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. 

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite © to Glendon Mellow
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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. 

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
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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.

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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".

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Science Online 2010: Art & Science intro

At the upcoming ScienceOnline2010 in January, I will be on hand again to lead a session discussing art & science, this time working alongside Felice Frankel. I thought I would do as last year, and put up some of the things I'm thinking about for this year's session in advance, so whether or not you will be attending, you can take part in this discussion. I don't presume to speak for Felice here, although after a wonderful phone call a few weeks ago, I think it's safe to say we'll be leading the discussion and not heatedly debating.

To follow this series of posts, click the "scio10art" label below.
(I will also be doing a workshop about digital painting with a tablet - for more on that, look for posts labelled with "scio10tablet".)

Let's get started.

From the wiki, "
How has our vocabulary of metaphors changed in the wake of scientific inquiry and visualization? This year, let’s take a trip through metaphors in science-based art and discuss how visual representations can enhance understanding, inspire wonder in science and the tension along the Accuracy-Artistic Divide."

Last year we discussed art, science, the two cultures, and I identified what I feel are various types of science-art. I also fretted about art being parasitic on scientific discovery, and could only identify a few instances where art propelled research.

This year, I'd like to focus on artistic metaphors in science imagery.

From The Free Dictionary, metaphors are: "
A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison...One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol...."

Visual metaphors are just that, symbols of one thing representing another, making a comparison, usually of their similarities. They have a rich history in art. The following example isn't necessarily related to science-images, but I feel it will be instructive about typical metaphor in fine art painting. This is one of my favourite paintings, alternatively known as Art or The Sphinx or The Caresses, by Fernand Khnopff, a Belgian Symbolist who painted this in 1896. To use this as one representative example, we see here a variety of metaphors. The artist is cheek to cheek with his muse, a rather androgynous, perhaps feminine version of himself (Khnopff favoured strong jawlines on the women he painted). They are alone in a landscape, alone with their thoughts, and seem to be communing. The artist gazes outward at the world, and the muse has closed eyes and a Mona Lisa-inspired smile, a typical Symbolist expression denoting "looking inward at the soul". The exotic cheetah stripes on the Sphinx also shows the wildness of the artist's thoughts.

Most of the metaphors I have just described were likely intended by Khnopff. In our contemporary view, one criticism we may employ is that many of the Symbolists portrayed the men as hero-poets in thrall to not-quite-human women, portraying their anxiety at turn of the century European culture.

It's one example, but The Sphinx begins to show us how many visual metaphors can be packed into a simple painting with two figures.

Next post: an overview of science art & imagery, categorizing them by type of metaphor.

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Art Monday: unfinished business

Running out of ideas is never something I worry about. The feeling of having no time is something that has started to obsess me lately. Balancing home, freelancing, blog and day-job feels wobbly. I'm happy and I'm scared of losing ground.

A few pieces of unfinished artwork, below. I hope to complete or start each of these anew.

Why do I worry about getting each of these ideas down before a day comes when I am no longer? How many echoes of that statement reverberate hollowly through forgotten history?
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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.

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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. 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.