Trilobite Boy Rocks Out

Click here to see a bigger version.   ©  Glendon Mellow 2010.

Trilobite Boy Rocks Out
by Glendon Mellow
Oil on beechwood panel, 2010.
This original oil painting was commissioned by Karen Burke as a birthday present for Mike Haubrich of Quiche Moraine. 

Featuring my trilobite-human hybrid character
Trilobite Boy putting on a killer show.  This was totally fun to do, and I took a departure from some of my usual techniques: a "making of" post will be up soon. I've submitted this painting to the Art Evolved Pop Culture gallery, launching later today.

Hope you had a great birthday Mike! 

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence
Since this was a commissioned work, please do not copy without my permission. 


Trilobite Boy character sketches

Here's something I started working on tonight using the digital painting program ArtRage. This is a screenshot of the program. Click to enlarge.

I've been planning on doing some paintings with the character on the left, now dubbed Trilobite Boy.  He's based off of the painting I did called Life as a Trilobite (below).

The girl on the right is wearing the anomalocarid dress.  I've never actually finished a painting of that dress:  I usually get frustrated or start working on other things. Here's some earlier versions, none of which were completed.  The circle on her chest would be filled with a leechy, knife-like circular teeth pattern: 

I just want to play with these characters, and have fun. I have a bunch of rough sketches in my Moleskine of Trilobite Boy in various scenarios, so expect to see more of him over the next little while.  (And for Daniel and Peter, one will be under a bright blue sky with bold colours!)

More to come!  I'm working on some more characters. She needs a pet.

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

Print Shop

I write like

This morning I analyzed my writing style using the "I Write Like" site that's so popular at the moment. Everyone's doing it.  I threw in my blog post about making The Last Refuge for analysis.  

I write like
Arthur C. Clarke
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

"Any sufficiently advanced flying trilobite is indistinguishable from awesome." 

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

Print Shop

SciBarCamp: can art benefit science?

This post is meant as a summation and continuation of the session I suggested at SciBarCamp last weekend. Please feel free to send me an email or make a comment regarding any corrections, attributions or new thoughts based on the talk. For those who read The Flying Trilobite and were not at SciBarCamp, please jump right in. You can read tweets about the art session and other sessions here.

(Not all ideas below are my own, and I may not be quoting directly, but grabbing the idea from my quickly scribbled notes. I'll attribute where I can, and feel free to correct in the comments)
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Notes on the session:

->Tried to lay a quick ground rule that although I'm sure we agree any human activity requiring skill can be described as being performed "artfully", we should be talking about things usually associated with art: visual image-making, performance, music. Not the art of being a chef, "she's like an artist preparing those cell cultures" or stuff like that.

->Posed 4 questions to kick things off.
1) Can art direct research?
2) How can art advance the basics of science? Will there be written a Harry Potter-sized success about science?
3) For the scientists in the room - have you invited artists into your lab or research space?
4) Does art obfuscate understanding? Does it do more benefit than harm?

->Previous to this session, I had only heard of one specific instance of art directing an area of research (see comments here), which I related to our group. Artist Paul Walde opened the topic wider, and pointed out that that's what science fiction does all the time. Communication devices. Google maps from Snow Crash. Space elevators.

->Walde: By imagining things we've never seen, and explaining them, we form a sort of hypothesis similar to scientific hypothesis. By imagining, understanding.

-> Reflecting now, I wonder whether biology from science fiction will come into its own some time this century, the way technology already has.

->Jim Ruxton mentioned artist Ned Kahn's environmental work, making people stop and think about the breeze blowing down a street they might use every day. Calling attention to scientific principles using beauty to make people question.

->Joel Sachs described Feynman's drawings of gravity and its behaviours as an example of art clarifying though not literally being accurate. Laurence Middleton mentioned a horse's kidney looking more like what we think of as a kidney than our own. Art can clarify by reducing, especially in medical illustration.

->Artist Paul Walde and biomedical simulator David Steinman debated the importance of accuracy in science-art.
Walde states that many scientific experiments are themselves fictions; removing conditions that may affect the data is unreal.
If it's inaccurate to the data, scientists will not necessarily want you in their lab, Steinman argues. Experiements are 1st order approximations, art further removed.
Which is why scientists have such bad P.R.! artist/science cheerleader Star Spider laughs.

