What next?

Cherry Red Bobber.

The most nerve racking moment when finishing one of these coloured pictures is not when applying the last little bits with the brush, or even putting in the last bits of the thickened outline, it’s actually the time when you’ve got to lay a ruler along the edge of the exposed paper and cut the image free from the stretching tape. I need to get myself a heavier weight straight edge, the thick plastic one I’m using feels like it will slip at any moment. I confess that I have accidentally sliced presentation drawings in half before, hastily patched up with spray mount and tape, but it’s not something I want to make a habit of.

Like many previous drawings my satisfaction in finishing it is tempered by an irritating feeling that there are little improvements that could be made. It’s right though to fight these for now as engaging in a final fiddling session is a sure fire way to make a mess of things. So I’ll leave it and divert my creative energy toward getting on with another image. Todays dilemma is which image to work up next? Having spent ages being reasonably well organised with my workflow, I find myself today with no idea what I’m going to work on now. Lots of sketchy things on the wall but none is screaming “Me me me”. Best go away and choose one. Actually having said that, there is the small matter of finishing the black and white version of this picture which was featured in a post a couple of weeks back. The man now has a plan.

It’s good to sketch.

Lots of folk who say they can’t draw actually can, and time and again one finds out after some very elementary enquiry that the reason they’ve got to thinking this is that they never take any time to practice, and so, when they do pick up a pencil or pen it always leads to disappointment. For those of us who draw a lot, this kind of existential dilemma is a less formidable obstacle to overcome. That doesn’t mean though that things are necessarily easier for us. We still need to practice, just as much as someone who plays a musical instrument does, it’s the way we keep our skills sharp and develop ourselves.

The greatest practice is sketching and the best thing about it is that you can do it anywhere and at any time pretty much. It doesn’t have to be from life, though keeping ones observational skills up to scratch pretty much necessitates it. With a whole world out there to look at there is plenty of subject matter to choose from and nothing to be intimidated by. I have always subscribed to the view that it’s ok to visit a zoo, for example, and simply draw a building or a tree. You sketch what catches your eye, what you naturally gravitate toward. if you don’t like drawing people then don’t draw them unless you actually want to improve this skill. Sketching can be so easily turned into a stick with which we beat ourselves with, and this removes the fun from the exercise.Sketching is a drawers play time, the serious stuff comes later, so enjoy it. I’m sure lots of us reckon we don’t do it enough, but no one is counting the hours. The important thing is to do it when you can.

Here are a couple of sketches done the other day on a visit to the RAF museum at Hendon in North London. I tend to go with my old chum Ben, who’s pretty handy with a pen, and this lends an extra dimension to the day as we are able to meet up after sessions and discuss our sketches and the views, angles and processes we’re engaging with. It makes it much more interesting. I took a brown paper sketchbook I bought recently and after a couple of roughs in soft pencil I thought I’d have a go with a brown ink pen, which works well with the paper, and splodge some highlights around with a thin white chalk. The first one is looking up into an open cockpit of a Lightning fighter with a dummy pilot sat inside. The second a cylinder head from the radial engine on the front of a Bristol Bulldog biplane. There is so much to look at at the museum that one is never short of a subject, the collection is huge and it’s free to visitors too. What more do you need?

Finally here’s an update of the cherry red bobber I’ve been working away on of late. For a background I’ve decided to mimic the kind of bold swipes designers sometimes use to back up their marker drawings. More about this in the next post when it should be finished.

Colourful fun.

Having decided to be a bit bolder with the colours on this one I’ve pushed the boat out a little. Normally I’m not normally regarded as the worlds most colourful person, my wardrobe is mainly centred around innumerable shades of blue, black, white and the occasional earthy tone. The interior of my house is painted mostly white. Not very flamboyant and there are certain colours I daren’t go near like yellow and green. When I worked as a designer I thought about colour a great deal, there were many lengthy deliberations involved in picking colours for products, details and graphic elements. Nowadays things are different, some years spent not being in control of this aspect of projects has rather reduced my colour confidence and so splashing it about again takes some nerve, but it’s good fun.

Though the drawing may look slightly washed out at this stage I’m hoping that the intensity will return once the black ink starts to go down and I have decided on a colour for the backdrop area behind the central image. This should help to give it some punch, lift it from the background. Current thinking is go fairly neutral in both colour and tone so’s not to clash too much with the bright red frame and the helmet colour. The next post should show how that’s starting to look.

Daring to be different.

TT Racer

There were only a few lines to finish and a couple of pieces of text to finalise but getting them done took way too long. That said the TT Racer image is now complete and here it is. I’m pretty chuffed with how it turned out.

There are always an awkward few moments upon finishing an image when you have to push yourself to bring your critical eye to bear on it. The euphoria of finishing and regarding your completed work often promotes a kind of inner forgiveness where it’s comfortable to overlook things that perhaps you could have done better. So a good shove is required to jolt us into action. So here goes.

I would probably change the tank shape from the flared form shown to something more rounded to bring some extra lightness to the centre of the image. Tonally the bike and rider could be separated a bit more and while I was at it his face could do with a little less inking. It is a great relief to see the blue washed background giving the image a good degree of punchiness but, a bit more effort to make it less blotchy wouldn’t go amiss. I like text boxes but I’m not yet fully convinced. It will likely turn out that there are times to use them and times when it’s best to leave them out, it all depends. As a first stab at inking over water colour on rough paper I’d say this is something to keep working at for sure.

