What lies behind.

Catch me if you can.

Back in early January, post No. 50 featured the finished version of the first of what have become known as the “Scribble” drawings. It depicted two guys vying for the lead in an impromptu street race somewhere out in the middle of nowhere on an empty road.

Shortly after completing that one, work commenced on a second drawing along the same lines. Working over a very loosely constructed pencil layout, the drawing is built up using light wobbly pen strokes. Features and details develop slowly and grow by passing over them many times. It’s a slow process but it allows me to balance the tones across the drawing as it progresses, continuously working around the drawing rather than concentrating one one specific area at a time.

Relative to other techniques it’s quite labour intensive but, this is offset by the “feel” the drawing adopts as it grows. You’ll notice from these detail shots taken with the camera, the whole thing’s on A2 so won’t fit in the scanner, even in sections, that there is no background yet. I’ll admit it’s an area I’m still having difficulty with but, it is becoming clearer to me why this is and how to deal with it.

This drawing has actually had more than a couple of backgrounds pencilled in, mainly in the form of loose townscapes, but all have been ended up being erased. Why? Well, mainly because they all detracted from the central focus of the drawing too much. They created a marked change in perception, from being a picture of two guys racing to a picture containing two guys racing. It’s a subtle difference but an important one as it’s all about where your eye wants to dwell.

There is a second challenge for me here too, and that is managing to render the background in the same style as the main part of the drawing. Easier said than done, the more that lies behind the core of the image, the harder it is to make it recessive so the two bikers don’t get lost in a sea of loosely filled in street details. It’s also hard to compliment the comedy of the two racers without detracting from them too much.

Currently I’m erring towards a simple approach tried out on a couple of previous drawings, a simple horizon which holds a small collection of references, small buildings etc, that help “place” the main subject but don’t crowd it out. This might sound like a bit of a cop out, but it’s not a thinly veiled excuse for avoiding extra work, more a considered effort to provide context and preserve the impact of the core of the drawing.

All things being equal, the finished version should be up here soon.

Pleasingly vibrant.

Back at the start of January there was a post about clearing the decks to make way for fresh projects. It’s safe to say that this process is fully underway, though it’s a truism that as much as you try and finish off one set of things, you often can’t help yourself from generating more that only add to the pile. Not sure what that’s called but there must be a word for it somewhere.

The image above is the latest to get the “I must finish that sometime” treatment. It would be safe to say that it has been hanging around in the pending file for too long. It stated life as a very quick and rough biro sketch in a rather ropey old A3 pad used for just such things (see below). And that’s where it stayed. Then one day it got scanned, the reason for which now escapes me, and finally was printed out as a test to see how the printer would cope with rough water colour paper, reduced to A4. For some reason only the tyres got the benefit of some paint, until this week when I finally surrendered, and decided to give it a bit more love and attention.

It is still really a test image in the sense that the greys are mostly of a new kind not used before, made by Schmincke, which needed road testing. Lovely paint. It comes in refreshingly old fashioned little metal tubes, at 5ml size, and has a depth to it that makes it great to use. The other trial aspect is wanting to see how these new greys worked up against the luminous intensity of the Dr. Ph Martin’s liquid water colours used on some of the smaller paintings. Choosing a bright orange for the main bodywork has taken the colour contrasts to an unexpected though very welcome level. Although water colour is a favoured medium it often leaves the image with a very dull feeling. Using the liquid colours enables me to get that “pop” back into the picture. Bikes are exciting things and it makes sense to communicate some of that through the colour. It is gratifying to realise that the persistence of the old drawings nagging has finally led to a very pleasing conclusion.

Here below is a reference pic of the liquid water colour. Available in two sizes, as shown, and available in most good art shops. Thoroughly recommended if you’re looking to pump up the colour intensity in a water colour image.

The Captain.

Here’s another slice of the mixed fruit cake of drawing that goes on around here. The picture above shows a guy I have been playing about with for some time, and he’s the closest I’ve ever got to developing a character. He arrived in my life some time ago whilst working on a communications project. An opportunity had arisen to use a character to promote certain messages the client had in mind. This guy was not a direct result of that exercise but was born during a moments idle sketching one evening. The project had been about communicating expertise and my mind had wandered in the opposite direction to contemplating ineptitude and how to communicate that. The idea of a bungling, idiotic and ineffectual “superhero” type had a strange appeal, someone with all the gear and no idea.

Not long after his arrival he was given a name, Captain Shark, after my small design business whose logo he wears on his chest, and for want of anything better at the time. He rapidly went from a slightly muscular bloke to this rather podgy individual graced with abundant enthusiasm, an overly fertile imagination and elevated sense of his own abilities. A sidekick in the form of a small dog appeared soon after and my sketchbook at the time bulged with sketches of him trying to engage with the world in one form or another. And there he has remained for some time now apart from a few select outings like the watercolour above. This has very much to do with not knowing exactly what to do with him.

Over the last year or so he has undergone some experimental name changes, I closed my company so the shark reference doesn’t have the same ring to it, and a dormant attempt to turn him into something else, like a mad inventor or suchlike. So he’s very much still a work in progress.

What he does have though is staying power as frequent visits are made to that particular sketchbook to move him on a bit further or simply play around with him.

Whatever fate awaits him, he is immense fun to sketch and draw. Because his body form consists of a series of rounded blobs he is moderately easy to pose and the tight fitting spandex outfit lends him a kind of elasticity that is fun to exploit. Being a cartoon he is a great vehicle for trying things out, for instance, if I’m stuck on something else like a posture it’s often faster and easier to work it out using his bendy body form first and then develop from there. He is essentially like a bit of 2 dimensional modelling clay and a handy catalyst for getting ideas moving. More about him soon.

Background noise.

