Well, here’s the final finished version of the first foray into the world of capturing the story behind an image. I’m quietly pleased with it even though it probably represents the simplest approach to all of the story stuff I have been posting about these last couple of times. It works, and that is the most important thing. Yes, there is much room for improvement but as a first stab it’s encouraging to feel that the framing and words add to the image rather than take anything away.
What is interesting is how looking at it now sparks an immediate desire to improve things, to create more. That’s not to say that what happens next is merely an extended exercise in duplication across any number of pictures, more a wish to really get stuck in, and learn properly how to make best use of all the different devices at ones disposal, and perhaps invent some new ones too, specific to these drawings.
Opening any book about creating comics and graphic novels invariably floods you in established conventions for framing, speech and thought balloon use, caption box positions, view angles, perspectives and all manner of inking and texturing techniques. All of it is there for us to learn from. It can be a bit intimidating. The best bit though is realising that none of it is compulsory, and that all of these things are there to be played with. Their task is to inform the image being created, rather like an arrow or two might inform a diagram, so there’s no need to use all of them all of the time. Much more fun to find the things that work for you and the types of image you create, than feeling the need (and pressure) to become a master of all before venturing to the paper to make your first mark. There will be lots of experiments and invariably lots of trial and error involved but, without learning through doing, things won’t move forward, or worse get stuck in a repetitive rut. And we can’t have that.
So the search has been on to find how to start thinking about stories behind the images and how best to communicate them. In a way a potential solution was staring me in the face, though I’d failed to recognise it. A very strong instance of not being able to see the wood for the trees. The “tipping point” was completing the cut down dragster drawing featured in The Line Is Drawn post. By cropping the image I had essentially put a box around it, the story in the image was contained mainly within this box, though it broke out to imply the story being much bigger than this constraint. The issue with previous drawings had been the open nature of the final image, with nothing to hold the image it was left to sit adrift in a space that then just flowed out to the edge of the paper. Sometimes paintings and drawings only start to make sense once we have framed them for hanging, and it was this sentiment that I was trying to capture. Rather than rely purely on the edge of the paper to provide the boundary of the contextual space, I realised that what may best serve these kinds of drawings is to create this boundary myself. Create distinct frames like they do for comic books and graphic novels.
It was a kind of “aha” moment. Had I found a mechanism for completing the images and communicating the “story” better? It seemed such an obvious realisation but then what is directly in front of you can be the hardest thing to see sometimes.It is nothing new, a technique that has a long history running through the comic universe to storyboards and beyond but, such a simple approach could really compliment the images as they are essentially cartoons in themselves and might benefit hugely from such a solution.
Conveniently there was a drawing here which I have struggled with completing for quite some time. It’s another in the dragster series and is sitting in the middle of a big bit of A2 paper, you may remember it from a post back in August. I got so far with it, then kind of stopped, the more I worked on it, the more the life seemed to drain out of it. The context I’d created in my imagination just wasn’t working so it got put to one side, to await a flash of inspiration and energy. It seemed a perfect candidate for experimenting with the “crop and box” approach. Interestingly, what happened was that it made me think much harder about what’s inside the boundary I’ve drawn. As a consequence the story has changed and with it a new context is starting to emerge in the background. The drawing has a new life, one that I’m more than happy with so far and looking forward to finishing.
So as a first stab it’s kind of working, an image I was perhaps bored with has regained my interest, and that’s such an important part of this exercise. They key now is to explore how this development pans out across future images. Certainly I don’t want it to become an exercise in cutting and pasting formats and such across a host of work, each piece must remain unique in its own way. What’s good is the fact that the idea is so simple and basic that it is ripe for all manner of playing with, and that flexibility is exciting.
