Red Knot in Flight

While I'm working on a series of scientific illustrations I can't reveal yet, I thought I'd re-post this pencil (and the oils below) of a red knot in flight.  

Originally created for biologist and conservationist Dan Rhoads' excellent and vital Migrations blog, you can read more about it at his site, and my two-part making-of, here and here

Dan fights the good fight to save birds from the heinous hunting practices of migratory birds in his adopted home of Cyprus. You can sign the petition to stop the practice here.  

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

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Flying Trilobite Business Model

I'm looking for advice.

Since beginning The Flying Trilobite 3 years ago, it has been many things to me. A way to reach other people, primarily bloggers, with similar interests. A continuous art studio critique of my work (thanks for over 1700 comments everyone!). A place for my opinions to find safe haven. Until I launched last December, it was also my primary place to promote my artwork, in conjunction with my deviantArt gallery and my reproduction shop by RedBubble.

Current business model
If I have had a business model so far as an artist, it has been comprised of two streams:
1) make art --> blog art --> comments --> take new commissions.
2) make art
--> blog art --> put in reproduction shop --> sell.

As a business model, it's not unlike what bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead have done: put some stuff out there for free, and hope payment comes in through other means.

I've had the immense pleasure of taking commissions, collaborations which have resulted in some of my best work. A number of my images have been published in dead-tree format, 7 times last year, and I only sought out one of those, the rest found me. Ditto with the reproduction of Darwin in the museum.

Now the end of school approaches, I've been discussing with my wife Michelle and some friends about how to do even more freelance work. Since beginning Flying Trilobite, I've enjoyed the art process more than I ever have in my life. Art needs an audience - no, correction, scratch that, the artist needs an audience. And you guys rock.

New business model

I still intend to continue these two streams:
1) make art --> blog art --> comments --> take new commissions.
2) make art
--> blog art --> put in reproduction shop --> sell.
And add these:
make art --> blog art --> open eBay or Etsy shop --> sell originals.
4) send portfolio --> magazine & comic publishers --> make art.
5) send portfolio --> museums & institutions --> make art.
send portfolio --> book publishers --> {edit: skip cycle of rejection & doubt} --> make art.

(Add to this that I have discussed the intersection of Art & Science at 4 different venues - could I be one of those speakers with a microphone protruding from my tie?)

This is where I ask the blogosphere, family and friends and strangers for advice. I allow for anonymous comments, so feel free to be frank and honest if you have an opinion and want to be like Batman. Or be your bold self like Iron Man.

Could I make my weird paintings (I'm not weird, you are) into a bigger success financially?
Are there other streams full-time artists employ to make a living?

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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 ***
For those of you who don't want to be Batman or Iron Man, I'm afraid you're
stuck being Zan & Jayna, the Wonder Twins. "Form of...a puddle!"

Art Monday: Migrations - final workflow

This is Part 2, Final Workflow.
Go to Part 1, Concepts.
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Recently, I noted to a colleague that it is virtually impossible to become an illustrator today and not have some phase of digital interpretation in your workflow. At the least, it passes through a jpeg phase on the way to publication.

It can go far beyond that. Although I may not be up to a fully-digital painting yet, I'm practicing and finding new ways to make use of my Wacom Intuos 3.

The Migrations blog banner for biologist-conservationist blo
gger Dan Rhoads came together thanks to oil and digital techniques. Here's how I arrived at the final based on this sketch, below.Dan had a couple of requests for this one, including making the branches olive branches, native to Cyprus where he resides. He had also sent me some gorgeous photos from the coast of Cyrus, so I tried to capture that brilliant blue light. Totally cool - these are the types of detail sharing sketches with someone bring out.

Began with the sketch of the Red Knot plover. Luckily,my grandmother-in-law recently gave me some birdwatching books, so I found additional resources at hand beyond Google image search and Wikipedia. If not for that, it would have been a trip to the library. Restricted myself to 8.5x11, the size of my scanner so I can easily bring things togetherBegan with the hand and arm sketch, using my own outstretched as a model. The fingers are exaggerated slightly to give a more dynamic feel.Printed the bird and hand out on canvas paper. In particular, I worried about getting the ruddy colour of the plover's neck and breast right. I don't know why I fret so much, most people's computer screens are calibrated slightly differently anyway. In the end, four different colour were used, for that orange-y red, including Naples Yellow Red & Cadmium Orange Hue.

Then the traveller's hand and arm. Added some scratches and pinky patches as though healed from a scrape. That's really what Flesh coloured paint is good for. It's far too pink for any human being.Painted the background in oil, which then eventually stuck to scanner and created a weird shadow effect in the middle. So I re-painted some areas of the water digitally in Photoshop. I also used Photoshop to punch up the greenish patch of water, the scan was too dark. Used a size of about 4"x12" to mimic the proportions of the final banner.Another trick for aspiring artists moving from to digital from traditional, is before scanning, take your darkest black paint (I use Lamp Black or Iron Oxide Black) and put an opaque stroke of it in one corner below the scan. Do the same with Titanium White. Then, in your imaging program, use the droppers found in Levels and click on those black and white blobs. This is the fastest way to colour-correct a piece. It will snap all the other colours to the right contract between those black and white blobs, making everything look much closer to your eye.

