Artwork Mondays: reference & when not to use it

The revamp of my Dimetrodon-Sphinx concept from over a decade ago continues. The original drawing is below, and is part of a larger drawing seen here.

And below, is where I am so far.

To reach this stage, it was important to use a lot of reference. A part of this exercise was to see how much I may have improved. A lot of that improvement likely comes from using references, such as a model for the woman's body, and looking at other artists' representations of living dimetrodons for the back-half. As well, I used these two photos I took last summer when visiting the Royal Tyrrell Museum.












(Actually, I'm not sure that the one on the left in the left-hand photo is actually a dimetrodon; the head seems to be quite a different shape. A pelycosaur nonetheless. )

There is still some work to do. I thought I might be able to complete the drawing in time this week.

I struggled a lot with the hair. I tried tiaras, an Egyptian sphinx headdress, no hair, tight curls, messy hair whipping in the wind, and even the bob on the one in the original. Eventually I decided to go with slick wet hair, as I could be fun to paint this as a rainy scene.

The mouth and lips are way off, and will need some work, and I messed up the left hand. One of the ways many artists' check the progress of a composition or the realism if a piece, is to flip it:

This allows some mistakes to jump out, and gives the familiar pencil strokes a foreign eye, as a viewer will likely have for the first time they see it. Looking at the piece in the mirror is one way, and using Photoshop is another great way to try this technique. Remember though, that no face or body is perfectly symmetrical, not even Pac-Man's. (Look close, you'll see his left eye is 1 pixel closer to his nose than his right.) I think the Sphinx's hair could be more ropy and knotty.

Looking at the lone dimetrodon above, I can see there are about 24 of the long vertebra supporting the sail. My Sphinx's pretty back is not long enough to support quite that many, so here is a point where reference and I part company. Another is in the feet. When I was at the Royal Ontario Museum's Darwin exhibit recently, I was reminded of how fascinated I am by the irregular-looking toes of an iguana. And so, I abandoned the realism of a dimetrodon's no-doubt noble foot, in favour of the broken-looking toes of the green iguana. And to top it off, I didn't use a reference *gasp*.

This piece seems to evoke a night-time feel to me, and so I began roughing in some rocky shapes in the background, and darkening the sail to illustrate the translucency and rock silhouettes showing through. Last week, I spoke about the possibilities of camouflage. Now, I think any colouration choices would have to wait for me to paint the piece.

Will I add colour? It's at the right stage for it. A scan and print onto canvas-paper and I could apply my oils. There's some great tips on colouring and texturing using Photoshop in ImagineFX, a magazine I just picked up a couple of weeks ago. However I've spent longer on this drawing than I thought I would over the last few Artwork Mondays. Next week, it may be time to move onto something new.
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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.

Tyrrell Dinosaurs educate, will the R.O.M.?

Later today the Royal Ontario Museum will open the second floor of the Michael Lee Chin Crystal to card-carrying members who want to see two new galleries: Gallery of the Age of Mammals, and even further back into prehistory, the (takeadeepbreath!) James and Louise Temerty Galleries of the Age of Dinosaurs.

This got me thinking back to my seminal trip to the Royal Tyrrell Museum this past July, and what I liked about how the Tyrrell displayed it's prehistoric beauties. And something in particular comes to mind.

Education.

The most effective displays are the ones that let everyone, young and old, explore the featured fossils at their own level. Like this globe wall (above) at the Royal Tyrrell Museum highlighting ceratopsians. Or the Tyrrell's Cretaceous Garden, complete with waterfall and humidity.

What's most effective is when there are three levels of text, allowing people to read as deeply as they choose. Something like this:


Glendon Mellow, 80' long, 90 tons. b.1974
-

This species of artist grazed on the fossil-fields
of prehistory to create his paintings.

The Glendon was discovered by Page 3.14 and featured in a ScienceBlogs interview. He later went on to produce a logo for Shelley Batts of Retrospectacle, and this led to
fame and fortune. Eventually, he blew this fortune on a new micron brushes and began a series of dinosaur paintings on shale, all of which featured barosaurus with large moustaches and Rip Van Winkle beards rendered in stunningly tiny detail.
The three layers of text allow each visitor to become as engaged as they like. For myself, and many other children, I can remember poring over these captions and devouring each word.

I am a big fan of the R.O.M.'s Crystal, and I have high hopes about how the dinosaur collection will fill the industrial-postmodern caverns. The lights that pores into the Crystal should heighten the drama.

Here are some photos I took at the Tyrrell this summer of how the information could look at the R.O.M. if they let Gordo the barosaurus write his own entry.


These two skulls are part of a larger display explaining the varieties of ceratopsians. The Tyrrell is well-known for its Centrosaurs, (the one on the right), as the nearby Dinosaur Provincial Park is home to a staggering number of their fossils.

Also, check out this howling Dire Wolf display from the Tyrrell's prehistoric Mammal Galleries(rampaging Orcs not included). It's chillingly posed as though still alive, and the wall behind is a montage in information in easy to chew on morsels, (much like this blog).

Both museums have impressed me a lot this year, and as I've stated elsewhere, I've had a lifelong fascination with the Royal Ontario Museum. It was my birthday destination of choice as a child and pre-teen. A spectacular illustration at the Tyrrell; unfortunately no artist credit!

The Royal Tyrrell Museum has a more robust collection of prehistoric fossils than the R.O.M., and that's appropriate, it is specialising and near bone beds. My feeling is that dinosaurs and mammals will be stunning in the Crystal; I just hope the information is there for kids like I was to explore as much as they can.

All photos above taken at the Royal Tyrrell Museum; photo credits to G. Mellow and an unnamed family member of his. Copyright the Tyrrell and the animals pictured. They love the paparazzi.)

All which is dead need not necessarily be forgotten...

Back from the Badlands


Burgess Shale at the
Royal Tyrrell Museum

The title of this entry is a paraphrase from H.P. Lovecraft's Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, "...all which is forgotten need not necessarily be dead..." I believe the reverse sentiment to be more accurate and powerful, especially in the face of organisms from the Cambrian.

Once I began to feel that my drawing skills were approaching a professional level, I have found the creatures from the Cambrian to the Permian to hold a special fascination. As I have said in previous posts, I get shiver down my back when beholding an organism so strange and unusual, that we as binocular primates can look at and comprehend. This love is not religious and not dogmatic; it is the evolved primate rush of understanding. And when the object of that understanding is a five-eyed Opabinia (above, playing in the sponges) from 505 million years ago, I marvel.

I do not know how much time I have to write this. Even now, I hear the scratching at the door...a very Lovecraftian anomalocarid lurks in the gloom...The horror of the fluttering flapping thing! Those eyes!
Heh.



Alright, enough glowy-eyed marvelling. The Royal Tyrrell Museum had enough pre-dinosaur fossils to keep me entertained for weeks. These photos are from their re-created chamber of Burgess Shale fauna, all 12 times life size. The room is dimly-lit, with spots, and the floor is partially transparent so you can see the trilobites trundling around the sea floor below you, competing with that poser-crustacean, marella.

The sounds of other patrons entering this room were a lot of fun. One couple, I would guess were in their seventies, were utterly fascinated. I noticed most people entering without reading about the Burgess Shale creatures on the information wall outside. Then they came in and encountered the truly strange.

In the photo above at right, you can see on the ocean floor a little mound with wings, wiwaxia. In Aquagenesis: the origin and evolution of life in the sea, author Richard Ellis says, "(wiwaxia) was not a snail, it was not an arthropod, it was not a worm. Like so many of the animals of the Burgess Shale, it was sui generis, and nothing like it has ever been seen again."

There is a beautifully to-scale recreation of a reef, in water that holds many people's gaze as they look at all the fish and cephalopods hidden in a natural setting. The folks at the Tyrrell have done a wonderful job of recreating the lushness of coral aquariums often found at the better zoos.








The Tyrrell Museum as a whole could easily take up a week of sight-seeing for an enthusiast. In my posts, I haven't even touched on the marvellous ceratopsians, the humid and lovely Cretaceous garden and waterfall, and so many other sights. The museum is heavy on information content, and does not dumb things down for the casual visitor. You can simply gawk, or you can read more and more to learn about the past. I desperately want to go back.

My apologies for the following if you are not a Lovecraft & Cthulhu fan.

The anomalocaris is once again scratching at the door...I do not know if this manuscript should be found, and if so, will the flapping mad thing chase down another trilobite? Will any being know of me in the fullness of time? The dark ages of oblivion yawn before me...

Dinosaurs as Art: Royal Tyrrell Museum

Back from the Badlands

The Royal Tyrrell Museum near Drumheller was more than I had imagined it to be. I have grown up with the Royal Ontario Museum; I took classes there as a child, and have been a frequent visitor since. The R.O.M. specialises in many areas, from ancient China & prehistoric animals to modern bats, & art. When constructing its new dinosaur gallery inside the Crystal, the R.O.M. would do well to pay attention to the wealth of uncompromising science and education about evolution at the Tyrrell. No concessions made to offending any religious sensibililties, just facts and supported theories, evidence in abundance, pure science.

The Tyrrell has a narrower, and richer focus. Prehistoric life. Evolution. The world of what happened before us.



Above, left: Golden Eagle claw with Sauronitholestes. Above, right: The sickle-claws of a dromeosaur, ornithomimus & velociraptor.

The pictures I am blogging today are from my favourite room; a Gallery, shrouded in darkness, reverent spotlights revealing the detail and majesty of the fossils. Ornate gold frames, in the baroque-style, encased the larger specimens. Simple North-Renaissance black frames with black-velvet mats added subtle lushness to the sophisticated evolved claws, teeth and feet of swift-moving dinosaurs.

Above, an Albertosaurus caught in a dramatic rigor mortis pose.

A struthiomimus.

The majestic Tyrannosaurus. Mounted without frames or hyperbole.


Perhaps this room appeals to me so much because of my Fine Art background. When I oil paint, I begin on a black or dark background, adding paint and the figures emerge from the darkness, much as this room brought to life. Bravo and thank you to the curator.

I believe one of the greatest experiences of my life was first entering this room. Seeing the magnificent creatures of the past I have loved so much, through the lense of the human art world was sublime, and I felt the rush of the scientifically-numinous.