Art Monday: Retrospectacle Valkyrie drawing

Pencil on bristol, 2007.
Originally created as part of the commissioned Retrospectacle blog banner for Shelley Batts.
here, making of here, and at the discontinued Scienceblog Retrospectacle here, where it shared banner duty with one by the science illustration master, Carl Buell.

The support I received early on in my blogging days from both Carl and Shelley has been wonderful, and invaluable. A lot of my current decisions still rest on things I learned from them both.  Thanks, guys!

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

Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***

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.

- - -

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.

- -
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.

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.

Getting out there

In my last post, I included the making of a new painting, called Darwin Took Steps. I had offered to share this artwork with the editors of The Eloquent Atheist, in part to reach a broader audience than The Flying Trilobite's alone.

The subject matter was intended to be a part of Darwin Day, and so I registered at the organizers' site along with the other participants. It's always fun to see your name on the same list as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett.

I tried to promote the piece on Facebook, changed my profile picture to one of the sketches, and made comments on the walls of a few groups, pointing the way to The Eloquent Atheist to aid in traffic there. Hopefully they'll have me back again some time.

By the end of the day on February twelfth, my Darwin painting had been re-posted on two other websites - in Spain! It was done without my direct permission, but it was done respecting the Creative Commons licence: in this case, it was cited as being a painting by me, it was not altered, and no one was profiting by it. I was and still am pretty excited!

On first site, the painting was posted by one of the DeviantArt contributors I have corresponded with, who goes by the name of Koolasuchus. In case you're not familiar with the "suchus" part, it is Latin for crocodile, and Koolasuchus often includes drawings of these in their DeviantArt gallery.

With the second site, It turns out that Koolasuchus also is a regular contributor to an aggregate site, also in Spanish, called Evolucionarios. The site looks great. Unfortunately the only other language I am fluent in is ASL, with a smattering of French from my Canadian upbringing.

So, Darwin Took Steps did what I set out for it to do; it put me out there. My thanks to all those parties who liked the piece, commented, re-posted it or checked it out! Next year is the two hundredth anniversary of Darwin's birth, so I'll have to start cooking up something grand to go alongside this year's painting.

- - -

If you've read this far in such a self-indulgent post, allow me to tease you with another piece I am working on that should be up soon. Normally, I feel it is bad form to mention a piece of art for a contract until it is completed and approved. However, since Shelley Batts' confirmed it over at A Blog Around the Clock already, I figure it's cool.

I am almost finished a piece for Shelley Batts of Retrospectacle and Steve Higgins of Omnibrain. These two neuroscience students and ScienceBloggers have teamed up to create a new blog, to be called Of Two Minds, and launching March 1st. I will be doing one of the rotating banners again, and I'm pretty psyched.

It's a good start to 2008; two more painting contacts for others. And March 7th will be my one year blogiversary, so you know I'm cooking up a special illustration to mark the day that the flying trilobite army burst onto the scene!

more than scribbles in the margin?

The Flying Trilobite's 1st Blog Award!

The headmistress of The Free Range Academy has bestowed upon The Flying Trilobite's humble cephalon the E for Excellent Blog Award!

This is a pay-it-forward meme of sorts, as well as an award. In accepting it, it needs to also be granted to ten blogs chosen by the recipient. This is tough: I'm adding to my blogroll all the time.

I'd love to grant it back to The Free Range Academy if I could. If you love reading about parenting, science and the myriad experiences growing up in Ontario offers to kids, you gotta check this site out. Leslie's Blog is another vibrant community drawn to Leslie Hawes, artist & personality. However, since Leslie granted the award to The Free Range Academy, I will leave them off my list of ten. Presenting in no particular order...

I solemnly swear to grant the E for Excellent Blog Award to:

1. Fresh Brainz - For a blog about neuroscience and rationality to be so eclectic and wild and just plain bonkers, I need to grant this award to where my brain goes for a freakout.

2. Life Before Death - Reflective, sensible, insightful, witty and recently, frequent photos of the bees the author keeps.

3. Traumador the Tyrannosaur - written from the point of view of a Canadian ex-patriot living in New Zealand. Oh and he's an extra-small tyrannosaur. There needs to be a movie with videogame tie-in. And action figures.

4. Retrospectacle - I know Shelley Batts' blog is ending/spawning soon. What is it about neuroscience students that makes them so well-informed about weird things that really matter? Needs another award.

5. Sentient Developments - serious, thoughtful, and about nothing less than humanity's future, this blog is strange and vital.

6. Jesse Graham's Art - J. Graham's art is playful and tiptoes up behind you with the kind of drawings you wish you'd thought of. A talent unfettered by narrative.

7. Metamagician & the Hellfire Club - smart, concise, and the type of writing that needs no pictures. For freethinkers, science-types and Russell Blackford's groupies.

8. Olduvai George - The art of Carl Buell, no longer being updated regularly. I don't care; this blog is the gateway I rush through there to see what new stuff materializing in Carl's Flickr account. Real extinct artiodactyls make the concept of a unicorn look just lazy.

