Shotgun drag bike – slowly the bike emerges from the paper.

Shotgun_greys©JonTremlett2014

In a continuation from the previous post, here are some further images charting the progress of the Shotgun drag bike picture. In this first one I’m still very much in the process of laying down the grey tones, and as you can see this pretty much covers most of the parts of this bike, including the tyres, which are not painted red. As I mentioned previously this is very much a process of laying on tone and building up to the desired intensity in small steps. Most people who’ve ever rendered anything will tell you that true black doesn’t really exist, and they’d be right. But with this style of drawing or painting I like to create areas of absolute black as they help give the image punch and underline the more cartoonish nature of the final picture. So where possible it’s good to get those bits done at this stage too.

Shotgun_frame1©JonTremlett2014

In this second image you’ll see that I’ve completed the exhaust pipes having finished with the greys, before starting on the frame colour. Exhaust pipes, especially chromed ones are a lot of fun to do, but they do rely on you having some decent reference material to work from. In this case there was plenty going on in the photograph, so the reflections are quite colourful and intricate. The engine, and therefore the near vertical exhaust pipe too, provide a real central anchor point for the picture and the reflections really help to draw the eye to the focal point of the image.

Shotgun_frame2©JonTremlett2014

This final image shows the picture with the frame pretty much done. Again, this was a process of laying down slightly diluted tones of the red colour in steps, slowly building the colour up giving the frame tubes their form and highlight areas as you go. I took some time to get the base red right, mixing scarlet and orange inks to obtain something with the right amount of vibrancy. Diluted this gave a lovely pink for the lighter areas and with a bit of dark rich brown mixed in created a great tone for the shadows. It can be a bit nerve wracking when working with such strong colour as the last thing you need is to smear it across an area where it’s not wanted, or worse, get a small droplet landing on your pristine white surround. Once this stuff is down, there is no way to get rid of it or cover it up. But taking your time and working slowly and methodically pays dividends, and allowing things to dry every few minutes is a good habit to get into.

By this stage the picture is really starting to jump off the page, the red frame bringing a whole new three dimensional feeling to the piece. Nearly there.

Shotgun dragbike – Finalising the layout.

Shotgun layout by Jon Tremlett 2014

It’s been a very busy month since my last post, one that has seen this picture progress to being finished along with some other stuff too. rather than jump straight to the final image, here is a slightly retrospective look at the process I have been through in completing this commission.

So this first image is of the final layout sketch which will now dictate how the picture will be in its final form. This one is traced through, using my little lightbox, on to an A3 sheet of good quality drawing paper using the previous sketch as an underlay. This stage is when I do most of the adjusting, moving things around slightly, changing some proportions here and there, and generally tightening things up. For the first time the drawing takes on a kind of crispness which really helps in being able to see properly what’s what and get the view finalised. Once I’m happy with this version, it’s pretty much ready to go and ready to be transferred onto the sheet of Bristol Board for the final rendering. This transfer stage is normally quite quick and easy, but this time was a rather fraught event. The size of the Bristol Board sheet was too large for the lightbox, the last thing you want is to crease or damage the paper whilst tracing through. Instead I had to rig up a makeshift lightbox using a small glass topped table and some desk lights and kneel on the floor to draw. It was hot day and the heat from the lights made the whole thing a rather nerve wracking affair, the board starting to warp after only twenty minutes. But it got done soon enough and I was really itching to get cracking with the colour phase.

Shotgun_engine©JonTremlett2014

So this image is of the the engine after a couple of painting sessions. I don’t know exactly why, but I always like to start at the centre of the picture and work outwards. With the bikes this invariably means doing the engine area first. It’s actually a really good way to get started. The main constituent colour here is Payne’s Grey, either on its own or mixed with other colours for different hues and shades. Keeping the paint quite thin, colour and tone are built slowly in layers, it gives more control, and allowed to dry every now and then to stop paper warp and the surface from degrading through sogginess. Once I’m happy with an area I’ll get the technical pen out and start the process of outlining and blacking to start to bring the whole thing out of the surface and give it some punch. This also helps to set the early tone for the drawing and acts as a guide for putting down subsequent colour areas. Looking good so far.

Starting the Shotgun commission.

Shotgun_sk_1©JonTremlett2014

A couple of posts ago I put up some colour photographs of a lovely red vintage drag bike called Shotgun. I’ve been asked by its owner, Nik Fisk, to create a picture of the bike for him. It’s taken a couple of weeks to get going but here is the first layout sketch done in preparation for the final picture. It’s done in black biro on heavy weight lining paper. When I was taking the photographs we discussed in some detail the view we wanted to achieve in the finished piece, something that hinted at the length of the bike, but also showed off the overall shape well and the fantastic old Triumph engine that sits at the heart of the beast. Having the right hand exhaust pipe nearly vertical we reckoned this would allow the curvature of the left pipe to be a feature and would also create a strong central element to the picture.

