Thursday, 25 August 2011

Symbiartic spreading its wings


Since scientific illustrator Kalliopi Monoyios and I launched Symbiartic: the art of science and the science of art on the Scientific American Blog Network last month, we've been trying to challenge ourselves and our readers with our posts.

Science-inspired art is everywhere these days, and there's so much of and so many fascinating issues about the technology, about the ethics of scientific accuracy in art, and about the people behind it, I'm so excited we're bringing these issues and images to a larger audience. And I think it's working: more artists than ever before are contacting us by email, Twitter, G+ and Facebook, and I'm really happy with the traffic on Symbiartic.

In case your one of my regular Flying Trilobite readers and you haven't checked out Symbiartic yet, here's a quick rundown of all the posts on Symbiartic to date, in blog-style reverse chronology:

Alone in the blogiverse: where are all the space-art bloggers? - Glendon Mellow.

Tagging Science Art - Glendon Mellow. A look at science-based street art for Scientific American's Cities event.

Tools change, view is the same - Glendon Mellow.

Science-art Scumble #22 - Glendon Mellow. I moved these popular posts rounding up links on science-art from The Flying Trilobite to Scientific American, and began featuring a pic of the week.

How bad images rob science (and good ones don't) - Kalliopi Monoyios.

What does a scientific glassblower make? - Kalliopi Monoyios.  I swear, this could be a whole new career in steampunk genres.

Science-art Scumble #21 - Paleo Controversy Edition - Glendon Mellow.

We Blew a Bubble for a Man Named Edison - Kalliopi Monoyios.

The Chemistry of Oil Painting - Glendon Mellow.

Science-art Scumble #20 - Glendon Mellow.

Meet the Future of Photography - Kalliopi Monoyios.

To © is Human - Glendon Mellow.

The DNA Hall of Shame - Kalliopi Monoyios.

Science-art Scumble - Glendon Mellow. The first Scumble not on Flying Trilobite.

Magic Beans - Glendon Mellow.

The Dudley Bug - Glendon Mellow.

5 Reasons Your Camera Won't Steal My Job - Kalliopi Monoyios.

Science-art: don't call it 'art' - Glendon Mellow

Visual beings: meet Symbiartic - Kalliopi Monoyios. Our introductory post!

Check it out, leave comments, let us know about your science-art! 

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Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Fish Stands for Surrealism



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Monday, 22 August 2011

Avimimus sketch



Had some fun with textures and feathers on this Avimimus sketch earlier in the summer.

Thought I'd post it now, since there's an interesting discussion started by Craig Dylke over at ART Evolved about dinosaur feathers and accuracy in science art and film.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
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New!  Find me on Symbiartic, the art+science blog on the new Scientific American Blog Network!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

A painting's "aura": repost


This was originally posted in October 2008. With over 600 posts on The Flying Trilobite now, I've been re-posting a few from time to time. Incidentally, the artwork featured here is available for purchase in a variety of card and print formats.

Reprinting today because originals versus prints has been on my mind again lately. Make sure to check the original post for the insightful comments there. 
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Today, I'd like to touch on how the artist feels about their own work, and its "aura", and how that differs for the Fine Artist versus the Illustrator. And no, I haven't lost my skeptical, rational mind.


The idea of a painting's aura is one I remember being presented without judgment by the prof in university. The concept has stayed with me.It's the notion that original paintings have an "aura" that emanates off the paint & canvas surface. Almost as though the original painting has a soul, or a living presence you sense when looking at it. It adds to their specialness. You have not truly experienced the painting until you've seen it in person. Our teachers tried to impart that this is mainly a macho, modernist idea.





In Fine Art, the modernist period was something fairly specific. To sum it up all too briefly, modernism in 
painting was "paintings with the subject matter of paint". You weren't painting a still-life of an apple: you were painting red paint. As an example, think of something by Rothko, or Pollock. Giant humongous canvases, covered usually in a couple of dominating colours. There was a lot of baggage that went along with this type of work, including that they should not ideally be viewed as reproductions.
Post-modernism in the fine art world, was (again, gross oversimplification) about deconstructing those modernist ideals of pure paint and pure sculpture, and of overthrowing the unique. A post-modern piece of art could contain both a painting and sculpture adjacent asone piece. Take that, modernist!
To look at one example, modernist Charles Demuth created the painting Figure Five in Gold, (1928). Classic Modernism, interplay of colour over a familiar, somewhat random symbol (5) we all know. It's distinct, and certainly was in '28.

Post-modern painter Robert Indiana created this painting,The Figure Five, (1963) as a way of overthrowing the originality of Demuth's Five. He disrupted the original by Demuth's claim to importance by making it one of many instead of unique. I see it as kind of a fine art world version of "screw you".


So paintings may have an aura you can only feel in the presence of the actual artwork, not a reproduction? Not likely. This smacks of vague New Age-y feelings-as-fact. I wondered about this idea for a long time. An exhibit, entitled 7 Florentine Heads came to the Art Gallery of Ontario, and I remember there was to be a Da Vinci drawing included. When I saw it, I anticipated the moment. I frickin' love Da Vinci, and his interest in science as well as hissfumato technique. I looked at each drawing in turn. Looked at one, read the placard, and saw it was his. I got an involuntary shiver down my back. Was it the aura?

Even back then in my proto-skeptical days, I knew there wasn't. I only felt it's "specialness" after reading who it was by. Looking only at the drawing, I saw another example of excellent work by a Renaissance artist. Context mattered to the aura, it seemed.
Which brings me to addressing the photos of posters peppered throughout this post. Is one of the differences between an illustrator and a fine artist -at least, a modernist one- how they feel about a painting's uniqueness and supremacy of being the original? 

