Without much of an idea about how I wanted to start this post I sat staring at the screen for a while before staring out of the window. “It might still be January but, what a beautiful days it is” I thought as the sun streamed into the room.
In fact I’d just charged up the battery for the Triumph yesterday so what better thing to do than to take the ol’ fella out for a quick spin. and have a think about my post over a cup of hot tea at The Ace Cafe.
Having removed the bike cover and installed the newly charged battery I couldn’t help noticing how brightly the sky was reflecting in the polished alloy of the exhaust silencer. It looked just like how we were taught to render chrome, all blue sky up top and a brownish ground line with a bit of black in there for effect. A bit cartoonish really. I realised I didn’t need to contemplate my post over a cuppa at the Ace, but I went for a ride anyway, it was the right thing to do.
And that’s the thing about colouring metal, particularly tubes, pipes and so forth. You can really ham it up in a cartoonish way and it still ends up looking kind of real. Obviously to the purist there’s a lot more to it than that but it’s surprising what you can achieve with very little effort. A dark line or area denotes a reflection of the ground and another in blue gives you that reflection of the sky and the whole lot looks kind of shiny. No matter how many reference pictures you look at, you will always see that shiny metal is the same colour(s) as everything around it. This is my very simplistic view but it works for me and prevents me from becoming utterly confused when I start to wonder about what is reflected in what.
There’s a similarly simple approach to the flat alloy surfaces which make up engine cases etc. Parts are generally a tone of grey and the junctions between the surfaces pick up the highlights. From this simple premise you can then go into as much detail as you want but for me it’s always a safe place to start. Build it up slowly and stop when you’re happy to.
I’m not exactly sure why I decided to apply colour to the metal bits first on this drawing, it was some kind of subconscious decision to do with methodical working or something like that. It kind of worked but left two areas of indecision in my mind. First, I couldn’t decide what the main exhaust should be, chrome or a kind of brownish stainless steel. Second, I didn’t know at this point what colour the bodywork would be so I couldn’t reflect that in anything. I thought I’d make my mind up about those two things at the next stage.
When I’m finished fiddling with the original sketch it’s time for ink. This one was done in black medium point biro.
I’m sure everyone has their own opinion about inking in a drawing. Should it be the last thing to be done? Should it be the first step after sketching something out? I don’t think there is a right way or a wrong way, a right time or a wrong time for it to be done. For me it very much depends on what I’m going to be doing with the rest of the drawing. For example, if I’m going to be using a lot of colour pencil, and the drawing is on a particularly rough piece of paper then I may very well ink in at the end as the colour often ends up obscuring any lines that you’ve made previously. The same goes for certain paint media too, gouache in particular. Sometimes this timing depends on what I’m using to create the outlines in the first place, for instance is the ink waterproof or not, or is some of the line work so fine that it will be all too easy to obscure with what comes next. If I’m thinking of using any magic markers or similar spirit based media I’ll ink up first in a water based ink as spirit markers can make a lovely mess of a biro line and you end up with black smudging all over the finished piece. Similarly, if I’m of a mind to use a light watercolour or colour ink wash then I may very well ink up last as again the liquids can dissolve the outline and leave a messy result which you can’t fix later.
I’ll often use this stage of the process to add little extra details. This is again a result of coming back to an image after a break and seeing things differently. As with many aspects of drawing and creating images like this, the secret, if there is one to learn, is knowing when to stop. This is also sometimes a good time for filling any areas which you know are going to be solid black in the final piece, though having said that, if the drawing is going to be in full colour quite often black is never truly black. Again it’s a choice to be made before moving on to the next stage.
Previously you’ve read me giving myself a little bit of a hard time about getting colour onto the drawings a bit too hastily. On reflection I was probably a little too critical of what I was doing but, I suppose it was my reaction to finding myself making images that were a long way from where I wanted them to be that early on.
Before I move on and take a look at where things went from here I thought I’d make a quick series of posts which Illustrate (excuse the pun) a bit more precisely what I’d got myself into.
Here is a layout for a drawing I’d had in mind for ages but had never taken the time to sketch out. As a result I drew it up directly onto a sheet of fine paper without my usual rough sketch to guide me. I chose to mark it out using blue pencil, in fact it’s blue leads in one of those fine propelling pencils, 0.9 mm lead thickness. The paper is what’s known as Bristol Board, which is an extra fine surfaced drawing paper. It’s lovely stuff but being very smooth it’s not that receptive to certain media, blue pencil being one of them. As a consequence you have to apply a little bit more pressure than you would like to get a line to stand out. This also means that the lines are more work to erase once you’ve been over the drawing with pen, biro or paint. One needs to take care because whilst pressing a bit harder works well you also run the risk of “denting” the surface and then you end up with a drawing covered in little grooves which really cause problems when you apply colour pencil or a fine wash. At this stage I leave all construction lines and little errors in place as there’s no need to erase them yet.
The tinting of the white background on the image is due to me photographing the image with my camera rather than scanning it. This is another side effect of blue pencil, my scanner doesn’t pick up the image very well. I’m not sure why but this characteristic used to be something I took advantage of when working in the studio, and we did everything by hand, as you could layout a drawing in blue pencil, ink over it and then blow it up or down on the copier without the blue showing through on the copies. Maybe it has something to do with the reflectivity of that particular colour, I don’t know. It’s a slight shame as drawings in this form are often great visually and it would be great to leave them as is, but they are often tricky to reproduce. Note to self; experiment with blue pencil images and the scanner. If anyone out there knows a quick fix for this, please be kind enough to let me know.
Once I’m happy with a roughed out drawing I’ll often leave it for a day or so before working on it further. For some reason, and I’m sure it’s got something to do with woods and trees, revisiting an image after a break enables you to see very clearly anything which is not quite right. It really is like having a fresh set of eyes sometimes. Sometimes I’ll come back to a drawing after only a couple of hours, and it looks so crap I pretty much start again, but that’s not often.
The next step is doing the drawing proper in ink or biro.