Regaining That Edge

The eternal debate. After the toddler is good and asleep, do I stay up late and work on contracts? Or get up extra early in the morning? 

Mug design by Glendon Mellow, commissioned by Scicurious

Back when I worked at the art store (before the kid) I would get up around 5a.m. and make art or blog. Then, I'd be thinking about what I had worked on all day and I'd feel good about it. But something happened after being a stay at home dad for almost a year. I've become a night person. An ineffective, exhausted, but can't-get-to-sleep night person. 

So I needed something stronger than coffee to help. Something to help me regain that edge.

That's right: two coffees. 

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

Print Shop

Find me on Symbiartic, the art+science blog on the Scientific American Blog Network!

Inky Bidness

Coupla tattoo things. 

Fascinating personal post by paleo-author Brian Switek of Laelaps over at his other gig, Dinosaur Tracking, where he talks some more about the tattoo I designed for him not long ago. And hints at a second design possibly in the works. (I'm trying to see if it's possible to make a theropod's jaw open and close on Brian's flexing bicep.)

Check out his Allosaurus Ink, Brian has more recent, healed photos.  

Another tattoo I designed, the caffeine molecule for my SciAm peep Scicurious has long been one of my most popular all-time posts for getting traffic. Bound to happen then, that another internet denizen, Ryan S on Reddit has gotten a similar tattoo based on the design Sci and I came up with. 

Here it is on Scicurious:

I've also made a portfolio gallery of my science tattoo designs if you'd like to see more.

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

Print Shop

Find me on Symbiartic, the art+science blog on the new Scientific American Blog Network!

Scicurious Caffeine Swag!

Remember this caffeine molecule tattoo I designed for Scicurious?  

Click to enlarge.

Now you can get that molecule for yourself, on:

variety of mugs

Hyperactive undergarments

Messenger bags


The message on all of them is "Are you scicurious?"

All my above links are to the items in Canadian dollars.  Check out Scicurious's online shop
in American here, and Sci's own announcement here.

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

The Caffeine Molecule Tattoo design is under copyright exclusive for use

by Glendon Mellow and Scicurious.  Ask first kthx.
Print Shop

Caffeine tattoo commission for Scicurious

A few months back, blogger Scicurious of Neurotopia asked me about designing a tattoo to celebrate her PhD. Sci was specific on the subject matter: caffeine! She knew she wanted something one-of-a-kind, black-line, and possibly tribal.

Most of the commissions I've ever had have been through people online as opposed to people in my own community. While this is the first pseudonym-anonymous blogger I've worked for, I wasn't concerned. Besides the fact we've met in person, you can tell a lot of things about bloggers from their writing, and the way they're held in the blogging community. I expected this commission to be a lot of fun - and it was.

The designs went through a lot of versions. Here's a look at some of them. Click to enlarge.

These are from the first few sketches. I called the top one 'droplets' and the bottom one 'scanner' : For a design like this one below, I was basically trying out a variety of lines and shapes to see if any struck a chord with Scicurious: I went for something a bit Tim Burton-esque here, and ended up with something with a hint of Celtic knotwork. I really like this type of line. But maybe for a different molecule. The development of the droplets idea. A more jewellery-like design. Playing with the bonds and chemicals. On many of these, I had the chemical diagrams a bit off, but Sci knows her stuff, and made revisions easy. Droplets develops more. Sci asks for the nitrogens to resemble "n's" since there's a hint of an "o" in the oxygens. The nitrogens were tough to pin down! To make sure we weren't missing something from an earlier iteration, I sent Scicurious this batch of nitrogen designs, with some new ones on the right. By this point, we'd pretty much pinned down the rest of the tattoo, and I'd switched from pencil to Photoshop to make the swapping of the nitrogens easier. The doodles on the left are done with my Intuos 3 tablet in Photoshop. I was feeling stuck, and the loose drawings helped me get back into the design. Just throwing things at it, to see what worked. I sent the image to Sci and whaddaya know? She loved one of the doodles! And here's the final! Congratulations on your PhD, Dr. Scicurious! And thanks for a terrific collaboration-commission!

(Links to the final at Scicurious's Neurotopia and Carl Zimmer's Science Tattoo Emporium.)

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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 ***

Interested in your own one-of-a-kind science tattoo?
Send me an email at theflyingtrilobite [at] gmail [dot] com.


I'm headed to SciBarCamp this weekend! A science-filled unconference. Should be great. The participants list is staggeringly interesting. I"ll need to pack a lunch. Chocolate-covered espresso beans should do it.

If you're attending, I'm the guy with the winged trilobite tattoo on his left arm. Don't be shy.

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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 ###

Congratulations, Humanist of the Year!

Congratulations to Dale McGowan, Harvard's Humanist of the Year!

