Two Arthropods Meet - a teeny commission challenge

After meeting the tireless Karyn Traphagen at ScienceOnline11 in January, she asked me for an unusual commissioned painting: something on slate, no larger than 1.5"x2".

It was more difficult than I had thought.  I have often painted creatures and details that small -I knew I had the right brushes- but I had never tried to fit a whole composition in something that small.

The challenge was on.

Apparently I drink too much coffee to reliably use the camera's up-close feature.
The piece languished on my desk for a little while, unfinished, until I came up with the idea of adding the ladybug, an image that I've done in a similar way before in pencil. I added a bit of gold-coloured paint (actually titanium-coated mica flakes) to the ladybug to give it a shimmer.

Here's the final piece:

Thanks Karyn!
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Interested? I have a couple of larger, similar pieces painted on slate for sale and I remain available for commissions.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Flying Trilobites invade Loving Chasmosaurs

That blog title sounds wrong. 

Today David Orr of Love in the Time of the Chasmosaurs has an interview with me on his blog.  Check it out!  David's interviewing style is multi-layered.  We discussed ScienceOnline11, the future of the internet (!) and where I stand on scientific illustration.

David has a whole series of these interviews I'm proud to be a part of, including with Brian Switek, Nobu Tamura, Mark Witton and more. You can find them all at the interview label

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Scumble #13

"A painting technique in which semi-opaque or thin opaque colors are loosely brushed over an underpainted area so that patches of the color beneath show through." 
From The Artist's Handbook, by Ray Smith.  

Highlighting recent posts I found interesting, provocative, or otherwise caught my eye from the Science Artists Feed, and other sources. It's getting hard to keep up - there's so much science-based artwork to see!

So, brew yourself a cup of joe, put your feet up and enjoy.

Click here for earlier Scumbles.

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First, a round-up of some posts that came after the science-art session at ScienceOnline in January (many posts took place before!):
ScienceOnline11: Science-Art session now online! - The Flying Trilobite. Watch the session here.

Hear me make word sounds with my mouth and The Science-Art Discussion at ScienceOnline - Love in the Time of the Chasmosaurs.

The Merging of Art and Science As A Communication Tool - The Rogue Neuron

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Now, your regularly scheduled Scumble:

Winehound - Curious Art Lab.

The Year's Best Science and Engineering Visualizations - Science and the Arts.  "To illustrate is to enlighten" - I like that.

Sketchbook - John Hawks Weblog.  A stunning piece by John.  I love it.

Color me beautiful: Wellcome Award Winners - Kat Austen, CultureLab.

Foreleg of a male diving beetle - An Eye for Science

Bloodway Map Infographic - Street Anatomy

Helping Teachers turn Observers into Naturalists - ArtPlantae Today

Drawn series beasts revealed! - A Curious Bestiary.

The Microscopic Landscapes of Bernardo Cesare - Geology in Art.

Video Game Talk - Gurney Journey.

Immaterials: Light painting wi-fi - YZO

Art/Artist + Science/Scientist - drip | david's really interesting pages.

Iris portraits - Suren Manvelyan - Idegensövet Blog

Help out Phylopic and Making silhouettes for Phylopic - Craig Dylke, Art Evolved

Trilobabe - Cancer Fund - FrostDrake. Fans of my Trilobite Boy might enjoy this unrelated creation by artist Becky Gould.

Prelude to Infinity: Cchord - The Episiarch.

Waterbears - Banvivirie. This tardigrade painting by illustrator Rachel Caauwe is dramatic and amazing.

A Sad Brain Cell - Immy. Lots of fun neuron art by this artist.

Barnard's Swordswallower - Abiogenisis.  This fictional creature looks alien, plausible and has an excellent description.

If I had to pick a winning image for this Scumble it would be:
STS-133: Discovery's Final Flight - Coherent Lighthouse. Amazing. Damn, I'm gonna miss the shuttle program.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Repost: Gaps in the artistic record

Anthropometry - ©  Glendon Mellow 2010
Occasionally any artist or illustrator will question their direction and portfolio.  Here's a post that originally appeared in March 2009 where I had a look at myself. Has anything changed?

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A brief list of art I'm missing to be considered the following type of artist:

Scientific Illustrator
-Cut away view of fish or of the Earth's crust with little labels
-Skeletal outline for clarity
-Heavily airbrushed, smooth view of pink & blue lungs
-Colourful landscape of organisms that would normally be hiding from each other

Pseudo-scientific Illustrator
-pulsating food morsel/medicine/sport drink going down gridded simplified human body to pulsate stronger in stomach
-simple diagram of human body with labels of animal names or words like "virtue" and "3rd eye"
-elegant watercolours of St. John's Wort and echinacea
-illustration with pyramids and lots of glittery silver

Paleo-Fantasy/SF Illustrator
-Leopard-bikini wearing woman riding mutant theropod with horns
-Innocent waif girl with clunky robot friend
-Herbivore & carnivore dinosaurs looking up in shock at UFO
-Blue shadowy background with PVC-wearing woman carrying two ridiculously huge and complicated guns

Fine Artist
-Object made from my own body or my trash
-Mash-up of multiple impermanent materials: painting on a cake left to go moldy and filmed for YouTube
-Painting "referencing" another artist's work, while allegedly subverting it
-Painting something vague that could be better explained in an op-ed column

Where do I fit, categorically? At ScienceOnline09, [and again for ScienceOnline2011], I used 5 categories about science-art that differ from these.