-> Are art and science two cultures? This came up. Surprisingly when I compare it to the consensus at the ScienceOnline09 session, the answer here at SciBarCamp was yes, they are driven to be that way in popular culture now. They aim for different things.
Steinman points out that unlike previous centuries in science, scientists now have little training to do their own drawings from nature, the night sky or microscope lens.
Middleton suggests it is because there are fewer generalists now, and people are forced to specialize as much as possible.
I wonder if that's why so many people switch careers at different points in their life?

->I mentioned that although there are exceptions,
in fine arts there's sometimes a "Frankenstein" idea of science. Eva Amsen sent tweets, and had a brief exchange with Beagle Projecteer Karen James during the session about the session! (This what I love about Twitter.)

->Almost invisibly, science and especially chemical technology drive painting. Consider the story of the colour mauve, which only became available to painters in the late 1800's. The 1890's Symbolists are sometimes referred to as painting in the "Mauve 90's". Many red paints fade quickly, and are known in painting as "fugitive colours". Modern reds made from quinacradone, are now widely in use because the do not suffer from this problem.
Sachs joked he wanted to commission a painting called "Fugitive Colour" painted entirely in this pigments, I guess so he could watch it fade to a stain.

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A great session everyone! Lots to think about. I felt my brain stretch. Head here for some more photos.

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

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Artwork Mondays: Art is Easy

Art is easy.

Last week I lamented it is hard. And although finding the time for art is difficult, I am never at a loss for ideas. That said, collaboration often takes me places I never thought I'd go.

So on this Artwork Monday, I'd like to try a challenge:

For the first person to comment with a really unusual idea, I will try to come up with at least a sketch and post it by editing this post by midnight tonight. I'll check back on the comment section in about 12 hours (6pm eastern standard).

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Edit: Okay, so maybe the previous Artwork Monday post was correct. Finding time for art is hard. I'm a few hours late, and the sketch is a little too simple and uninspired.

Rudi and Traumador's ideas deserve a little more time devoted to them, don't you think? I had some technical difficulties with another project I was working on last night, and well, it gobbled up my evening. Perhaps later in the week I'll post a couple of other pieces I've been working on behind the scenes for a while now.

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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.

Hyperferrule - a painting device

Brushes are much like pencils, in that they are a simple and effective design, and they have changed little in conception since they were first made.

Most brushes consist of a handle, usually wood or plastic, followed by the metal ferrule, and finally the bristles or hairs that contact with the surface. Artist-scribes in ancient Egypt used reeds, and spread apart the fibers to lend flexibility, binding the brush at the point of of the split fibers to make a ferrule that way. There have been some variations of design, constrained by local materials and ideas.

Sometimes I toy with a sci-fi novel that warps and moulds inside my head. One of the ideas I drew for it was this piece, called The Hyperferrule. Paint tubes surround the forearm, using vacuum-suction and a tiny valve to release paint. The crinkled, discarded tubes are popped out. Microservomotors control the teeny robotic arms while delivering the paint into the brush-hairs. Directions: Make a fist, hold forearm parallel to the painted surface, and concentrate on the image in your mind.

Some artists enjoy the process of making art more than the result. For better or worse, I am not in that category. I enjoy painting some of the time, but much of it is a struggle, (I've talked about my
Ugly Phase before), and much of that struggle is against time. I have lots of ideas, but it takes me time to put them down onto paper or canvas. I'd love a wired-up ferrule that could take the image in my head, and manipulate multiple brushes to quickly scatter and refine the paint. Happy accidents would still occur, as the image in my head and the image on the canvas would grow together, and my internal concept image would refine with the picture. The same device could be used by hyper-adept trauma surgeons.

Perhaps after the transhumanist movement finishes making everyone immortal, idle body modification like cyborg paintbrushes will have their day. (Thanks for George Dvorsky over at Sentient Developments for introducing me to the modern concept of transhumanism...radical and hopeful and strange, like the future. )

Of course, to lend the artist that tragic air, the Hyperferrule would not be able to be removed. I find the image above a bit steampunk-ish in my execution, which I think comes from drawing organic rather than industrial forms most of the time.

