Before the making starts.

Strange proportions and some serious wear and tear you can't see.

Strange proportions and some serious wear and tear you can’t see.

In the last post, which was primarily concerned with getting into some making as an antidote to creative imbalance, I mentioned that the project I’d be launching myself into would be a refresh of my already custom built little 250cc motorcycle.

Above are a couple of shots taken not long ago of how it was looking. From this distance and angle there doesn’t seem to be that much wrong with it but upon closer inspection it was really starting to show its age. First modified nearly six years ago, it has since endured a life of quite heavy use as a daily commuter and weekend run about. There were two aspects that I wanted to address in my refresh. Firstly, the finishes that I’d applied all those years ago were starting to look very tired. Numerous scrapes and scratches, injuries sustained from sharing public parking bays with careless scooter users, and general wear and tear had taken their toll on the paint work, and the protective lacquers applied to keep it all shiny had reached the limits of their life. Surface cracking and other problems giving the whole thing a rather worn appearance. Some patina of use is good, some just makes things look a bit sad and unloved. So time for a fresh face.

Secondly, there were some aspects of the proportions of the whole thing which I realised I hadn’t got very right the first time around. As you can see the bike is quite low at the back and high at the front, a product of it being a “Factory Custom” bike in its previous life. I wanted to reduce this height a bit to bring a bit more balance. The rear fender was causing me some worry too. I’d made it longer at the outset for practical reasons more than anything, to keep the road dirt off everything, but have come to see it as way too long, the overhang above the rear wheel being too far which seems to exaggerate the odd proportions even more so.

So the plan was to create two new fenders, or mudguards, see what I could do about the height of the front and give it a fresh coat of paint. Thinking it through it seemed like better sense to keep the guards in bare metal, very a la mode these days but, no more worrying about precious paint finishes on bits that get very dirty. I’d purchased two new rolled sections just for this purpose some time ago at a local autojumble so saw this as a quick fix solution that I could do at home.

Dealing with the front end would be a bit more tricky. The instrument bracket I’d made and its effect on the headlight position, together with the fly screen all contribute to a visual height at the front which seems at odds with the rest of the bike. Changing all this and giving it all a bit more breathing space should help, and mucking around with bar positions and suchlike will help too. The forks are pushed up into the yokes as far as they will go, so without drastic fork shortening there’s not much I can do beyond small changes. Some have suggested the more severe approach of having the frame modified but that’s way beyond the brief and, after all, this is a daily workhorse bike not a show pony aiming for total perfection. Not to mention the fact that major engineering of that magnitude costs a good deal of hard earned cash, probably more than the bike is worth.

The final piece in the puzzle will be the new paint scheme. The bike is mainly black and I’ll keep it that way. I want something subtle, but different enough to make it individual. With only the tank and side panels to do it needs to be quite simple. I’d like to have an element of hand painted brush work in there as well as a tiny splash of colour. I’m yet to settle on a final idea though I’m leaning heavily towards something slightly more decorative that a big white stripe. I’m going to keep in under my hat for now, until it’s resolved, as I’ve told a couple of friends it will be a secret until I’ve finished it. Don’t want to let the cat out of the bag yet.

Creative imbalance and making the most of what you’ve got.

Small, but with lots of potential.

Small, but with lots of potential.

It is the only word I’ve managed to come up with in trying to describe what’s been going on of late, imbalance. I’ve got a fair idea about where it’s come from and it has taken me a while to get to grips with it.

Rather than castigate myself for allowing it to happen, it has been much easier to recognise it for what it is and deal with it through action and a little reasoning. This imbalance stems from a shift in my working life over the last few months, and hence my creative output, which I’d not accounted for. Although my role is only part time, it has involved a lot of idea generation and thus a massive amount of drawing and sketching. Big projects, which require a lot of this kind of thing in their early stages, need sustained creative input and masses of ideas. It’s exhausting, creatively and physically. Where I went wrong is not remembering this to be the case and failing to keep any creative energy in reserve for my own stuff once I returned home. So it’s been difficult to draw, but more to the point, it’s been hard to generate ideas.

Shed_2

I’m showing you a couple of pictures of my garden shed, here in my back yard, as it has proved to be the answer to coping with this imbalance. Rather than spend any more time staring at blank sheets of paper the solution lay in getting out there and making something, turning raw materials into something else, using some tools and getting my hands dirty.