Art in awe of science sums it up enough.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

ScienceOnline11 - Science-Art session now online!

The ScienceOnline11 session Science-Art: The Burgeoning Fields of Niche Artwork Aimed at Scientific Disciplines is now online here!  Or you can watch it below.

ScienceOnline encourages an unconference format - no lecture-lecture-lecture-questions here.  Instead, we present some images, some background pose a few questions, and then engage the participants. Comments are appearing on the ScienceOnline site already.  The audio is a bit off the first few seconds and then quickly sounds really clear.

Topics covered include a wide range:
  • How do artists online decide when to charge and when to allow use for free?
  • The changing face of neandertals with society's sense of liberalism.
  • Can art influence research?
  • How important is accuracy?
  • Why do scientists create art?
  • Why do artists engage science?  And more. 


Science-Art H264 Widescreen 960x540 from Smartley-Dunn on Vimeo.

I'd like to thank my co-moderators John Hawks and David Orr again for making the session so engaging and insightful, as well as our in-room and online participants.  And especially I'd like to thank the video editors and technicians on hand that day. Bravo Smartley-Dunn.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Charlotte Observer Blog Spotlight

Today on the Charlotte Observer Science & Technology Blog Spotlight, you can find an interview by Tyler Dukes with me, done while I was attending Science Online 2011.  It's called, Blending art and science with a little fantasy.

For more media interviews and podcasts about my own artwork and the science-art scene at large, you can see my Media page. I've done a number of interviews lately, and it's really opened my eyes to new facets of the science-art impact.  The questions are varied and intelligent.  Tyler, like Desiree, Mike and Adrian and the others, had done his homework and looked at the usefulness of science-art in an interesting way. 

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Visual art leading research - it's not happening.

Can the production of and inspiration by visual art lead to new areas of scientific research?
It's not happening. At least not often, and not in any organized sense.

Anthropometry, 2009 © Glendon Mellow. Ink on latex gloves.

A couple of years ago while attending ScienceOnline09, I spoke to the group about my not-yet-fully-formed ideas on this matter. I said that visual art ("art", for the sake of brevity in this post) was largely parasitic on science.  It takes a lot of cues and inspiration from science, but seldom do sculpture, painting, drawing, collage or even photography give anything back.  

Some in the room were not having any of this: they cited the inspiration of film and movies, and of children's book illustrations as being catalytic to becoming interested in science in the first place.  Scientific illustration aside - and leaving aside the grand inspiration from film, which is not the type of visual art I am referring to- the field of science-art may contribute heavily to the cloud of inspiring the next generation of scientists, but it doesn't shine down, illuminating new areas of research. 

At the time, I put out a sort of open call to anyone who could think of specific examples of art leading to a new field of research.  

I've really only received one example, from paleontologist Andy Farke: 
In fact, it was art that led me down a very productive avenue of my own research. I had seen depiction after depiction of horned dinosaurs fighting each other. . .(a rendering by Bill Parsons sticks out in my mind, in particular). . .and this got me thinking. What evidence actually was there for such behavior? Could Triceratops even physically lock horns? I used scaled sculptures of Triceratops skulls (artwork in their own right) to test this idea. . .the results were published in Palaeontologia Electronica. This in turn has led to other projects (all ultimately inspired by those artistic restorations).  (Comment made here)

Since then, there have been other examples from literature, from film again, from science-fiction novels, but not visual art. And thanks to everyone who has provided these examples; it has people's minds ticking, and I appreciate that.  I so-o-o appreciate that.

I've briefly raised the issue at each ScienceOnline I've moderated a session at ('09, '10 and recently #scio11) and each time at least a few people tell me they can't let go of the idea. It's intriguing isn't it?  

But perhaps some of the fault is mine. You see, in my recent post for Scientific American's Guest Blog I criticized the idea underlying a symposium discussing "Art as a Way of Knowing".  I said that art is more a Way of Exploring. It doesn't provide new knowledge, only creates new, imaginative, metaphorical links between areas of knowledge.  And that really isn't the same as creating new knowledge, it's more a kind of visual noise, albeit a provocative, fun and challenging type of noise. 

I put wings on trilobites in my paintings. That isn't new knowledge, but it raises questions we can explore. Trilobites were aquatic arthropods that lived before wings.  Could they have evolved them? Does it recall the hoax of the Fiji Mermaid? If animals had a Creator, why are the forms only explainable through evolution? Bat wings on trilobites seem more Creator-ish.

