Seeing red.

The Traffic Light Special by Jon Tremlett for Soulcraftcandy 2013

Applying the thousands of ink dots that make up the shadow areas in the “Slugger” picture featured in the previous post, got me thinking about what the image would look like if it was in colour. This short period of playful thought led to the creation of this second image based on the same drawing. It seemed like a fun idea to start by turning the bike into a street machine, but something built for short sprints like dashing between sets of traffic lights. So it needed lights, some different handlebars and a license plate, all fairly easy to include. It also felt right that it should be brightly coloured, a reflection of the exuberance of the activity it was created for.


So the main body of the picture employs the watercolour and pen technique used a good deal lately. I love the way it gives the pictures such a punchy look, almost jumping off the page and into your eyeballs. I so liked the dotted tyre shading from the last version I kept it in, contrasts nicely with the grey.


The bit I’m most pleased with though is the background, the bike really needed something big and bold behind it. I had a good fiddle in Photoshop before doing it, playing around with some ideas based around red, amber and green, the traffic light palette, but these merely made the whole thing look like some odd homage to Rastafarian culture. Needless to say they got dumped, too weird, too complicated, but the red element remained as it worked really well with the bright orange of the bike. This final version is simply primary red overlaid by a darker tint made by adding black. The background is air brushed using gouache paint. I covered the whole picture area with lo-tac film and cut around the bike very carefully with a craft knife, it always surprises me how little pressure is needed to cut the film so it pays to exercise the upmost patience. A solid red was then sprayed on and left to dry before removing the film. Another piece of film was then laid over and the lines for the wave forms were put on in very soft pencil. These were then cut out, again with a fresh bladed craft knife, and sprayed with tint made from the same red with some black added. Even though the picture already had a black ground line, the above process was repeated once more so that pure black could be sprayed on to give the gradient shading of the black area dissolving into the red. Challenging, messy and rather time consuming but the outcome is everything I wanted.


It’s called “The Traffic Light Special”.



It’s enough to make you dotty. A dragster in monochrome.

Dragster cartoon©JonTremlett2013 at Soulcraftcandy

Maintaining momentum, and keeping the creative juices flowing, is always one of the challenges one has to overcome when engaging in an artistic pursuit which has to fit in around the everyday goings on of ones life. It’s easy to loose the flow, and returning to an unfinished image rarely results in picking up the thread exactly where you left it. I suppose that one of the key disciplines of any artist is to develop techniques which enable you to do this as seamlessly as possible. I don’t have any hard and fast routines that I follow in order to make this easier but one thing I do do is always try and have a number of little projects on the go at any one time, all at different stages. This means that when I’m deep in thought about how to solve a problem on one picture, there is always another close by which I can engage with, one where the work is at a stage where I don’t have to overcome any issues in the execution. So dipping in and out of things keeps the creative ball rolling rather than running to a dead stop as endless time is wasted staring at a problem until the answer comes. In fact this act of “dotting about” helps me to uncover the answers that I’m looking for.


So whilst pondering what to do about the background for the picture featured in the last post, I had a good look through the “pending ideas you should really finish” pile and pulled one out to serve as the “other” project. I had a dabble last year with some sketches following a visit to a drag race meeting, made a couple of drawings, and then promptly left it there. I’m not sure why. This drawing above was all ready for some treatment having been carefully pencilled out onto a nice bit of drawing paper, I just hadn’t thought much about how to take it further. I’m not sure what inspired my choice of technique, it could have been my recent visit to Tate Modern to see the Roy Lichtenstein show or something else entirely. Doing something different really appealed though and so out came the trusty old technical pens and I set to work.


Although the dot shading is a madly labour intensive way to do things, this drawing proved to be very enjoyable to do and a pleasant alternative to the paint and ink technique I’ve been doing a lot of recently. You have to take a break every now and then though as all the little specks of black make your eyes go a bit funny after a while. It’s a lovely way to gradually build up tone though and really plays to the cartoon nature of the drawing. I’ve called it “The Slugger” after a certain baseball bat, a blunt though effective instrument that gets the job done. I hope you like it.


Keep it simple, stupid.

Cafe Racer cartoon from soulcraftcandy ©Jon Tremlett 2013

Ok, so I air-brushed it. Some may construe this as giving up, caving in and taking the easy way out, but I don’t see it that way. The concentric rings of colour idea was something I wanted to try, but knowing that it might not go according to plan, it was only common sense to have a solution tucked in the back pocket. Try as I might, I could not get it to work manually. The twin evils of watery paint and a shaky hand conspired to create a cringe making collection of patchy coverage and hopelessly imprecise curving lines. If it was a report card it would have had “Messy, must try harder” written large over it in red ink. I thanked myself for at least taking the trouble to try it out on a separate sheet of paper. 


I’m sure it might have been less traumatic if I’d tried it in acrylic paint, or mixed up house paints, as a good friend has since suggested. But I really didn’t want to make another trip to the art store to purchase even more stuff that I would have to find a home for in the now bulging shelves of the studio. 


The air brushing was not without its moments either. Purchased many years ago to apply even coats to a rather expensive model I was making, the airbrush has spent most of its life in its box, venturing out occasionally to be fiddled with but never wealded as a precision instrument. As far as using it to create a picture, the last time I tried that was at art school thirty years ago, and the results were pretty poor even viewed through rose tinted specs. I’ve never bought a compressor, resorting to cans of air such is the infrequency of its use. Anyway, armed with some low tac Frisk film I set about carving the concentric lines with a scalpel to create pieces of removable mask. I had completely forgotten how difficult it is to replace a curving piece of film accurately onto the page and that any overspray on the surrounding mask adheres immediately to your finger tips and goes everywhere you don’t want it. Result: another shocking mess. Finally, realising that the KISS principal (Keep It Simple Stupid) was my only option I recovered the piece in another piece of film, cut around the drawing to reveal the background space, and sprayed the whole thing in one go with blue emanating from one corner and the yellow from another. All the film was then lifted off when it was all totally dry. Et voila, finished, and despite being the result of expediency as much as desire it looks pretty good considering. The compromise may not be ideal but it saves me from looking at a finished piece with the perpetual frustration of knowing that a simpler solution would have yielded a better result.