 

There had been a plan in the back of my mind for a while to refresh the little 250cc motorcycle that I’d modified some years ago when I started this blog. Over the years, as the miles have racked up, it has suffered the usual knocks and scrapes that these things are victim to, and overall the finish was starting to look very tired. I wanted to give it a freshen up, and make some changes to the overall design that I’d not got right first time around. So what to do for a making project was all ready and waiting, I just had to start. Before now I have relied on using workshop space owned by other people, this time around I didn’t have that option so my little shed was going to need to be the work space that I could use. As you can see it’s a small building with very limited floor area, but it does have an electricity supply, a big light on the rafters  and a work bench across one end. It houses all of my various tools, materials and other useful stuff accumulated over years of working as a prototype builder and modelmaker. Being of a sturdy design and construction it allows all manner of things to be hung from the walls, freeing up floor area and permitting at least a modicum of organisation. I don’t own any large machine tools, I’d need a bigger shed if I did, so most of the work would be done with hand and power tools with my trusty old Black and Decker Workmate acting as a secondary work bench. The only thing I can’t, and likely won’t do in there is spray paint, that will have to happen elsewhere. The shed was here in the garden when we moved into the house and I’ve always wanted to use it as a making space. now was my chance to put that thought into practice.

It just about fits in.

It just about fits in.

The third shot shows the bike pretty much in the shed. I didn’t need it completely inside, just enough to get some soldering done on the electrical loom, but it meant that I could work on it in there if the weather took a turn for the worse. By being methodical and tidying up as I went it was utterly surprising what I managed to do in this small space. Most of us work in some kind of organised chaos. Some cope well the more chaotic things are, others less, and over the years my natural inclination has veered toward the organised rather than the chaotic and this is a boon when working in a confined space. Having everything to hand helps too but, the order one maintains around oneself really is reflected in how one deals mentally with the making process.

The fruits of my labours are in the next post.

 

It’s bright, I’m happy and it’s shipped.

The Thumper © Jon Tremlett for Soulcraftcandy 2014

Those little thieves, that like to pinch bits of your time when you’re not looking are still hovering around the studio, turning hours into minutes. I’m experimenting with various strategies to combat their fiddling, the most effective so far being to shut down the email at certain times and turn the phone to silent mode. It’s working but it’s not a long term solution.

 

Despite these distractions I have finally managed to finish the picture featured in the last post, and it would be fair to say that I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out. For a long time I wondered if the speed streaks would work, and was tempted on many an occasion to just leave them out. I’m glad I didn’t, they add a bit of direction and dynamism to the image which wouldn’t be there otherwise. It’s a detail I need to work on to get absolutely right but for a first attempt it’s none too shabby. I’m also very happy with the balance, between cartoon and reality, I have managed to strike. It is such an overwhelming temptation sometimes to get utterly carried away in the painting and start working too much realism into the colouring.

 

As for that background, well it just needed something massive and punchy to lift it off the paper and grab the eyeballs. I did it in Dr. Martin’s liquid water colour with an airbrush, using two variations on orange. First a layer of orange and then some tangerine layed over the top. I always find using the airbrush completely nerve wracking. Laying down the masking film is enough to give me the jitters on its own, and then cutting out the mask with a scalpel and removing the pieces turns me into a shaking wreck! Spraying seems to be the easy bit. The ink takes ages to dry properly and in the end I had to remove it from the surface of the film with a carefully placed piece of blotting paper and a roller. Only then is it safe to remove the mask, very, very slowly.

Detail of the Thumper by © Jon Tremlett 2014

As I mentioned before, I think I’ll leave this level of detail painting for a while and have a go at being a bit looser with things. I’ve been sketching out some other pieces in good old fashioned pencil this week and I want to take one of those onto a suitable paper and play with washes. I’m hoping it will be a bit experimental and free up the brain a bit, loosen the creative muscle as it were. I’ll let you know how I get on.

 

 

Confronting your creative comfort zone, one step at a time.

Paint and ink detail be Kon Tremnlett for Soulcraftcandy.

Welcome to the first post of the new year, a year supposedly fully fueled with fresh resolve to go beyond merely just carrying on. Actually, to be honest, I made no new resolutions regarding the blog, and this may end up being a good thing as it will keep the devil of disappointment from the door for a while. Y’see, it’s not even the end of January and the thieves of time have already raided the creative cupboard and made off with more than they usually swipe. The important thing at times like this is not to stop altogether, to keep chipping away, even if it is only a small bit at a time. This is how it goes sometimes and part time work can often morph into something with a greedy appetite for your precious time. I liken it to when we used to listen to the radio on sets that possessed a manual tuning dial. Often the signal would fade or go crackly, and in order to hear the music again you had to lean over and move the tuning control ever so slightly. Clarity would return. So currently the dial of life needs some subtle turning to get back to a more balanced feeling.

 

But creative work never stops and thankfully the drawing projects are still on going, just a bit more slowly than usual. The image above is a detail of what’s on the drawing board right now. Essentially it’s a larger colour version of a drawing I did over a year ago as part of the original cafe racer series in biro. I’ve been wanting to do a colour one for ages, so got the brushes out just before Christmas and have been chipping away ever since.