Just because you can put two things together in a composition, doesn't mean you've created new knowledge, any more than saying "tension along the Afghanistan/Michigan border" has created new information in a sentence.

Trilobitlepidoptology, © Glendon Mellow 2008. Pencil on bristol.

Let me jump tracks for a moment.  I devour atheist blogs, and love reading about the tension between science, truth, atheism and religion.  And something that comes up a lot from both theists and atheist accommodationists is the idea that religions can provide us with special knowledge, different from that of science. Most atheists, myself include, decry this idea, it's kind of silly.  Any real knowledge found in religious scripture is either blindingly obvious from the human experience or else there by cultural artifact or accident.  

Yet so many religious sites (looks askance at BioLogos) would like to be able to claim to provide Knowledge as Important as that of science.

And so I have to ask:  am I guilty of doing the same thing?  In my quest to find and perhaps one day, create visual art that leads to new areas of scientific research, perhaps I am overestimating art as a stimulus tool. A stimulus tool able to pique working researchers to drop what they're doing and pursue a notion they had while browsing some science-art.

It may be that science-art will remain a curiosity, an homage, fanfic tributes on canvas. Contributing to lay people's curiosity is a noble thing, but I still harbour hopes that art inspired by science will one day rise to become a catalyst generator for research.  Maybe we artists don't try hard enough yet.

I could write my feelings about science-art's potential off as science-envy. Showing art is about hearing stories on what thoughts and feelings the art generates.  And hearing stories about the thoughts and feelings my art generates amongst scientists and science enthusiasts nurtures selfish noble hope that I'm somehow contributing.  

Slate fragments, © Glendon Mellow 2010.  Oil on slate.
But I want to find a way to contribute more than fragments of ideas, more than droplets to the science-inspiration cloud.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Scumble #10


"A painting technique in which semi-opaque or thin opaque colors are loosely brushed over an underpainted area so that patches of the color beneath show through." 
From The Artist's Handbook, by Ray Smith.  

A weekly highlight of some of posts I found interesting, most provocative, or otherwise caught my eye from the Science Artists Feed, and other sources. Sit back, have a latte with cinnamon (no foam) and enjoy.

Click here for earlier Scumbles.

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Imagine that: Images of nature shaping science, by Kat Austen, CultureL
ab. Yay!  This sounds excellent.

Art and Science, host Desiree Schell, Skeptically Speaking podcast, interviews with Glendon Mellow, Jenna Marie Griffith and Lauren Redniss.

Science, Love, and Radium, Clever Girl.  Jenn Hall reviews Lauren Redniss's new graphic novel.

Dinos Vs. Han Solo - Art Evolved.  It is what you think. Art by Jerry D. Harris Luke Campbell. (Thanks for catching my goof, ScottE!

Whoah. Few places on earth feel so otherworldly, An Eye for Science.

Canada geese design featured on gold coin!, News from the Studio.

Jessica Harrison is our new Hero, Hybrids of Art and Science.

ScienceOnline special: A Tale of Two Diablos, Love in the Time of the Chasmosaurs and Illustrating Dinosaurs: What's the difference?, drip.  Two important posts where a researcher defends his scientific illustrator from plagiarism, and bloggers show it just isn't so.

My Tyrrell Talk, Weapon of Mass Imagination.

Pareidolia, Illusions & Art, The Art of a Carbon-Based Lifeform.

5 steps to proper image use on blogs - a #scio11 tutorial, The Flying Trilobite.

ScienceOnline special: Gwawinapterus, Love in the Time of the Chasmosaurs.

The Great Big ScienceOnline Wrap-up, Love in the Time of the Chasmosaurs. David discusses the session about science-art.

Animal Art Online Exhibit, Heather Ward Wildlife Art.  Penguins!

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Skeptically Speaking Podcast #94 - Art and Science

In case you missed last week's Skeptically Speaking Podcast with host Desiree Schell:

This week, it’s an hour on the intersection between science and the creative arts. We’ll speak to Lauren Redniss, author and illustrator of Radioactive, a visual narrative about the work, life and love of Marie and Pierre Curie. Art historian Jenna Marie Griffith explains the historical influence of science on the visual arts. And we’re joined by Glendon Mellow, painter, illustrator, and author of the blog The Flying Trilobite, to discuss the tension between creativity and scientific accuracy.

My thanks to producer K.O. Myers and host Desiree Schell for the interview.  A lot of fun, and great questions - one of them is edited out, and Desiree asked a question I was stumped to answer. Total brain freeze. The interview is also a good overview of the topics I raised at ScienceOnline11, though you'll have to wait for the video to see how David Orr, John Hawks and I handled even more than that.

After I speak, the segments with Jenna Marie Griffith and Lauren Redniss are fascinating. 

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow