Support your local bike shop.

The finished design at it will look on the shirt back.

The finished design at it will look on the shirt back.

It is an old english adage that the centre of any small community is the local pub, a hub around which much of the activities of the local people revolves. This is invariably true and in larger communities it is also true that local shops and tradespeople make a huge contribution to the life and vibrancy of a place. Now more than ever it falls upon us, particularly here in the Uk, to support these small local businesses as more and more areas fall victim to the scourge of the megastore. I’m trying to do my bit, buying bread from the baker, meat from the butcher and sundries from the local hardware store. Being an avid motorcyclist I’m also making myself a regular customer down at my local bike shop.

Bill Bunn Motorcycles, a small family business, has been in existence for about 50 years and is the epitome of what your local bike shop should be; compact, friendly and happy to handle everything from an engine rebuild to changing your oil. The guys there are always helpful, good humoured and armed with years of hard won wisdom and experience to help you keep your machine(s) on the road. They are a top team and deserve to stay in business for many years to come. Fortuitously, for me at least, it turns out that they are fans of my work, having found it via the blog last year sometime. A resulting chat, enjoyed whilst dropping the little Suzuki off for a new tyre fitting, revealed that they’re refreshing the store this year, sprucing it up a bit with fresh paint and a general sort out. So, along with some lovely old photographs they have, the guys wanted to hang some prints of my cartoons on the walls too. One should never pass up this kind of opportunity and I’ve supplied some framed prints to them with some prices if anyone might want to purchase one. They also asked about perhaps doing a design for a t-shirt based on one of the drawings so that they could get some shop shirts printed up. I said yes.

How to turn this into a vector artwork?

How to turn this into a vector artwork?

The title image to this post is the final design for the first shirt, we’re thinking of doing more if these prove popular, and will be printed on white on the back of the shirts with a shop logo on the front. I’ve never really spent much energy before working up stuff for a t-shirt print, though I have been thinking about it a lot recently, so this was a great chance to work out how to do it.

Although there are now lots of options open to anyone wanting to have some shirts printed, from simple transfers to laser cut vinyls, the one technique that still stands above the others in terms of crispness and quality is screen printing, and for that most of the printers require vector file artwork. So I needed to get from highly detailed dot shaded hand drawing to vector line art and I had no clear idea how. I knew that all the relevant software needed was sitting in front of me, I just hadn’t used it in this way before. Time to learn some new tricks and jump into the web for tips, advice and a whole host of helpful tutorials on Youtube.

Starting with a high resolution scan of the source image in Photoshop and converting it to a bitmap image, it was relatively simple to cut it out from the background and start tidying it up. What caught me by surprise was how long it would take to remove all of the dot shaded areas and then touch up the picture with erasers and brushes so that line thicknesses and detail areas were not so fine as to get lost in the subsequent tracing process in Illustrator. I admit that I had to go back and forth between the programs several times before things started to look right. Eventually I got it how I wanted it and dropped it into a layout for the final design.

Vectorised and ready.

Vectorised and ready.

The second thing that took me by surprise was the reversal process to create the artwork. Screen printing requires that the artwork, what’s to be printed, is presented in black on a white background. With this shirt the print will be white ink on a black shirt, so the artwork for the drawing needs to be reversed so that it’s the white bits that get printed and not the black bits. I hope this makes sense. The tricky bit here was making sure that when reversed the highlight areas in the normal image weren’t so small as to disappear during printing. This reversal had to be done in Photoshop before the tracing process took place but, it worked out pretty well.

The shirts are now ordered and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on one, it will be he first properly printed t-shirt I’ve ever designed, and that it in itself a really big step for me. As a result I’ve been pushing on with a couple of my own designs and I’m hoping to get those to print before too long. If they’re any good I’ll put some up in the blog shop. Watch this space.

Before I go, a quick apology for the blue copyright stuff across the images today. Like many I suffer from image appropriation and this is a small gesture to try and eliminate a bit of it.

There’s treasure to be found in discount bookstores.

Pen&inkbook

It may sound rather overblown to make the claim above but, it does seem to be invariably true. Yes, of course it depends very much on what you’re looking for, and let’s face it, some of our hobbies and interests are somewhat esoteric in nature but, armed with an open mind and an open eye it’s amazing what you can find. Discount bookstores, like charity shops, are always worth popping into because you never know what they’ve got on offer, and any purchase it thus unexpected and a surprise.

