Caffeine tattoo commission for Scicurious

A few months back, blogger Scicurious of Neurotopia asked me about designing a tattoo to celebrate her PhD. Sci was specific on the subject matter: caffeine! She knew she wanted something one-of-a-kind, black-line, and possibly tribal.

Most of the commissions I've ever had have been through people online as opposed to people in my own community. While this is the first pseudonym-anonymous blogger I've worked for, I wasn't concerned. Besides the fact we've met in person, you can tell a lot of things about bloggers from their writing, and the way they're held in the blogging community. I expected this commission to be a lot of fun - and it was.

The designs went through a lot of versions. Here's a look at some of them. Click to enlarge.

These are from the first few sketches. I called the top one 'droplets' and the bottom one 'scanner' : For a design like this one below, I was basically trying out a variety of lines and shapes to see if any struck a chord with Scicurious: I went for something a bit Tim Burton-esque here, and ended up with something with a hint of Celtic knotwork. I really like this type of line. But maybe for a different molecule. The development of the droplets idea. A more jewellery-like design. Playing with the bonds and chemicals. On many of these, I had the chemical diagrams a bit off, but Sci knows her stuff, and made revisions easy. Droplets develops more. Sci asks for the nitrogens to resemble "n's" since there's a hint of an "o" in the oxygens. The nitrogens were tough to pin down! To make sure we weren't missing something from an earlier iteration, I sent Scicurious this batch of nitrogen designs, with some new ones on the right. By this point, we'd pretty much pinned down the rest of the tattoo, and I'd switched from pencil to Photoshop to make the swapping of the nitrogens easier. The doodles on the left are done with my Intuos 3 tablet in Photoshop. I was feeling stuck, and the loose drawings helped me get back into the design. Just throwing things at it, to see what worked. I sent the image to Sci and whaddaya know? She loved one of the doodles! And here's the final! Congratulations on your PhD, Dr. Scicurious! And thanks for a terrific collaboration-commission!

(Links to the final at Scicurious's Neurotopia and Carl Zimmer's Science Tattoo Emporium.)

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Interested in your own one-of-a-kind science tattoo?
Send me an email at theflyingtrilobite [at] gmail [dot] com.

Send GrrlScientist to Antarctica!

I want to send GrrlScientist to Antarctica. I'll explain via Rossetti and Audubon.

These days, art critique always contains caveats and perhaps ironic winks with the reader about visual opportunities missed by the artist.

Years ago, I inherited a great number of art books from my great-grandmother. After reading through leather-bound Ruskin, and books a hundred years old, I found a true gem.

A book about Dante Gabriel Rossetti that it is written free of irony, free of cynicism. It is a critique and a review, but one that found the Pre-Raphaelite artist worthy of unabashed, uninhibited praise. It was a medicine I had not known I needed. I re-read it fro
m time to time to remind myself to aim for that high altitude of inspiration in another human being.

Since reading this book I have wished to find another review of art -any art- that speaks so favourably it evokes a thirst to experience the art through the critic's eyes.

When Open Laboratory 2008 came out, I was stunned by one contribution in particular. In that anthology of blog posts is one by GrrlScientist about John James Audubon, the ornithologist and painter, the only scientific illustrator found in most fine art survey texts. The blog post, entitled, Audubon's Aviary: Portraits of Endangered Species rings with well-deserved reverence and love for the artwork. Grrl laments the loss of the birds now gone that Audubon lovingly captured full of inquisitive life. It's a blog post I find moving and inspiring and that has changed how I look at Audubon and scientific illustration.

Quark Expeditions is currently holding a contest to send a blogger to Antarctica for the month of February, 2010. GrrlScientist is strongly in the top few but she needs more votes. She's in third place as I write this out of 575 registered bloggers. You can find Grrl under the name Devorah Bennu, and here is her essay. It only takes a moment to register, and there are no follow-up ads or anything.

I voted for Devorah and want to see her win not just because she is a scientist-blogger who can write accurately and with some wit. I voted for Devorah Bennu because she is the grrl who is not afraid to write about the beauty she finds in Antarctica. She's worth reading, she's inspiring, and that's what a trip to the cold continent deserves. Ferocious inspiration.


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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 **

Guilty Planet stirs it up

Have you ever had a sublime and awe-shaking moment in the face of the natural world? How about with art? Were they equivalent?

