Putting your learning into practise.

Girl_T_Comp©JonTremlett2016

As you will have read in the previous post, I have been expending a lot of energy recently learning how to draw women as part of a project to try and produce some designs for t-shirts for women. It has not been as easy as it sounds, and to be honest with you I’m still not sure that I have cracked it, though I feel I’m certainly making progress.

The journey from the collection of sketches to some finished proposals has been a long one involving lots more sketching and redrawing in an effort to get some kind of unifying style working across the various ideas. This process is invariably made all the more challenging by the considerations and resulting constraints that come from thinking clearly through the whole process of how these shirts are made and printed. The quality of the final printed image is reflected in, and can be traced right back to, the quality of the picture you create in the first place. The shirts made from any of the selected images will be screen printed which means I need to aim for crisp line work and clearly defined details.

In the absence of a more detailed brief I decided that I would go forward with a combination of ideas. Firstly I picked two rather obvious ideas based firmly on a girl riding a bike, and then chose a couple of others based around a more emblematic approach. Each one was worked up as an inked drawing to start with, and done as neatly as I could manage. The girls on the bikes were reasonably straight forward to do in a general sense though I was really conscious of introducing something to try and bring some increased movement to the images. I’m not a fan of using speed lines and blurring to do this, my drawing style doesn’t work that well with them, so elected to simply try and show movement by trying to mimic hair blowing in the wind. The second two choices came from trying to approach them more like logos than pictures and incorporating some recognisable cues from the cafe racer scene like chequer pattern and jacket decoration.

Girl_T_Comp2©JonTremlett2016

Drawing these things is time consuming enough, but tidying up the high resolution scans can be even more so. Again, it’s back to the quality of the image you start with. Screen printers will invariably ask for vector based artworks and so each drawing needs converting from a scanned bitmap image to vectors in a program such as Adobe Illustrator. The software handles this with ease, but you have to ensure that your starting image is as clean, crisp and high contrast as possible. The vectorising process essentially traces your drawing creating paths and fills as it goes. By adjusting various controls in a dialogue box you are able to influence the fidelity with which the software does this task. The cleaner your starting point, the fewer options the process has for including or excluding small elements of the drawing and details. Once the drawings are vectorised though, you can easily include them in more complicated designs in Illustrator, edit them further, or simply use the resultant artwork as it is. If I was more proficient in Illustrator to begin with I might be able to draw these things directly in the program, but sadly my skills aren’t there yet. At least using this approach I end up with both a good quality digital artwork and a nice ink drawing for the portfolio as well. Because the digital images are now editable, one can make limited changes to them if need be, without the need of doing a whole new drawing.

112_T-shirt_comp1©JonTremlett2016

Finally I thought it would be fun to show the ideas as shirts rather than just images on their own. Plundering an image search for white T’s being worn, it was simply a case of pasting the designs into place to lend a degree of realism to the whole thing. I then sent these to my client/contact and began the waiting process. Let’s see what he comes back with.

Can you draw women?

Bike_girl_comp©JT2016

Ok, so here’s a thing, time for a confession, I’m pretty rubbish at drawing women. There, I’ve said it. This sounds like one of those introductory confessions one might be asked to make upon a first attendance at a therapy group. Like, “Hi, my name’s Jon and I can’t draw women”. This is neither something to be proud of or be ashamed to admit. Don’t ask me why this is so, it’s just the way it is. Some people probably find drawing people, whatever their gender or form much easier than others. Other folk probably find drawing men less hard because it is easier to express generic masculine traits and you can get away with portraying less good looking men (!?). And then there are those who find the innate curvature and character of the female form easy to capture because they just do. One thing’s for sure though, and that is that when asked to view a drawing of a woman most of us automatically make some kind of judgement based on the perceived beauty of the rendered subject, i.e. if your drawing doesn’t portray a pretty/elegant/feminine woman, it’s the first thing people will comment on.

The above is only intended to be a cursory observation, the whole discussion around how we render and view human subjects is much, much more wide ranging that this, but what it does do, I hope, is shed some light onto how difficult it is to get to grips with a subject area such as this. Not being someone who has ever really received the benefit of extensive life drawing classes or any formal training in figure drawing, I have arrived at a point in my creative life lacking the confidence to draw half the people who surround me. I’m sure I’m not alone.

