Dilophosaurus Ink at 45

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.

My new tattoo. Not fully healed yet in this pic, but pretty close. Dilophosaurus Cyclist Fossil.

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.

Work-in-progress in ArtRage. Almost every layer is visible in this mess. Started with rough composition in pale blue, added green on another layer to correct some of the flow, and sketched it in. You can see the early version has a more complicated and delicate gear behind the skull than the final design below - I wanted a bulkier gear so the image would be clearer.

My final Dilophosaurus Cyclist fossil design. © Glendon Mellow, shareable under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA.

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.

The chain, gear and derailleur highlighted in acid green.

Getting inked

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.

Gentle hand, gentle voice and wicked designs. Find him at @germanshible on Twitter and Instagram. German works at Passage Tattoos.

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.

Freshly inked!

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.

Bicyclophosaurus Tattoo - initial skull sketch

Been planning to get a new tattoo on my “cycling leg” for a while now. (Chains are on the right; cyclists often roll up the right pant leg so it doesn’t get caught in the chain.)  

The image of the tattoo is smouldering quietly in my brain, and has been for over a year. I have the tattoo artist lined up.

Now I just need to draw the thing.  


Initial Bicyclophosaurus skull exploration  

Initial Bicyclophosaurus skull exploration  

I’m basing the tattoo off of one of my favourite childhood dinosaurs, the Triassic-era crested carnivore Dilophosaurus.  And blending it with bike parts. 

(In Jurassic Park terms, dilophosaurus is the one that killed Nedry. It was small and had a neck frill. There’s no evidence they would have had something like a frill f'real and they were cool enough with the crest, IMO. They were also much larger, at 7 metres long.)

I remember being fascinated by the weird upper lip line, and double crests as a kid. And the first illustration I had ever seen showed dilophosaurus running swiftly after its prey. I think it was in a book illustrated by John Hamburger. 

My kids were suggesting the velociraptor instead, since it's fast like a bike; being from Toronto, a raptor is a pretty good idea. We’ll see.

The death pose that I used for 3(!) of author Brian Switek’s tattoos makes a great design. (See all of Brian’s ink in my tattoo gallery). I like black line tattoos, and fossil skeletons have a lot of good visual repetition and broken symmetry that make them compelling to look at.

"Behold my compelling and muscular calves, everyone!" I shall exhort passers-by along my commute. 

The 3rd of three Morrisson Formation carnivore fossil tattoos I designed for author Brian Switek, and inked by Austin Huffman of Heart of Gold Tattoo in Utah. 

The 3rd of three Morrisson Formation carnivore fossil tattoos I designed for author Brian Switek, and inked by Austin Huffman of Heart of Gold Tattoo in Utah. 

So my plan is to blend the dilophosaurus skeleton with bicycle parts. Gears, chain, spokes. I have a bat-winged trilobite fossil tattoo on my arm; another impossible hybrid seems appropriate. 

Not sure if the crest will be a big gear or not yet.  

Quick hack job of seeing how the rough would look as a black line design. Photo of the pencil sketch messed with in ArtRage for iPad.  

Quick hack job of seeing how the rough would look as a black line design. Photo of the pencil sketch messed with in ArtRage for iPad.  

Once I’m satisfied with the design, tattoo artist German Shible of Passage Tattoo is my go-to arist to do the work. I’ve known him for years, and watched his tattoo career from the start. Can’t wait to book the appointment!

But I gotta draw the beastie first. More on this as it progresses. 

Wonderful Start to the New Year at the ROM

My oldest son and I learning about this hadrosaur lower jaw and the magnificent teeth, being uncovered by  Jessica Hawthorn ( @JHawthornUTM ). Photo by Michelle Follett.

My oldest son and I learning about this hadrosaur lower jaw and the magnificent teeth, being uncovered by  Jessica Hawthorn (@JHawthornUTM). Photo by Michelle Follett.

A perfect start to 2015: my family and I went to the Royal Ontario Museum (@ROMtoronto) today. We have a family membership, and since our youngest was born almost a year ago, it's been challenging to all head out together. So today was a great day. 

Photo by Michelle Follett

Photo by Michelle Follett

A personal highlight for me was finally meeting Kiron Mukherjee (@kironmukherjee), the tireless social media presence for the ROM. The man is a machine on Twitter. One of my favourite features of the museum is how social media seems woven into their worklife. Many people from the ROM team are active on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and more. As a kid it was my destination of choice for birthdays and events: now, thanks to so many personalities there - @RudkinDave, @aprilsMuseum, @mesozoicmuse and the departments like @ROMpalaeo & the rest - the museum feels woven into the everyday fabric of life in Toronto.

I first wrote about about the ROM here in The Flying Trilobite back when this blog was only a couple of months old, in 2007. It's exciting to watch the museum change and grow, especially now that I have two children to share it with. 

Here are a few more pictures from today's adventures.  


I did not have time to sketch while scrambling after our 4 year old but that's alright. We don't live far away and the membership takes the pressure off of doing everything in one day. 

If you'd like to see some of my ROM sketches, I posted about them on Symbiartic a while back:  Little Museum Sketches

The most significant sketch I have perhaps done on-site was a preparatory sketch of the Allosaurus skull commissioned by author Brian Switek (@Laelaps) for a place on his arm.

© Glendon Mellow

© Glendon Mellow

 I have another tattoo commission in the works and took some more reference photos at the ROM today.  It's going to be a good year, and it's such a tremendous feeling to know that Michelle and I could take our boys to a museum that excited and continues to educate us as well. 

(Kiron: next time instead of harassing you while you're working, we should go for coffee.)