If you're a parent, teacher or someone concerned with rational thinking in children, you should totally check out the book Parenting Beyond Belief, and Dale's ever-so-pretty blog, The Meming of Life. I found the chapters dealing with science and with death to be illuminating for myself as well.

And watch for Dale's new book, Raising Freethinkers.

Richly deserved. I will raise a mug of Kicking Horse coffee in honour.

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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. Please visit my
blog, gallery and new! reproduction store.

Albino Squirrel of Trinity-Bellwoods

The last few years a tiny surprise has hopped and bobbed its jaunty tail through Trinity-Bellwoods Park here in Toronto's downtown. My wife saw this resident for the first time last week, and this morning I was lucky enough to snap a couple of photos.
Trinity-Bellwoods is not the largest or most wooded park in Toronto, but I pass through it to and from work every day. The little albino squirrel, going about its squirrely business with its grey and black squirrelerific friends, is something of a local celebrity. Nearby boutiques on the hipster-filled Queen St. West scene will occasionally have messages in their window, or on their sidewalk signs. One store even had a plush one in the window.
This second pic is horribly blurry. I'd like to blame that on my kindness in not pursuing the squirrel too closely, as I'm sure it is followed by paparazzi hoping to catch a glimpse of a wardrobe malfunction more often than the other squirrels. But I think the picture may be blurry due to the icy ground, and the amount of coffee I had this morning. Blurred like this though, doesn't it look a bit like it's going to pelt an acorn at my head? It's eyeing me, like I'm just another shutterbug.

I love this park. Lots of "refuge-points" in the landscape, trees dotted here and there, trees that rustle in the breeze. Walking through there is one of the best parts of my day.

(For more great posts on albinism in animals, check out Zooillogix.)

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.

Making of "Darwin Took Steps"

For Darwin Day 2008, I decided to work on a surreal portrait of Charles Darwin, which is to be published today at the online literary 'zine, The Eloquent Atheist. There should be some writing accompanying it from one of the Darwin Day organisers, Dick Renfro. (Edit! Here's the link!) I always enjoy seeing another artist's process in creating a work, and I have found some scientists who read this blog are also interested in seeing the greasy nuts & bolts that go into a painting.

I am not a biologist, but I am something of a biology/palaeontology groupie. Darwin's work is so important not only for explaining a process of evolution by natural selection, but also for how it exploded the traditional chain of mythologies humans lived with as explanations for so long. The modern Bright movement and sites like The Eloquent Atheist seek to show how a life without religion and the supernatural can be intellectually and emotionally

In my continuous struggle to improve my own madartskillz I am also trying to create works reminiscent of Symbolist and Surrealist masterpieces replete with symbols drawn from our modern scientific worldview. Why use Odin to symbolise wisdom when you can paint Darwin?

Making of Darwin Took Steps

1. Thumbnail sketches
These were just thumbnails, showing an elderly Darwin pondering what to write next. The one near the top right has a "tangled bank" of branches floating above his head. From the start I knew I wanted to depict Darwin in his later years, as it is a more generally recognised image. I discarded both of these ideas in favour of the staircase idea.

2. Beginning the drawing.

For the drawing, I drew upon a reference from National Geographic's November 2004 issue. (Cover title: "Was Darwin Wrong?". The answer inside, almost a page tall: "NO.") One of the goals for this painting was to see how quickly I could do it, and still be proud at the end. In this instance I gave up drawing freehand and used a projector to create the sketch above, which is something I rarely do. That took 20 minutes. Refining a drawing that size without the projector can take another 2 to 3 hours. Materials: 2mm pencil on vellum-finish bristol paper. (Must perform life drawing for three hours in penance for using the projector...)

3. Staircase and a false start.

The staircase is an older idea of mine I used on a piece called Disease. It was developed as a cd cover and never published. I like the image though, and thought it would be appropriate. The column in the background is supposed to suggest the path leading unexpectedly to D.N.A, beyond Darwin's scope. I checked the drawing in a mirror a lot, to see if there were any gross abnormalities that stood out. Noticed a staircase coming out of his head. During this phase, I was listening to Jakalope in my studio, which is actually a freakishly large closet off our living room.

4. Completed drawing.

This is the drawing as complete as I decided to make it for painting. I used a .3mm mechanical pencil, HB lead on vellum-finish bristol. Love that Strathmore. In total, the drawing itself took about 3.5 hours. I jettisoned the d.n.a. column idea, and left the staircase leading up and away, the edifice not yet finished. I had fun with the little 'chi' lines in the beard. After tweaking the contrast in Photoshop, I printed the drawing out onto a couple of sheets of canvas paper from my laser printer to paint on.