Even with Micron series brushes (love the one bent like a dental tool!) I had trouble rendering 4" high bushes of olive branches. I tried for a while, and then decided to paint a single branch to lay over top to give it recognizable leaves and olives. That branch took about 90 minutes from pencil to oil to give you an idea of my speed much of the time.
I still find it fascinating to note there is no final physical painting: it exists in my studio as four separate elements. This is a type of painting that a few years ago would not have occurred to me to do. However, it minimizes mistakes, and allows for some flexibility. If the client wishes for a particular element to be nudged to the left, or slightly larger, I have that ability on the major elements.Assembled in Photoshop, and overlayed the olive branch numerous times. I performed different effects to each one: flipping it horizontally, changing the scale, erasing parts of it, and adding slight drop shadows to a couple of them to give variation. I think in the end there are about five or six of them overlaying the green oil base.

Added the v-formation of birds at the approximate middle, nudged to the right a little because of how the eye sees the center with the olive branches dominating the left.

This banner was great fun, and thanks to Dan, I felt the visualization of the Mediterranean came through clearly. While painting this, I was mainly listening to the new Prodigy album, The Cranes, and two of the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtracks.

Visit Dan's blog banner ensconced in its proper home!

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite: Art in Awe of Science
Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.

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Art Monday: Migrations banner concepts

This is Part 1, Concepts.
Go to Part 2, Final Workflow.
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Collaboration can lead to wonderful places.
I've done a few blog banners for other bloggers before, (Retrospectacle, Of Two Minds, The Meming of Life) and I think it can be incredibly beautiful for a serious blogger to hire an artist to do some custom work. Look at Carel Brest Van Kempen's exemplary A Blog Around the Clock banner, or Jessica Palmer's own Bioephemera banner. This is serious art conveying information on the diverse moods and interests of the blogger. Perhaps a review of blog banners is in order some day.

Dan Rhoads is a molecular biologist and avid naturalist who moved from America to the island of Cyprus. His blog Migrations ranges in topics such as bird-watching, conservation, science in society and whatever else catches his keen eye. After a rocky patch of non-connecting emails ("What do you mean I am having trouble sending instantaneous messages halfway around the world?! Preposterous!" I spluttered), and with some help from Mike Haubrich, Dan and I got started.

Initial ideas that were tossed into the salad bowl of my brain:

-Fibonacci sequence. Archaeopteryx. Cyprus. Human migration out of Africa. Bird Migration, v-formations. Darwin's finches.
-Dan's personal migration to Cyprus.
-Looked up cellular migration, realized it's poorly understood.
-Read about
Dictyostelium discodeum, an amoeba useful in studying cellular migration, has a slug-form it adopts when moving. I like saying "dicty-disco" out loud.

Starting with these ideas, here are some of the images developed in the rough conceptual stage.

Archaeopteryx on a slab in the shape of Cyprus with a shadow of a modern bird, pencil:A spiral emanating from archaeopteryx's eye, birds following the path, human footprints, dictystelium amoebae tracing a path. Cool tones, digital painting:Same spiral, archaeopteryx. Warm tones in oil paint:Wedge-shaped concept, flight of birds in center, Cyprus on right, amoebae moving from left. Pencil:
Wedge concept simplified. Dan suggested amoebae in positions of Mediterranean islands, but I kept a wedge shape. Oil paint:

There were a few other pencils in similar vein. I worried the concepts were missing a human connection for the blog-reader.

On my walk to work one day, I stoppe
d in the park and scribbled out an idea. Take it right back to the human traveller. I touched up the pencils with india ink, scanned it and did a slapdash colouring job with digital painting in Photoshop. Included the image at the last minute in an email to Dan:


I'll conclude this "Making of the Migrations banner" in part 2 later this week! In the meantime, make sure to view the final in its proper home.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.
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Art Monday: how much digital?

Prepare to be underwhelmed.

Recently, I purchased a Wacom Intuos 3 4x6 tablet. Many of the contemporary artists I admire have included some digital elements into their workflow. I'm thinking of people like Jon Foster who paints in oil, then digital, and back again. Some artists like Wayne Barlowe were resolute in working with traditional materials, until experimentation with digital tools yielded a change of attitude, as seen in this digital piece by Barlowe from his Inferno series.

The last couple of years, I have incorporated more and more dig
ital elements in my work, especially for blog banners. I've been reading ImagineFX quite a bit to get a handle on the possibilities. There are times when I see a complicated method for say, a tree root, that I scratch my head and wonder why not just oil paint it instead of all this 3-d vectoring? The right tool for the right job.