In that vein here’s a shot of the next one already started. You’ll notice that it is a slightly modified version of a previous drawing done in black and white a couple of weeks ago. I have changed some small details like the riders helmet and some bits on the engine to create some difference. For this one I thought I’d try and be a bit more bold with the colours, as you can see, to try and capture or express some of the more exuberant approaches that custom builders bring to their craft. No one ever said a frame had to be black after all. We’ll see how it goes, it should be fun, and I’ll be trying hard to benefit from all the little lessons learned from the previous drawing above.

Back to black.

On goes the ink.

A catchy title to todays post but, for all music fans out there I’m not going to be offering comment on the great studio album by the late, great Amy Winehouse, though I would say that Tears Dry On Their Own is my favourite track by far. Anyway I digress.


As you can see above The TT racer is nearing completion with a healthy dose of inking being done. As the title of the post implies this is very much an exercise in chasing all of the colour washed areas back towards black in the darkest shadows. This has proved quite tricky for a couple of reasons. Firstly it is incredibly easy to get a bit carried away and over do it, so teaching oneself when to stop is a constant challenge. The second reason is more techy in the sense that it’s about the touch of the pen on the drawing surface. Water colour paper is quite heavily textured relative to normal papers and so maintaining a delicate touch across areas is quite hard as you are not engaging with a smooth surface, so the line can be a bit inconsistent. It’s just something you have to get used to and work with. This also catches those little blobs of ink that gather on the pen tip every now and then so constantly cleaning the nib is a must do habit to get into.


It is coming together well though and should be finished soon. Then I’ll be able to release the paper from the back board, give it a proper scanning without there being a large bit of wood attached to it, and post it up here. Here’s a close up which reveals some of the dodgy line work.


Awash with colour.

TT racer washes.

Building a finished image is a really exciting part of the picture making process. As each area of colour goes down and every line gets drawn, ones original vision is slowly realised and brought to life. It’s at times like this that one realises that the making part of creativity is as enjoyable, and sometimes more so, than the spawning of ideas.


So the TT racer image now has its full compliment of colour washes and is now ready for the remainder of the line work. It has gone pretty well so far though I have to admit to a small mistake, over on the right hand side, where the two white streaks exit the frame. You’ll see that I let the wash run over the line on the top one a bit, which has let a bit of blue in. I will have a try at removing some of the colour with a damp flat brush once it’s fully dry. It may not work but it’s really not a problem, errors occur every now and then, and it is much better to learn to work with and around them rather than beating yourself up about it. This is as much an experimental drawing as anything else so mentally I’m ready for small things not being perfect. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of white gouache at the end if it proves stubborn.


Putting the washes down, particularly the large areas of blue proved a bit nerve wracking as you never really know what it’s going to turn out like. Not being too proficient a water-colourist there is always a degree of unpredictability in laying in larger areas. But then again this provides a nice contrast to the precision of the following pen work. I have left two small blank boxes top and bottom, one for the story title and the other for any final thoughts or signature, we’ll see. Should have this done in a couple of days. Here’s a close up for you.

TT racer close up.


Making it different.

TT racer sketch

Apart from the story conveyed by an image to the viewer, a picture also contains another story, that which lies behind its creation. This is not the narrative expressed by the image but the tale of how the image was made. Whenever I look at an image the “maker” in me can not resist trying to work out how it was made. It is this questioning which drives my desire to try and share, whenever possible, the processes which lie behind the images I create. The techniques I use are not complex and I don’t use any cunningly developed or unique ways to create them, so why not let others see how these things come into being.


Above is the first sketch for a picture I am now working on. It comes from a series of sketches done for the V-twins project. The inspiration for it is american dirt track TT racing where oval tracks are supplemented with right hand turns and jumps. I find the idea of flinging a big heavy 750 around this kind of circuit attractively bonkers and so, worthy of a picture. It’s done simply in plain blue biro pen on some of the cheapest and low quality sketching paper I own. Believe me, it’s a good deal messier than the scan shows thanks to the wonders of playing with the levels in Photoshop in readiness for posting. Those shaded areas cover a multitude of hidden lines and you can see the engine has received some attention from the Tippex pen too.


Using my trusty little lightbox the image was transferred onto some water colour paper, firstly in pencil which was then overdrawn with fine black biro pen. I wanted to try having another go at introducing some colour to the images so thought I’d start on familiar ground with some water colour paints and inks. Normally one would stretch paper before making even an outline drawing, but that would not allow lightbox use so I stretched it after copying the drawing across. It’s a great way to do it and the image doesn’t seem to suffer any distortion at all.


The following images are my progress updates. The first is laying on some light washes to give the image its base colour. The second shows you what I’m aiming towards. By applying my usual biro pen technique over the washed areas I can achieve the impact I want but with a degree of colour behind it, and thus a nice bit of punch too. I suppose it’s very like how you ink in a comic strip but here I’m aiming for some variation in the tones and not such a contrasty finish. The third one just shows how far I’ve got. In reality I should have applied all the washes before picking up the pen but wanted to show what’s building as much as see for myself whether I was on the right track or not. Looking good, though forgive the odd colouration, my camera does odd things with daylight.