Help me with my homework

This term, I'm taking a new studio course that looks gruelling in the best possible way. To start it off, we were paired with another student alphabetically, and we each separately need to come up with a favourite quote which will fire the trajectory of the term.

So, why not a poll, I thought immediately. But I gotta hurry. Poll closes Tuesday morning at 5:30 am.

Help! Please vote on the poll in the sidebar, and be a part of my art. You can pick multiple answers.

(This is the last class of my Bachelor of Fine Arts Honours degree. Can't wait. All those times I'll be at the opera, and the stage manager comes rushing out, "is there an artist in the house?!" and I'll coolly take out a ballpoint pen and perform emergency blow-painting with ink all over their backdrop.)

Here are the quotes I am nominating:

1) "-no frogs called, no insects sang, the tree branches stood silent, and no breath disturbed the motionless air."
-the last line of The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers

2) "The word transformed the land surface of the planet from a dusty hell to a verdant paradise."
-from Genome: the autobiography of a species in 23 chapters by Matt Ridley

3) "I no longer believe that the momentum of a life headed in a worthwhile direction ends when that life does."
-from Star Wars: X-Wing - Wraith Squadron by Aaron Allston

4) "Science is spectrum analysis. Art is photosynthesis."
-from Half-Truths and One-And-A-Half-Truths by Karl Krauss

5) "This may be because they are forest animals, and the leaf litter of forest floors is not friendly to fossils."
-from The Ancestor's Tale: a pilgrimage to the dawn of life by Richard Dawkins

6) "The strawberry was too old to remember anyone. By this time the hedgerows were filled with bones."
-from the poem, A Child's Garden of Strawberries, from Selected Strawberries and other poems by Susan Musgrave

Vote! Oh, and keep in mind we have been encouraged to draw and paint with unusual materials.

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

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Artwork Mondays: The Right Pose

Welcome to the second Artwork Monday here at The Flying Trilobite!

Rehabilitating an older concept can be a fun endeavour. It is rare that I do not have a new idea that I want to try out, but on the few occasions it has occurred, I find the best way to inspire myself is by flipping through old sketchbooks. One of the biggest worries I think most artists share is living long enough to get all their ideas out.

Currently, I have about 8 more new concepts waiting to see fruition, but reviving this older drawing seems really appealing. I'm curious to see how much my drawing skills have matured over the past eleven years.

After the rough sketch last week, I knew part of my focus would be to show off how my life drawing abilities have matured. The model pose I used last week didn't seem satisfying though. I wanted this Sphinx to look predatory. The dimetrodon was an ancient pelycosaur that was probably the apex predator of the Permian, living just before the worst mass extinction of all time.

The Sphinx is supposed to be an ancient creature who guards secrets, and is famous for the riddle, "what walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?". An interesting and more modern riff on this riddle was in my Favourite Book of All-Time, The Stress of Her Regard, by Tim Powers. The answer had to do with the amount of atoms in carbon and silicon.

Together, the dimetrodon and sphinx appeal to me, since both are ancient creatures, and using the dimetrodon in lieu of a lion makes a good example of how re-imagining the mythological past can be enhanced by modern scientific understanding. One of the reasons I feel compelled to create at all is to use the rich visual language science affords us to look at ourselves in light of the past and of reality as we understand it to actually be.

There really is no excuse as an artist not to do research in this day and age. The internet has some generally reliable sources; libraries and bookshops are teeming with full-colour pictures; digital cameras, photocopiers and scanners abound. Sure it takes away a small but of spontaneity to do some research, but in the end, it is worth it. What you will have is a fantasy image, culled from real life, and real human bodies often move in ways your mind does not expect, especially if you've watched a lot of cartoons.

One of the best ways to do research, is to go out and photograph your own images and use those as reference. Scientific Illustrator Heather Ward, who blogs at Druantia Art has some tips.

