Don’t buy it, build it.

A couple of years ago I came to the end of a long term contract which had seen me running a modelmaking and prototype workshop for a small Industrial Design company in west London. I’d had, and in fact still do have, a very good relationship with the guys at the company and had often been able to work on small personal projects after hours over the course of the contract. Before I headed out into the world again to look for more work I had a desire to make something substantial for myself. After not much thought I decided I’d like to build a motorbike, or at least modify one to my personal spec. This is something that I’d actually been wanting to do for years but never had the time or opportunity to have a go.

Over the course of an evening, armed with three of my favourite creative tools, a pint of beer, a pencil and a pad of paper I sat down to plan my project. I had managed to persuade the guys to let me use the workshop for an extra month before going, so that set my timeframe. But what bike was I going to modify? I wrote many lists covering capacities, bike type and performance criteria in an effort to get a clear idea. I’ve always had a soft spot for 250cc bikes and after rejecting many other larger alternatives (I’ve already got a big bike anyway) I settled on the idea of creating a small runabout for town use based around a single cylinder 250.

I wrote a little brief for finding the donor bike in the form of a list. It had to be light and manoeuvrable, cheap to buy, run and fix but, most importantly it had to have potential. With only a month of workshop time available I knew I wouldn’t have time for complex frame work or to farm stuff out, I had to do whatever I could myself and quickly. I set myself a budget and dived into the web in search of a likely candidate. I finally settled on Suzuki’s GN250, an oft maligned little commuter custom like a Yamaha SR250, but better looking and with more appropriate geometry. Although they turned up on ebay fairly regularly the prices were high and condition questionable. I tracked a good one down in Gloucester – lady owner, low mileage, big rear rack. Perfect. I took the train down, and rode it home the same day.

I was as excited about going to get it as I’d been some years ago when I went to pick up my new Triumph. It was everything I wanted it to be. The dealer had serviced it for me and put in new oil etc. It started easily and coped admirably with everything I threw at it on the ride back to London. Assuming an “aero” tuck with my nose buried in the clocks we hit an indicated 80 mph, the brakes worked ok, and despite minimal suspension damping, floppy steering and a totally square rear tyre I stayed out of all the hedgerows. It was 120 miles of fun. And it did the whole lot on less than a tank of juice.

Once my mate Richard and my girlfriend had stopped laughing at my new purchase it got a good clean and I took some quick photos outside Rich’s garage so I could chop the thing about in Photoshop and sketch out my planned mods.

Ever since I’d decided that I wanted to create a little roadster for town I’d not stopped thinking about a retro styled scoot with a single seat and so this was my start point for mucking about very roughly in Photoshop. Without much work it turned out that I could get close to what I had in my minds eye quite quickly. One of the reasons I’d gone for the GN was that geometrically it already possessed the right kind of stance, not too high at the front end, with a short wheelbase. As a result I could leave the wheels where they were, and the frame too for that matter and just chop the rest around, creating mudguards, seats etc as I went. This was a Sunday, so I gave myself until the end of the day to reach my final idea.

Inspired by classic bikes of the 50’s and 60’s I’d very much latched onto the “Bobber” style, though I had no intention of giving the little 250 a hard tail, really not a practical solution for London riding. Other details would be changing though, like suspension, fenders, handlebars and exhaust but, for now these simple visuals gave me enough information to get on with the task of planning the build.

Next up, where to start and where to get the bits I was going to need.




Comfort in the familiar.

With the lightbox constructed the speed and easiness with which I can transpose drawings onto fine quality paper is greatly improved. What I really like about it is the ability it gives you to not only see where you are with the drawing as you go but, also it’s become much easier to make those fine adjustments to the composition. I appreciate that this all sounds wonderfully old fashioned but there is a beauty in that.

Another problem I’ve been dealing with on a relatively regular basis is that of getting into the rhythm of drawing on days when it doesn’t come easily. I’m not an artist and as such I’m not in the habit of engaging with my work on a daily basis. There are often gaps and I find that my eye takes time to get back in when I return to the page and the pen. Normally I find a good scribble gets me into the swing but there are other times when nothing progresses beyond that. Angles, proportions and perspectives are all out of my creative reach.

What I’ve found helps me get over this hurdle is to go back to something familiar and draw that. Something that I know intimately and when it comes to drawing bikes there’s nothing more familiar than your own machine. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m lucky enough to have two, but it’s the smaller one which always gets the job. Having spent a month modifying it a couple of years ago, and riding it a lot since then I know it inside out.

