Authenticity, is there such a thing?

Biker cartoon by Jon Tremlett for soulcraftcandy.

Some years ago, for anyone working in and around the twin universes of design and marketing, there was much talk about authenticity. According to contempory sooth sayers of the time, this was to be the next “secret sauce” that would enhance the relationship between your brand and your customers, and make you more “sticky” to those discovering you and your products for the first time. Without it your brand was merely a sham, a cheap facade lacking integrity, purpose and the will to live. And so on and so forth etc etc. Like many of these kinds of things the shelves were suddenly loaded with books on the subject written by myriad experts who quite co-incidentally had all hit upon the same thing at the same time, funny that. Anyway, we all merrily devoured these publications in the hope it would give us greater understanding and some kind of competitive advantage. I’ll admit it, I read some too, though I don’t remember much of it making a great impression on me as a designer. I think the marketeers benefitted more from this new wisdom than we did. To us, if it didn’t come from where you said it did, and it didn’t do what it said on the tin, then chances are that no amount of authenticity was going to help you shift a rubbish product.

 

Nowadays it is very much part and parcel of the creative communications lexicon, though one does wonder sometimes whether brands that bandy it about really do have any connection to it. So what’s all this about? Well, I was reading some correspondence in a magazine the other day where a gentleman was lamenting the demise of real, authentic bikers. This got me thinking. Obviously, to this chap, the owning and riding of a motorcycle is no longer enough to lend one any reality or authenticity as a motorcyclist. I wondered what extra credential one would have to possess in order to fit the bill these days? Perhaps droning on in a monotonous tone as one dismisses far eastern made products as rice burners, would be one, or maybe it’s about the fact that modern bikers don’t want to smell of motor oil and have perpetually grubby finger nails, who knows. This was rich, fertile ground for a cartoon though, so I put pen to paper to see what would come out. This is a first stab at the idea, there is room for improvement, but I think it works quite well and says something about this whole subject area, about whether things are really what they say they are and how important is it to us anyway? 

 

Lots of communities of people will tell you they are united, but usually nothing could be further from the truth. Each one is invariably made up of lots of tribes, groups, gangs, cliques and any number of little sub sets, all seeking to be different from each other. Bikers are no different really. If you ask a biker why he/she rides a bike, part of the answer will be something to do with freedom of expression and individuality. This is all fine, though subsequently complaining that no one is the same as you surely defeats the object of the second part of this premise. That’s a cartoon for another time. My parting thought, whichever group you’re in, one thing we should share is a sense of humour. Thanks for dropping by, I hope you enjoyed coming along for the ride today.

 

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Havin’ it large.

Life size print of a cartoon by Jon Tremlett at soulcraftcandy.

The above phrase, regularly used and a feature of the colloquial landscape that is modern english, often refers to a bout of over indulgent and often excessive behaviour, invariably fueled by alcohol.

 

Despite there being little alcohol consumed at the time this idea was born, the phrase seems most apposite in describing the birth of the above creation. For quite a while now, the suggestion that the drawings should perhaps take on a larger scale has been hovering about in the back of my mind but, achieving this jump up in size presented lots of challenges that would need to be overcome. Aside from wondering where in the house one could create a big enough space to do it, the mechanics of transferring a basic layout onto large boards or sheets is something I’ve not yet figured out. I know that simply drawing straight onto large format sheets is tricky, ones perceptions of perspective and proportion are distorted, and being so close to the image as you make it means you can’t “see” all of it, so you have to keep standing back to check on your progress. There are lots of tools out there to help with these issues like projectors and setting up a copying grid, but the fact remains that it’s a daunting undertaking if you’re not practiced at it. I really wanted to see what one would look like blown up, before embarking on a creative exercise of this size.

Life size print of a cartoon by Jon Tremlett at soulcraftcandy.

Fortunately for me, a good friend who runs a small architectural office offered the use of his A0 plotter to run something out as an experiment. I knew that printing out a massive version of one of the finished biro drawings would rapidly consume his stock of black printing cartridges, not a good idea seeing as this was a generous offer already, so elected to use one of the early sketches which is much lighter in tone. The scale for the print was based on the size of the front wheel which would be approximately life size. There was no way it was going to fit on a single piece of paper either, so I split the picture in two with a bit of an overlap so it could be trimmed and glued together afterwards. The sketch was re-scanned at 1200 dpi to avoid any pixelation when blowing it up, resized across two sheets of A0 light weight plotter paper and converted into a pdf file to keep the file size down a bit, we didn’t want to be sat there for hours while the plotter got on with the job.