Recently, the artist (and good friend of mine) Christopher Zenga took his artwork online for the first time. And when discussing how the first couple of posts about his Zombears looked glowing off of the computer screen, Chris remarked to me, that he just sat back and stared at them; he was entranced by his own artwork reproduced in a different medium. 

Chris is right. I was elated for months looking at my paintings and drawings online, and knowing others might see something of value there. Do I have a fondness for the originals? Of course. Some are hanging in my living room. And yet there is an undeniable thrill to walk down the streets of Toronto and see a poster up with artwork I laboured over.
Starting with a discussion on the nature of art over at Laelaps, author of Renaissance Oaf Sean Craven has had a lot of excellent points about whether how to judge if a piece of artwork can be deemed "art".

I would put forth there is a difference between art created for the purpose of Illustration, and Fine Art, and a small part of that difference is in how the artist feels toward reproductions. The tingly feeling is enhanced when the image leaps forth to new media and many eyeballs.

The photos throughout this post were taken downtown at the University of Toronto campus, and are of my posterfor the October 2008 lecture by PZ Myers presented by the Centre for Inquiry Ontario


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Saturday, 6 August 2011

Going Pro: free dinosaur art?


The ART Evolved blog I loosely administrate for (the heavy work being done by Craig Dylke, Peter Bond and Mo Hassan) has been doing extremely well the past year, with more and more talented people contributing not just to the themed galleries, but also to some fascinating posts.

It's what we wanted for the site: artists and researchers and dino fans enjoying the art and thoughts about creating it.  Spin off blog posts (like this one) are becoming more common as people choose long-form comments on their own site about happenings at the ART Evolved hub.

Recently, a student researcher approached ART Evolved with ideas for a contest for artwork through the site's loose network of members and contributors, the prize being that the unpaid work would appear in a presentation in front of some paleontology luminaries. Already our decision to post something about the contest for contributors has met some justified criticism.

I commented the following on ART Evolved, but thought I would post it again here for my slightly different readership.

All excellent comments Jack, and with the AE admin crew, we discussed these very issues before we decided to go ahead and publish the contest information anyways. 
There can some times be benefits to working for free for artists starting out. There I said it. I don't like it but its true. My first professional gig for an online client was high-profile and a poor student and I did the work for free and it led to more work. I still don't make enough to pay all my bills though even though I now generally charge Guild prices. That's reality: scientists do not usually have a lot of funds, and even funds earmarked for promotion of the research seldom go into artwork - something I hope high-profile sites like Art Evolved and Symbiartic will help.
Muddy Colors has excellent comments on this here and here. You may also wish to consult the Should I Work For Free infographic. No I'm not kidding, it's smarter than its sarcasm looks. 
This is not to say that it is right to do free work in this instance for Mr. Persons. And here is where I should emphasize that though I'm on the ART Evolved admin team, these are my own opinions and I likely don't speak for everyone. 
I don't want to lose people in research like Scott Persons as an ally. Science-artists of all kinds -scientific illustrators, animators, fine artists, cartoonists, graphic designers, infographic artists, amateurs- need scientists to be engaged with our work. We also have a duty to educate people who may hire us on best practices. Often when approached by a client, I give them a full break-down of my process, and typical fees and whether I am deviating up or down from anything typical. I keep them in the loop throughout the process with sketches and so on. 
When Craig first let the other admins (Peter, Mo and myself) know about Scott's request, I was bluntly, unhappy with it. The last thing in the world I want ART Evolved to become is a clearinghouse for free art for the science community. I want our talented members to get paid. 
But I didn't want to alienate a request like Scott's, though it was naive (understandably so if he has not worked with illustrators before - this is not a slight against Scott). 
Ultimately, each artist affiliated with or who reads this site can make up their own mind on whether they should do this type of work for free. I hope each of them thinks it through, and decides whether its right for them.And I hope through comments like yours Jack, Scott and other researchers learn useful information for future projects.
What do artists think? What do researchers using art think?

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Monday, 1 August 2011

Camping in Rockwood

Last week we packed up and went camping at a place that sounds like it's named after a map in the Fable game series. And it didn't disappoint. No Balverines though.

The Rockwood Conservation Area is near Guelph, Ontario, and near enough to civilisation you can hear trains in the night, which I enjoy -it's a bit eerie and a bit romantic. This was our first camping trip with our baby, now 7 months old, and Michelle and I were joined by our intrepid ready-for-anything nephew.  It rained a lot, but I managed to make espresso over the fire, we found caves, enjoyed the Cambrian coral limestone formations, found the ruins of a mill from the 1800's and discovered glacial potholes being broken with generational slowness by the cedar forest.

I always feel like I'm committing an artistic sin when I go on a trip like this, sketchbook in hand, and don't take the time to do any sketching. What can I say: we were gone two nights and spending time with the family hiking and puttering around the campsite took priority. So I took lots of reference photos. And I will say ten Hail Artemsia Gentileschis and draw something difficult like a foot in foreshortening to atone. 

Enough talk. Pictures. 


Thistle in the rain. 
Cedars along the rocky shore. 

Entrance to the Harris Mill, established in 1885 .

Sitting with the sleepy monkey after a long hike which he snoozed his way through.

Our nephew exploring the ruins, looking for good spots to jump off of.

The Mill in the distance. A lot of goldfinches had baths in the stream. 
Entrance to some caves. These went in really deep, and we could see chambers beyond. 

Mist roiled out of the caves into the humid Ontario air. 


Me and my boy sitting under the blue tarp in the rain. 
Espresso brewing over the fire. 



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