In the case of my new Mythical Flying Trilobite Fossil banner, it is still painted mostly in oils on a piece of shale. But I wanted to add a bit of multi-media to it, and included some pencilled portions of the crinoids on the right side. For digital, I often simply colour-correct and add text. This time I added a bit more with the tablet. Using a neutral putty-coloured background, you can see how much digital is painted over top of my scan of the oil-painted-shale:Click to enlarge. For comparison, here's the full painting again:You can see some details were added. Though I use incredibly small Micron brushes, I was able to add even more little veiny-structures to the wings. A few more highlights in blue, pink and white to add to the iridescence, with some green and blue transparent paint underneath to give some depth and a prismatic feel.

I also spent ages getting the correct green for the nobs on the trilobite's back
, to give it some coloured markings, though I'm not sure how visible they really are in the final.

The part I'm happiest with is the bit of green algae or moss staining the shale around a phantom outline of a crinoid stalk near the bottom centre.

It's a little thing, but using partially opaque digital paint and shaping it with the handy eraser on the back of the digital pen, I managed to create a detail I quite like in a previously empty area. This felt like a minor landmark in my painting abilities.

Will digital painting completely overwhelm my oils in a couple of years, as some friends and colleagues have speculated? It could happen. At the moment though, my art is a mashed together hybrid of traditional and digital, pigment and pixel.

Suitable that the blog is named after a mashed together hybrid too, I think.

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

The new blog banner is now installed above.
Mythical Flying Trilobite Fossil III
Oil on shale, pencil on bristol and a surprising amount of digital done in Photoshop with my new tablet. Copyright to moi, 2009.

For Art Monday, I'll try to show some of the details, and maybe just how much digital there is overlaying the oil on shale. I added quite a bit of colour to this little beastie.

Insect wings instead of mammal! Do I need a new tattoo?

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

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Art Monday: shale banner progress

The new Mythical Flying Trilobite Fossil blog banner is almost complete. Here you can see the oil on shale, with oil & pencil crinoids off to the right hand side.The last few steps will be to peel the bristol off the back of the shale, and scan the bristol and shale in separately. This shale is too big for the scanner, so I may have to tilt it to wedge it in, or Photoshop-together two parts.

In the little peek of it last week, Eric Heupal of Eclectic Echoes and The Ot
her 95% suggested we don't often see enough bite marks on trilobites. Hmm. Battle-scars, eh? So far I have not put any on this little critter. This week I have taken a new leap forward in technique and invested in an Intuos 3 tablet. I know there's a couple of touch-ups I may try with it, and scars are on the list. I hope to have this baby completed in the next couple of days.

As a little aside, here's my first efforts (besides some loopy happy face exercises to get me use to the feel) with my new tablet. Remember this encrinurus drawing?
So here I've tried to mimic my pencil strokes and added two new nodules to the head, and a new elongated nodule on the left side of the cephalon. I may need to adjust the sensitivity of the pen to mimic my lighter pencil strokes. In the upper middle, I tried some light washes, and below that, some bolder painted strokes. Can't wait to play some more.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.
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Art Monday: mucking around

Continuing to muck around with my blog banner since re-decorating The Flying Trilobite's bloggy aesthetics. Here's a look at where it's been.

The original overall look.

Blog banner year one.

Year two.

Taking advantage of the new white background, here was a pixelly version I removed after about a week.And where we are now. This feels more painterly and blends better than the hard edges.

I have plans to post a completely new banner in time for my second blogiversary in March. The shale is ready, I've been sketching and I've got a design ticking in my head.

Blog banner design is something I enjoy, and I have done some freelance for other bloggers. I've found it to be pretty rewarding to try and capture a blogger's "voice" in a 700x250 pixel space.

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Here's a making of The Meming of Life, and commentary by the blogger.
Here's the making of Of Two Minds.
And the making of Retrospectacle.
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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.

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Art Monday: banner rough sketches

Around this time last year I posted a new version of my blog banner. It was the second trilobite on shale painting I had completed and used as a banner, and I'm at work on a new one for this year. Why not annually?

Here's my thumbnail sketches, done with a ballpoint pen in my beloved Moles
kine sketchbook.

There's something exciting about sketching in ballpoint pen. It always turns out looser. Perhaps it may go back to those days in high school and university when I would listen to lectures and lessons while perpetually doodling.

I also may update my footer and side bar art before the end of the month. Last year, I feel I accomplished many of the goals I had set out for myself. This year, I hope to work on a new series of portraits in addition to playing with my fossil images. I'd like to complete six portraits by the end of the year. Three are planned out already, and executing a portrait is always a test of an artists' abilities.

Previous banners are here and here, and a selection of portraits is here. Click each to enlarge.

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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 blog, gallery and reproduction store.
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