 

Like previous pictures this one is being done on Bristol Board using water colour washes and my trusty technical pens. Although progress is slow, I’m enjoying every minute of it and, taking my time has allowed me to make some considered changes to my plan and think a bit more deeply about what I’m doing.

 

This is all good stuff, but it’s also causing me to realise that I should perhaps be trying to do more with the paint. I’ll try and explain what I mean. At the core of it would be a feeling that I am not a natural painter, someone who’s automatically at home with the medium. For me, and this probably harks back to formative years, the application of paint to an image has always been a colouring in exercise, following some kind of predetermined outline to render a colour picture. It has never really ever been used as an expressive tool in its own right. As a result I’ve established this kind of comfort zone in which my painting exists and is quite cosy for me. So there’s a challenge in the near future to see if I can get out of that comfort zone and see if I can make more of what’s out there. People endlessly talk about thinking outside of the box these days, well this is a challenge of DOING outside of the box.Painting, whether it be in oils, acrylics or water colour is a combination of many skills and techniques and yes, it is daunting to think that one is only in possession of a small amount of skill and a couple of techniques but, it is also exciting to know that there is a world of image making still out there waiting to be tried. My professional life does not allow me the luxury of experimentation so, somehow expectedly, I’ll need to break some habits too if I’m going to improve my skills. Rather like the picture from the last post, you never know what’ll happen until you try, so flinging some paint around could reveal some interesting things. The key will be to learn, as much as create and make. Here’s to an experimental and rewarding 2014.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

Celebrate unexpected outcomes.

The finished thing, blobs and all.

The finished thing, blobs and all.

Those of you who’ve followed the blog for some time will know that I have a thing for a ball point pen. I have my favourites obviously, just like painters tend to have a favourite brush or colour, but generally speaking it doesn’t really matter what brand it is or how cheap. In fact some of the best for drawing are amongst the cheapest you can buy. Although I tend to use black mainly, there’s nothing wrong with other colours, they bring a certain something to an image. But I digress.

This drawing you see here must be one of the messiest I have done for quite some time. I have no problem with this, in fact it was a joy to make, really, and it was made using a ball point pen. Well, I’ll call it a pen for now, but in fact it’s more of a marker and actually I used two different types to make the picture. You may remember some time ago I posted that I’d had a sketch of one of the original Cafe Racer drawings printed out at life size. The resultant print, taken from a scan of a loose biro sketch, revealed all of the feathering and broken line work that were not really visible on the original. It looked great, one could really see where the pen had travelled and what marks it had left behind. On the back of this experiment I wanted to investigate whether I could create a giant ball point pen to try and replicate this character and do some massive drawings at life size. Scaling things up I needed to find a pen with a ball of roughly 3.0mm in diameter. My searches unfortunately proved that no such thing existed but something very similar did. What I found were ball point paint markers which are used in the construction and engineering fields for marking parts and assemblies. Finding a convenient supplier in Royston, Hertfordshire I duly bought a couple to try. In black.

Detail showing paint build up.

Detail showing paint build up.

Both of the markers are shown in the bottom picture. The first, a thing called a Texpen made by Dykem, is a fairly conventional looking marker and quite easy to hold and manipulate. The other is a more heavy duty one from a company called Suremark. As you can see it’s essentially a bottle of paint with a ball point cap screwed onto the top. Lasts longer but not so easy to handle, and is refillable.

Before venturing into huge scale and wrecking large pieces of paper I thought I’d try something smaller to start with, to see if my suspicions were correct or not. The picture you see here is on a piece of A2 cartridge paper. I roughed out a sketch in blue biro first and then hit it with the paint markers. After half an hour of struggling I had to get up and have a cup of tea whilst I coped with my disappointment. After sweet tea and swearing I sat down and tried again, and this time really enjoyed myself.

These things are not like ball point pens at all, no sir. Firstly the paint is thick, gooey and doesn’t really flow. Secondly, the balls in the nibs are spring loaded so you have to press down to release the paint, so describing a line in a sweep is virtually impossible. Once I’d got my head around mark making though, I found I could squidge and blob my way to creating an image without too much trouble, the key bit was realising that detail and line consistency were never going to come to this party. It was a great lesson in learning how to approach getting the best out of an unfamiliar tool. The paint takes a short while to dry so avoiding putting your drawing hand in it is quite difficult, hence various blobs scattered about. The bottle option proved best for filling in solid areas while the pen option was easier to “draw” with. You can see from the detail shot, I hope, that paint tends to build up quite a bit on the blackest areas.

Paint_sketch3©JonTremlett2013

I stopped at a point beyond which I thought I might spoil it, and let it dry. When I returned I wanted to give it something extra so grabbed some cheap coloured biros I have here and put some colour on the riders helmets to lift the whole thing a little.