Hence the reason for sharing the above book with you today. I found it quite by chance a couple of weeks ago in just such a store in Chiswick in West London. My good friend Ben mentions it regularly so I thought I’d drop in one day and take a browse. Immediately I saw this book I knew I had to have it, and at four quid it was a steal.

Recently I have been attempting to learn how to get a bit more digital with some of my drawings. A request to design a t-shirt has prompted a flurry of rather uncoordinated activity as I grapple with the process of converting a complex ink drawing into a vectorised artwork for screen printing. Luckily there are myriad guides and tutorials available on-line to assist me in learning the ins and outs of image tracing in Illustrator, and pixel fiddling in Photoshop, all of which have proved invaluable.

Pen&inkbook01

I mention this because this learning activity has given rise to a couple of thoughts. Firstly, the whole process of vectorising images would be a whole lot easier if I created drawings better suited to vectorising in the first place. The second is that in order to do that I need to learn some new tricks to apply during the drawing activity which help in the division of an image into dark and light areas and create ways of texturing, when needed, that translate well when making the jump to digital. This is where this book comes in as it is stuffed with information on how to create all manner of drawing details that can apply to the above.

The books author, Robert Gill, is a technical illustrator by trade and the book is full to the brim with his observations, expertise, tricks, hints and learnings, all garnered from a lifetime of experience. There are chapters that cover everything from basic perspective techniques to creating textures, from rendering plants and trees to drawing basic figures. There is even a section on equipment with a great segment covering Rotring technical pens and how to get the best out of them. I love it.

There is one more aspect to why I’m so enamoured by this book, and it is this. Drawing is a lifelong learning experience and something we all want to be better at. Through constant practise and experimentation we do get better at it but, there are times when you need extra input to boost your learning and skills. Since leaving art college and witnessing the transition from analogue to digital media within the design studio environment, I don’t recall being taught or learning anything new relating to analogue drawing techniques, other than what I’ve learned through my own scribbling. What lies behind a persons ability to create images through drawing is a large reservoir of accumulated knowledge covering everything from proportion and perspective, to materials and techniques. Design school stuffed a great mountain of this knowledge into my head many years ago. Outside a formal teaching program we have to add to this learning through self discovery, using practise and experimentation to hone our skills. But there are some things which we need to learn in different ways. This book is just such a tool for this purposes. Pen and ink drawing is one of my favourite drawing styles but, finding an easily accessible reference for learning new techniques has always been hard. This book has most of what I’m after, right in front of me in black and white.

Pen&inkbook02

It’s like finally having the analogue equivalent of a cool set of digital plug-ins for Illustrator or Photoshop. I don’t need to use it all the time, copy anything from it or read every page but, it is there to refer to and glean information from whenever I want to consider creating new effects through better mark making. Much of it may seem rather old fashioned but pen and ink drawing is just that, a pen, some ink and a piece of paper, nothing complicated. The complex part is training the soft, organic creature holding the pen and the little grey matter engine that powers it.

Here’s a link to the book, I found it on Amazon here.

Still digging away.

Helmet_Sketch_front©JonTremlett

I went to Finland at the beginning of July for a big family party with some friends and a few days R&R. Whilst there, our good friend Lauri asked me what was happening to the blog, why wasn’t I posting much at the time. I found it hard to answer his question and perhaps I was actually finding it difficult to admit to my own laziness. His voice has been ringing in my ear ever since, so this one’s dedicated to him, for making me aware of my shortcomings and being a friendly conscience. The truth of the matter is that it has been hard to dig myself out of a period of creative block and a time full of big distractions.

So where are we with things? Well, that old helmet I mentioned in the last post is now primed in white and ready to take a design as soon as I’ve finalised what it will be. The sketch above will give you a fair idea of where I’m going with this.