It would be far simpler, and probably much easier, to sketch directly over a printed photograph, or do it digitally using something like Corel Painter, but that would defeat the object of this exercise. In asking me to create a picture for him, Nik is looking for something created in a particular style, which we reckoned would be called something like “factual caricature”. This is not about creating a facsimile image, more about giving the image a degree of character which a photograph just can’t do. So with a picture up on the screen as reference I like to work freehand directly onto the paper, working out the relative positions and proportions of things as I go. It’s a rather organic process, one which not only makes you look carefully at the subject, but also embeds knowledge about that subject into your minds eye as you go. I find this part of the process invaluable and it enables me to make the slight scale and proportional changes which bring the caricature into the image. It allows me to do things like make the engine slightly bigger and bulk up the exhaust pipes to increase the sense of power of the unit for example. I always like to increase the fatness of tyres on bike pictures, in makes them look more planted in my view, but at the same time I need to make sure that the ellipses that outline the wheels are as correct as possible. This sketch shows a revised front wheel from the original sketch, done with some ellipse guides at a smaller size (my templates only go so big), rescanned and photoshopped into place. So when I’m freehanding the outline drawing for the final picture I’ve got some decent guidelines to work to.

The drawing is about 380mm from the back of the rear wheel to the tip of the front and sits very nicely on an A2 sheet, so a really good size which will allow lots of details to be shown. The next step is to check over this one, make some notes for adjustments and then use the light box to start the process of getting it onto the Bristol Board I’ll use for the final painting. This is going to be a lot of fun and I’ll be posting progress reports as things take shape.

It’s very green.

103_Nail_It©JonTremlett2014

Just a brief post this time as there is still much to do at the end of this Bank Holiday weekend and we are all back at school tomorrow.

So here above is the finished picture that was shown in a part done state a couple of weeks ago. Safe to say it’s very bright and colourful and has turned out pretty much exactly as I planned. I love using a bright orange on the bike tanks and so it seemed only logical to offset that with a blazing green for the background block. And because the bike’s standing pretty much on its nose, then angling the coloured area around it seemed like a good way of emphasising the the dynamic of the image.

This one’s done on a much smoother water colour paper than the usual fare and it makes a real difference to how the inking goes down and the control that one can exercise in the coloured areas. I hope you like it as much as I do. Gotta dash.

Creative energy spreads.

102_Cafe_smoke©JonTremlett2014

With all of the making happening in the back garden and in the makeshift workshop that is the garden shed, it would have been so easy just to forget about the artworks for a few days. But these things never sleep, whatever’s on the drawing table in the studio lets you know it’s there every time you walk in the room. The hope was that some making activity would bring a fresh spur to the drawing work and so it proved. By splitting my creative time in this way, both fed off the energy that was now available seeing as I wasn’t going to be working for a few days.

This picture above was started a while back but was taking ages to finish. Procrastination had set in as a reaction to my being a little daunted by pushing it along. I wanted to see how I’d get on with some heavier textured water colour paper, and whether I could hold the detail given the rougher surface. It was also a challenge to figure out the best way of rendering all of that smoke, something I’d not had much success at in the past.

In the end the detail concerns were pretty unfounded, the technical pen worked out ok on the paper once it was fully dry, though I would say that it does tend to get a bit “hairy” if you labour the pen too much. The smoke bit on the other hand was a tad more tricky. I had kind of promised myself that I’d have a go at being a bit more free with my brush work a while ago and saw this as a perfect way to get some practice. Smoke being of a very “wafty” nature I thought it would suit a more loose approach. What I didn’t reckon on was actually how hard it was to do. I take my hat off to all those whose water colour style is more conventional than my own, the impressionistic feel they give to brush work is a hard won prize indeed. Initially I was far too deliberate, the cloudiness needed just wasn’t there and no amount of blending the marks I’d made seemed to work. In the end I plumped for just loading up a No.4 brush and smearing, can’t think of a better word for it, wash all over the required area and trying to blur it all with more water whilst still wet. It kind of worked but I failed to achieve any consistency across the whole area. Not wanting to overdo it I left it at that, though I will be having another few tries at getting the looseness I’m after on some other pieces which are coming along behind this one.

Advice and opinion, don’t confuse the two.

Instruments: before, big and busy. After, uncluttered and simple.

Instruments: before, big and busy. After, uncluttered and simple.

There is a big difference between advice and opinion. One serves to guide and promote discourse, and the other invariably confuses things and promotes argument. I learned the difference between the two a long time ago and am constantly reminded of that lesson. When seeking advice we are generally hoping to tap into the accumulated knowledge and experience of others whose judgement we trust. Opinion on the other hand is generally something that follows acting upon advice and is subjective, unless of course, the other person has misconstrued your original query, in which case you get a whole load of one when you wanted the other. When I’m engaged in making stuff I ask for advice, when I need it, from other makers I know, and I might canvas their opinion when I’ve finished what I’m doing, but not before.

