Retrospectacle: "making of" retrospective

Shelley Batts of Retrospectacle and Steve Higgins of Omnibrain will be closing up their blogs, and merging into one metabrainy blog. Both are neuroscience students, and are part of the ScienceBlog network.

Readers of The Flying Trilobite may recall that I was elated (frantically excited, honoured, scraping & bowing) that Shelley had asked me to design a new blog banner for her last year. It is still featured in rotation with a banner by Carl Buell, scientific illustrator par excellence.

Sometime this weekend, Steve and Shelley will be announcing the new blog title, which they threw open to their many readers in the form of a contest. I contacted Shelley when I read the news, and I may be once again contributing a banner. Here's hoping! Carl Buell has offered again as well, and Steve has some quirky banners of his own on Omnibrain.

So, since this may be the last weekend of Retrospectacle, I thought I would post here the process I went through to come up with the banner. This was already featured as a post on Shelley's blog, but I thought I would import it here, for my old & new readers. Hey, it's almost like an insight into my heavily-caffeinated brain. From September 24, 2007.

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Step 1. Thought about wing, an ear, and started with the Valkyrie type image. Thought about how cool it would be if Shelley was leading a gang with multiple-species, parrot-wing helmeted scientist-warriors.

Step 2. Drew a wing out in water-soluble pencil crayons, fudged the wing colours to bring in the red of an African Grey's tail. Worried about purist owners of African greys slamming the heresy.

Step 3. Copied a photo of Shelley from her blog, heightened the contrast, and clipped the sketch from step 2 onto it. Shelley mentioned making it dark, (my favourite) and I threw a black background on it. Also hand-drew a 2 minute version with blue around it too embarrassing to see the light of day.

Step 4. This is where I stay up late, drinking coffee, listening to fast gothy electronic music like Jakalope. Used my favorite tools, 0.3mm lead pencil on vellum-finish bristol. Used Shelley's face for the Valkyrie, since Retrospectacle is personal. I am really happy with how this drawing turned out. I like the Valkyrie-type idea. They were strong mythical female warriors in an age dominated by men. The wings also suggest Nike or Athena to me, for Victory & Wisdom. Scanned image in, printed it out onto canvas-paper so I can paint it without harming the original drawing.

Step 5. After painting on top of a couple of versions, I had trouble with the pale face and shadowing away from the ear. I decide to see what it would look like if I invert the whole thing. Showed it to good friends who will criticise me if I am on the wrong track. More coffee & fast electronic beats.

Step 6. Painted the ear & wing in oils, scanned it, tried a few concepts. This symmetrical one seemed too busy and impersonal. Played with various levels of cropping to see if the whole face was more important than the feather details.

Step 7. The final product. I picked this one since the face is up close which seems more intimate. Added effects using Photoshop to give it depth and draw the eye from the image on the left to the title on the right. Used font named 'Kartika' and put a spiral for the 'O' to reference the cochlea. Finished all the coffee in the house.


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I wish Shelley and Steve all the best on their new adventure in brainy blogging. 'Can't wait for the new title! I've got some ideas already.