9. Zooillogix - captions so funny it actually makes me snort espresso out my nose. And it's about zoology.

10. Page 3.14 - I never know what I'm going to find here. And I really look forward to finding it. SEED magazine's editors know how to interview and uncover the things you didn't know you wanted to know.

Please enjoy the awards! Mine will sit on my mantle, next to my trilobite fossils and favourite paint brush I had dipped in gold. (It doesn't spread the paint as well as it once did, but -man alive!- it can keep it's tip pointy...)

Retrospectacle: "making of" retrospective

Shelley Batts of Retrospectacle and Steve Higgins of Omnibrain will be closing up their blogs, and merging into one metabrainy blog. Both are neuroscience students, and are part of the ScienceBlog network.

Readers of The Flying Trilobite may recall that I was elated (frantically excited, honoured, scraping & bowing) that Shelley had asked me to design a new blog banner for her last year. It is still featured in rotation with a banner by Carl Buell, scientific illustrator par excellence.

Sometime this weekend, Steve and Shelley will be announcing the new blog title, which they threw open to their many readers in the form of a contest. I contacted Shelley when I read the news, and I may be once again contributing a banner. Here's hoping! Carl Buell has offered again as well, and Steve has some quirky banners of his own on Omnibrain.

So, since this may be the last weekend of Retrospectacle, I thought I would post here the process I went through to come up with the banner. This was already featured as a post on Shelley's blog, but I thought I would import it here, for my old & new readers. Hey, it's almost like an insight into my heavily-caffeinated brain. From September 24, 2007.


Step 1. Thought about wing, an ear, and started with the Valkyrie type image. Thought about how cool it would be if Shelley was leading a gang with multiple-species, parrot-wing helmeted scientist-warriors.

Step 2. Drew a wing out in water-soluble pencil crayons, fudged the wing colours to bring in the red of an African Grey's tail. Worried about purist owners of African greys slamming the heresy.

Step 3. Copied a photo of Shelley from her blog, heightened the contrast, and clipped the sketch from step 2 onto it. Shelley mentioned making it dark, (my favourite) and I threw a black background on it. Also hand-drew a 2 minute version with blue around it too embarrassing to see the light of day.

Step 4. This is where I stay up late, drinking coffee, listening to fast gothy electronic music like Jakalope. Used my favorite tools, 0.3mm lead pencil on vellum-finish bristol. Used Shelley's face for the Valkyrie, since Retrospectacle is personal. I am really happy with how this drawing turned out. I like the Valkyrie-type idea. They were strong mythical female warriors in an age dominated by men. The wings also suggest Nike or Athena to me, for Victory & Wisdom. Scanned image in, printed it out onto canvas-paper so I can paint it without harming the original drawing.

Step 5. After painting on top of a couple of versions, I had trouble with the pale face and shadowing away from the ear. I decide to see what it would look like if I invert the whole thing. Showed it to good friends who will criticise me if I am on the wrong track. More coffee & fast electronic beats.

Step 6. Painted the ear & wing in oils, scanned it, tried a few concepts. This symmetrical one seemed too busy and impersonal. Played with various levels of cropping to see if the whole face was more important than the feather details.

Step 7. The final product. I picked this one since the face is up close which seems more intimate. Added effects using Photoshop to give it depth and draw the eye from the image on the left to the title on the right. Used font named 'Kartika' and put a spiral for the 'O' to reference the cochlea. Finished all the coffee in the house.


I wish Shelley and Steve all the best on their new adventure in brainy blogging. 'Can't wait for the new title! I've got some ideas already.

The Flying Trilobite - Highlights of 2007

This has been an important year for my artwork. I began taking my paintings and drawings online last March, and this blog quickly saw a lot of changes in layout and tone. Yes, it has always been to promote my artwork and find future contracts and a wider audience; it has also allowed me to meet a number of talented artists, scientists, writers and bloggers from around the world -check the sidebar! I feel welcomed by the people who've taken an interest in my mythical flying trilobite fossil paintings, and interacting with people in comments and on their own blogs has been a rewarding experience so far.

In this post, I thought we could look back at what I consider some of the highlights of the year, and my fledgling career.

Page 3.14 profiles Glendon Mellow
May 2007, Virginia Hughes of SEED magazine interviewed me for their Page 3.14: Best of ScienceBlogs and Beyond. This was pretty exciting; a peak moment of my year, for sure. I'd been online only two months, and the attention from Ms. Hughes and SEED gave me me a boost. Ever since a zoology-major asked about the tardigrade in one of my paintings, I have planned to get my paintings in front of as many scientists and science-enthusiasts as possible. My work is niche, and this is the niche. The painting featured was the Mythical Flying Trilobite Fossil from my banner. Oil on shale.

Retrospectacle banner for Shelley Batts

There are a lot of of interesting sites on the ScienceBlog network of sites that SEED magazine runs. One of my favourites has been Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog. After making on a comment on one of Ms. Batts' posts, she checked the link back to me and asked me about doing one of her new blog banners. The other, featuring a nautilus and African Grey parrot was by Carl Buell, (scientific illustrator of great repute)! Working for Shelley was a pleasure, as was reading all the comments that followed on her site after she posted a making of the blog banner, with narration by yours truly. I went for a "Valkyrie" motif, to incorporate the wing of an African grey while highlighting the ear, and spotlighting a portrait of Shelley. A spiral in the title completed the reference to the cochlea.

