Artwork Mondays: Of Two Minds banner

In the new year, Shelley Batts formerly of the Scienceblog Retrospectacle prepared to launch a new blog, with the inimitable Steve Higgins of Omni Brain. The new blog is Of Two Minds.

Doing blog banner art is something I immensely enjoy; the collaboration in illustrating someone else's visual voice can lead to unexpected places, and in each instance, I learn more about what I am capable of as an artist.

Since I never posted my "Making of" the Of Two Minds banner, here it is.

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Immediately I began to think about the Thalia/Melopomene tragedy/comedy masks. I whipped off a quick sketch, and played with some colours. At this stage it's all amorphous in my head, like the strange scroll-things on the masks: what're those?

Next, using some photos from their Facebook pages, I found what I needed: a picture of one author looking up, and the other down. I don't often use a projector, but in this case I did just to rough in their facial structures. A drawing like this can take about 20 minutes, being careful not to rock the easel.
Using some other photo references of Shelley and Steve, I polished off the portrait stage. As I've mentioned, using a projector sometimes felt like cheating. But after 20 minutes of using the projector for the rough above, I spent about 2 more hours without the projector finishing the portraits.

I like beginning with a portrait; it feels like a classic, solid foundation on which to start. Since blogs are so personal, it's an appropriate way to illustrate the blog in some instances.

Not wanting to ruin my original drawing, I scanned it into Photoshop, changed the pencil lines to blue, and kept drawing in some more elements to the piece.
Perhaps I should've realised here that the brains were a little lopsided and that this may not work. What I liked about it though, was the idea that our personas are masks, and we all wear a face in front of our brains.

Here's my set up, and the beginning of painting the background. You can see I've once again scanned the image, and changed all the pencil tones to a burnt sienna colour, so it will provide a warmer undertone for the oil paint on top.
I went for an unusual colour combination: orange, green and grey. It's not something the eye sees every day, so I hoped it worked. Here is the painting, as it was scanned before using Photoshop.
Sometimes, the artist just mucks up the paint, despite all the planning and careful drawing. I wasn't happy with the faces, and so using Photoshop, I tinted the original drawings, and overlayed the pencil faces over the painted ones. You can also see an early attempt at the text, with shadows hovering above the blurred Photoshop-extended banner. The brains are removed, giving it a cleaner feel. Scienceblog banners are pretty long and narrow, and the brains were perhaps not as pretty as they should have been.
At this point, I think the faces became a little too far-removed from being masks. Shelley and Steve were concerned. We began discussing something more mask like. It's good to know how far the client would like to push changes, so in the middle of the night, feeling all macabre listening to Juno Reactor and Delerium, I drew this:
Okay, too far. Shelley pitched the idea of going darker, and extending the floating banner to the right, and further into the colour spectrum. I hesitated a bit at the last suggestion: painting a spectrum on black is a sort-of shortcut to being eye-catching. I had to use my brightest paints, including real cadmium red. If you are going to go for it, you gotta go for it.

How to extend an image on a canvas-paper painted to the edge? Simple. One of the amazing things about a technology like Photoshop for even a mainly traditional oil painter like myself, is flexibility.

I pulled out my oil paints, and simply painted the new elements on a new sheet of canvas-paper, and it looked like this: Much better! Using a bit of an emboss tool, I added a gradation-shadow to the faces. The background was digitally painted black, and a bit of the blur and smudge tools helped bring the red and orange paint together - even though in reality they exist on two separate sheets of canvas.

Shelley had an awesome idea for the font, Blackadder ITC. It is based on Guy Fawkes handwriting after three days of torture. Goes nicely with the masks. The masks themselves were re-positioned, and a little clone tool digitally filled in where the real paint was now missing.

The final piece!

Click to enlarge, or better yet, visit Of Two Minds.

Special thanks to Shelley Batts and Steve Higgins, and to Len of Monster by Mail, who shares blog banner duty with yours truly.

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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
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Darwin meets Blue Guy

The oil painting I produced for The Eloquent Atheist, entitled Darwin Took Steps, has found another champion today, in the form of Mike H. of the prolific Tangled Up in Blue Guy blog.

You can see the Tangled Up in Blue Guy post about Darwin Took Steps here.

And hey- he's also pointed at the banner that I produced for Of Two Minds! Any chance you're moonlighting as a scientific illustration talent scout, Mike? Perhaps if I need an agent one day...

With both of these pieces being worked on throughout February, it's been a busy month. Thanks Mike, for the comments. Feedback on my artwork is always welcome. (Thrown vegetables or muttering "derivative" are less welcome, but interesting.) In addition to the link in my gallery, you can also see my popular pencil drawing, or read the 'making of' post.

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By the way, this Friday will mark one year since The Flying Trilobite began. Look for a misty-eyed reminisce-a-thon on Friday. And cake! Maybe pie!


(Edit: March 8 2008: Darwin Took Steps also featured on The Dispersal of Darwin ! )

Blog Banner Art for Of Two Minds

Today is the launch of Shelley Batts, Steve Higgins and Pepper's new ScienceBlog, titled Of Two Minds. Last year, Shelley asked me to make a new blog banner on her old site, Retrospectacle, which you can see the steps I took in drawing and painting it, here.

These two have some crazy fun reporting about science, neuroscience, parrots, things being poked in the brain, and superheroes. Ya gotta check it out.

I am sharing blog banner duties with Len of Monster By Mail, so you may see two different ones at the moment. Click the 'refresh' button, and the page will reload and show the other banner. I contributed the one with the tragedy & comedy masks, for which I originally used Shelley and Steve's faces as a starting point. Squint your eyes all up, you'll see it.

Shelley and Steve have also made a neat little banner tab on their top bar, so you can see the previous banners they had on Retrospectacle and OmniBrain, including my 'valkyrie' banner. (Shelley is actually using my original thumbnail sketch for that banner as a tiny avatar when she posts. It was so rough and hasty, I am alternately cringing and proud by turns.) You can also see why Shelley suggested this particular font; once the final stages of the banner came together (and I sent some continuous tweaks and fiddles to it late into the night) Shelley suggested we use Blackadder ITC.

Above is a shot of the banner, and you can see it in my gallery; but it really looks much better over at Of Two Minds, so please head on over and read about x-ray vision, a pain index, and magnetic people.


I am available for commissions to do blog elements as well as portraiture, concept design, surreal paintings and scientific illustrations. After perusing The Flying Trilobite Gallery, please contact me, Glendon Mellow, by email if you are interested.