My atheist billboard












The Freedom from Religion Foundation has a fast, neat little application to make your own atheist billboard.  Mine's above and you can see more of them here. I learned about it from radio-show host Mike Haubrich.

When thinking about a quote, I thought about how a lot of people will possibly reference science or morality for these quotes (you can see them all here).  As an artist and an atheist, I thought I would try to sum-up some of the feelings I wrote about it in this post two years ago: Gift from God? I don't think so.

In the post, addressing the 'compliment' of artistic ability being a 'gift', I said;
Just because something is hard to understand, just because complicated processes occurred that you did not witness, does not mean it was caused by a benevolent mythical being who hands out aptitudes like Santa with presents...
...That was studying. That was attempts at keen observation. That was making countless mistakes I attempted to learn from. Feedback. Crits and criticisms. Learning from indifference. Trying new materials. Replicating happy accidents. Sharing techniques. 

I received a lot of support in the comments. When I re-posted it at my RedBubble (online store) account, I ended up with concern trolls.

Far too many artists believe in the divine - probably more in New Age nonsense than organized religion, though there are plenty of those types too. "Meant to be" is the cause of many happy accidents to many artists, when in fact, happy accidents have a lot more in common with Richard Dawkins' ratcheting up Mount Improbable: you hang on to the successes, duplicate them as close as you can and eliminate the artistic attempts that fail in your eyes. Developing a skill, technique and style in art has a lot in common with natural selection. 

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Science-Artists Feed grows to 100

A few months ago, I started the Science-Artists Feed after a conversation with Bora Zivkovic.  It's also carried on scienceblogging.com. Visual art, illustration and imagery can have a profound impact on our understanding of science: both the scientific concepts themselves, and how scientific knowledge impacts our lives.

It's now swelled to 100 different artists' and site feeds!  Each week I'm summing up some links of things I found interesting in my Scumble series of posts. If anyone wondered whether or not this is an art movement unto itself -as I discussed with Mike Haubrich and sciartist Lynn Fellman in a recent podcast- the size and variety of this list should demonstrate it is.

Recently, I included a handful of the artists I love from deviantArt as well, including Nobu Tamura, Jacqueline Dillard, Jon Lomberg and the Bioscience group.

Here's the list in its entirety below the jump:




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

Fossils, Genes and Art - Atheists Talk Podcast

"Fossils, Genes and Art", the Atheists Talk podcast recorded today live on the radio, is now up!  Click here to listen, or here to go to the podcast on iTunes.

Thanks to host Mike Haubrich, to science-artist Lynn Fellman and to the Minnesota Atheists and AM 950 KTNF and its sponsors for the show. 
Okay, so:  about the parasite thing. Two years ago at ScienceOnline09, I brought up the idea that artists who are inspired by science (like moi) are somewhat parasitic on the science that inspires: we don't give a lot back, we don't direct research. (Review at Ars Technica of that session here.)

The group at scio09 resoundingly rejected this, and concede and agree:  science-artists do a lot to inspire and explore and speak to the scientifically literate and enthusiastic audience. However, the do little to lead actual research.

As soon as you couch a scientific idea in a metaphor, you remove it further from the data and evidence. This means it's not usually possible for it to stimulate a new hypothesis, and lead to new inquiry.  Science-art responds to inquiry, explores it. So in that sense science-art is parasitic.

Science-art contributes to the cloud of scientific inspiration and understanding; it doesn't coalesce into the lightning strikes of scientific research.
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This tweet...

 Glendon Mellow 
Uh-oh: I said artists are largely parasitic on science during the radio interview.

...has stimulated a bit of talk on Twitter (in typical reverse-order, newest at the top):

 


»
 Katura Reynolds 
@ 
@ So I'll claim that art (in form of illustration/drawing yr observations) can be integral to the *practice* of research.
 Katura Reynolds 
@ 
@ And many naturalists (like MS Merian) documented their sci discoveries thru art to capture data: 
 Katura Reynolds 
As illustrator, I've pointed out details that scientists missed...RT @: Very little art influences scientific research.
 Katura Reynolds 
Hm; I lack context for statement, but not sure I agree. RT @: Very little art directly influences scientific research.
 Brian George 
@ 
@ That's why I'm here. Can you link to the interview? I'd love to hear it if possible.
 Romeo Vitelli 
@ 
@ @ You can claim that you meant to say symbiotic but the liberal media misquoted you (works for Sarah Palin)
 David Dobbs 
RT @: Uh-oh: I said artists are largely parasitic on science during the radio interview. DD: That's it for you, parasite.
 Brian George 
@ 
@ How could you??!! *removes lamprey-like suckers from Neil Tyson's brainstem*

I think at #scio11 we'll be past this point - I don't think there's a lot more to say on it. Two years ago I underestimated the affect art has on science, yet I still contend it's a rare thing for a piece of visual art to lead to a new area of research.