A large portion of my visitors continue to come from Retrospectacle. My first professional work since taking my art online this year! The banner is a mixture of mechanical pencil, oil paint, and digital manipulation.

The Eloquent Atheist features Symbiosis
One of my personal favourites of all my paintings is one I did in university, called Symbiosis. It contains the aforementioned tardigrade (also known as a "water-bear"), a microorganism that can survive hundreds of years when dried out, only to start swimming again when placed in water. It also depicts some of my DNA-candles, and a figure in green writhing/dancing/falling in the foreground. It was the painting featured in my university's graduation show, and I've submitted to a competition in the past, though it was not picked.

It is fairly obvious from looking here at The Flying Trilobite that I consider myself a Bright, an atheist, a person who understands science and the power its rational checks and balances has for revealing the world as it is to us. I came across an exceptionally well-done site, called The Eloquent Atheist, and asked if they were interested in featuring any of my paintings. After some discussion with one of the editors, Michael W. Jones, an engaging writer himself, The Eloquent Atheist profiled Symbiosis, as the online-magazine's first visual art feature. Oil on canvas.

These may be the highlights of my art being showcased this year, and there is so much more. I have enjoyed comments and correspondence with the artists I have met on DeviantArt, and the illustrators Gina Mikel introduced me to on the sciart listserv.
I'm thankful in particular to some of the following:
This post from Tangled Up in Blue Guy , and being a part of Dale McGowan's Ten Wonderfull Things for a little while!
All the wisdom and shenanigans from Leslie Hawes, Fresh Brainz, Traumador the Tyrannosaur, Jesse Graham, Nancy Eldridge, Shelley Batts, PZ Myers, Metamagician & the Hellfire Club, Carl Buell, Jacqueline Rae, and Luna_the_Cat! Deep thanks to anyone who added me to their blogroll or linked to me this year as well. It is inspiring.

For 2008, I hope to produce more work of quality than ever, and to gain some more freelance contracts; sometimes the best work is though project collaboration. To all the commenters and regulars who have commented and encouraged and thrown eggs at me this year, my sincere thanks.

The Flying Trilobite Business Card

The winner!

Thank you so much to all those who helped this one along. In
my previous post, I asked and received tons of help deciding between two new business cards.

The image on the winner is Photoshop adapted from an ink drawing I have done. The image is meant to be for a (non-winged) tattoo I will likely get in the spring when this blog is one year old.

9 people preferred the first card, 2 the second. I myself preferred the second choice as well. As Lim Leng Hiong of Fresh Brainz called it, it has "extreme quirkiness". I will likely still use this image somewhere, and tweak it some more. Chadmac pointed out that its centre of mass is misplaced, so I'll need to fix that.

But I am very happy with card #1, and it does have my core image. As Leslie Hawes and Rudi pointed out, it needs to be a card that shows off the art. The wings are popular for this artistic ancient aquatic arthropod, as Dale McGowan, Lauren, Traumador the Tyrannosaur, Gastrolith, and Luna_the_Cat and Shelley Batts all agree.

For the final version depicted above, I tweaked a couple of things based on some reader's suggestions. Lauren suggested I shrink the trilobite image slightly, and I think that works well. As Leslie had pointed out, I could also have blown the image up to make it more abstracted. I think shrinking it works a little better, as some people have no idea what a trilobite is, let alone a Mythical Flying Trilobite Fossil. Lim Leng Hiong thought it might work better to have more contact between the trilobite and its wings, so I added some crumbly bits to make a better connection between the disparate parts.

I'd like to thank everyone who gave me an opinion, both online and offline, especially my wife, Michelle who watched me seesaw back and forth. Shelley of Retrospectacle also pointed out a business card service that she highly recommends, Moo, so I will probably look into that. This whole process really helped me out. I started this blog to promote my artwork, and also to get feedback on my work. Sometimes an artist is throwing so much into the process, it is easy to become myopic about how well the final image works.

My gratitude to each of you.

(Edit: whoops! Earlier today, the card I uploaded had an older version of the text layout on the card. All fixey-fixey now. No more blogging without the morning coffee. )

Vote for Shelley Batts!

Shelley Batts at Retrospectacle is one of 20 finalists for a blogging scholarship!
The competition is fierce, and Shelley needs help from readers of The Flying Trilobite. Please take a moment to cast your vote. You can do it anonymously, or leave a message encouraging others to vote for Shelley. You'll find the voting site here.

I mean who else writes about knitting teratomas, special nerdy cakes, parrot comprehension, the neuroscience of ADHD, and puts up more pictures of brains than a zombie. (If Jared Leto is reading this, please contact her directly). Besides, she is the only blogger I know studying her PhD, and has wings on the side of her head.

Cast a vote for Shelley Batts!