Beetle Week Day 1: The Challenge of Scientific Illustration

Welcome to Day 1 of Beetle Week on The Flying Trilobite!

Earlier this year, I was commissioned by entomologist and insect photographer Morgan Jackson of Biodiversity in Focus to contribute to a soon-to-be-published dead-tree book. The result?  My first series of scientific illustrations, instead of the off-kilter, surreal scientific illustrations I'm known for. Today: The Challenge of Scientific Illustration.

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I've been painting for a couple of decades, and blogging my artwork for over 5 years. One of the joys of this career is that there's always more to learn, more challenges, more surprises.

When Morgan Jackson first approached me about contributing 7 Ontario jewel beetle illustrations for an upcoming publications he and researchers at the University of Guelph are working on, I was excited about the idea and also a little intimidated.

Although I sometimes head to the Royal Ontario Museum to work on realistic drawings of fossil skulls, they are mainly exercises for myself, and not overseen by researcher in the field. I assume they do add a little to my professional street cred since this blog is frequented by paleontologists and paleo-art fans. Morgan's request was different. These needed to be spot-on scientific illustrations, useful for the purpose of identifying some of Ontario's diverse species.

So, I did what I usually do when trying to depict a new subject: got out my Strathmore Bristol paper and trusty .3mm mechanical pencil and started to draw in high detail. The project called for 7 species, and I decided to start in alphabetical order, with Agrilaxia.

Agrilaxia drawing, © Glendon Mellow

As I mentioned above, Morgan is an amazing nature photographer (seriously. Check this out. Or this.) Though I wasn't able to visit his lab, he provided me with stunning dorsal, ventral, side and genitalia(!) views of the beetles to illustrate.

And after scanning the drawing above, and opening up my favourite digital painting program, ArtRage Studio Pro, that's when I got cold feet. I mean, how realistic does the painting need to be?  You can zoom almost an infinite amount in a digital painting, and the high-res macro photos Morgan zipped and sent to me allowed a huge level of detail.

As I was zoomed in, I starting getting that creep of imposter syndrome. How could I possibly match a photo with a painting?

A cup of coffee later, and I started to relax. Morgan and his team were looking for scientific illustrations, for paintings, and I know he's viewed my portfolio. Making everything super-hyper-photo real wasn't the goal. I hoped.

I settled in and began to paint.

Screenshot of painting Agrilaxia in ArtRage Studio Pro, with Morgan Jackson's photo references on the left.

I'll say more about the process of painting with ArtRage tomorrow.  It's enough to say I employed a wide variety of that robust program's painting tools, and started to enjoy myself. I emailed some in process shots of Agrilaxia to Morgan, and to a couple of artists who's opinions and discretion I could trust.  I can count on them to keep me honest, and the reactions were positive.

Part way through the process of painting the beetles, I recall Morgan letting me know some of the other researchers were getting accustomed to my art style, or some words to that effect. Important feedback that sends me into a hyperactive state of focus, trying to ramp up my accuracy and tighten up the work.

Accurate enough? Final, almost full-res version of Agrilaxia. © Glendon Mellow

It was a lesson for me as an illustrator, and also one for researchers considering hiring an illustrator. Chances are, if you are not going with photography, there will always be a little of the artist's style - the movement of their hand, the colour associations in their eye - that is inherent in the final  illustration. It's the sum of the illustrator's experiences up to that point in their career coupled with doing something new.

That said, being a scientific illustrator carries the responsibility of taming style in the service of the twin aspects of accuracy and clarity.

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Stay tuned for the rest of Beetle Week

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

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

Contest banner at Science3.0

Mark Hahnel of Science 3.0 asked if he could use one of my dinosaur drawings for a contest banner on their network - I said sure!  My artwork is under a Creative Commons Licence that says it can be freely shared so long as no money is involved, it's not altered and I get credit. In this case it needed to be altered - but Mark asked, and hey, that's what the licence is supposed to encourage. This has been your copyright service announcement for the day.

Here's the Oviraptorosaur skull incorporated into the contest banner.

I drew this handsome fella a couple of years back at the Royal Ontario Museum.

More importantly, check out the contest!  

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

Print Shop

Style Question

As I wander aimlessly in the woods of a webcomic sketchy experiment thing in an attempt to both develop new skills and get the Trilobite Boy story down, I come to the question of style. Here are all the panels so far, in order, of the Trilobite Boy webcomic. Click to enlarge.

What's your favourite image so far?

Spoilers after the jump: 

Here's the basic gist of the story, which pertains to the style in which I tell it. As revealed on my Facebook Fan Page in discussion there.
Trilobite Boy goes to sleep, enrolls like an armadillo (or er, like a trilobite) and when he does that, he wakes up in other times and places. Just as the Toronto in the story is not identical to the real one (we don't have a Crinoid Tower), neither are the places he will visit. For example, he may visit an alternate WWI as in my painting Billy Barker and his Pterosaur Squadron (full image here).

The same character will always appear to tell him to wake up. And he will. Eventually he will understand something awful is happening after he leaves the other times and places, something pursuing him in his sleep.