In the previous post I alluded to my attempts to find new directions in which to take some, or all, of the drawings that pop out of the studio here. For a long time now there has been a persistent challenge in completing the ink drawings in particular, which has somehow not diminished or been overcome no matter the approach taken. It is that old thorny issue of context. Whether the inability to get this nailed is the result of never being formally trained in illustrative techniques, or some weird hangover from years drawing objects as a product designer I’m not sure. The more I think about it, the more I’m persuaded it’s a combination of things, some of which go right back to when we learn to draw in the first place and how we look at the world we are trying to capture.
The connection between ones minds eye and the imagination is a fascinating one and is undoubtedly different in all of us. How we imagine things, scenes, objects and the like also varies within us from moment to moment. When drawing from life one is saved from creating context because, in a way, it’s right there in front of us, and we are able to use some visual editing to eliminate that which we feel is surplus to our requirements. In imaginative drawing this is almost reversed, we must “fill in” first before editing down.
What’s this got to do with stories you might ask? Well, part of the success or failure of an imaginative image, I believe, lies in providing enough information to not only hold the eye of the viewer, but also to captivate their imagination in the hope that we allow them to extract as much as possible from the image. In a way we try to tell a story, or at least provide enough to start a story off, to allow the imagination to take us somewhere. Although a fairly simple sounding premise it has taken me some time to work this out in my own mind, which I’d much rather do than read it in some book or other. Because I’m a person who sees objects more than scenes in the minds eye, providing this context is always a struggle. Previous attempts have had mixed success. Shaded geometric shapes have helped to place the image on the page, but no more. Inserting scenes such as horizon lines inhabited with trees and buildings have helped too but run the risk of pulling the central image back towards reality and becoming repetitive. What I wanted to find was a format that would give more flexibility whilst being very much in tune with the language of the images.
The little drawing above might give you a fairly clear idea as to where this is going.
Firstly, a big thanks to everyone who sent me a “like” following the last post about the Dragster drawing and its blank rider. As ever, it’s always so encouraging to receive positive responses from viewers. If I haven’t yet, I will be visiting your sites too, to check out all of the creativity happening on WordPress and elsewhere and hopefully reciprocating in the spread of good karma.
You will see from the drawing above that not everything is going down the “leave bits blank” route, and so currently this one is much more like many that have come before. But it isn’t finished yet. What you see today is more of a progress update than a finished drawing. I whizzed off a quick scan for the blog without cleaning any of it up so it’s riddled with pencil lines and various other bits and pieces. Although the differences are sometimes subtle, this one is done on Fabriano drawing paper (200 gsm) rather than my preferred Bristol Board. The surface of the paper is much softer than the board and so the fine biro pen interacts with it differently. It is much harder to achieve the very fine line work for delicate tones on the one hand but, creates a kind of broken texture in the cross-hatching on the other hand. You do get a bit more ink build up on the nib of the pen so it’s a good idea to always have a tissue handy for keeping the pen as clean as you can. Overall the result is good though, so the paper has passed this part of the test. The next bit will be to see how it deals with direct sketching in pen. If there is a downside, it is the fact that this paper is only available in A4 and A3 sizes, so getting into some larger drawings will require me to find a different paper. I’m on to that already.
What’s going to happen in order to finish it? Well, there are a couple of new ideas that I’m trying out now which I hope will provide the answer to that question. It will be a new direction that’s for sure and I’ll post about it very soon.
Lastly today, here for your amusement, is the second cartoon I bashed out the other day over a cappuccino whilst contemplating our inability to read things properly, take things seriously and exercise our sense of humour.
Following on from the last post, the point was quickly reached where the decision as to what to do with the rider figure needed making. Leaving him as a kind of abstract blank space didn’t seem to look at all right. A few basic outlines looked better but didn’t add that much to the overall image, so the third of my choices remained. Why we spend so much time agonising over these things sometimes mystifies me, especially when it’s such a small jump to achieving the finish and one realises that it wasn’t such a big deal after all. That’s life I suppose.