 

Back at base the sheets were trimmed on the kitchen table and the two edges stitched together with spray glue, before being pinned to a rough frame made from some scrap lengths of baton found in the shed. Choosing to do this on a really hot day at the start of a very rare heatwave meant the exercise was a little fraught and the subsequent union a little wrinkly, but it looks fine for what I wanted it to achieve. I took a couple of photos for the blog post with one of my crash helmets in the shot and the original sketch to give you an idea of the size of this thing.

Detail of cartoon by Jon Tremlett at soulcraftcandy.

There are some interesting things that spring to mind when I look at it. The jump in scale really shows up the distortion that occurs in the cartoon process, for example, although the riders body is about right, his head is really quite huge. The original sketch was done in biro onto non acid free lining paper which has a really gritty surface, and the way the line breaks up is very prominent in the blown up version and gives the whole thing a lovely looseness. Take a look at the detail shot to see what I mean.

 

So the question now is, what am I going to do next? I think it splits into two routes. The first one is to find a printing method, onto paper, canvas or vinyl, which will enable me to get one of the finished drawings done at this size. I can see them making great banners, or even applied to the sides of a vehicle in vinyl, though persuading anyone to take them may be harder than I imagine, but it’s worth thinking about. The second is to start to think seriously about how I would create a drawing at this scale, a journey probably riddled with experimentation with different media and tools which could be a lot of fun. Part of that journey has already started with the idea, hatched at the local coffee shop with my good friend Ben as usual, to investigate making a drawing instrument which creates the quality of line shown in the big print. And that is as exciting as actually doing the drawing itself, so I’ll keep you all posted on my travels in the world of large format printing and whether I can figure out how to construct the worlds biggest biro pen.

 

 

 

A small commission.

Sidecar commission by Jon Tremlett at Soulcraftcandy

The sharing of pictures which are completed as gift commissions is always a little tricky. Firstly you need to wait until the gift has actually been given, and secondly as in this case, I was waiting for it to be published on a club website before picking up my small trumpet and giving it a blow.

 

This depiction of slightly exuberant sidecar piloting was done for the brother in law of a very good and old friend of mine Ben, whose approaching 50th birthday required a special kind of gift. Adrian, the brother in law, is an ardent sidecar enthusiast and is setting out this summer on a european tour on his outfit with his wife Polly. Over a coffee with Ben, we agreed that a speeding outfit with fresh french produce bulging out of all available spaces would be particularly apt.

 

When undertaking an exercise such as this I like to work from some decent reference material and Ben duly supplied me with some photographs of Adrian, Polly and the big Honda outfit. Whilst one doesn’t want to slavishly depict every detail exactly, a cartoon is an interpretive exercise after all, it’s good to have all the information available for feeding the distortional process which occurs when the pencil hits the paper. I’ll openly admit that my skill in creating facial likeness is not very good, a frequent obstacle in undertaking any commissions, but thankfully in this case I was rather saved by needing to show him riding and so with a helmet on his head. Background information really helps here too as you can pick up little things which you can include in the image which help to flesh out the character you’re trying to show, like the soccer team scarf and riding gear.

Sidecar commission by Jon Tremlett at Soulcraftcandy

The pencil layout before applying the colour washes and ink.

This one was drawn onto Bristol Board before being coloured with watercolour washes and then inked up using technical pens of various widths. I thought it came out really well and was thrilled to hear that Adrian was chuffed to receive such a unique gift.

 

The 3D Pantograph Club, Part 2: Jon’s Machine.

3D Pantograph built by Jon Tremlett.

The Pantograph, finished and installed.

In the previous post you will have read my story about a 3D scaling pantograph built by my sculptor friend Ed. As I also mentioned, my and Ed’s friendship started after we realising we shared a passion for motorcycles and an interest in these rather esoteric sounding pantograph things. So in this post I’ll shed some light on how it all came about.

The 3D pantograph, pictured above and covered in this post is a machine I built for a young artist a few years ago after being recommended for the work by another modelmaker. It is in some ways quite different to the one built by Ed, though in others it shares many similarities. There are no given set formats for these machines and so each is a direct response to a brief from the person who’s going to employ it. In my case the machine was to be wall mounted and capable of achieving quite a high level of accuracy, with variable scaling ability anywhere from 2:1 to 4:1. The artist sculpted in clay so no cutting actions needed, purely surface finding. As a consequence, this variability and need for precision dictated many of the design and fabrication decisions taken during construction, not forgetting the ever present need to work within a tight budget.

Cheverton Pantograph at soulcraftcandy.

The Cheverton pantograph used for reproducing scaled sculptures in alabaster.