This new challenge came about through a request from a contact about possibly designing some t-shirts for women. Throwing my usual caution to the wind I agreed to have a go and then quickly realised that I would have to do something about the fact that I have never really successfully drawn women who look like women. To be honest with you, when I’ve had to do it in the past I’ve either traced off a magazine picture or concocted something akin to a rather effeminate man. So, time to put all of that to one side and see if I could actually learn how to do it more convincingly. I don’t know which is harder, learning a new skill like this in a straight drawing sense or in the cartoonish vein in which I normally work? Time to find out.

BGsketch_comp©JT2016

Thankfully, and this is again where the internet comes into its own; one is not short of resources to study as a way of starting. One can not only gain access to myriad video based tutorials on YouTube etc., but you can also find every single kind of cartoon style referenced so you can easily see how different characteristics are emphasised depending on the style you want to follow. To give you just a couple of examples; if mastering eyes is problematic for you, there are hundreds of variations and iterations to be found within the Manga drawing style and if the classic hour glass figure is something that you want to focus on, you will find plenty of guidance if referencing mid 20th century lifestyle and fashion illustration.

My brief, such as it was, was “Marilyn Monroe in a Bell helmet”. Quite a broad brief to say the least, so plenty to think about. My first scribbles, shown above in the first selection from my sketch books was as much about the brief as it was about learning the distinct attributes of a woman’s face. Eye shape, size and position, the jaw line, the line of the brow, the position and proportion of the nose and the mouth. These all sound incredibly obvious but until you have to think about them and draw them, your brain just rumbles on telling you that this should all be easy as it knows all this stuff already. No it doesn’t, you have to teach it and at the same time convince your drawing hand to follow. This goes right back to previous posts I’ve written about the idea of embedded knowledge. You’ve got to look and look and look, and then draw, draw, draw until hopefully things start to feel natural. It takes work and there’s no easy way around it unless you want to spend your life tracing photographs.

I was also trying to think about shirt designs at the same time, so this had quite an impact on my sketching, both in terms of speed and overall feel. Some of my attempts are way off, some are starting to point towards something more workable. The second of the images is another compilation of sketches where I am starting to get the hang of it, though you can see I’m yet to get my eye shape and spacing anywhere near right. I must confess also, that by this point I’d had gone back to referencing some old lifestyle photos in a book to try and speed things along. It seems to work best for me if I am combining an iterative drawing approach with regular reference to other materials. Placing a crash helmet onto a woman’s head brought its own challenges and I ended up taking lots of photos of my own crash hat at various angles to give me an idea of how its many curves look when not viewed simply in elevation. The bikes I didn’t seem to have a problem with. Funny that.

More on this in the next post I hope.

New drawings and a wake up call.

Wakey wakey Jon!

Writing the first post at the end of an absence is the hardest thing. It’s not about working out where to start per se but, it’s more about avoiding the endless list of excuses as to why this has happened. This is not so much to make my readers feel some kind of sympathy for me, more to do with appeasing my own guilt at having been so neglectful. Ok, that’s the bit about feeling bad done with. There is one big excuse though.

CR_group©Jon Tremlett2016

You may have noticed in a couple of the pictures from the last post that I’m standing in front of a rather untidy brick wall. Well, that was the remains of my kitchen and was taken at a time when we had just embarked upon a major overhaul of the house. Various building works to remove some walls, make holes in others and finally fit a new kitchen were already turning our lives upside down. It went on for quite a few weeks. To finish everything off it was down to me, a form of self selected masochistic punishment, to build some big floor to ceiling cupboards, box out the under stair area and fit bookcases, all after redecorating the whole of the ground floor. It took a while and consumed my life until well after Christmas. All done now, until I need to get cracking on the first floor. A smaller project that one.

I was still doing some drawing but not making the effort to blog about it, so I’ll shed some light on what I’ve been up to on that front over the following posts. The photo above is of three black and white reductive ink drawings that were done after doing the t-shirt for my local bike shop (they sell like hot cakes by all accounts, which is good to hear). I have a contact in the US who fancied some designs for shirts of his own, having seen the blog post, so I set out to see what I could rustle up for him. Two of them made it through to printing and can be found in the apparel section of his web shop here, http://carpyscaferacers.com. They look pretty good combined with his type work so I’m hoping they’ll sell well and more work comes of it.