After finding a suitable pose, I drew this image. I think it is a more dynamic pose than the one I mused with last week, and the figure turning over her shoulder will hopefully lend that predatory air, especially if the face is largely in shadow, with glittering eyes. So far, I'm not too happy with the rendition of the face, so I will likely re-work that altogether. I'm pleased with the back though, and I think the foreshortening of the arm has turned out rather well.

The next phase will be to begin joining up an appropriate dimetrodon body to this one. If you followed the Wikipedia link about dimetrodons, you'll note that there were distinct species, with markedly different sails and jaws. I won't refine this sketch any further until I see where and how the sail-fin attaches to the back of the woman above.

Thanks to everyone on the comments last week! I love the feedback.

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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.

Knowledge Pupates Part 2: how I left paganism for science

Part 2
(Read Part 1 here if you want to know about me as an arrogant youth).
I call this drawing Anthropomorphic Gestation. The caterpillars are gathered around the central one who seems to be coming out of human clothes. I feel it represents the mixed-up sense of the world of my early twenties: if I was an arrogant teenager, I was busy trying to be a very unusual university student, in a Fine Art faculty of many others all trying to be weird and unusual also.

I love books, and the ones I love I read over and over again. University was a heady time for me, and I was trying to soak the world in like a sponge, and figure myself out with each gem of fact that came my way. While taking a history of western art, a history of scientific discovery, and a humanities course of the renaissance, I was almost overwhelmed by the leaps and bounds of that age, in art, writing and science.

I was coming up against walls in magic I believed worked. Some of the coincidences still had me fooled, sure, (a popular book on astrology showed Gemini with a blue-fronted Amazon parrot, and I had one...) but I was finding holes. I had been impressing myself and other friends with The Celtic Book of the Dead cards for a number of years. I am no cold-reader, and sometimes it was almost eerie what the cards said. (Fantastic artwork on those things too.) Every once and a while though, I'd by stymied. Couldn't read the cards so they would make sense of the situation. And then I discovered one of my favourite artists, Brian Froud, had made a Tarot-style deck of his own. Anyone could make a deck. I simultaneously began to doubt diviniation by card-reading and wanted to make some of my own, with my own designs based on my renewed interest in science.

"(Percy) Shelley had been an inadmissable mix of species, like a baby bird who has been handled by humans and now carries their smell; ...His heart still embodied the appalling mix, and was therefore a tangible offense against the inherent separateness of the two forms of life."
Tim Powers, The Stress of Her Regard, 1989

Tim Powers is an author who writes about the historical, magical events that were never recorded. He does it incredibly convincingly. He uses pseudo-scientific concepts for magic to explain how Shelley, Keats & Byron could be plagued by lamia-vampires, and each of his books is a well-researched, historically accurate work of fantasy. Absolute dynamite. I thought this was great, reading about magic, and he explains things. The artistry of his writing left an indelible stamp on my thinking. I know it sounds very basic, but from these stories of Powers' vivid imagination, I realised that things could be figured out.

As I say, it was a heady time. I was studying Symbolist Art like Jan Toorop ("O Grave..." pictured below), Fernand Knopff, & Odilon Redon, the influences of which can be seen in my drawing above, (the Symbolist eye on the left chrysalis looking inward toward the soul, and the maiden soul erupting out of the weird rock-moon thing). I was reading David Brin's Earth and saying it changed my life, (even though I spent about 6 weeks pronouncing the word "paradigm" with a soft-g.) I was living with a blue-fronted Amazon. I was speaking fluent sign language. The martian meteorite ALH 8001 was being scrutinized. I began drawing trilobites.

Enter Richard Dawkins.

River out of Eden by Richard Dawkins slowly grew on me, "doing good by stealth". I began drawing images of Mitochondrial Eve, and re-read chapters again and again. The prose was so beautiful, and so clear at the same time. "...we shall follow it back through a time scale incommensurably older than the legendary Eve's thousands of years and African Eve's hundreds of thousands. The river of DNA has been has been flowing through our ancestors in an unbroken line that spans not less than three thousand million years."

Beautiful concepts, inspiring ones, and the best part is they are true. My mind was pupating.

In Part Three of Knowledge Pupates: A new painting! Fashion crimes!