From blank sheet to finished picture – part 1.

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.




Take your imagination for a walk.


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.


Bending the rules, just a little.


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.


A new picture and an inspiring book.


This is the second version of FlyBy. There wasn’t anything wrong with the first one, it just seemed like a good idea to do another one, and bring in some more of the classic cafe racer details like a black leather jacket with patches on and a big silver tank on the bike.


The background got really patchy on this one but once it had dried out fully it didn’t seem too bad after all. The colour works really well with the bike image and it would have been foolhardy to think that it could be rescued or changed in any way by adding more liquid. I’m really pleased with the reflections on the exhaust and the engine side cover, I confess I referred to some photographs to truly try and get a handle on these parts. There is certainly a “way” of doing these things, and it is reliant on being able to pick the information  you want from a photo as it is in being able to access ones embedded knowledge. The former certainly feeds the latter, the photos serving purely to inform what I’m doing rather than be representative of the only way things can be rendered. More of these to come.

This is a great book.

This is a great book.

On another note today, here’s a really great book to recommend. It’s called “An Illustrated Life” by a chap called Danny Gregory. Essentially it is a collection of features on various creative people and their sketchbooks, including he author, though the books are very much the heroes. It is a fascinating look into other worlds where the books are used as journals for recording everyday life, through to how various artists use them as repositories for ideas and laboratories for creative experimentation. To accompany all of this visual candy there is also plenty to read, each featured person is given plenty of column inches to explain what they use their books for, how they do it and, just as importantly, why they do what they do. It is all very enlightening and interesting stuff, I can’t recommend it enough as a source of energy, inspiration and delight. For any of us who spend any time slowly filling sketchbooks all this might at first seem a bit intimidating, but go with it and it soon becomes clear that we are all doing the same thing, just differently and individually. It’s readily available through all the usual channels. Here’s a link: To the book.

Illustrated_Life2 Illustrated_Life3 Illustrated_Life4



Another stunt.


It’s good to have some kind of working titles for sketches and drawings if for no other reason to enable you to find stuff as you file it all away in some hard drive somewhere having scanned it. My trick cycling cafe racers are now the Cafe Stunts series, no point being too elaborate about it.


This is the second one, which goes by the name of “FlyBy 1”, which means there’s a second one on its way. I’m doing these at a small scale, the colour block on this one is only 200mm, or 8 inches, across on a sheet of A4 Bristol Board. It’s quite a challenge to keep the detail level where you want it, and in order to make life a bit easier for myself I’m applying washes and subsequent inking at various stages so I can keep track of all the fiddly bits. This builds the image in stages. I wanted backgrounds that didn’t contain any detail so they act as a real counterpoint to the detail of the drawing and help lift it off the page. Big areas are tricky to fill evenly on this paper, but for me the resulting patchiness of the colour helps to reinforce the hand made nature of the images. Some of the liquid colours I’ve got here work well in this mode and others really don’t, so most of the backgrounds are at the red/brown part of the spectrum. They seem to work well with the chrome elements too. I hope you like it.


Fish out of water.


Whilst scribbling through one of the worksheets a few weeks ago it became clear that at times, streams of ideas cross one another, and at these junctions one often finds a source of inspiration previously unseen. This image above comes from one such junction, the point where ideas about stunts and ideas about cafe racers crossed. It caught my imagination instantly and after some rough sketching there was the basis for a short series depicting such a combination.


The main driver of the idea is born out of an apparent change in the context of both. Stunts  like “wheelies” tend to be performed by guys on more modern bikes, though this is a sweeping generalisation of course, and cafe racers, although tending to roar about the place are never spotted doing the kinds of things shown here, the “stoppie”. I wondered what it would throw up if I took one and combined it with the other. There are probably lots of rational reasons why guys with classic bikes don’t show off in such a way, like weight, available power and the delicacy of their old clutches, but cartooning the whole idea lets you forget all that in the name of artistic license.


Finally today here is that “smoke” moment I mentioned a couple of posts ago, the one that really didn’t finish well. I have resolved not to try rescuing it yet, it serves as a reminder of how perhaps not to do it, but have overcome any reservations about revealing it to you. More out of context cafe racers soon.



A gift that keeps on giving.


A slight deviation from the well ploughed furrow of motorcycle art today, as one of my other projects reaches its end. Now that the gift has been given, I can let you in on something that I’ve ben working on for the last few sessions. My friends visit the blog and so it is always a good idea not to show stuff too early, they may see things they’re not meant to.


This is a gift picture done for a very good friend, Martin, to celebrate his birthday. It’s done on A4 Bristol Board using my favourite current techinique of watercolour wash and drawing pen. My friend is a strangely quixotic german, and over dinner the other week my partner and I came up with this idea of the dis-functional knight based on the Cervantes character of Don Quixote. Oddly, Martin too has a sidekick called Sancho, his cat. It seemed very fitting at the time. It took more than a couple of goes to get the horse looking silly enough, but I think I succeeded in the end. And turning my hand to a bit of calligraphy, after rushing to the library for a reference book, was an interesting experience, like dipping a toe into an adjacent pool of different colour water. Needless to say Martin loved it, and his wife Adriana knew exactly what the picture was referring to.


Selling a picture is a rewarding experience and one always hopes that the buyer will enjoy it for many years to come. One is of course always happy and grateful for their support and custom, and it’s a great feeling knowing that you have made that connection with someone. Giving a picture, or indeed anything that you have created or made, invokes completely different feelings, particularly when it’s a complete surprise to the receiver. I get a real kick out of seeing their faces and feel tremendous gratitude from hearing their appreciation and thanks. I always hope that every time they see it, the picture reminds them not just of me, but of that moment and the friendship that we share. These kinds of gifts are often wholly unique and the investment in time, energy and care in their making says a lot about how much your care about someone and what their friendship means to you. It’s a wonderful thing.