Okay, now Paleo-Future can bookmark this, wait 40 years, and laugh at me after all art takes place inside Matrix-style virtual galleries. Or wait 3000 years for us to use nebulae gases to make portraits of Carl Sagan across the night sky.

Uh-oh. Speculation is running rampant. I'd better finish packing for my trip to Montreal.

Life Drawing - Female

While literally naval-gazing, one of the interesting things I've been mulling over is that human bodies are made up of a multitude of creatures, working symbiotically together.

This idea has fascinated me for a long time, and was the impetus for my Symbiosis painting, recently featured on The Eloquent Atheist. Only recently did I come across an explanation for where the microflora largely come from.

Most of the symbiotic bacteria are transferred to infants from the mother, mainly during birth, and from the breast-feeding and foodstuffs to follow. I thought this topic would be an interesting counterpoint to these life drawings I did of a model at the Toronto School of Art last spring. Less so simply because the model was female; moreso because of every move, every pose we all make every day, we are a multitude of organisms working together, resting together and just being together.

While reading Daniel Dennett's Breaking The Spell, he makes another arresting point. Not only do you have an entire ecosystem of bacteria in your body, on your skin, "your body is composed of perhaps a hundred trillion cells, and nine out of ten of them are not human cells! (p.86)" The important point is that they are not transmitted genetically.

Some people say we are really all alone trapped inside our own minds and bodies. We seldom think of what organisms we share our bodies with, and that our whole lives, the ecosystem living within us and on us, is still evolving.

Bacteria can evolve at a prodigious rate; and for men, we carry them around, populations evolving as we subject their environments to espresso and fine cheeses, beer and pizza, until our whole system collapses. For women, it goes further. Women pass on their evolved-since-birth microflora to their children, when they give birth. As Dennett points out (p.86 again), since it is not a genetic inheritance, and so a surrogate-mother still gives her infant a large portion of its future health during the minutes of birth.

In an interesting turn in one of my favourite sci-fi series, a few characters in David Brin's Heaven's Reach , part of the Uplift Storm trilogy, find themselves becoming symbiotically entangled not only with other similar, oxygen-breathing aliens, but also with the mysterious hydrogen breathers that live inside gas giants. All of them are swallowed up, to transcend into being part of a new organism known as 'Mother'.

There are more interesting things to learn about this subject. Check out the Wikipedia entry, and more at ScienceBlogs.

Amazing. No person is an island; but we are all ecosystems.

Life Drawing - Male

Nothing is as interesting to human beings as looking in a mirror, or looking at each other. Humans evolved on the African savannah and as a species became very good at some specific things.

We can hurl medium-sized rocks and sticks a medium distance. We can run and throw at the same time, better than any other animal.

We are excellent at recognising patterns, to the point of finding frequent, imaginative false-positives.

We can instantly see the mistakes or novelties in depictions of the human form.

A strange thing has happened while reading two different books at the same time. I was reading the hard-sci-fi novel about global warming, Fifty Degrees Below, by Kim Stanley Robinson, and I am still enjoying philosopher Daniel Dennett 's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, and both of these books are mentioning Acheulean hand-axes.

I had never heard of these before, and they are a fascinating part of our prehistoric heritage, throughout the Old World continents, really, that I am quite upset this was never mentioned in school. I mean, they were in use for almost a solid million years! Some mysteries still elude us as to their use, but they were obviously important enough to be so abundant, and in my book, by age 12, should have been mentioned, studied and discussed.

One of my favourite characters that I have read in years, is Frank Vanderwal in K.S. Robinson's Fifty Degrees Below. He finds out about these hand axes from some target-frisbee-throwing freegans, and decides it is a nice neolithic way to get exercise.

After a nearly a million years of making and teaching about Acheulean hand-axes to generation after generation, might there be a propensity for making and caring for tools, and feeling satisfied when using them well that is reinforced neurologically? Do we have a receptor that releases a trickle of endorphins when tool use is successful? As an artist, I feel it seems likely. However, that is anecdotal, and not worth as much as evidence pursued, double-blind trials followed, and theories confirmed.

In the spirit of our forebears, those deadly upright artisans, this post contains images of life drawings I did last spring, where the model was holding a long pole throughout the poses.