It would be good at this point to be able to offer some kind of critique of the finished drawing but I’m currently in that place where I have been looking at it for so long that it is hard to get observations in some kind of order. So for the time being you will have to decide for yourselves whether it works or doesn’t. Others eyes will see things that mine currently miss, so revisiting it in a few days will give me a fresh perspective, and the capacity to work out how to move things on from here. There is certainly something in this leaving areas blank idea, but it needs properly evaluating, experimenting with and developing further.
Finally today, and on a much lighter note, a small cartoon for consideration. Some of us have an unfortunate habit of being able to read a word or phrase and always manage to insert extra letters. An example, if I see a real estate sign that says “To Let” I cannot fail to see the word “toilet”. I’m sure I am not the only person to suffer from this affliction. Well, a well known helmet manufacturer released a new product recently, The Castel. Reading the press release blurb I couldn’t help but think that it was called The Castle. Suffice to say this stuck in my mind, and that morning over a coffee at a local cafe the sketchbook came in very handy. The biking world can be very dry sometimes, it’s good to poke fun at it every now and again. Enjoy.
The title for todays post is phrased as a question and is one that is occupying a sizable chunk of my creative brain power at the moment. Although a single question, it concerns two very distinct aspects of the drawing you see above, which is shown in nearly finished form.
The first aspect of the question arises from my decision to crop the image and leave some of the image blank. Why? Well it stems from some feedback that has come this way in recent weeks, and some older thinking from a while ago which centred around the issue of how to introduce another dimension into the monochrome ink drawings. Combining the “less is more” approach and the often mentioned ability of the eye and brain to work together to complete an image, the time seemed right for some experimentation. When soliciting comment from others about the drawings it is interesting to hear that in some cases there is almost too much information provided, that the eye, brain and imagination are left with no work to do. Everything is there in front of them and there are no gaps for them to fill in. This got me thinking about where the edges of the drawing lies and how much information is then left within the space. Hence the cropping, which I could have done simply on a completed drawing in Photoshop, but that wouldn’t be the same.
The other part of the titles question touches the same subject but lies behind my decision to leave the rider figure blank. The line that this part of the enquiry is concerned with is that which does or doesn’t depict the missing rider. Are the blank spaces amongst the bikes details exactly that, is the figure simply delineated by a simple outline or is his form expressed in line only ie legs, head, arms etc?
It is far easier to add to a drawing than it is to subtract, particularly when working in ink. I wanted the drawing to be grounded so have only cropped on three sides and have slowly built up the image until it meets my ruled edges. Once the bike is complete I can then work toward figuring out where the line work for the rider will go, moving through my three options until I’m happy. Of course it may all end up looking a bit odd, but unless one tries these things one will never know.
Getting togged up for an autumn sunday ride normally involves donning your favourite jacket, picking out some warmer gloves, pulling on those comfy old boots and changing the helmet visor for one not so darkly tinted. It does not usually involve pressing a clean shirt, selecting an appropriately coloured neck tie, applying polish to shiny black shoes, fiddling with cuff links and putting on a suit. But this is exactly what I found myself doing last Sunday as I prepared myself for the London staging of The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride.
Initiated a few months ago by a bunch of guys in Australia in an effort to bring Cafe Racer and modified bike riding people together, the event has spread across the globe encompassing groups in cities across Australia, North America, Europe and beyond. The basic idea, to dress up nice and smart and gather at a pre-arranged location, before setting out across town together for a gentle ride to a destination where we can all park up, have a good chat and enjoy a drink (no-alcoholic of course).
As you can see I elected to take the 250, being the most modified of my two bikes. After a quick polish on the Saturday, and resplendent in its new fork gaiters and mini Bates style headlight, it certainly looked the part. The little bike performed perfectly, managing to hold its head high amongst a sea of much larger, more eye catching and certainly more noisy machinery. There must have been about sixty of us in total.
It was an excellent day and a huge thanks must go to Adam and the guys at the Bike Shed MCC for putting in the effort to organise a brilliant event. Great people on lots of great bikes. Roll on the next one, it can only get bigger.