Art Monday: red knot

Pencil on bristol, Oil on canvas, 2009.
Part of the artwork created for Dan Rhoads' Migrations blog banner last year.

announcement here.
My posts about the process
are here.

At Migrations, Dan has been posting with great clarity and with passion (no small feat) about the illegal trapping of birds in Cyprus. Migratory birds of hundreds of species pass through this centrally positioned country and trapped. Make sure to read up on Dan's FAQ about Illegal Ambeloupoulia. Conservationists are often treated with disdain.

Taking a trip? I'd bet on the Cyprus Birding Tours to be fascinating (look at the huge list on their inaugural trip report!), and it would help support the positive side of the Cypriot economy.

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

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

Metro Toronto Zoo trip & Polar Tweets

Last weekend was "Teacher Day" at the Metro Toronto Zoo. Michelle could get in free, with one guest (yay me!) and we brought along our intrepid nephew to explore in wonder.

Though we had sketchbooks, we spent a beautiful 7+ hours going from sultry pavilion to spacious grassy enclosure to the marsh, just taking it all in and zooming in with a ton of photos. Sketching at the zoo is something I've only been able to do briefly.

Here are a fraction of the photos I hope to use as reference or digital textures some time. Though I've watermarked them with this blog url, I should note I think almost all of these were taken by my awesome wife Michelle.
A bird we couldn't identify in the Indo-Malayan Pavilion. (Looking pointedly in GrrlScientist's and Dan Rhoads' directions...)

The air was still cool, (about 15C, if I recall) and many of the animals were really active.

Some of the rocks near the polar bear enclosure have trilobites carved in them, with an explanatory plaque describing the largest so far found, Isotelus.

Colours in nature are often far more bright and outlandish than a natural realist painter can get away with. One of the many peacocks that wanders the zoo.

The Neph seeing of this turtle responds to visual stimuli. (Nope.)

Even an accidentally blurry photo can be incredibly evocative to a painter's eye. Look at this seahorse in motion. Like something out of a Precambrian dream.

Look at the magnificent textures on that lovely face. A reminder from an elephant that an artist can never have too much detail. And there I go anthropomorphizing again. This elephant was making a subtle, powerful purring-clicking noise while she foraged on her own, as close to the humans and as far from the other elephants as could be.

The Metro Toronto Zoo also has a fascinating initiative involving Twitter, called Polar Tweets. You rescue a polar bear by creating ice out of words you tweet that are pro-sustainability and environmentally-friendly. The level of ice changes quite a bit during the course of the day. Like a socially-conscious NeoPet.

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

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

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.

Flying Trilobite Gallery
### Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ###

Guild of Natural Science Illustrators Conference

There's a slew of gorgeous posters created by the talented members of The Guild of Natural Science Illustrators for the upcoming conference in July. Although I have not attended one of these conferences yet, I think the results of these lush, gorgeous and scientifically accurate artists speak for themselves.

If you are a new artist, up-and-coming, or established and need of some new techniques, get yourself to Ithaca and learn from these modern masters.

I often wonder if in a hundred years' time the art world will look back on pieces like these and marvel at their (sometimes) unrecognised value in the face of post-modernist navel-gazing. Their artwork is all the more relevant to anyone amazed by the vanishing biodiversity on our planet.

In particular, check out the work by Heather Ward (the coral reef begins!), Emily Damstra, Gina Mikel, Barry MacKay,, heck, prepare yourself for beauty and strangeness that only the real world can deliver by going to the Guild's image bank, or check out the links in my blogroll. Grab a coffee and croissant, and spend an hour this weekend marvelling.

And be responsible folks: these images are under copyright, and these folks earn their bread producing images to help scientists, medical professionals, teachers and students understand the world better. Be sure to contact artists about creating illustrations for use before cribbing them off the net!

Beyond Good & Evil - A Review

For skeptics and naturalists, what could a videogame look like? How about a game where one of the main objects of the game, is to photograph as many vanishing species on the planet as possible? How about using those photography skills to find solid evidence of a government conspiracy? A future where different races live together without strife?
Beyond Good & Evil is that title. Created by Michel Ancel, this game came out back in 2003, and won tons of praise from critics, and failed to sell enough to the public to warrant a sequel. I played it a few years ago, and now I'm photographing my way through it's pretty natural environments and industrial rust once again.

The setting is the planet Hillys in the distant future. Humans and other races based on animal-human hybrids inhabit the pastoral and island-dotted land peacefully. An alien invasion by a species known as the DomZ disrupts day-to-day life, the invasion consisting mainly of aliens crashing like meteors from the sky. An army known as the Alpha Sections attempts to protect the populace, usually arriving too late.

The protaganist is a brash and confident 20 year old orphan named Jade. Jade is presented in a much more realistic fashion than most women in games, and there is no need for a love interest for her to hang her feminity on. Her endearing, tough-guy adopted uncle Pey'j is a Sus Sapien, or pig-human hybrid. The pair live on an island in a lighthouse, struggling with money while taking care of orphans who've lost their parents in the war. Jade and Pey'j own a hovercraft, an airship, and eventually a spaceship. Jade works mainly as a photographer and reporter, taking stock of the planet's biodiversity before too many species are wiped out in the fighting. Eventually, she joins the Iris Network as a photographer, a pirate broadcast group trying to expose the government's lies.

