Dimetrodon Sphinx, painted on my iPhone

Over the past few years, I've done more versions of this character and image than I can count. It's an exercise in poor background environment planning. These are no different. 

My idea for the Dimetrodon Sphinx goes back quite a ways, but at its root has to do with my love for blending mythology and prehistoric creatures, much like the chimaeric flying trilobites. If the Sphinx is an archetype of ancient tricks and wisdom, I thought a predatory dimetrodon is sufficiently old and strange enough to create a half-human with. I have some further ideas for her, and she'll be appearing in the ebook story I've started working on. 

So here are a couple of versions of my Dimetrodon Sphinx drawing painted using Sketch Club on my iPhone 4; square ones were put through Instagram afterward. 

Pleased with the sky in this one. 

Out of the four of them, I like this one best.  

See other versions here

Here's the drawing I started from. Should have taken the time on the iPhone to highlight her lizardy feet and human hands some more. 

- - - - - - - -

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

Print Shop

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

Dimetrodon-Sphinx - a continuing wip

Still playing with digitally colouring this image of a Dimetrodon Sphinx.  It's become an idle work to spend a few minutes on when I need to take a break from more pressing projects. 

I think I'd like to use her as a character in the Trilobite Boy story. That's coming along, but I'm starting to think it will be more of an illustrated story than full-on comic with my schedule. 

Most recent dabble at the top, older descending. Click to enlarge. 

- - - - - - - - 

Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
Print Shop

Art Monday: Dimetrodon Sphinx wip

This work in progress is one I'm using as a warm-up while working on contracts. Click to enlarge the screen-capture. 

©  Glendon Mellow 2011

I'm getting better at painting while holding the baby.  With analog oils, it would be impossible - brush cleaning, mixing, squeezing tubes- but digital works just fine. I really appreciate the weight of my Wacom Intuos 3 tablet right now, it stays put on the desk.

There's something about ArtRage I'm still learning to overcome: it's way too easy to get lost in too much texture, without letting the eye breathe.  In analog ("real") oil painting, some linseed on a fan brush, and I'd just blend it all away.  In ArtRage 2.5, I really haven't found an effective way to do this yet. Perhaps lots of thinner on a pale colour, low opacity? Using the palette knife tool sometimes comes close to what I want.

I wonder if that type of blending is easier in ArtRage 3.0.  Can't wait to get my hands on that program.

- - - - - - - - 

Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

WIP and Family-Life Balance

Some new digital character works-in-progress for the Trilobite Boy story.  These are desktop screenshots of the wips in ArtRage.  Click to enlarge.

Anomalocarid Girl Rising © Glendon Mellow 2011

Trilobite Boy meets Anomalocarid Girl © Glendon Mellow 2011

Dimetrodon Sphinx © Glendon Mellow 2011

All of the above are stand-alone shots, maybe issue covers for the Trilobite Boy story I'd like to work on throughout 2011.  So far, the actual story pages remain in thumbnail form in my sketchbook.  With a 5-week old baby in the house, I'm happy to jump from image to image for the moment for Trilobite Boy. The exception of course are the couple of paying contracts I have to do at the moment.

Finding a work and life balance while at home with a newborn is challenging, but doable. So far, it's hard to know which nap is going to turn into a 3 or 4 hour stretch where I can get some artwork done in amongst the usual household stuff, so I'm trying to do what I can in little bits.  The downside is that between a seasonal cold and the erratic hours, I haven't been as focused as I like to be.

My hours are also fascinatingly messed up. Last night, I worked on adapting a couple of images for a magazine publication until 5 a.m. after the little guy work up and feel back asleep between 2 and 3 a.m. MIchelle and I are working out how things run and both trying to relieve each other when exhaustion sets in.  We're tracking his sleep cycle a bit now to see if we can predict what the little guy may do.

I will say this though - he's just over a month old and I wouldn't trade spending that first month home with my wife and son for anything.  Every day, Calvin is awesome. He's healthy, easy-going and fascinated by everything.

Here's a picture of Calvin! 
Calvin learning to discuss the difference between "is" and "ought".

 - - - - - - - - 

Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Artwork Mondays: two by two all twisted

Today, Artwork Monday is a bit different. Prepare for a rant.

I don't normally comment negatively on another artists' work. And indeed, I think the technical work displayed below is superb. Suuuu-perb! It's the subject matter that raises my ire.

My wife and I came across this tremendous sand sculpture last week at the Canadian National Exhibition, or The Ex, as we Torontonians refer to it.

Cutesy Noah's Ark. Mythological extinction for the kiddies.

As you can see, all the animals, two-by-two in their little happy smiles, are getting away from the Abrahamic god's cataclysmic flood. Alas, the poor unicorns are struggling to keep up, and we know what happened to them don't we? Did they make it?

Don't know? Read the sign:

So it doesn't matter how hard they paddle, for as author Timothy Findley showed, they are not wanted on the voyage.