The main thrust of the idea, if you can call it that, is a kind of homage to cafe racers of old, those young men who started it all off all those years ago and the places they frequented in pursuit of their thrills. This is something that is geographically close to me as much as having a strong emotional pull. Firstly I live in west London not far from that bastion of British motorcycling heritage, The Ace Cafe, and a particular stretch of highway called The North Circular Road. These two features lie at the heart of the original cafe racing scene of the early sixties. That’s the main bit. The second part is due to the Rolling Stones and the opening track on an old vinyl album I have of theirs which is a fantastic rendition of Route 66, the classic R&B standard written by, and originally recorded in 1946 by Bobby Troup. I absolutely love this track, and what ties it to my homage project is that the North Circular Road is actually the A406 in the english road numbering system, so it’s not a giant leap to end up with “get your kicks on the A406”.

So, as you can see, we’ve got a small group of likely lads doing just that on the front of the helmet. What goes on the back will undoubtedly contain the above modified chorus and then I think, various references to the road and the famous cafe that still occupies its original site.

Thruxton1_©JonTremlett2015

There are a couple of other interesting projects hatching right now too. I’ve been asked to design a t-shirt for a local shop and this has prompted me to start thinking about a couple of designs of my own. This sketch is one of those ideas. It is very rough but, contains the seeds of an idea and hints at the new style of drawing I’m going to need to execute in order to give any designs a cleaner look and some much needed impact. More on that later………

When you get buried, it takes time to dig yourself out.

Can you guess what it is yet?

Can you guess what it is yet?

It’s funny how certain changes in activity totally change your perception of time and its passing. I’m sure that part of my brain looks back at the previous post and tells me that it was only posted yesterday. The reality is of course, very different, and I awoke this morning with a terribly guilty feeling about the blog and how I’ve ignored it for absolutely ages. This won’t do, I thought, and resolved to post today come hell or high water.

My absence has been mainly due to a heavy freelance workload that started back in January. Regular readers may remember me including details of some of my freelance work back in October last year, follow this link to that post. I was talking about making big aircraft seat mock ups out of poly-board. Well, the next stage of these things involves taking the mock up to the next level, which includes all design, engineering and detail changes as the design progresses. These next level mock ups are invariably made out of MDF (wooden fibre board), are quite complicated, require a higher level of finishing and weigh a ton. This is what I’ve been doing and in this case they have required the insertion of a fully working seat mechanism into the furniture. As usual I can’t reveal any details in picture form as those of us who do work in this area are invariably tied by rather scary non-disclosure agreements. Due to the competitiveness of the industry and the amounts of money involved, confidentiality is paramount. I can however show you a picture of the seat mechanism as this is already a commercially available item. Lovely isn’t it.

Seatmech1

Both of the mock ups I’ve been making required a lot of finishing in paint with various upholstered parts, so took quite a few weeks to complete working flat out. By the end of it I was exhausted both physically and creatively and I found it virtually impossible to get back to quiet drawing practise. So instead I built a new toilet under the stairs on the ground floor of my house. And now that’s done it’s time to start thinking about those little personal projects that keep the creative muscle working and drive my posts.

helmet1

So what’s on the drawing board? Well, a number of things actually. Here is the first one. A couple of years ago I bought a two very old and battered crash helmets at a junk sale. They were made in the 50’s by a company called Centurion in Norfolk, England. What’s surprising about them is that they’re made from paper pulp and resin, so not that protective when you think about it. Needless to say they are pretty worthless these days but, I think they are nice objects in themselves and deserve a home. For ages I’ve been thinking about getting some of my images off paper and onto some other medium, so I’m going to paint the helmets with some cartoons. To spur myself on I went and purchased some sign writers paints and started preparing the first helmet for painting. It required much rubbing down and liberal use of high build primer spray to create anything like an even surface to work on. It’s in white primer now and so nearly ready for applying the final design. I’m currently working up some sketch ideas for this and I’ll reveal some of that work in the next post, which I promise, will be very soon.

Dot shading and the tale of two fingers.

Two Fingers, an ink artwork by Jon Tremlett for Soulcraftcandy 2015

We’ve all done this at some point surely?

It has often crossed my mind that there is something mildly masochistic about certain aspects of pursuing a creative life. Obviously there are all of the usual traits that we exhibit like the vocational tug toward a certain specialism, the need to express ourselves, a slavish attention to detail and a preparedness to burn the midnight oil to meet a deadline but, there is also this uncontrollable little monster that drags you back toward things which make you uncomfortable and disinclined to take an idea forward. I’ve come across lots of these over the years and generally, once one succumbs to the temptation (can’t think of a better way to put it) you find you’re off on another journey that prior to that moment you said you’d never take again. And oddly, you’re quite enjoying the trip. These are perhaps slightly too strong words to describe it but I think it’s true nonetheless. The little monster that is the subject of todays post is dot shading.

