Artwork Mondays: Haldane's Precambrian Puzzle

Configuration 1: False Precambrian Rabbit

Configuration 2: True Precambrian Trilobites

*You can see a bit more about this painting, and some comments at the last edition of The Boneyard, hosted here by yours truly. The title and concept refer to a quote by biologist J.B.S. Haldane, who, when asked what it would take to falsify the fossil record of evolution by natural selection, replied, "Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian,".

Colours I used:
Naples Yellow - I actually tried not to use it. It's my favorite, I put it on everything. Can't help myself.
Zinc + Titanium White
Titanium White
Payne's Grey
Olive Green
Oxide Black
- whoever claimed mixing your own black looks the most real (probably one of the Impressionists) obviously never tried a really good black pigment. It's not true you can mix every colour from the primaries when it comes to painting. The pigments all have their own chemical composition and chromatic values, that interact when mixed in different ways.
Quinacradone Orange
Fragonard Red Brown
Fragonard Earth Yellow
- a sparkly colour I like using for the trilobite's eyes, and sometimes as a fringe around their bodies, the way Richard Fortey described pyrite from microbes outlining their soft body parts and legs in Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution. A most excellent book, thoroughly engaging.
Monochrome Tint Warm
Raw Umber

I mainly used linseed oil, with a smattering of walnut oil in some of the rabbit's whites. Linseed oil is a strong, flexible oil with a tendency to yellow a bit as it ages. Walnut is clear, not likely to turn yellow, and brittle and prone to cracking, especially after about 10 years on a canvas that bounces and bends. Since these pieces are on shale, I assume it will hold them up alright, and not bounce like it would on a stretched canvas.

The 9 pieces of shale are originally coasters for drinks, complete with felt on the bottom, which should keep them from shattering in ways to make me weep. It's a good enough idea I may use it on my other paintings on shale. I coated the shale with clear acrylic gesso to keep the oils from sinking into the stone. If oils do sink into a painting, whatever the surface, it makes it look splotchy, with some areas of glossy oil, and matte sunken areas. Retouching varnish should get the sunken oil back to bright glossiness.

For brushes, I used a variety of tiny soft synthetics, mostly with golden taklon bristles. The Shale can be a little rough on the brushes, so nothing too expensive. I'm falling in love with my Micron filbert brush.

For solvent, I used very little in the painting itself. I tend to use Turpenoid Natural, a non-toxic alternative to turpentine and odorless solvents. The problems with traditional solvents are legion. They tend to sit in your fatty tissues causing cancer for one thing. It also has a mild pine odor, not unpleasant. Breathing typical hydrocarbon-based odorless solvents is still bad for you.

Usually, when I tell people I paint in oil, they say, "Oh, I tried it but the oil fumes gave me headaches." It's not the oil, it's the solvents. Oil paint is literally a vegetable-derived oil mixed with some colourful pigment-particles. The pigments don't release toxins into the air, although with a few you need a proper mask if you are airbrushing. Breathing in the oil is the equivalent of breathing in the olive oil & balsamic vinegar you dip your bread in. Nothing to get worked up about. Unless you accidentally eat a jumbo chili flake.

I'm proud of this piece. Excuse me, I need to get some soy milk to wash the burning chili sensation out of my skull.

- -
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.

But sadly, no trilobites...

Antarctic 'treasure trove' found, reported by Rebecca Morelle, BBC News

This story has some incredible pics of lifeforms no one knew were down there. What else lurks in the depths? And when will an ocean-going creature be named after Cthulhu? Follow the above link and check out the cephalopod pic.

Chances are it's not going to be trilobites. They did become extinct approximately 275 million years ago, so even a coelacanth-style, living-fossil comeback is not likely. But it would be nice. (Peace out, Richard Fortey.)


Brief Book Review of...

Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution by Richard Fortey

Ok, I know this website has "trilobite" in the title, so it may seem like I am just a paleonerd gushing about an obscure thing few people like, but this book is one of the best science books I have ever read.

It doesn't read all dry and rhetorical like a textbook. It is more like a novel about the life of the authour, who happens to be in love with studying trilobites. More than once it actually made me laugh aloud.

Fortey describes how his days at work usually contain a ride in the Tube (subway) where he makes other passengers uncomfortable when they ask what he did that day (his answer: moved North America 600 km) or else he is so far into the Australian outback the dingos are friendly.

Some of the discoveries in it are just amazing. The eyes of the trilobites were the first we've found in the fossil record, and were made of hard calcium crystals, not unlike the Cararra marble of Michaelangelo's David. (I could be mistaken...if you are a geologist, please correct me.) Some trilobites have the outline of their delicate limbs and soft parts preserved in glittering fool's gold (pyrite!). Simply astounding.

This guy loves his job and his life, and it shows on every page. It's not a technical book, and it is easy to find the authour and his subject utterly charming. I mean, the search for trilobites starts off on a dark and stormy night in a rough Scottish pub. It's awesome.

April 22 2007
(Once again, I think the new edition of this book has a better cover...but it was hard to find online, so I posted this one instead. I have a one with a bluer cover than this, from Flamingo Press, div of HarperCollins, 2001. )