Experiment and learn.


These small images are really coming along thick and fast, well, relative to the time it takes to do the larger ones anyway. The working title for this one is “Big Green” for obvious reasons and every time I look at it I’m gladdened by the brightness of the colours. Being a head on view there wasn’t the complexity of an engine to carry the detail so it needed to be found somewhere else. With such big tank bulges showing I thought it would be fun to see if detail could be included in the reflections shown. It’s only a small image so there’s not that much room but I managed to get some in.


These smaller pictures are a lovely canvas to experiment on, the technique is quick and you can try things out without worrying about wrecking a picture you’ve spent weeks working up. The process also teaches you what does and doesn’t work, and you can then apply that learning to bigger pictures when they come along. I’ve always found reflections tricky, so this is a really unthreatening way to get a bit more familiar with them.


Keeping it punchy.


Ok, so here’s the next one in the now growing collection of small pictures coming together here in the studio. This one is lifted from one of the worksheets done a couple of weeks ago. There were a couple of characters sat behind the bike in that version but I decided to take one of them out and slightly change the context of the picture.


These are proving really fun to do. It’s not just the drop in scale and the subsequent shortening of making time that provides the pleasure, as much as the change in approach to the punchiness of the colours and handling a different level of detail. It is logical to think that going smaller should also mean going simpler, and I would agree to some extent, though I would also argue that if you take too much away you risk losing something, be it the attention of the viewer or the impact of your picture. With less area of paper to accommodate the image one must work that little bit harder on maintaining a level of detail that still makes the image interesting to look at, hence all the little stickers and badges, and possessing an impact in some way, hence the use of bright colours. These are after all fun images of fun subjects, and so to me it pays to put the work in to help them jump off the page.


Keeping it cartoony.


Here’s the picture from the previous post all inked up and finished. This is as far as I want to take it. In contrast to the previous version of this picture, the one with the yellow fuel tank, this one was done with a black biro pen, I was interested to see the difference, and it works quite well though I have to admit to preferring the much blacker lines of the previous version. A good experiment to try though, and for me validates the decision to push the slightly more cartoony style on these smaller pictures. Because biro pen has the ability to give such a variety of line weight and density it’s always tempting, and indeed a struggle sometimes not, to get all carried away with layer upon layer of shadowing and tone which confuses the drawing. The stark simple lines created using the technical pens work well with the colouration to keep the drawing in cartoon territory which is what I’m after with these. It is also helping me get over my biro addiction.


Of course it would be a simple case of going over everything a bit more with the pen to blacken things up but the essence of the picture is already there in my mind, and that would simply look like trying to emulate one kind of rendering style with another. You’ll notice that the boundary box is grey rather than black in an effort to bring a bit of softness to the holding device as well. There are some grey pens here which I’ll experiment with to try and find my ideal solution. So, I hope you enjoyed seeing this one finally. On to the next one. More again soon.


It’s certainly quicker.


In the last post I talked about trying some news things and challenging myself to develop some new techniques and practices. It is hoped that this will inject something fresh into the drawing process, to keep the old brain stimulated and create some funky images along the way. Though probably a needless concern, it has always been important for me to ensure that I never get bored with what I’m doing, that it become repetitive to the point that I’m reluctant to engage with it, and above all, it should remain fun with a capital “F”.


One of the best ways I’ve found to keep the fun factor going is to have a group of styles and techniques which I can swap between. Someone asked me not long ago wether I had a signature style and I found the question quite hard to answer, it made me go away and think about it. Eventually it occurred to me that I most likely, or literally, did not, but I did have a style in the way that I drew the subjects, how I represented basic forms and shapes. What caused the feeling of uncertainty in hearing the original question was that the way in which I subsequently rendered each image, be it in biro pen or coloured ink etc, could be very different, and so some final pictures vary greatly from others in their final look. There are probably those who would suggest that it’s important to develop a signature style but I prefer the variety that a group approach gives you. The point being that I believe it’s vital to keep interested in your work and never be afraid of the freedom experimentation affords you. Long may it last.


So here’s the second picture in my quest for more productivity and fun. This image shows it half done. Here the basic pencil outline is gradually filled using very thin layers of watercolour and coloured ink. By building the image slowly it offers the opportunity for some interesting overlaying of the pigments, and varying the tone across the details. These are being done on Bristol Board which doesn’t behave anything like watercolour paper, it’s smooth and flat to start with, doesn’t buckle so you’ve no need to stretch it and the paint dries very quickly. I love my watercolours but endlessly waiting for bits to dry enough before applying the next colour without risking it all melding together can be a little trying at times. As I said this is a relatively quick way to do it. Once I’m happy that I’ve got most of the colour down, the whole thing is redrawn in ink. I’ll show the final inked up picture in the next post.