I’ve written about the challenges of using this technique before, it is incredibly time consuming and can sap your will power if you let it, and have even gone as far as saying I wouldn’t use it again. But you see, and this is where the masochism comes into play, for some reason I just can’t resist it. It is an utter monster of a technique but, and this is where it really gets you, it just gives great looking results, pure and simple. Never say never again, I don’t think so. There a change in attitude in the air today which suggests I’ll happily be engaging with this technique a lot more from now on. It’s got me hooked, the evil thing.

Now I’ve got that off my chest here’s a bit about the picture above. I was really happy by the look and feel of the “Catch me if you can” picture, the shape and composition, the background idea and the naughty hand gesture. Wanting to do another similar piece got me thinking and I realised it was the hand gesture that was holding my attention. It’s irreverent, slightly rebellious and hints to so many aspects of our lives on two wheels. It evokes great memories of shared teenage rebelliousness, our desire not to be dictated to by The Man and a general “Piss off” to the establishment. We’ve all done it at some point in time whether in jest or otherwise. Plenty of reasons in my mind for it to feature in some other pictures. You’ll notice I’m also still playing with the idea of the detailed street scene background. For me it’s a great way to get a bit of humour into the pictures and place the central character in a relatable context. Here’s a detail panel so you can see what’s going on in that section.

Detail of artwork by Jon Tremlett for Soulcraftcandy 2015

For those of you who are not familiar with it, the “V” sign is an almost uniquely English thing, though it is apparently shared across some of the Commonwealth nations like Australia and New Zealand. Essentially it means “f*** off”, and should not be confused with the contemporary peace sign or the victory salute loved by a certain Mr. Winston Churchill, where in both cases the back or the hand faces the giver rather than the receiver. With the back of the hand facing forwards, this becomes a potent symbol of abuse. No One really knows where it first came from, but the most popular myth is that it was used by English long bowmen during the 100 years war with the French, a lengthy conflict spanning the 14th and 15 centuries. It was said that captured archers had their bow string fingers cut off by the enemy, so on the battlefield the English archers would wave their fingers at the French to taunt them and show that they still had them intact. It’s a great story but, as I said, no one knows if it’s true.

Don't confuse the two.

Don’t confuse the two.

Thanks for dropping by today and I hope you enjoyed the post.

The big Green Meanie – it’s finished.

A personal commission by Jon Tremlett for Soulcraftcandy.

For once, having said in the previous post that I was close to finishing a picture, I have done exactly that, and faster than I thought I would too. So here is the finished article. The pictures are the wrong way around today, finished one first, purely because it’s great to open a post with a completed picture. I’m pretty happy with how it has come out.

You will notice that I have left the top of the picture plain white rather than include the very dark area at the top of the reference photo. What drove my decision in the end was the thought that I wanted the main subject to really stand out, surrounding it in big dark bits would have dulled it off too much. So there’s just a hint of ochre wash back there to lift it further.

A personal commission by Jon Tremlett.

This view, and apologies for my iPad’s inability to take a decent photo in my studio, shows things at about the half way stage. With such dark areas in the image it was a bit of a juggler getting the various tones down in an order where they didn’t conflict too greatly. What helped was mixing two different kinds of grey, one for the riders leathers and the other for the bike area shadows, so I could maintain a distinction between them. The shadow areas go down in a couple of passes with the brush, but the leathers took rather longer, slowly building the tone with much thinner washes. The really tricky bit, doing the helmet and face, came last and again was a slow build. I’m not afraid to admit I find faces and flesh tones quite difficult so going slowly with a small brush gives me the best chance of getting it right. Finally, once all the above is dry, my attention switches to the ground area and their associated shadows, making sure I don’t include too much detail so as to keep your eye focused on the big green thing in the middle.