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


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Listen this morning to Atheists Talk

This morning I'll be on Atheists Talk with science artist Lynn Fellman, hosted by Mike Haubrich.

We'll be discussing art and science, and I can't wait.

The show will be online at http://mnatheists.org/content/view/529/1/ at 10am Eastern, 9 am Central time.

And you'll be able to hear the podcast, likely later today. If you're attending ScienceOnline11, it will touch on some of the issues at the Art + Science session.

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iForgot

Yesterday, I put up a "making of" post about Trilobite Boy Rocks Out.

I forgot to include the original colour sketch idea that had those crazy colour lights/bubbles in the first place!


It was made on my iPod Touch using Autodesk's Sketchbook Mobile while I was walking to work through Trinity-Bellwoods Park.  The iPod is a great took for quickly putting down rough ideas when inspiration strikes.  The two best apps in my opinion are Sketchbook Mobile and Brushes.  




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Making of Trilobite Boy Rocks Out

Last spring, I was contacted by Karen about a commission. Her boyfriend is Mike Haubrich of Quiche Moraine, one of my favourite bloggers and a supporter of my artwork since the beginning of this blog.  I've met a lot of people so far in my blogging, but Mike and Karen are somewhere at the top of the list of people I haven't shaken hands with yet.

Karen wanted to get Mike a painting of mine for his birthday this past August.  I was thrilled, and honoured.  Contract stuff out of the way, we discussed what sort of thing he might like.

I suggested possibly something with a young Darwin and barnacles, and drew a bit in pencil.  I also had this idea for my Trilobite Boy character playing guitar or bass onstage:  I knew Mike has worked in radio and is a rock fan, so it seemed appropriate. (I also had a sketch of Trilobite Boy naked on a fur rug by the fire, but that seemed more appropriate for LouFCD. )






I sent Karen this hastily scrawled image done in ArtRage, a realistic computer painting program:






 Karen loved it, and I got to work.

Next, I did some sketches using my plastic Art S Buck male model.  These generic super-heroically proportioned models (there's a female one too) have about as many points of articulation as the average GI Joe or Star Wars action figure and make a great starting point for life drawing if you don't have a real human handy. Sketches below:





Click to enlarge my scribbles.
I liked the thumbnail sketch near the bottom, and decided not to do another looking-over-the-shoulder pose, like this one.

I selected a beechwood cradleboard to paint on, 12"x18".  I gessoed it black while listening to Debaser and Die Antwoord. Next, I cartooned in the image using white chalk. I find the chalk disperses nicely in the oil paint and it won't slowly rise to the surface of the paint film like graphite can after a number of years.

As oil paintings age, they darken and become more transparent, so it really matters what colour your ground and drawn outlines are. 


Look close and you can see a bandana around his right arm, and bracelet on his right wrist. 


Started painting.  The trilobite fossil and ammonite shell (seen below) were there for colour and texture reference and maybe as superstitiousy talismans, I suspect.  Safety blanket.  Or I just like looking sciencey when I post pictures of my process.

You can see this is what I call the "
Ugly Phase". Lots of splotchy unblended colour laid down. Originally, I planned to have spotlights on the edge of the stage, but I decided to paint over them.  They competed too much with the bright circles of light.

This was getting later one evening, so I was listening to Massive Attack.  Still some fast beats for me to time my brushstrokes to, but mellow enough not to bother my wife while she works on the computer. 





Below, a partially finished head compared with the completed head. 














I worked and re-worked the head and spine of the trilobite body parts over and over.  Still worry the front looks like a big ol' mustache from this angle.  
You can see there's a lot of glare in the photo on the left.   Photos of wet oil paintings are tricky.  What you need to do is have two light sources waaaayy out at the sides, and take the photo.  Or, if you live in a small apartment, take a picture on an angle in diffuse fluorescent light, and use Photoshop to mess with the perspective afterwards. 






For the musicians out there, note how wrong I have the shape of the bass.  I only noticed after everything was almost done.  I wiped it down with tissue dabbed in solvent and re-did the area.  Throughout this painting, I kept returning to the Toronto band Debaser as inspiration.  My good friend Nevin is/was the guitarist, and I love the way he played.  Mind you, he's never done devil horn's on stage that I can recall.

