individual posts.
© Glendon Mellow



DNA-Candle Vanitas I appeared here. DNA-Candle Vanitas II appeared here. DNA-Candle Vanitas III appeared here.

Some details about this series:


Vanitas painting is an old tradition, especially popular in the Northern Renaissance. Usually, it is a still life, depicting perhaps a skull, a broken watch, a candle just snuffed out with the smoke trailing in the air, a book half-read, a tipped over water glass....Pieter Claesz, trained by Franz Hals, is one of my favourite masters of this art style.


The image is one of mortality, with a kind of knock-you-over-the-head symbolism. The message intended is a kind of carpe diem, or "seize the day".

After reading about how telomeres may play a part in the aging process, and that their ends snip off when they replicate, I started coming up with the DNA Candle image. I remember reading something in the 90's that suggested if one could extend telomeres, one may be able to stave off death. The candle melting and the telomere shortening just seemed a natural image. I used DNA as a wick since it is more readily recognisable by most people.

So the ultimate message of the DNA Candle Vanitas is one of seize the day, life is beautiful but finite. The candles are lit and glowing, a loving image and the wax has melted together in union.

Typically, I have created these as wedding gifts, and the DNA-Candle motif has
appeared in other paintings and drawings of mine.

You can find #III in my
first calendar collection, (June).  DNA-Candle Vanitas IV will soon be available as a print or greeting card in the Print Shop.

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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 ***

Art Monday: Lights portrait series

This is the series Lights I began for my drawing course at York. Our project was to draw between 5 and 30 heads. The idea and compositions I set for myself are fairly simple. Draw portraits of living biologists, each with a light source on their heads, and incorporating a double helix form.

I've shown Richard Dawkins and Craig Venter before here, and Jane Goodall here. This time I've included Eugenie Scott and Jerry Coyne.

Jerry Coyne.Eugenie Scott.
Jane Goodall.
Craig Venter & Richard Dawkins. (I couldn't resist one of my DNA Candles on Dawkins!)

I think of these more as sketches now. All I can see are their flaws.
-Richard Dawkins needs to be re-done, with his head turned to a three-quarter view.

-I made Craig Venter's face too interesting (though it was by far the most popular with my class.)
-Eugenie Scott's hair looks too dark. I tried to use the books to show education and poise.
-I think I need to re-work all of Jerry Coyne's piece. I like the firefly, kinda. The rendering is too rough.
-Jane Goodall's I am happy with the portrait - very happy - but it's hard to make out the helix-gorilla looking down behind her.


Damn, it was an arrogant thing to sit down and expect myself to polish off decent portraits (of people I admire!) in a couple of weeks, in my spare time. Not sure what I was thinking. It wasn't until the last one that I realized this was kind of a folly.


I'm posting these perhaps as some insight into my thought processes. The York University motto is "The way must be tried."


So, um, there.

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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 ***

Quick glance: Venter & Dawkins

A quick glance at two of the (hopefully) six portraits I'm doing for my drawing class at York U.

Left, J. Craig Venter, right, Richard Dawkins. Click-y to enlarge-y.
I'm thinking about calling the series, "Lights". I'm planning next to do Jane Goodall, Rosalind Franklin, Eugenie Scott and mmmmaaaybe, Carl Sagan.

Quality is somewhat sacrificed for time, but I suppose they're passable.

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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 ***

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.)

- - - -
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 ***

Calendar peeky-peep

Here's some more peeks at The Flying Trilobite 2009 Calendar.

March.
This is the original Mythical Flying Trilobite Fossil painted on shale. There should be a new one gracing my blog banner early in the New Year.

May.

June.


The calendar is available by clicking on the back-cover image in my sidebar, any of the images above, or by clicking here.

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All original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details.
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