Thrux_comp1©JonTremlett2016

These next two pictures are really to shed some light on my process and show the preliminary sketches I do for these pictures so that you can see where things come from and how they change and develop as I move them through to inking them up. I invariably reach for my favourite blue biro for preliminary sketches, for no other reason than they’re lovely to use and one can achieve such a variety of line weights. This helps hugely when I want to move a line or change details. These are then traced off on the light box, making changes along the way, to give me a base drawing that I can then ink over. It may seem rather a long process, repeating a drawing two or three times but, it’s the best way to get it how you want it. The downside is that this is one of the main reasons why these drawings take so much time.

Thrux_comp2©JonTremlett2016

As before the inking is done with Rotring and Steadler technical pens so that I can maintain as crisp a line quality as possible and there is no ink bleeding on the thin Bristol Board I use. Because the ink is similar to Shelac based Chinese ink, it is very black which is a great help. You don’t have to go over everything twice to get great opacity and it’s just about sturdy enough to cope with tidying up the drawing with a small eraser after you’ve finished. The creation of printable artwork for shirt printing requires these drawings to be scanned and converted to vector paths in a graphics package, so the cleaner and crisper the initial scan the better. I’ll talk more about the whole vectorising thing in a later post.

I hope you like todays pictures and thanks for visiting the blog.

A good pen is an expensive tool, look after it.

The finished workshop polo shirt.

The finished workshop polo shirt.

So here is the shirt design for Bill Bunn Motorcycles, my local bike shop, in its finished form. The guys very kindly gave me a polo shirt in way of payment, which makes one feel very good about the idea of bartering. The quality of the screen printing is really good and the level of line and detail they have managed to keep is very high. A great result.

This black and white block reductive drawing is becoming strangely addictive. Partly I think it has to do with the process being quite quick, you see results quite fast but, it also has much to do with the simple pleasure of pen use and the decision making process. Areas of the drawing are either black or white and that’s it, this way or that, simple. As more drawings take shape it becomes easier to decide which way to go, ones ability to “see” what gets left out becomes clearer. It is amazing how the eye and brain are able to build a complete image from only a rather basic framework of information.

Big_Ink_CB750©JonTremlett2015

This activity is also helping me to complete some drawings which have been lying dormant in the drawing chest because I couldn’t decide on how to finish them. This indecision invariably comes from a lack of confidence and a worry about messing something up having invested a great deal of time and effort into it. For some reason this temerity seems to disappear once I start thinking of completing them in this style. One example is the drawing above. It must have sat in the drawer for about a year while I dithered over the final execution. However, armed with a couple of freshly filled Rotring pens it all came together rather quickly. there is still some background to complete to bring it on a bit further but essentially a neglected work has taken on new life.

Techy pens1

One aspect of working in this way is that I’ve realised that I actually have a rather unhealthy pen fetish! I’m actually a bit of a technical pen nerd in reality. It is a necessary part of using these things that one has to be rather fastidious about their cleanliness in order to get the best out of them, and I find myself enjoying this often messy job. There’s something terribly satisfying about making the first lines after a thorough clean and refill of my most oft used pen. What strikes me as a bit excessive is why I have to have so many of the things? At least a dozen at the last count, though not all are in working order. Long neglected at the bottom of a drawer, one or two are utterly dried up and solid with ink residue, a rock hard shellac like substance that seems to be impervious to most solvents. Prolonged soaking in cleaning fluid, often weeks, helps to release things but often the smaller sized nibs are beyond help. I have no idea why I have so many, like many bits of drawing equipment we just seem to accumulate them unwittingly over time. I remember purchasing my original Rotring box set over 30 years ago, second hand from a market stall but where the others have come from is anyones guess. Likely bought because I’d forgotten I had that size already or they were so bunged up I just went and got a new one rather than bother cleaning them out. Profligate and lazy days to be sure. One thing being a freelancer teaches you though, is looking after your stuff so hopefully m nibs can look forward to a more pampered and productive life from here on.

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………