When I paint, I tend to work on one element at a time, bringing it all up in detail before moving on.  This is contrary to how painting is supposed to work:  you really should rough-in everything then refine, going around all the elements.

I like to see the figure emerging from the darkness whole: first an arm, then an eye, then the neck and back, and so on. It feels more like pulling something out of the blackness than painting a picture. 


The finished painting.



I sent images of the final to Karen and waited.  That can be the toughest wait of the job, seeing how the client will react. I try to keep people I'm working for in the loop throughout the process so if there's a major concern we can spot it early, but the suspense when I send that last photo or the final in the mail is still tough.  Karen loved it!  And importantly, thought Mike would to.  She was right.

Rock on Karen, and Happy Birthday Mike!

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2010 Calendar - atheism months?

Here's a look at two of the more controversial months in The Flying Trilobite 2010 Calendar. Perhaps not controversial to some of the regular readers of TFT. Atheism can still be a charged subject in a crowded room.

May: Science-Chess Accommodating Religion is a painting I did this year inspired by the writing of many atheist bloggers, from Jerry Coyne and Ophelia Benson, to Mike Haubrich and Jason Thibeault. The whole thing actually started out as a tweet of mine, which Mike at Tangled Up In Blue Guy liked. You can read about that here.

October: October has an image called Education: Science Vs. Religion that was created as a poster for a Centre for Inquiry lecture in Toronto by PZ Myers of Pharyngula, in Octtober 2008. It had some interesting disagreements about symbolism at Pharyngula in the comments. You can see a bit more about it from me here, a making of here, and shots of the final poster here.

Both of my calendar collections, dated for 2010, can be found in my RedBubble reproduction shop.

Collection 1: Collection 2:


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Meeting Bloggers: Blue Future


The list of bloggers I'd love to meet is long, but the list of them who I feel like I've already met is pretty short.

Leading the pack in so many ways is Mike Haubrich of Tangled Up In Blue Guy.

Mike has continually written insightful posts on such a wide range of topics, he's easy to get to know. His intellectual understanding of the angst and weariness atheists often feel does not stop him from standing firm against the tide of religion-state trends harrowing the U.S. Just read the gentlemanly (and I say as a compliment, typical) atheistic way Mike dealt with Ramadan and DQ Frozen Cake. He doesn't scream and froth, he elucidates.

Mike has also habitually been a big booster of my artwork, not only on his blog and mine, but others as well. If it wasn't for Mike, Dan and I might have remained in broken-email-limbo instead of making the Migrations banner, which I like to think turned out fantastically well. I've taken inspiration from his support and friendship on more than one occasion. And if I think back, Mike is one of the people who first got me thinking about the wild and wonderful Beagle Project. Over Facebook, Mike has introduced me to interesting people such as Stephanie Svan. When I was at Science Online '09, it almost felt like he was there.

When I think about blogging, I think about Tangled Up In Blue Guy. Happy Birthday, Mike! One day, let's stand on the deck of the Beagle together and have a cup of joe.

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Bring Bing Back!

We gotta bring Bing home.

Bing left home and has sent amazing photos back from across the Pacific. Some with little robots. I know that piqued your interest. Little robots! The photography is all that and a bag of squid-ink chips. (Except for that one where he has a giant Buddha stuck to his head. That's just weird.)

The Son of a Blue Guy is in Japan, and needs to get back to Minnesota. His new friends in Japan want to keep him there. In fact, they have threatened to hold him for ransom unless his North American friends and family do two things:

1. Answer questions about Japan/Nippon culture and cuisine.
2. Donate money to help his mother pay the plane fare for his trip.

It's tempting for a young man to stay in Japan, because so far he has found the food to be awesome and the shopping (even in vending machines) to be, let's say, "unique." In fact, the Japanese students think that if he stays long enough he could use his ninja powers to be Emperor someday. I don't think that this would be a good thing for world peace, as Bing has not worked out his "Megalomania" issues and bad things could happen.
So I've heard. The robots are in the photo for a reason after all.

The question The Flying Trilobite has been assigned to help Bing is:
The name “Japan” is an exonym. Exonyms are place-names not used in the native language nor by the native people. The endonyms for Japan are “Nippon” (formal) or “Nihon” (informal.) The origin of the word “Japan” is traced back to Portuguese sailors who adapted it from the language of:

a. Vietnam
b. Korea
c. Malaysia
d. Hawai'i

Click! Donate some cha-ching to bring Bing back! (A part of me wants him to bring giant conquering Gundams with nunchuk skills.)

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