Sketching ageless distortions

Illustrating a fossil skeleton correctly and clearly is an enticing paleoart puzzle. It takes deep knowledge of morphology, anatomy, and taxonomy.

Sketching the fossils as they are is inviting yourself into their mystery and grandeur. The agelessness and distortions of deep time, understandable only as math and not experience.

I love sketching fossils as they appear, distortions and all. A little part of the mystery.

Sketch of the smaller Stenopterygius quadriscissus. This fossil is 180 million years old, early Jurassic. I curved the tail to fit on the page.

Sketch of the smaller Stenopterygius quadriscissus. This fossil is 180 million years old, early Jurassic. I curved the tail to fit on the page.

Recently, illustrators Liz Butler and Pat Butler invited me to join them for an afternoon of sketching at the ROM. Fantastic to meet them in person. Make sure you check out their work.

@liz_lagomorph on Twitter, Instagram, site

@phbutler on Instagram, site

Dilophosaurus Ink at 45

I turned 45 recently, and it was the right time to finally get a tattoo I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Here it is, and a few thoughts about what it means to me.

My new tattoo. Not fully healed yet in this pic, but pretty close. Dilophosaurus Cyclist Fossil.

Where it started

Paleontology-author, science communicator and friend Riley Black asked me to design a series of tattoos a few years ago, based on the Morrison Formation predators: Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus and Torvosaurus.

Riley was quote specific about wanting the skeletons in the death pose: some fossils are found in a distinct arched-back pose, most likely due to their spine being close to the surface of their skin, and drying out and tightening after death. I played with a couple of variations of black line designs, and we settled on an outline of the spine, ribs, and tail, and silhouettes of the skull and limbs. I added some distressed and broken bits, and even some hidden shapes of states where Riley has lived on one of them, thinking that even if someone copies the tattoo, it will remain specifically theirs.


I’ve always loved Dilophosaurus, ever since a childhood dinosaur book showed one sprinting and turning toward some fast-moving lizard prey. My childhood was in the late 70’s and 80’s, and Jurassic Park’s velociraptors hadn’t hit mainstream popularity yet. Most books focused on Tyrannosaurus, and one book I had, also showed the big bulky Gorgosaurus and Tarbosaurus. But here was this illustrated paperback, The MacMillan Book of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Creatures with an illustration of Dilophosaurus by John Hamberger.

It had crests! It was fast! It looked more nimble than the big guys. It blew me away. It was something I hadn’t imagined before.

I sketched out the design using ArtRage 5, my favourite digital painting program, and used photos of two specimens for reference.

Work-in-progress in ArtRage. Almost every layer is visible in this mess. Started with rough composition in pale blue, added green on another layer to correct some of the flow, and sketched it in. You can see the early version has a more complicated and delicate gear behind the skull than the final design below - I wanted a bulkier gear so the image would be clearer.

My final Dilophosaurus Cyclist fossil design. © Glendon Mellow, shareable under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA.

As an adult, the other aspect of Dilophosaurus that appeals to me is that the holotype specimen shows signs of injuries and healing. It was bashed around a lot during its life, and still kept going. That feels like a significant metaphor for myself at turning age 45. The last few years have been both joyous, thanks to my family, and tough economically and professionally.


I’ve written before about cycling - taking Nucala for my lifelong severe asthma has changed my main mode of transportation into a serious pursuit. It’s a fantastic way to out-ride stress, and I’m in danger of becoming a MAMIL.

So I needed to put some cycling bits in the design. Highlighted below are parts of a chain, gear and derailleur.

The chain, gear and derailleur highlighted in acid green.

Getting inked

One of my regrets with my previous tattoos is not staying in touch with the artists who did the work inking my designs.

So this time I wanted that to be different. I know a few tattoo artists in person, and in my head there was no question I wanted German Shible to ink this tattoo. Watching his Instagram and traditional and neo-trad style over the last few years, I had absolute confidence in him, and he delivered.

Gentle hand, gentle voice and wicked designs. Find him at @germanshible on Twitter and Instagram. German works at Passage Tattoos.

I mentioned to German that I’d love if he could keep some of the sketchiness of my lines, and he agreed that would work. I’m so thrilled German did this tattoo. It means so much to me to have an artist I admire do this work.

Freshly inked!

This tattoo needed to be on my “cycling leg” - typically when you’re cycling and wearing pants, you roll up your right pants on your right calf so the hem doesn’t get caught in the chain. Best spot to show it off. Plus, I’ve liked how black line tattoos on legs looked ever since playing Fable II years ago, lol.

Getting a tattoo is a real confidence booster. Thank you German!

Damn it looks good.

See more of my scienceink tattoo designs at

Tattoo prep underway

Appointment is booked, deposit down, and prep for my next tattoo is underway.  

Basic idea: dilophosaurus fossil with bicycle parts. Black line. Similar to my other dinosaur and ancient reptile tattoo designs. 


Skull study. I need to lengthen the weird notched part of the nose tip and jaw. 


Death pose.  


Simple bicycle forms to consider.


Playing with alternate designs. 

More on this as it goes. Appointment booked for my 45th birthday. 

15 Years

Happy 15th Anniversary, Michelle. 


You enchant, fascinate, and thrill me. That rainy October evening 15 years ago has led us to so many incredible memories. I hope we have many more. 

Scenic commute home

Caught the sky displaying a great colour down at Sugar Beach.  

Caught the sky displaying a great colour down at Sugar Beach.  


18km instead of the usual 4km. Perfect warm autumn weather for a bike ride. 

Rosedale Valley Rd > Don Valley > Martin Goodman Trail along the waterfront > up Bathurst St to home. My new Jamis bike is fantastic. 


Alien Spy Drone


Alien spy drone for #inktoberday9. I had a picture in my head and tried to draw it. 

i wanted to draw something we wouldn’t understand by looking at it. The concept would probably work better if I had it floating in a Norman Rockwell-esque Main Street kind of scene. Kid walking his dog, store owner sweeping out front and here’s this weird thing.  


Ankylosaur-Minotaur - Inktober 7


Ankylosaur-Minotaur is bleating and wishes to box you. Clean fight, no scute-knuckles.  

This is #Inktober number 7. Sketched a terrible little feathered dinosaur standing on its own tail and a Charizard Mega X (for my son) before doing this fine fellow.