The rest of the time, he's just a regular teenage skater living in Toronto, playing in a band hanging with hipster friends and going for appointments at the museum.

Ideally, I'd love to do an art style like #5 above where he arrives at the Museum for the "real world" stuff. And something closer to my oil paintings when he's dreaming. The style for the first three panels above was mostly an exercise to try speed painting and make sure I'm painting every day. But it's hard for a dyed-in-the-canvas oil painter like me to accept the quality. The downside is taking forever to finish it.

Thanks to the Facebook fans who've already weighed in - would love some more thoughts on this. 

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Trilobite Boy #5: Arrival

The new page is up! 

This is a lower quality version than the one at the webcomic. Click to see it!

I did this one in ArtRage 3, mostly with the watercolours. The Royal Ontario Museum is one of my favourite places to go and draw, and I've loved it since I was a kid. The new design is something I wanted to highlight too. It's stunning.

You can also view the new page large, here, or below the fold.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Museum Robot Guard - wip

©  Glendon Mellow 2011

Say hello to Mr. G, the Museum Robot Guard.  Or at least his upper torso, it's a work-in-progress. Originally that thing in his chest didn't start out as an eye, but it's kind of gone that way.  Thinking about WWI biplanes when I painted this.

Working on the last panel of the next Trilobite Boy page in ArtRage 3.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Trilobite Boy arrives at the ROM - wip

Here's what's on my desktop this morning. Trilobite Boy arriving at the Royal Ontario Museum.  It's a work-in-progress.  

Click to enlarge.

Getting used to ArtRage 3, loving some of the tools.  The rulers are helpful, and right after I took this screenshot I realized I can use the frosted palette knife on the lettering. I'm aiming to ink the outlines and use the watercolour brushes for the colour - I love adding random little drops of water and paint on the image. Hoping to give it a bit more of an animated/anime look in this panel. 

I love both the old and new R.O.M. and can't wait to paint the building in the next panel.

You can see the beginning of Trilobite Boy's adventure on my webcomic Tumblr, and some clothes & stickers in my merch store.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Art Monday: dinosaur skull sketches

A few past dinosaur skull sketches, mostly made at the Royal Ontario Museum. All done with .3mm or 2mm technical pencil in my trusty Moleskine sketchbooks.

. Original post here.

. Original post here.

. Original post here.

Gryposaurus. Original post here.

The contours and shadows are endlessly fascinating to draw. I gotta get a new ROM membership.

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

ART Evolved - the launch! pkkk-keeww! (that's a launching noise)

ART Evolved: Life's Time Capsule makes its mark on the innertubes today!

A gathering of 11 blogging paleo-artists, we're launching with a group gallery filled with horned frilliness. Ceratopsian dinosaurs! Drop by and make a comment or twenty.

I've chosen to paint a chasmosaurus, entitled Introducing Sara Chasm. Chasmosaurus is one of my very favourite fossils
that I've been visiting since I was a kid at the Royal Ontario Museum. I've anthropomorphized her a tad. "Making of" post to appear right here tomorrow.

You can also read bios of each artist , and here's mine. Our membership consists of:
Raven Amos
Peter Bond
Sean Craven
Craig Dylke
Marek Eby
Scott Elyard
Mo Hassan
Glendon Mellow
Zachary Miller
Angie Rodrigues
Ville Sinkkonen

We'll need to work on an "Avengers Assemble" paleo-artsy battle cry.

There's some tremendous talent at Art Evolved, I just couldn't say no to being a part of it. And a special thanks to Craig Dylke and Peter Bond, our administrators.

Why are you still here?! I said Ceratopsians! Get to ART Evolved!

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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 ##
# 2009 Calendar available for a limited time

Art Monday: inspiration interruption

Inspiration can strike at unlikely times. Usually, once I feel bogged down and frustrated while waiting for the oil layers to become tacky and the details to swim up and wow my eye, I am struck by competing compositions that fight my attention.

This time I'm going with it. Yeah, sure I have a sketchbook-load of ideas waiting to jump out this year, but I need to explore this Darwin and South American mammal fossil thing for a bit. My wife was great, just said go for it. Sure I spent ten hours drawing, painting and liveblogging; but I'm going where the Muse leads me.

So here's is where I left Charles since Darwin Day, discovering our friend the glyptodon.

It's not complete, and I'm still working on it. Remind me to fix the wrist. And the sky remains a mystery for now.

But I'm not about to abandon two of the other ideas that have been rattling around in my brain, waiting for release through my micro-paintbrushes.

Here's the beginning of one. I was hoping to sketch megatherium, but it turns out the Royal Ontario Museum doesn't have one on display. So, after a hasty 20 minutes between work ending and the R.O.M. closing, I sketched the distinguished skull on the left, an eremotherium.

You may notice I was looking up at it. On the right is the glyptodon again, a new drawing.

There will be more to this image, including Charles. To picture him, think of this quote: "He should be quite well-protected. If he survived the freezing process, that is."

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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 ##
2009 Calendar available for a limited time