Head over to the new blog Guilty Planet and discuss urbanization and art, and nature's supremacy at instilling awe. What a terrific and thought-provoking discussion Jennifer Jacquet has begun.

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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 ###

Artwork Mondays: Of Two Minds banner

In the new year, Shelley Batts formerly of the Scienceblog Retrospectacle prepared to launch a new blog, with the inimitable Steve Higgins of Omni Brain. The new blog is Of Two Minds.

Doing blog banner art is something I immensely enjoy; the collaboration in illustrating someone else's visual voice can lead to unexpected places, and in each instance, I learn more about what I am capable of as an artist.

Since I never posted my "Making of" the Of Two Minds banner, here it is.

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Immediately I began to think about the Thalia/Melopomene tragedy/comedy masks. I whipped off a quick sketch, and played with some colours. At this stage it's all amorphous in my head, like the strange scroll-things on the masks: what're those?

Next, using some photos from their Facebook pages, I found what I needed: a picture of one author looking up, and the other down. I don't often use a projector, but in this case I did just to rough in their facial structures. A drawing like this can take about 20 minutes, being careful not to rock the easel.
Using some other photo references of Shelley and Steve, I polished off the portrait stage. As I've mentioned, using a projector sometimes felt like cheating. But after 20 minutes of using the projector for the rough above, I spent about 2 more hours without the projector finishing the portraits.

I like beginning with a portrait; it feels like a classic, solid foundation on which to start. Since blogs are so personal, it's an appropriate way to illustrate the blog in some instances.

Not wanting to ruin my original drawing, I scanned it into Photoshop, changed the pencil lines to blue, and kept drawing in some more elements to the piece.
Perhaps I should've realised here that the brains were a little lopsided and that this may not work. What I liked about it though, was the idea that our personas are masks, and we all wear a face in front of our brains.

Here's my set up, and the beginning of painting the background. You can see I've once again scanned the image, and changed all the pencil tones to a burnt sienna colour, so it will provide a warmer undertone for the oil paint on top.
I went for an unusual colour combination: orange, green and grey. It's not something the eye sees every day, so I hoped it worked. Here is the painting, as it was scanned before using Photoshop.
Sometimes, the artist just mucks up the paint, despite all the planning and careful drawing. I wasn't happy with the faces, and so using Photoshop, I tinted the original drawings, and overlayed the pencil faces over the painted ones. You can also see an early attempt at the text, with shadows hovering above the blurred Photoshop-extended banner. The brains are removed, giving it a cleaner feel. Scienceblog banners are pretty long and narrow, and the brains were perhaps not as pretty as they should have been.
At this point, I think the faces became a little too far-removed from being masks. Shelley and Steve were concerned. We began discussing something more mask like. It's good to know how far the client would like to push changes, so in the middle of the night, feeling all macabre listening to Juno Reactor and Delerium, I drew this:
Okay, too far. Shelley pitched the idea of going darker, and extending the floating banner to the right, and further into the colour spectrum. I hesitated a bit at the last suggestion: painting a spectrum on black is a sort-of shortcut to being eye-catching. I had to use my brightest paints, including real cadmium red. If you are going to go for it, you gotta go for it.

How to extend an image on a canvas-paper painted to the edge? Simple. One of the amazing things about a technology like Photoshop for even a mainly traditional oil painter like myself, is flexibility.

I pulled out my oil paints, and simply painted the new elements on a new sheet of canvas-paper, and it looked like this: Much better! Using a bit of an emboss tool, I added a gradation-shadow to the faces. The background was digitally painted black, and a bit of the blur and smudge tools helped bring the red and orange paint together - even though in reality they exist on two separate sheets of canvas.

Shelley had an awesome idea for the font, Blackadder ITC. It is based on Guy Fawkes handwriting after three days of torture. Goes nicely with the masks. The masks themselves were re-positioned, and a little clone tool digitally filled in where the real paint was now missing.

The final piece!

Click to enlarge, or better yet, visit Of Two Minds.

Special thanks to Shelley Batts and Steve Higgins, and to Len of Monster by Mail, who shares blog banner duty with yours truly.

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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.

Myers, Dawkins and Popcorn...& LOLTrilobites!

It's rare that I post simply to direct my readers to another blog. I like to make sure I have something original and hopefully insightful to say.

If you need a good laugh though, you have to check these out.