I get it, I do. The Noah fable is easy for kids. The young toddlers can stretch their neurons a little, counting to the number two, matching everyone up, and trying to remember and pronounce each pair of animals. Some will be easy: dog! Some will be harder, and you must chuckle to yourself with pride when a baby attempts rhinoceros or hippopotamus. Noah always looks like Santa, white beard and a smile while feeding and petting the animals.

It's got plenty of play value for a tiny human brain to learn from. Often, they're even puzzles as well as toys!

It's the focus of the Noah's Ark story that bothers me. A myth where some ancient god drowns the world of sinners and only saves a few individuals from the animal kingdom. Okay fine, let's assume in this tale that the humans all deserved it, or something. (Even the babies?) Just leave that notion over there on the table for a moment.

How to explain the wholesale slaughter, nay, extinction of all the other land animals on Earth? Umm, "yay, the filthy unicorns are all dead?" Don't tell the Church of You-Know-Who. Take that, lemur population! Take that, wallabies! Take that, star-nosed moles! Yes my, what a cheering story.

It's so twisted. The kids are encouraged to focus on the survivors, as if the flood is a natural disaster, and Noah's elite are snug in their berths. But the fable says this was done by an intelligent entity. It's not a cataclysm, it's callous pre-meditated murder. The millions and millions of organisms (billions with the insects) that drown are just left out of focus. The fable even reinforces the whole two-by-two-hetero-only stereotype.

Richard Dawkins' critics often claim he is a big meanie, and I suspect they are thinking of this quote:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all
fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a
vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic-cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist,
infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomanical,
sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p31.

If you ask me, he left out "extinction-generator" or "species-cidal" or something of the like.

Extinctions have fascinated me since I was a kid. The images painted by so many paleo-illustrators always had an eerie, otherworldly look to them: yellow clouds, sauropod heads looking up at the light on the horizon. Or dark cobalt skies, rife with clouds and lightning, as a few shrew-like mammals hide in the shelter of a predator's skeleton. I remember trying to stretch my mind into the expanse of years, and imagine how could the turtles and crocodiles survive?

When I drew Lord Extinction Yawns, I began with the two-by-two. I was not raised in any particular religion, and my brain had not really dawned into atheism yet. You can see the pair of trilobites I started with, though I later differentiated them with a very unlikely tail.

My idea behind this drawing was to put an allegorical face on the concept of extinction, much like many Symbolist paintings put a face on Death. I needed Extinction to be stranger, more primal, and powerful. When he idly yawned, that's when the spirits of extinct animals can swirl out of his maw of perfect teeth. Extinction is ugly. My apologies to the artist of such talent who created the Ark above, but I don't take the story that lightly.

Next time you need to buy a toddler some cutesy animal toys, why not a little rainforest set, or if you really need to hand them some scary extinction toys, be old-fashioned and grab some plastic prehistory. And then explain how some dinosaurs' descendants took flight, and marvel at the splendor of the history of the animal kingdom taking wing in a child's mind.

- -
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. Except, I ain't taking credit for the well-crafted sand sculpture. I hope next year the Ex has a Permian extinction in sand instead.

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.
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.

Look over there!

Considering the Dimtrodon-Sphinx subject of my inaugural Artwork Mondays series, I had to share this.

Artist Zachary Miller is throwing out one of life's biggest "why?" questions, that only science, and not religion can answer: Why did some organisms develop sails? Head on over to When Pigs Fly Returns and throw in your speculative 2 cents.

While you're there, make sure to check out Zach's magnificent dragon sculptures and keen scientific descriptions, as well as his reconstructed tyrannosaur skull!
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.

Artwork Mondays: Graphite Camouflage

Graphite is an amazing substance.

Chemically speaking, it is similar to diamond. Pencils have never been made of lead, but graphite was once known as "white lead", or plumbago which is Latin for lead ore, so that's why we have the modern confusion. There's some interesting, but not fully comprehensive stuff on good ol' Wikipedia about pencils and the magical material, graphite. Little "sheets" of it rub off and onto the paper with friction, leaving smudgeable marks. Graphite will not harm humans. Unless you do that annoying flicking the pencil between all your fingers, in which case it's game on.

The last couple of Artwork Mondays, I've been revamping an old concept of mine for a Dimtrodon Sphinx (at right), which was a detail of another drawing.

I'm using a .3mm mechanical pencil, as well as a more standard 2mm pencil for the larger areas. Both are packing HB leads; a lot of artists like softer (think B for black) or lighter (think H for hard) leads, but I like how easy it is to get a hold of HB. It's in the middle of the spectrum, and easy to shop for. The grey piece of putty-stuff is my wonderful kneadable eraser. Kneadable erasers can be shaped to erase in any nook and cranny, and leave no little eraser bits behind on the page. Brilliant. I used the same materials on the original (above), which I tinted blue using Photoshop for the sake of whimsy.

This has been a busy week for me and I did not make a lot of progress on this piece. However, I did decide to go with a slightly different reference photo than what I started with. It's always important to try different lighting, and when I took the model photos, I took two of each pose, one with the flash, and one with natural light coming from the window behind and to the right of the model. This week, I made a decision to switch to the latter.

