October 26, 2013 | 1
Several years ago I painted a half-human, half-trilobite hybrid in the style of a Minotaur. I’ve always been fascinated with the blended animals and humans from mythology (that’s where my Flying Trilobite handle comes from) and trying out ideas with organisms that scientific discovery has revealed to us, everything from dinosaurs to microbes.
I took that painting, and later started a small comic book style experiment about Trilobite Boy. I’m still playing with and developing the character. As with most illustrators, I find there’s something wonderful about seeing a project you are close to with new eyes: using Instagram filters on an old painting to see it in a new way;watercolour-paper print versus backlit tablet; on a poster in the city or framed at home. It allows you to remove yourself a bit from the work, and reflect.
Well, thanks to one of my favourite illustrators, I may have a new obsession.
I have been a fan of comic, cartoonist and children’s book illustrator Eric Orchard since I discovered his blog about 6 or 7 years ago. I’ve also had the very good fortune to meet him when he moved here to Toronto, and our families are now close friends.
Most illustrators are also huge art fans and have extensive collections of prints and original art. I knew I wanted to ask Eric to draw or paint a piece for me for a while, and I finally treated myself and asked for his rendition of Trilobite Boy.
When it arrived, my jaw hit the floor.
This is perhaps my first experience with the purchaser’s “high”; the excitement and satisfaction of owning a piece of art that speaks to me. Seeing my creation reflected back at me through the prism of Eric Orchard’s artistry is wonderful and strange. It feels as though I just experienced something through someone else’s eyes. And I have.
Gawd, I love this painting!
A recent study, still under peer review, by Professor Semir Zeki, chair in neuroaesthetics at University College London demonstrated some of the different ways that looking at art affects the brain. Professor Zeki explains,
“What we found is when you look at art – whether it is a landscape, a still life, an abstract or a portrait – there is strong activity in that part of the brain related to pleasure.
“We put people in a scanner and showed them a series of paintings every ten seconds. We then measured the change in blood flow in one part of the brain.
“The reaction was immediate. What we found was the increase in blood flow was in proportion to how much the painting was liked.
“The blood flow increased for a beautiful painting just as it increases when you look at somebody you love. It tells us art induces a feel good sensation direct to the brain.”
Dozens of people with little or average knowledge of fine art history looked at artwork ranging from Neoclassical landscapes (“pretty) to Renaissance parable and narrative paintings (“ugly”) and their brains’ blood flow in the medial orbitofrontal cortex was measured using MRI.
The findings sound interesting: what I’d love to know is how an average citizen looking at Constable differs from the way I look at my own character when painted by a illustrator I admire. Bust that scanner, I reckon.
Where to find Eric Orchard:
Secrets of the Universe: Past, Present, FutureX