 

I hope you like it. This isn’t the end of my experiments with these markers, there are different papers to try in the search for different results and different types of drawings to try too. All very exciting, I’ll let you know how I get on.

 

Can I draw like a designer?

CB750 sketch by Jon Tremlett for Soulcraftcandy

When I got up this morning I knew I needed to write a blog post today. It’s been a while since the last one and my guilt is starting to gnaw at my conscience. My only problem was that I didn’t know what I was going to write about, and then the phone rang.

 

It was a good friend calling to ask for some advice on behalf of a colleague of his. In a nut shell the colleague was asking how she, an engineer, could learn to draw like a product designer and did I know of any courses that might teach such a thing? During the conversation my brain split into two parts, the first attempting to answer the question, the second thinking “ what a good subject for a post”. Here’s what the two parts came up with, given that the question can be answered in two ways, the simple answer and the slightly more complicated one.

 

Firstly I don’t know of any courses that will teach you how to draw like this in isolation. A design course might, but it’s not guaranteed and, let’s face it, if you only want to draw like a designer then a full blown design course is a very long winded way of going about it. However, if you have a modicum of drawing ability, then there are various books available which do a very good job of illustrating (sic) the various techniques that designers use to communicate their ideas in drawing form. Here’s a link to one I find very useful. The double sided key to this approach is knowing what it is you’re looking at on the page, and then putting in the hours and hours of practice that will embed the techniques into your canon of visualising skills. Although this is the simple answer to the question it is far more than a mental and creative cut and paste job. Only practice makes prefect, don’t forget, and you’ve got to have some drawing ability to start with.

 

The more complicated answer involves taking a closer look behind the question itself. The question, “ how do I draw like a product designer?”, provokes the immediate response, “well, how do you think product designers draw?”. Is the answer very quickly, or with a pen, or with one eye shut, or with magic ink? The answer is both none and all of the above, and this is where it gets complex. Essentially all designers who draw use it as a way of communicating their thinking, their ideas. Yes, we can all use words to back up what we are on about, but most of us draw our ideas because they are required to explain themselves when we are not there to represent them. Drawings are used to communicate everything from general concepts and aesthetics, to mechanical solutions and fine details. They are a core mechanism of the discipline which transcends language and helps others to understand the idea. Without some visual representation design is a pretty worthless exercise. Conversations between designers are often both visual and verbal.

 

The complexity arises when we realise that designers, even those working in a similar field, all draw differently, and the reason is because we have all spent a long time finding the techniques which we personally are most comfortable with, the ones we like the most, and are happiest exploiting. So, we are all the same but different. The other complicated bit is that drawing is a direct output from a thought process, which involves several elements like imagination, mechanical considerations, technical parameters and materials knowledge etc etc. So you can see that when designers draw, they are actually doing a lot more than purely making an image. Does this therefore mean that in order to be able to draw like a designer, you essentially have to be one? If you’re happy adopting a style or technique then perhaps not, but remember that whilst most designers can draw, not everyone who draws is a designer. I hope this makes sense as it’s taken me a while to boil it down to this brief explanation.

 

Here’s a lovely quote I read the other day about drawing, and is another great reason why all designers should consider the benefits of developing drawing skills.

 

“I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster, and leaves no room for lies”. Le Corbusier.

Before I go, the sketch above is one of the projects on the go at the moment. A lovely chap called Larry sent me some info about his bike some time ago, we were discussing a possible commission. Sadly that didn’t happen, but I haven’t forgotten about it, and have finally got around to starting a drawing based on the bike, a Honda CB750. So Larry, if you’re reading this, I’ll be in touch soon.

 

Never say never again.

Pen and ink drawing by Jon Tremlett for soulcraftcandy.

The weekend proved reasonably productive in the end with a fair bit achieved on both of the pictures featured in the last post. Not bad going, considering that most of Saturday was actually spent grappling with the pruning of a monster shrub that lives in my back garden. This thing puts on about four feet of fresh growth annually and as a result needs a good trim at least once a year. I swear it’s a Trifid, its appetite for resources must be huge and it dwarfs everything around it. The killer app is a telescopic long range pruning cutter, but I digress.

 

The big picture now has a rider figure with jeans and a jacket but not much more. More importantly the small “dot” picture is now finished, as you can see above. There was a bit of tidying up to do yesterday but that is now it, the end, it’s done. I’m pretty happy and so is my drawing hand which was starting to shake involuntarily by the end of a marathon dotting session on Sunday. All things considered it’s not too shabby and although I was unsure to start with, using the framing line on the right hand side only, really helps to balance the image. All it needs now is a proper title, it has a working one which is not quite right. 

 

What’s next? Time for some gentle watercolour stuff I think, I have an image already traced out in pencil, and some low impact biro work to get a couple of pending projects up and running. They say “never say never again”, but no more dotting, oh no, not for a while.