The game still holds up graphically, and the soundtrack has some excellent music, latin techno and classical score, depending on the scene. I love just toodling around in the hovercraft, visiting different islands through the night and day cycle, especially after a long steathy trip through industrial buildings exposing the conspiracy taking place. It's one of those games that just makes you want to revisit it from time to time; hang out at the Akuda Bar, talk to the kids at the lighthouse, or just explore the oceans of Hillys.

The details in the game are interesting and scientific, though fictional. Aim your camera at the sky, and it will label the different constellations, even indicating how much radiation comes from celestial objects. Each new species, like the anemonia mutabilis pictured at right is fascinating, and many of them fly or hover through the air. You can interact to some degree with each animal as well, and you find them all over the planet. There are different whales in the ocean, nautilus creatures that float in the humid air, and even a trilobite crawling around if you look hard enough. This part of the gameplay, cataloguing the different species, is made to feel so crtitical, I even found myself getting bitten by more aggressive species in my unrelenting effort to take their picture.

(This whole idea of taking photos would be great in a game about prehistory and fun as the fauna in Beyond Good & Evil are, imagine a similar game where one had to catalogue dinosaurs from each era? Tutorial in the Devonian! Bonus level in the Pleistocene! Since Michel Ancel also made the prehistoric-looking King Kong game, he'd be just the guy to blend the two ideas. ) Evidence is a key to winning this game. There are occasionally some battles which Jade handles with her fighting stick, but methodical presentation of evidence and love of family are the main triggers to propel the plot forward. Rumour has it Michel Ancel might finally be returning to this story again - I hope! - and who knows what alien fauna might be found on the next planet? I hope Jade brings her zoom lens.

Glimpses of Crystal: Royal Ontario Museum

Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum has been in the process of expanding. And I'm an unabashed fan of the redesign.

My wife got us memberships last Christmas, and it's been neat to watch the process. There is a wealth of artifacts that are rarely if ever on display, and the ROM wanted to show them off...and add some striking new architecture to the city. Last night, we had tickets to wander around the new, mostly empty galleries. There were surprises.

The new Lee-Chin Crystal was designed by Berlin-based architect Daniel Libeskind, ini
tially on a napkin (at right). The original facade of the ROM, facing east is classic, sculpted architecure, very detailed stonework. The new design on the north end is as if gigantic geode crystals had formed out of the original stone. If you stand to the southeast, you see only the classic building I grew up with. Standing at the northwest, the Crystal dominates the street and demands attention.

History of History
Inside, we were taken in a gigantic elevator to the fourth floor. The suggestion was to start at the top, and head down. The first exhibit was an art show designed and curated by Hiroshi Sugimoto. It was an interesting show, of the kind I like; the narratives on the wall explained the works to an extent, but were only placed in soft greys, so if you wanted to merely examine the art and artifacts you could. At the beginning were some truly awesome trilobites, among other fossils. Most of the show was about photography, and the explanation on the wall suggested that fossils are pre-photography, prehistoric snapshots into the past. It was an interesting idea on the surface, and a beautiful idea to put fossils under a photo-centric ideal. But I couldn't help wondering, as we looked at the rest of the very staged and beautiful photo-artifact pieces, wouldn't a camera hurtling through downtown Montreal, or the coral reefs of Aruba taking undirected snapshots be more like a fossil?

(photo of opening ceremony fireworks)

The Crystal
Words like 'lofty' and 'soaring' come to mind. I believe the space is designed to promote reflective thought. But words like 'intimate', 'peeking', and 'glimpse' also come to mind. There are beautiful shafts of natural light filtering onto new shiny structure and original stone. Viewing through the levels is intentionally partially obstructed and therefore intriguing.

Surprising Stairs
The Driscoll Stair of Wonder caught us delightfully off guard. We went down the flight from the fourth to third, and a giant whimsical wall of antique toy soldiers greeted us. Around the next flight, beautiful insects, glass paperweights and seashells glittered. The next, birds with extravagant plumage, Victorian glass finger bowls, and jars of small animals in formaldehyde. The final stair to the basement featured mammal weaponry; narwhal tusks, antlers of all kinds...
The whole stairway was a happy surprise.

Over the next few months, the ROM will continue to unveil more & more. (Trilobites & invertebrates in 2009!) I'm loving it.

(Both images above are credited to the Royal Ontario Museum website.)

But sadly, no trilobites...

Antarctic 'treasure trove' found, reported by Rebecca Morelle, BBC News

This story has some incredible pics of lifeforms no one knew were down there. What else lurks in the depths? And when will an ocean-going creature be named after Cthulhu? Follow the above link and check out the cephalopod pic.

Chances are it's not going to be trilobites. They did become extinct approximately 275 million years ago, so even a coelacanth-style, living-fossil comeback is not likely. But it would be nice. (Peace out, Richard Fortey.)