With five of the small Cafe Racer colour pictures done and posted there is one left to do which will complete this set. Rather than merely post up the final finished version of it I thought it might be interesting for people to see more of the process I go through when creating these images. So for this one I’ve scanned the various stages as I complete them.
The first step, once the overall composition had been decided, happens on the newsprint pad where I rough out a couple of sketches to get a feel for what I’m after. Often this involves sketching it out a couple of times as in this case. The first sketch is really just about working out the proportions, rider position and the general look of the bike in the image. Once you’ve got something then you’re in a position to make changes as you see fit.
So with this done, I decided that I wanted a slightly different looking bike and to move the rider up the tank a bit, good reason to do another sketch. I wanted to base this drawing around a twin cylinder Norton and a quick search on the net yielded the right picture which could inform me about engine details and other bits and bobs. I can now start to work these into the drawing.
With these two sketches done there is enough information on the sheets to allow me to transfer the image onto the A4 Bristol Board for the final version. This is where my handy little light box comes into its own. If there is a need to blow up or reduce the sketch size for this stage then it is simply a matter of printing out a quick scan at the right size before hitting the light box. For the pencil stage I need a good point to the pencil so use a 2mm leaded technical push pencil, with an H grade lead, which keeps a point well and isn’t so hard as to leave big grooves in the paper when you erase it. Most of the drawing is done freehand though I resort to my ellipse guides to get the wheels nice and tight. At this stage I’m building in all of the details gleaned from reference pictures like the engine case shapes, cylinder head position and brake details. I love density in these drawings so put a lot of effort into distorting things slightly and filling in all of the big gaps that normally exist when looking “through” a motorcycle. It’s also a good time to get all those tiny details in. I don’t necessarily need accuracy here but I do like things to be reasonably believable, if that makes sense. With the bike and rider done, I loosely put a box around it which will approximate the background block. By the time this pencil layout is done, my mind has already started to think about what colour to paint the bike, the riders helmet design and the background colour. Time to get the brushes out and a look at the various painting and inking in the next post.
There aren’t many drawings here in my collection that are based fairly and squarely on actual, real machines. The bike in the picture today is probably as close as I’ve got in some time to depicting an actual bike. On the one hand this is down to the fact that I find “copying” from reference material a rather dull activity, and on the other it has a lot to do with keeping my imagination fed, watered and happy. Those of us who enjoy documenting the wonderful world around us through image making most likely occupy an area similar to that found between the two intersecting circles of a Venn diagram, where the real and imaginary overlap, and each image is a result of varying percentage combinations of the contents of those two circles. For me the ratio feels very much tipped in favour of imagination but, sometimes I wonder whether this is actually the case. What is my imagination up to during the process of making an image such as this one above? Is it actually creating anything or is it busy bending a set of reality based frameworks, and blending those with a healthy dose of embedded knowledge to create something which my eye is happy with? I’m not sure, but it’s an interesting question all the same.
Generally speaking, an active imagination is a happy one, and though we all know that this isn’t always the case, learning to feed it with good stuff is an important life lesson. The pleasure though, in this activity, is that it seemingly has no problem propelling itself along at a fair old clip when it’s found something to get its teeth into, and for me this is where reality plays it’s biggest role, in influencing the choices my imagination makes and providing the fuel for the journey. This is one of the key reasons why these pictures come out the way they do. My imagination needs not only to bear creative fruit but also has to have something to distort, to have fun with in order to function properly. It’s a strong urge and one I’m almost powerless to resist, so most of the time I don’t try to. But there is some control involved somewhere as it doesn’t just run wild all the time. Perhaps it is like a kind of dog, look after it, feed it properly and give it regular exercise and it stays a loyal and rewarding companion.
Todays stunt, the Wheelie. As much as they are displays of machine control and skill, they are also a perfect expression of the utterly boyish exuberance and confidence that infects us when we’re out on our bikes. It’s a lot of fun to depict them in images, though capturing that moment, like a camera snapshot, presents its own challenges. If you drew up some kind of list of all the variables one could consider before putting pen to paper, you would probably never start. For me the essence lies in capturing that sense of fun and confidence such a display gives off. It is after all, nothing more than showing off to an audience, so trying to get that into the picture is important. It would be far simpler to draw the whole thing as a straight elevational view but that would be too easy. Like a camera lens your eye can be a pretty wide angle device, and so creating a sense of depth and perspective is the main challenge. Which part of the image is almost flat to the viewer, and at what angle does one see the rest of the subject are aspects that present an interesting challenge when drawing from imagination. Too little and things look rather flat, too much and you get a kind of fish eye effect that turns the subject into a kind of banana. In perspective terms these are not perfect depictions but I hope they do enough to convey the idea. Cartoons invariably bend the rules a bit, but I think you can get away with it when you admit that that is exactly what you’re creating.
This one is Wheelie 1, and yes, that means there is another one coming along shortly. I hope you enjoyed it.