I was reluctant at first, since this model has an excellent back, and the flash-lit photo showed that more clearly. However, being backlit can lend the piece the lighting of a full moon, or perhaps lightning which works better at making this beautiful half-human, half-dimetrodon sphinx look like a dangerous predator.

Needing a background, I started roughing in some rocks, and a scraggly tree to the left. I may try to make the sail-fin on the back partially translucent, with the silhouette of the rocky background darkening the fin near the spine.

I'm also debating with myself about whether or not this homo-synapsid will have hair; I've begun sketching a second sail on her neck and head. The sail makes her more "other" and alien, and hair makes her more beautiful and accessible for most viewers to immediately engage in. I'm currently leaning toward hair whipping in the wind.

Although the leading theories say that dimetrodon, edaphosaurus and the much-later-on spinosaurus may have had sails for thermal-regulation, I believe they must also have been there for sexual display, much like a peacock's tail. In nature, large flamboyant features with no immediately obvious use often turn out to be the result of sexual selection pressure. If this is so, what colour or pattern would be present? Since anything I choose will be speculation, there is a lot of freedom here.

In the inspiring book, The New Dinosaurs, by Dougal Dixon, artist Philip Hood depicted a creature called a Dingum, a small hopping, fuzzy creature with a spiky frill and a sail-fin on it's back. The interesting feature the artist added, was a pattern like that of a monarch butterfly on the sail-fin. As I say, there is a lot of freedom for an artist here.

Because the synapsids like Dimetrodon are more closely related to mammals than any other modern beasties, I'm leaning toward some sort of mammalian pattern to make it interesting. Perhaps an orca? Doubtful it would need that type of camouflage, since orcas, like penguins and herring gulls have evolved dark on the dorsal so animals looking down through the water at them are less likely to see them against the depths, and vice versa when looking up at their backlit ventral side. However, that type of colouration seems exciting, even if a cheetah pattern or tiger stripes are more likely. It's just that leopard print is like, so late 90's.

Orcas, baby. I'll see if I can finish this drawing in time for Artwork Monday next week.
- -
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.

Artwork Mondays: The Right Pose

Welcome to the second Artwork Monday here at The Flying Trilobite!

Rehabilitating an older concept can be a fun endeavour. It is rare that I do not have a new idea that I want to try out, but on the few occasions it has occurred, I find the best way to inspire myself is by flipping through old sketchbooks. One of the biggest worries I think most artists share is living long enough to get all their ideas out.

Currently, I have about 8 more new concepts waiting to see fruition, but reviving this older drawing seems really appealing. I'm curious to see how much my drawing skills have matured over the past eleven years.

After the rough sketch last week, I knew part of my focus would be to show off how my life drawing abilities have matured. The model pose I used last week didn't seem satisfying though. I wanted this Sphinx to look predatory. The dimetrodon was an ancient pelycosaur that was probably the apex predator of the Permian, living just before the worst mass extinction of all time.

The Sphinx is supposed to be an ancient creature who guards secrets, and is famous for the riddle, "what walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?". An interesting and more modern riff on this riddle was in my Favourite Book of All-Time, The Stress of Her Regard, by Tim Powers. The answer had to do with the amount of atoms in carbon and silicon.

Together, the dimetrodon and sphinx appeal to me, since both are ancient creatures, and using the dimetrodon in lieu of a lion makes a good example of how re-imagining the mythological past can be enhanced by modern scientific understanding. One of the reasons I feel compelled to create at all is to use the rich visual language science affords us to look at ourselves in light of the past and of reality as we understand it to actually be.

There really is no excuse as an artist not to do research in this day and age. The internet has some generally reliable sources; libraries and bookshops are teeming with full-colour pictures; digital cameras, photocopiers and scanners abound. Sure it takes away a small but of spontaneity to do some research, but in the end, it is worth it. What you will have is a fantasy image, culled from real life, and real human bodies often move in ways your mind does not expect, especially if you've watched a lot of cartoons.

One of the best ways to do research, is to go out and photograph your own images and use those as reference. Scientific Illustrator Heather Ward, who blogs at Druantia Art has some tips.

After finding a suitable pose, I drew this image. I think it is a more dynamic pose than the one I mused with last week, and the figure turning over her shoulder will hopefully lend that predatory air, especially if the face is largely in shadow, with glittering eyes. So far, I'm not too happy with the rendition of the face, so I will likely re-work that altogether. I'm pleased with the back though, and I think the foreshortening of the arm has turned out rather well.

The next phase will be to begin joining up an appropriate dimetrodon body to this one. If you followed the Wikipedia link about dimetrodons, you'll note that there were distinct species, with markedly different sails and jaws. I won't refine this sketch any further until I see where and how the sail-fin attaches to the back of the woman above.

Thanks to everyone on the comments last week! I love the feedback.

- -

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.