New headlight brackets and new front indicator light mounts.

New headlight brackets and new front indicator light mounts.

If I’d followed all of the unsolicited “advice” I’d been given about how my bike should be, then I would have wasted a great deal of money and time on what is essentially a cheap form of transport. Working within an admittedly self imposed tight budget, and with time pressure to match, the solutions that interest me are those which are simple, relatively easy to execute and fit for purpose. It is with this in mind that I approach everything I do on this build and it helps to steer things clear of needless expense and wasted effort. One day I might build something more special but, for now I’ll work with what I’ve got. Sorting out the instrument area and the headlight would have been “better” if I’d totally stripped the bike of all electrics, cable drives and other bits, but that doesn’t clear the deck, it just opens up a whole new avenue of expensive solutions to a new set of problems. Working with what’s there meant splitting the clocks to allow cable drives to flex more freely and shorter light mounts to keep things close in and fairly tidy. The bundle of wiring needed to keep things working would stay, although shortened and repackaged. I’d bought some ‘P’ clips some time ago thinking they’d do for mounting the light on the forks and so put them to use. they work well enough for now though I may make replacements with a tighter fit later on. I drew up some side brackets on some graph paper (brilliant for laying out simple parts to scale) and transferred the design onto some aluminium alloy for cutting out. I made a new speedo mount based on what had been there before, but with a 20 degree offset and modified the mounting that came with the tachometer when I bought it, to bring it closer to the handlebar. All this allowed me to raise the light and split the clocks, and try to keep things as low as possible. By tilting the bars back further I was getting near to where I wanted the front to be. It looks a lot more sparse than before, but I’ll get used to it. And the natty little fly screen has gone.

I was very fond of it, but it had to go. A quick word about making those side brackets. Because I’d drawn them out on graph paper, it was easy to draw them again on alloy sheet, you remember all the numbers. I cut them out using a jigsaw, slowly, with a blade for metals at slow speed. I finished them off with hand files and drilled the holes with a hand drill. It takes time but not as long as you’d think and the result is pretty tidy once they’ve had a rub down with 600 grade wet and dry paper.

Here’s a canny bit of advice given to me by my father just before I started this: when filing soft metals, rub chalk along your files, it stops them from clogging. He was right, it did too. You can’t beat good advice. His opinion? Well, he didn’t have one, he’s waiting until I’ve finished to give me that.

Seize the moment.

Stripped and ready for action.

Stripped and ready for action.

The decision to get cracking on the bike coincided with two pieces of good fortune. First, work called just before I started on it to ask if I’d mind staying at home that week as there wasn’t enough work going through the studio to keep me busy. Regret that I wouldn’t earn any money that week was countered by the prospect of getting a fair crack of the whip on my bike build, so a reasonable result. Then, to my utter surprise, the weather turned unseasonably warm and sunny for about a week, perfect for fettling bits of metal out in the shed and garden. Having wrestled the bike into the back garden, no easy task given a very narrow access alley out back and the need to fit some much reduced width handlebars, the strip down was quick. Originally I’d built it in a way that would enable me to take it apart if I ever needed to and so was grateful for having made that decision. The work plan was front mudguard first, then the clocks and headlight area and finally the rear mudguard. After a quick once over and a clean it was time to get started.

Not bad, considering.

Not bad, considering.

I’d sketched out several solutions for mounting the front guard but, in the end opted for the simplest one which used two straps or hoops connecting the mounting holes on the fork legs with the guard mounted on top. Ok, not that elegant, but essentially all you need and adhering nicely to one of my general philosophies when approaching making anything, which is the KISS principal (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Due to the front forks having a leading axle arrangement, the mounting holes are off-set to the wheel centre so the straps needed to be of different lengths, and so I slotted the holes on the rear one to enable some positional adjustment when finally mounting the guard. Trimming the guard from the longer piece of rolled section I had was relatively easy, the tricky bit is joining it all together. For this you need to find the centreline of the guard, awkward on a thing that curves in two planes. My simple solution was to lie the piece on its side and establish the centreline as a height rather than a width, using a pen taped to an adjustable square. That done, it’s much easier to define the hole positions for your fixing screws or rivets to attach the mounting straps. Nothing worse than drilling holes only to find they’re in the wrong place. With the holes drilled I screwed the whole thing together using some M4 button headed screws and thread lock compound. Doing it this way allowed me to tighten things up just so, and minimise the risk of pulling the surface down onto the straps too much and dishing the top surface. The rolled mudguard blanks came with a polished finish but this is a nightmare to maintain, so the final thing was “brushed” with Scotchbrite before a treatment of anti-corrosion spray. Ok so far. Next up, the clocks and front light area.