Above is a “getting into the rhythm” sketch of the little 250 that eventually went all the way to a finished drawing, below.

Like many of my other images I’m still fiddling about with what device to use to ground the picture and have so far only scratched something rough in using Photoshop. What I find happens when I follow this path to warming up is that the familiarity of the object in some way makes it easier to distort the view and the drawing. Sitting here writing this I’m actually struck by the fact that I haven’t needed to draw the 250 for a couple of weeks, so things in general must be getting better and easier to engage with.

Here’s pic of the bike. I mentioned ages ago in a very early post that I would tell some of the story behind this little special build. This is supposed to be a blog about drawing and making after all. So I shall sprinkle some of that into the mix over the next few posts.



Making a lightbox.

It’s a great truism of anything connected to a hobby, making anything, fixing anything as much as of life in general, that whatever it is you’re doing the one bit of kit you find you need is the one you don’t have. How many times have you taken a whole bunch of stuff and tools out front to fix the car only to find that the one spanner you need is the one you didn’t bring.

So it was with me realising I needed a lightbox if I was going to stand any chance of transferring sketches to better quality paper for final drawings. I had a couple of sheets of a varirty of good old fashioned carbon copy paper but it wasn’t what I wanted and you can’t see where you’ve been so easily with it. Jumping on-line I realised I’d be in to over £200 for an A3 size. And the boxes on offer were just like I’d used in the past; big, heavy things fabricated out of metal extrusions and packed with great big fluoro tubes that get hot.

I wanted something slim and low in profile, capable of taking an A3 sheet and certainly cheaper than £200 or so. After no more than two minutes thought I decided to make my own. One mad project I’d done a couple of years ago was converting a new office machine into a do-it-all device complete with coffee machine, DVD player, stereo sound, screen etc. It was made to “float” on a bed of light, and for this purpose I’d usesome brilliant low voltage cold cathode light tubes. Very compact, bright and they don’t get hot. I tracked down the company Luxx and ordered some tubes in white and the various bits of power supply and inverters.

Luxx offer a service whereby you can order over the phone and they were really prompt in their despatch of the parts to me, try them though I’m not sure they send stuff abroad.

So with four tubes in hand I worked out how big I wanted the box to be, essentially A3 plus a bit. Again using an old work supplier, and there are lots of people out there who can supply you should you need, I purchased two pieces of Acrylic sheet (Perspex) cut to my dimensions. One is white, for the base of the box so I didn’t have to paint the whole interior and the other opal for the top.

Then off to the local wood store for some strip wood in two widths for the frame. By laminating the strips together I could create frame sides with an integral rebate to take the acrylic sheets and leave me with a flush surface.

I made sure that this rebate was continuous around the top to fully support the top opal sheet. To fix the white base sheet I cut thin strips and four triangles to give me four corner fixing points and some support areas for the base. See pic on the right. I simply took my time, which means taking plenty of time to let glue dry and set, and simply glued the structure together. PVA wood glue is great stuff if you leave it alone to do its thing.

While the frame dried I got busy on the base sheet and lights. The tubes come in square section housings so you can rest them on whichever face you want for the best effect. Luxx usefully supply some very handy velcro tabs for fixing the lamps in position which makes life dead simple. I also measured the positions for some mounting holes for the inverters, the white boxes shown, drilled some holes and put them in place. two tubes can run off each one. Once I’d decided on the light spread I wanted it was merely a case of positioning the Velcro bits and fixing the lamps in place. Some white tape to manage the wiring and it was ready to go.

I’d used two layers of double sided tape to hold the front sheet in place and so everything mounted into the back of the frame using the foiur screw holes in the corner triangles I’d put in at the start. The base sheet slipped in without any fuss and once screwed together I had a great little light box.

And here it is in action. I know full well that the light spread is not continuous across the box, but that’s not an issue. What I have is plenty of light coming through allowing me to trace away to my hearts content. It works through some pretty thick papers so all is well. I use it as shown, propped up on a plastic laptop support from our good friends at IKEA which makes a very comfortable working angle. I’m very pleased with it.

What you can see lurking on it in the pic is a loose sketch for a chopper/bobber/ low riding composition I’m starting to work up. Watch this space for the final version.

Oh, and by the way, if you do fancy making a similar lightbox the lamps are Deluxx 5 and the code number is TE26290-65UV. They will happily give you advice about inverters and cables if you need it, but it’s all on the website.