The brief background: Noted biologists and atheists PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins were both interviewed for a movie featuring Ben Stein, under false pretenses. The movie is called Expelled, and both professors were told it would be about the false claims of creationists. In fact it seems to be shaping up to be a propaganda film trying to persuade the public that pseudo-scientists who support the theological idea of intelligent design (ick) are being 'expelled' from scientific academia by mean old biologists who understand Darwin's theory of natural selection. Got all that? Good. Ready for an I-can't-breathe laugh? Good.

Read PZ Myers' post from inside the mall where he went to finally see the movie.

You're back? Excellent. Want more?

Brian Switek over at Laelaps (one of my new favourite places) has commentary on the Expelled story and....LOLTrilobites! I'll be chuckling myself to sleep tonight.

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.

Albino Squirrel of Trinity-Bellwoods

The last few years a tiny surprise has hopped and bobbed its jaunty tail through Trinity-Bellwoods Park here in Toronto's downtown. My wife saw this resident for the first time last week, and this morning I was lucky enough to snap a couple of photos.
Trinity-Bellwoods is not the largest or most wooded park in Toronto, but I pass through it to and from work every day. The little albino squirrel, going about its squirrely business with its grey and black squirrelerific friends, is something of a local celebrity. Nearby boutiques on the hipster-filled Queen St. West scene will occasionally have messages in their window, or on their sidewalk signs. One store even had a plush one in the window.
This second pic is horribly blurry. I'd like to blame that on my kindness in not pursuing the squirrel too closely, as I'm sure it is followed by paparazzi hoping to catch a glimpse of a wardrobe malfunction more often than the other squirrels. But I think the picture may be blurry due to the icy ground, and the amount of coffee I had this morning. Blurred like this though, doesn't it look a bit like it's going to pelt an acorn at my head? It's eyeing me, like I'm just another shutterbug.

I love this park. Lots of "refuge-points" in the landscape, trees dotted here and there, trees that rustle in the breeze. Walking through there is one of the best parts of my day.

(For more great posts on albinism in animals, check out Zooillogix.)

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.

Blog Banner Art for Of Two Minds

Today is the launch of Shelley Batts, Steve Higgins and Pepper's new ScienceBlog, titled Of Two Minds. Last year, Shelley asked me to make a new blog banner on her old site, Retrospectacle, which you can see the steps I took in drawing and painting it, here.

These two have some crazy fun reporting about science, neuroscience, parrots, things being poked in the brain, and superheroes. Ya gotta check it out.

I am sharing blog banner duties with Len of Monster By Mail, so you may see two different ones at the moment. Click the 'refresh' button, and the page will reload and show the other banner. I contributed the one with the tragedy & comedy masks, for which I originally used Shelley and Steve's faces as a starting point. Squint your eyes all up, you'll see it.

Shelley and Steve have also made a neat little banner tab on their top bar, so you can see the previous banners they had on Retrospectacle and OmniBrain, including my 'valkyrie' banner. (Shelley is actually using my original thumbnail sketch for that banner as a tiny avatar when she posts. It was so rough and hasty, I am alternately cringing and proud by turns.) You can also see why Shelley suggested this particular font; once the final stages of the banner came together (and I sent some continuous tweaks and fiddles to it late into the night) Shelley suggested we use Blackadder ITC.

Above is a shot of the banner, and you can see it in my gallery; but it really looks much better over at Of Two Minds, so please head on over and read about x-ray vision, a pain index, and magnetic people.


I am available for commissions to do blog elements as well as portraiture, concept design, surreal paintings and scientific illustrations. After perusing The Flying Trilobite Gallery, please contact me, Glendon Mellow, by email if you are interested.

Getting out there

In my last post, I included the making of a new painting, called Darwin Took Steps. I had offered to share this artwork with the editors of The Eloquent Atheist, in part to reach a broader audience than The Flying Trilobite's alone.

The subject matter was intended to be a part of Darwin Day, and so I registered at the organizers' site along with the other participants. It's always fun to see your name on the same list as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett.

I tried to promote the piece on Facebook, changed my profile picture to one of the sketches, and made comments on the walls of a few groups, pointing the way to The Eloquent Atheist to aid in traffic there. Hopefully they'll have me back again some time.