There is always a process of final fiddling and fettling at the end of the main paint stage. Each time your eye returns to the image after a short break you pick up on little things which just need a small tweak so out comes the tiny brush for some edge honing, some white gouache to bump some highlights up and a colour pencil or two. Some things you can’t adjust so there’s only so much you can do, your biggest challenge is knowing when to stop. This one turned out to be more of a painting than a drawing, something I don’t do that often, but I don’t think it loses anything because of that. Yes, it was a challenge but, it was a fun one to undertake which is just as important.

Thanks for dropping by today and hopefully you’ve enjoyed the post.

Julian and the big Green Meanie.

JW_photo

Firstly, a very happy New Year to all of my readers and followers, may 2015 be a great year for all of you. Here at Soulcraftcandy I’m hoping for a year full of interesting drawing projects to grapple with, some new adventures featuring some new materials and obviously, a whole host of new fans and followers. Not too much to ask for then! So let’s kick off the new year with a story featuring a very old friend, a big green machine and a triumph of physics over human ambition.

The friend in question is Julian, a lovely former wild boy I have had the pleasure of knowing for over forty years. Once a hard core bike rider, his various exploits deserve a blog all of their own, now a responsible dad. Having said that, he has never really lost the bug and as we speak is preparing himself for an off road rally trip over on the Baja peninsula. Watch out Mexico. Back in the day, Julian was the first person I knew who fully embraced the modern sports bike and the newly (at the time) burgeoning cult of the public track day, a barely veiled excuse for Joe Public to go ballistic on his road bike within the controlled confines of a proper race track. Needless to say at one such event our man came a cropper.

Julian has always been interested in my pictures and finally got around to asking me to do a commission for him. It goes without saying that his choice of subject is poignant, being a depiction of him aboard that sports bike on the fateful day he badly broke his ankle and hung up his leathers for a while.

Here’s the photograph, above, he supplied as reference and as you can see it’s not in the best condition or particularly in focus, but that’s not too much of a problem, there is more than enough information here to get going. I wanted to base the picture on this view rather than create a new one, but just tweak it here and there as it’s a great image to start with.

JW_First_trace©JonTremlett2015

The first step is to get the photo into my painter program where I can trace over it in digital pencil to establish some outlines to work with. This initial process also helps to embed some knowledge of the subject into my head so I can start to think about which bits I want to change moving forward. I’m still too much in love with hand techniques to go fully digital with a painting yet but, I’m sure one day soon it will happen. Though when you do that all you get is a print of your artwork, not the actual artwork itself, which is a very different outcome.

JW_Blue©JonTremlett2015

Using the printed trace as an underlay, it’s then onto the light box for another tracing exercise where I can start to move parts of the drawing around, like changing the position of the rider, and playing with the proportions of some details very slightly to gain extra emphasis here and there. Working with the blue biro helps me to see one drawing clearly over the top of the other. You’ll see I’ve shifted him off the seat a bit and given him a more heroic “knee down” stance to get some added dynamism into the picture.

JW_Pencil©JonTremlett2015

This third stage is the final pencil outline drawing on to the water colour paper I’ll use for the painting itself. Again, working on the light box, I trace off the blue biro drawing, tightening details as I go but only putting in the lines that I really will need to rely on. An H or 2H pencil is best for this bit, and light pressure so that it doesn’t leave grooves in the paper surface. All this redrawing might seem rather time consuming but it means I don’t have to worry too much about moving a line or erasing things, both of which will only damage the surface of the water colour paper. Once this is complete I soak the paper and stretch it onto a wooden board in readiness for taking the paint washes. Through experimenting I’ve found that it doesn’t distort the drawing in any way if you stretch the paper after putting the image on it, the secret is just to be patient and resist scrubbing and dabbing the paper too much during the process.

JW_Paint1©JonTremlett2015

When the paper is fully dry it’s time for the first layers of wash. Here I’m using a combination of cake based watercolours, some from tubes and intense liquid watercolours. For colours such as the characteristic Kawasaki green the liquid colours are brilliant. They both lift the image off the page and give it real punchiness. In combination with something like Payne’s Grey one can achieve some lovely transitions from light to dark and some really intense shadow areas. I love them though it pays to exercise caution as a little colour goes a long way and it stains the paper unlike the more “floating” colours.

The next post should see it completed and I’ll take that opportunity to cover more details of the process. So watch this space, it will be here very soon.