5. Prepping for 'speed-painting'.

I decided to work in our living room, claiming the coffee table as my territory. I use Turpenoid Natural rather than other solvents. It smells of pine and is not full of nasty toxic hydrocarbons like most odourless solvents. The pliers are to get my oil tubes open. (Seriously, are all tubes made by people who've never had to open them more than twice? The caps are all different by brand, but they all get stuck.) I wanted this piece to have an older, sepia-feel to it, so linseed oil rather than a paler poppy or walnut was just fine. I am armed with Bavarian Dutch Chocolate coffee in my Jack Skellington mug.

My palette consisted of Naples Yellow (which I am addicted to), Quinacradone Orange, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Monochrome Tint Warm, Burnt Sienna (which I hate), Raw Umber, Payne's Grey, Zinc+Titanium White and Lamp Black. A lot of people swear you shouldn't use white or black (and you should mix your own from blue and brown), and I say, stop living in the Impressionist Era! It's so over! Lamp black is warm and deep, like pvc goth-gear in a tube.

I set the timer to stop me every hour. My aim was to finish the painting in 3 hours.

6. Results after 1 hour.

Usually I start with the eyes. I worked out the face, mainly with a cad-yellow underlayer. Monochrome tint and white for highlights. I was listening to Darude, The Chemical Brothers, and a Nine Inch Nails remix album. The faster the beats, the fresher my brush strokes. This is deep in the Ugly Phase , where I just hate how it looks. No time to fret; hour two!

7. Results after 2 hours.

Started using a phylogenetic tree in the background, painting with quinacradone orange underneath, and iridescent gold oil paint on top. Renaissance masters usually painted a red basecoat under gold leafing to add luster. I am using some micron brushes my wife put in my stocking at Christmas. They are really tiny synthetic brushes, and the filbert is now my bf4evr. Some artists say oils must be painted with rough hog's bristle brushes, and then I just yell, stop living in the Impressionist Era! Old master used soft brushes for detail, and so do I.
It's not done. I need to move toward hour 3.

8. Results after 3 hours, colour corrected.
The final piece, colour-corrected in Photoshop.

I fretted about how dark it looked on some monitors, and after submitting the image to editor Michael W. Jones at The Eloquent Atheist, emailed a second colour-corrected version, seen above.

Complete! ( edit: Here is the full-colour-corrected image and how it appears in my online reproduction store, a portion of the profits going in support of The Beagle Project.)

Assigning a number to any amount of steps would be arbitrary, but I chose 5 for a reason. Four for the support of evolution by natural selection (Darwin drew upon examples of 1. biogeography, 2. morphology, 3. embryology, and 4. palaeontology), and the fifth step for natural selection itself, or the elevation of reason over dogma, as the viewer likes. The steps of learning never end.

Please check this out on The Eloquent Atheist today, and leave comments! Constructive feedback is always welcome. I will edit this post later today to provide the link once it is up. Merry Darwin Day!
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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. Please visit my blog, gallery and reproduction store.

Return of the Pharyngula Mutating Genre Meme!

...this time it's personal.

I have already been tagged by this meme once, and now again! It took me a while to respond to the second one, by Dale at The Meming of Life. What can I say, I was gestating.

The meme has an elaborate set of rules, you can read at my first post about it. The whole thing was started by PZ Myers at Pharyngula. Now Dale, being sly and sneaky, has turned the tables and asked to spread the meme back to those previous to himself in the lineage! Rather than use phrases like "blog-the-casbah with Grampa" I prefer to think of these posts as organisms, and the blogs they sit in as environments. The organism's descendants change when they wander through each blog. (My blog environment is murky and oily in case you were wondering. Sometimes there is strange smoke.)

So then here is my lineage:
My common ancestor is Pharyngula.
My great great grandparent is Metamagician & the Hellfire Club.
My great grandparent is The Flying Trilobite.
My grandparent is Leslie's blog.
My parent is The Meming of Life.

My new contribution to the meme, following The Meming of Life, is as follows:
The best romantic movie in scientific dystopia is: Gattaca (1997). Same as my 1st post.
The best sexy song in electronica is: "Angel" by Massive Attack on the album Mezzanine (1998).
The best satirical movie in comedy is: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990).
I will add one new statement:
The best hot coffee in beverages is: caffe macchiato.

To continue the meme this time, I choose:
Frozen Toothpaste

Forms Most Beautiful

Primordial Blog

Please make a comment on this thread if you are participating. Hope you do, it's crazy-weird-fun. On another note, while checking Technorati for my links, I can see this has gone quite far. I am a 5x great-grandparent already. One of the interesting links I found down the line was from Really Small Fish. It contains Darwinian poetry, at Code As Art. That's been my favourite thing about this meme so far; finding blogs and ideas I may not have found through search engines since to find it that way, you have to know what you are looking for.

Surprise is living.