By the end of the day on February twelfth, my Darwin painting had been re-posted on two other websites - in Spain! It was done without my direct permission, but it was done respecting the Creative Commons licence: in this case, it was cited as being a painting by me, it was not altered, and no one was profiting by it. I was and still am pretty excited!

On first site, the painting was posted by one of the DeviantArt contributors I have corresponded with, who goes by the name of Koolasuchus. In case you're not familiar with the "suchus" part, it is Latin for crocodile, and Koolasuchus often includes drawings of these in their DeviantArt gallery.

With the second site, It turns out that Koolasuchus also is a regular contributor to an aggregate site, also in Spanish, called Evolucionarios. The site looks great. Unfortunately the only other language I am fluent in is ASL, with a smattering of French from my Canadian upbringing.

So, Darwin Took Steps did what I set out for it to do; it put me out there. My thanks to all those parties who liked the piece, commented, re-posted it or checked it out! Next year is the two hundredth anniversary of Darwin's birth, so I'll have to start cooking up something grand to go alongside this year's painting.

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If you've read this far in such a self-indulgent post, allow me to tease you with another piece I am working on that should be up soon. Normally, I feel it is bad form to mention a piece of art for a contract until it is completed and approved. However, since Shelley Batts' confirmed it over at A Blog Around the Clock already, I figure it's cool.

I am almost finished a piece for Shelley Batts of Retrospectacle and Steve Higgins of Omnibrain. These two neuroscience students and ScienceBloggers have teamed up to create a new blog, to be called Of Two Minds, and launching March 1st. I will be doing one of the rotating banners again, and I'm pretty psyched.

It's a good start to 2008; two more painting contacts for others. And March 7th will be my one year blogiversary, so you know I'm cooking up a special illustration to mark the day that the flying trilobite army burst onto the scene!

more than scribbles in the margin?

The Flying Trilobite's 1st Blog Award!

The headmistress of The Free Range Academy has bestowed upon The Flying Trilobite's humble cephalon the E for Excellent Blog Award!

This is a pay-it-forward meme of sorts, as well as an award. In accepting it, it needs to also be granted to ten blogs chosen by the recipient. This is tough: I'm adding to my blogroll all the time.

I'd love to grant it back to The Free Range Academy if I could. If you love reading about parenting, science and the myriad experiences growing up in Ontario offers to kids, you gotta check this site out. Leslie's Blog is another vibrant community drawn to Leslie Hawes, artist & personality. However, since Leslie granted the award to The Free Range Academy, I will leave them off my list of ten. Presenting in no particular order...

I solemnly swear to grant the E for Excellent Blog Award to:

1. Fresh Brainz - For a blog about neuroscience and rationality to be so eclectic and wild and just plain bonkers, I need to grant this award to where my brain goes for a freakout.

2. Life Before Death - Reflective, sensible, insightful, witty and recently, frequent photos of the bees the author keeps.

3. Traumador the Tyrannosaur - written from the point of view of a Canadian ex-patriot living in New Zealand. Oh and he's an extra-small tyrannosaur. There needs to be a movie with videogame tie-in. And action figures.

4. Retrospectacle - I know Shelley Batts' blog is ending/spawning soon. What is it about neuroscience students that makes them so well-informed about weird things that really matter? Needs another award.

5. Sentient Developments - serious, thoughtful, and about nothing less than humanity's future, this blog is strange and vital.

6. Jesse Graham's Art - J. Graham's art is playful and tiptoes up behind you with the kind of drawings you wish you'd thought of. A talent unfettered by narrative.

7. Metamagician & the Hellfire Club - smart, concise, and the type of writing that needs no pictures. For freethinkers, science-types and Russell Blackford's groupies.

8. Olduvai George - The art of Carl Buell, no longer being updated regularly. I don't care; this blog is the gateway I rush through there to see what new stuff materializing in Carl's Flickr account. Real extinct artiodactyls make the concept of a unicorn look just lazy.

9. Zooillogix - captions so funny it actually makes me snort espresso out my nose. And it's about zoology.

10. Page 3.14 - I never know what I'm going to find here. And I really look forward to finding it. SEED magazine's editors know how to interview and uncover the things you didn't know you wanted to know.

Please enjoy the awards! Mine will sit on my mantle, next to my trilobite fossils and favourite paint brush I had dipped in gold. (It doesn't spread the paint as well as it once did, but -man alive!- it can keep it's tip pointy...)