As mentioned before on the blog there are always things going on in the background while work on the larger finished drawings is progressing. Sometimes this takes the form of working sketches which will form the basis of larger works, at other times they are small drawings that are used to practice techniques or develop an idea.

Above are a small group of what are known here as bikeheads. Invariably the larger drawings contain a character or two and it is often a challenge to get them looking right for the given context that they find themselves in. Finding the correct pose and body shape is never simple and the same goes for facial expression, and how this reflects the characters personality. The former are dealt with purely through sketching out varying forms but, the latter is harder, especially when you realise that even the slightest variation in line can change a facial expression completely. So as an aid to get things going I have started a kind of character bank in which to keep all the doodles of heads and faces that appear through the sketch sheets. It will then be easier to have a look through and find some inspiration when it’s needed. Adding some colour to these helps to bring out the character and keeps my colour pencil technique up to scratch too if it’s not being employed elsewhere.

Which leads me neatly onto this second group. Back in December a post contained some small groups of varying bike styles I was playing with at a reduced scale. Those had been completed in crayon and ink. These above were done purely to see what would happen if they were done using liquid inks and watercolours. To find out how intense the colours would be and how much of the detail could be held  given the very liquid nature of the medium and the coarser paper used. Very fine Rotring pen has been applied too, to firm up[ the outlines and add extra black where desired. The paper was fine for the paints but proved to be a bit too “wooly” for the finer stuff subsequently done with the pen. Next up will be a test on harder paper.

Some say you can’t learn to draw from a book. This may be so, or not, but a couple of really useful books I refer to regularly are Action Cartooning by Ben Caldwell, here, and Cartooning The Head & Figure by Jack Hamm, here. Both are invariably out on the desk when character sketching. Neither will teach you a style but, both will inform whatever your personal style may be. Great books.


Variety, part 1.

“Do you draw anything other than bikey stuff?”

It’s an often asked question and the answer is, yes I do. Currently the focus is very much on the bike stuff but, there is increasing feeling that a bit of diversity wouldn’t go amiss every now and then. Looking back through the admittedly rather scant archive here serves as a constant reminder that other subjects do indeed come under the Soulcraftcandy spotlight every so often.

Admittedly it’s not very frequently but, now and again I am asked to do a small commission, or an upcoming event such as a birthday prompts the creation of something different. Providing there is enough time to get things done, including coming up with the right idea, doing small commissions and gifts can be a lot of fun and very rewarding. Not being a pro artist or illustrator means that engaging in these things is less pressured and remains fun.

Peoples reactions to them are often very positive and complimentary. If you are lucky enough and they are giving you some money in exchange for your labours, then usually this more than compensates for the ocassional hour or two you’ve spent burning the midnight oil to get it done in time. The rewards are also emotional, they feel good about receiving something unique, and you get a big buzz out of that and receiving the compliment. Lots of great Karma is shared.

So here are a couple of things retrieved from the archive which aren’t focused on big bikes, blokes and big engines. The one above was done some years ago for a charity auction. A very old friend, who ran a gallery at the time, asked a number of people she knew to donate or create a work to be sold at an auction to raise money for a charitable cause. If my memory serves me correctly it was called The Yellow Brick Road Foundation, a children’s charity, hence the subject of the picture. I don’t remember how much it raised, but it was very satisfying to know that it sold and the proceeds went to a good cause.

This second image is one of a number done over the years for my brother who runs a veterinary practice and likes to create a new brochure every now and again. Once the images have been scanned for printing he has them framed and placed around the surgery to add bit of light hearted interest to the place. It’s a nice touch and pleasing to know that many others get to enjoy the pictures on their visits. Here I was making a comment about the old adage that owners sometimes look like their pets, and vice versa.

If the archive is holding any other nuggets these will be posted too in the name of variety, which is the spice of life after all.

Both of the above were created using colour pencils and ink on cartridge paper, which was  pretty much my default setting for many years and remains a strong favourite.

Time well spent?

At last, managed to finish the first big scribble drawing last night. At last, because this thing took far, far longer to do than first imagined. Although the style might look quite quick (and it seemed as much at the start) it required a lot of time to move around the drawing, continuously teasing out the many details in order to create the right feeling of depth and movement. It is a very satisfying process but requires a lot of patience. This technique is definitely one where knowing when to stop is an undefined line somewhere amongst the thousands of little bits of shading.

Capturing the little sideways glances of the riders as they vie for supremacy is my favourite bit, although it’s a close run thing between that and the slightly out of focus nature of the image, which lends to the feeling of movement.

Another one has already been started (am I a glutton for punishment?), again using a fine nibbed Steadler 430 biro and an A2 sheet of 220 gsm heavyweight cartridge paper. What with all of the other things I’m playing with it may be a while before an update on its progress can be posted. Watch this space.

Is it now a painting?

Finally got around to putting the finishing touches to this one the other evening and so wanted to get it up on the blog as soon as possible. As much as I like the final result, it’s proving difficult to decide what to say about it today other than to ask the question, “is it now a painting?”

Certainly the character of the image is completely different, the starkness of the ink drawing is replaced by a softness afforded by the colour treatment. What’s also interesting is that even though a stronger connection to reality is forged with the addition of colour, it has also brought a stronger emphasis to some of the more comic elements.

The purpose of the exercise however was not to set up some kind of competition between the two images, more to explore how colour would effect the final outcome and to get my rusty painting hand back into action. Some details proved easy and enjoyable to do whilst others remained a challenge, so there is still work to do before getting to that point where one is confident in creating what your minds eye can see, on the page in front of you. They say that in order to truly become an expert at something you must practice it for something like ten thousand hours, quite a way to go if expertise is the goal. Thankfully it is not, well not yet anyway, re-learning to play with some colour media is. So there will be more of these.

Enjoy the view.