Challenge yourself, try something new.


An intrinsic part of the creative life is to challenge things. To challenge existing norms, preconceived notions, behaviours and expectations, as well as a whole host of other aspects of our existence. One of the most rewarding is when we challenge ourselves. Sometimes it is not important wether we succeed in this endeavour, but more so that we engage in the process as a learning experience. Developing new skills and learning new approaches is a key goal behind moving forward.


Last year was the year of the biro pen and I pushed myself as far as I could in finding and developing a technique that allowed me to express myself fully with that particular medium. I pretty much reached my limit and some of the resultant drawings, particularly the Cafe Racer series, were very rewarding to complete. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to turn my back on all that work and take off in a new direction. Investing so much time and effort would be wasted if that were the case, and anyway doing these things is like playing a musical instrument, you have to keep your hand in shape through practice, so more will undoubtedly follow.


What is driving a fresh desire to push some other personal artistic boundaries this year showed its hand a bit towards the end of last year with the advent of more colour images. Again it was kind of pleasing to do them that way, essentially refining the biro pen technique and applying watercolour, but I couldn’t escape the fact that they were taking an enormous amount of time to complete. This year I want colour to play a larger part, but I also want to be more productive in the time available, to see more of the many ideas generated become finished pictures rather than footnotes in a pile of loose paper.


So the first approach is to work smaller and work faster, still incorporating many of the things like boxing and cropping explored last year, and to develop a punchy technique which works well with these new format images.


The Dirt Rider above is my first attempt. It is smaller, about 19cm across. I’ll be posting some more very soon and will tell you how I’m making them then. I sincerely hope you enjoy this one and those that are to come.


Worksheets, organising your ideas.


I mentioned in the last post how hard it can be sometimes to keep track of ideas, organise them and maintain connection with them as you go. Those thoughts were prompted by a session going through the piles of loose sheets that don’t get put on the wall in the studio and the ideas that they contain. It’s amazing how fast one can build a pile of paper, and how much time one can spend subsequently sifting through them.


The new year has brought with it a desire to try and bring some kind of order to how ideas are collated and stored, and then how to access them a little more quickly. A solution, which I’m now trying to make a habit of, was found in a book and I don’t mind admitting as much. I’m lucky that here in Ealing I have access to a public library which has escaped closure. It is a fantastic resource for all kinds of things aside from books and is completely free. They have quite a good arts section and a good few books about all aspects of drawing and painting. One publication I borrowed recently was by a cartoonist and animator. An interesting book though much of it was very specific to his latter trade, but what struck me was how he organised his work. There were many examples of worksheets he created for each project which explored everything from frame compositions to colour palettes and other tiny details. Although most of it was way too complicated for my needs, it was the central concept of the worksheet that stuck with me. The sheet above is one of my first worksheets, or ideas sheets. I haven’t gone as far as making a grid of boxes to sketch in or scribble notes in but getting the ideas down this way helps with any grouping I may want to create, and more importantly it is now possible to increase the density of ideas stuck up on the wall by a considerable degree. So simple, so effective.


Keeping track of ideas.


One of the consequences of conducting ones creative activities in a small studio room, essentially a converted child’s bedroom measuring barely 10×6 feet, stuffed with bookcases, desks, computers and all the required paraphernalia, is that keeping track of things is a perpetual challenge. The question “now where did I put that?” rings in my ears all the time. Any activity, creative or otherwise, brings about default behaviours in us like how we file things, store items and arrange our work area. We create our own individual systems which are very particular and often not logical in the eyes of others. I’m also sure it’s a truism that we spend countless hours every year modifying our little systems in the search for an ideal solution. I know I do, and it’s not always about easing the process of finding stuff. Being able to see your ideas is a very important part of stimulating the creative process. In the past I’ve enjoyed the luxury having lots of sketches and drawings laid out to view, it helps with seeing where you’ve been and also where you’re going, or would like to go with an idea. The challenge is being able to maintain that connection between your vision and the work in progress. This applies as much to images we collect as reference as to our own output.


I have a wall in here upon which I stick sketch sheets and stuff, but it never feels big enough. As a result it constantly changes, acting as a road map for current work and keeping the connection going with ideas and thoughts which still hold my attention. It would be fantastic to sit in a studio the size of an aircraft hangar, but that’s not going to happen any time soon, so making the best use of what’s available really counts. The computer, which holds a huge resource in my image bank, and provides access to the universe of the net only has a screen that is so big. So to cram as much into this space as possible these compositions of ideas, as shown here, are a great way for me to see lots of ideas all at once, make decisions about them, and assist myself in direction finding.