Too much too soon – Part 3










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.


Too much too soon-Part2

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.

Too much too soon-Part 1.

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.

Old habits die hard.

When I made the decision to share some of my output with the world and start this blog I had very little idea how difficult it would sometimes be to distill thoughts and processes into meaningful words. I suppose rather naively I didn’t realise that I would need to learn to cast a more critical eye over my work. What I mean is that normally when one is making an image you make judgements about what you’re doing all the time but, you don’t have to express them, the conversation happens in your head. Alterations and changes that you want to make are decided silently before proceeding.

Now, up until now I’d been drawing away to my hearts content and was pretty happy with how things seemed to be going. I’d realised that bikes were quite difficult things to draw, they are actually quite complicated things really, but had satisfied myself that I could stick with plain elevational views for the time being, while I learned more about them from a form perspective. Getting a drawing to look right in terms of shape and proportion was quite a challenge to start with. It was surprising that so many of the elements had to come and work together just so the thing looked like, well, a motorbike. There was a lot more involved than I first reckoned. So achieving a drawing which hung together and looked ok  just in line form turned out to be quite hard work to start with.

Fine, and then for some mad reason that even I can’t fathom I started colouring them in.

Great, but what was I thinking? I’m sure I had told myself to stay away from all the myriad colour pencils and pens that litter my workroom. I’m pretty sure I’d had a word with myself about reaching into the drawer for a circle guide or French Curve as well. But no, I couldn’t resist it.

I mentioned in the previous post that something reared it’s head and this was it. Big deal you might think but, it actually created more problems for me than I wanted, and influenced a number of things. For I start I began to think constantly about how I would render the drawing and this influenced the way I drew things at the outset. It also meant that I was covering the drawing in a kind of cloak of realism which I had initially intended to leave out until I’d built up a bit more confidence and competence. I was sat there thinking, “what colour should this bit be?” and “how many spokes should this wheel have?” If I wasn’t careful I’d be diving headlong into the realms of reflections and then there would be no end to it.



I’d done a few line drawings and suddenly found myself staring at a pile of colouring in. I got myself truly stuck in. I’d started with colour pencils as they are my kind of default medium, I’ve always been very comfortable with them, and started piling on the pigment. Here’s another one that got the treatment.

In isolation these aren’t bad drawings, even though I say that myself, but they were lacking something which had been very evident in the first drag bike cartoon. They were a bit dry and lacked a certain something, a dynamism? And there weren’t any people in them.

I was reminded of an old tutor I had when studying at the Central School of Art in London back in the early eighties. In his spare time he would sit at home and paint pictures of vintage cars in gouache and ink. They were impressive technically but, as dry as a bone visually. I looked at my drawings and got a feeling that I was headed, albeit slowly, down some road toward a similar end, spending days painstakingly recreating every last detail in perfect likeness. That was not what I wanted and so had to rein myself in somehow. I knew that there would be a time for lots of colour but it wasn’t now and it wasn’t like this either.

The learnings from this experience were interesting though. Quite unwittingly I’d found myself charging off down a path I had not readied myself to pursue. This is what I think happened. They say that old habits die hard and perhaps this is the case here. Over years of making images to illustrate design ideas one gets into a groove. Not only does each designer develop their own unique style, but I think they also embed within themselves certain ways of doing things. These are like creative habits. If I look back at some of my work from studio days I can clearly see that I went about things in a very particular way. In a sense that’s what I found myself doing now, doing it in a certain way. I was going from sketch to line drawing and then to colour etc etc. For things to be finished they had to be in colour, properly shaded and kind of looking “real”. Despite the fact that the images were not of real things I’d started to try and make them look as real as possible and had found myself “designing” them, which in it’s own way effected the lines I drew. I was sat there worrying about whether they looked real enough, when the whole idea in the first place had been for them not to be real at all. Most importantly the process had started to be less fun. I hadn’t got the mix of ingredients right. Time for a rethink.



Trying to find structure

Hmm, a bit of a gap between this post and the last. Well, it was the Christmas season and I had other things on my mind and I’m sure that everyone else did too.

Now where was I?

Inspired by the drawing that I included in the previous post I took to sketching out some more to see where things would go. I had a head full of thoughts and ideas but it was all very unstructured and lacked a certain amount of direction. At least I was making images though, which pleased me. here’s a group of three sketches that quickly followed.

These I just quickly photographed from the sketch book, hence the slightly shaded appearance towards the base of the picture.

Seeing these it quickly struck me that I needed to get the pictures out of the sketchbook and onto individual sheets, to give each image a kind of home and to help me to start to organise what I was trying to do. The pages of my sketchbook were starting to resemble a rubbish tip. I had just hit the page with any and every idea I had and as a consequence I’d ended up with a giant tangle of bits and pieces from which I was finding it hard to pull bits that I wanted to work on further. So getting to separate sheets of paper seemed to make sense.

I wasn’t anticipating what happened next. I pulled out some ideas and started to draw them up, and found myself going into a huge amount of detail. It was as if I’d subconsciously decided that I was going to design bikes for real and spent absolutely ages agonising over what I was creating. The drawings weren’t bad, no, but I worried that I would lose something or that they would become a little sterile. You can see from this next image that it’s a long way from what was happening previously.

I actually really like this image and there are couple more like it which I’ll show next time because they really do illustrate the odd drift back towards realism. They also highlight another distraction which reared its head, and I’ll get my thoughts about that together for the next post too.

For info this drawing is again done in black Biro over a light pencil layout on A3 cartridge paper.