To be honest I had never heard of a 3D pantograph when the job first landed in front of me, but all became clear as I took to the internet and arranged to go and visit one, currently residing in the archival warehouse of the Science Museum here in London. This particular machine was known as the Cheverton pantograph, named after the victorian industrialist who designed it for the manufacture of carved alabaster busts from scale models. It is a beautiful machine, quite a bit smaller than I imagined and a great example of a style of engineering design, lots of architectural references, so loved by the victorians. I freely admit that this machine heavily influenced my design, though it must be said that aside from some mentions of odd machines in America and Italy there is very little out there for the budding pantograph builder to study in order to construct their own. The Cheverton machine showed very clearly the pivoting arm for scaling pointer mounting, the different length pointers for achieving correct scaling and most important of all, a compact system for creating the two rotating turntables that enable the sculptor to access all points around a form.

3D pantograph by Jon Tremlett

The first iteration in the studio showing basic scaling function.

The image above shows the very first iteration of the machine temporarily installed in the artists studio. You can gather roughly how it works from the position of the two pointers relative to the positions of the two eagle sculptures positioned on the boxes. This was very much a prove out exercise, to make sure we were on the right track and to confirm some aspects of the geometry whilst I was building the rotating table structures. Because there was little or no documentation covering the detailed design of these things, it was quite a challenge to work out the exact geometry which governs how the machine works, and thus achieve the level of accuracy demanded by the artist. We encountered many problems to start with but overcame them once we’d realised what was going on. The essential premise is this: Firstly, the exact centre of the ball joint at the root of the moving boom needs to be on exacly the same line as the centres of the two scaling pivot joints. These three positions must be aligned by a straight line in space. Secondly, another straight line must pass through this ball joint and the two tips of the pivoting pointers. And finally, this latter line must also pass through two points at the centres of the tops of both of the rotating turntables. Simple enough you’d think, but a devil to work out without prior knowledge.

3D pantograph components by Jon Tremlett

The main pivoting components made using machined scaffolding parts and a lot of aluminium.

The scaling function of the machine is achieved through the relative positions of the pointer pivots along the main boom. For example, if the scale required is 3:1, then the second pivot would be three times further from the ball joint than the first. So if the first is say 500mm from the ball, then the second would be 1500mm from the ball joint. The pointers are also of different lengths in accordance with the selected ratio and correspondingly, the relative positions of the turntable centres needs to adhere to these spacings too. This means that for a machine like this, where an infinite degree of variability was requested (anything between 2:1 and 5:1), everything needed to be adjustable and lockable. Hence the pivots slide along the boom, the pointers slide through the pivot blocks, the turntables slide along their guide rails and finally, the chain drive that connects the turntables, which must turn in unison, expands or contracts in order to maintain chain tension across varying distances.

Rather than plough on endlessly, I’ll leave you today with some captioned photographs of the build which I hope will serve to fill in some of the background. Sadly I don’t have any more recent pictures, the machine was moved when the artist changed the location of his studio and I haven’t managed to gain access yet. I will keep trying though.

3D pantograph detail by Jon Tremlett.

Detail shot of the short first pointer locating small turntable centre.

 

3D pantograph detail by Jon Tremlett at soulcraftcandy.

Turntables, rails and chain drive under construction.

3D pantograph details by Jon Tremlett at soulcraftcandy.
Detail of the chain drive using proprietary bicycle components.

3D pantograph details by Jon Tremlett at soulcraftcandy.
The complete turntable and chain drive assembly ready to be installed.

 

 

The 3D Pantograph Club, Part 1- Ed’s Machine.

Ed Barton Pantograph on Soulcraftcandy.

Ed and his 3D Scaling Pantograph.

It is an inescapable truth of freelance working for creative companies that you are rarely in a position to show or talk about the work you are engaged in, or have just completed. Issues of client confidentiality, and the fact that much of the work is usually a long way from entering the public domain mean you can’t show anyone what you’ve been making for quite a long time after the event. Hence the lack of “making” content on the blog for a long while.

Prompted by a recent visit to the studio of a sculptor friend, this is about to change however, as it has nudged me into digging a project out of the archive in readiness to post about it.

I first met Ed up at the Ace Cafe, a favoured north London haunt of motorcyclists, where I got talking to him about his fabulous Moto Guzzi. When we discovered what each of us did for a living, and dug a little deeper, it became clear we had more in common that purely an appreciation of personally customised motorbikes. Ed mentioned that he was interested in building a 3D Pantograph, and I had completed the construction of such a device not that long previously. Needless to say he was interested in understanding what my project had revealed regarding these rather esoteric bits of equipment and a good many knowledge sharing conversations ensued.

Before going any further though, it is probably best to try explain what a 3D pantograph is exactly. I will try and be brief. A pantograph is essentially a scaling machine that allows the operator to enlarge, and in some cases reduce, the size of an image or object. They are more commonly found in the 2-dimensional realm where they are used to trace lettering or pictures for engraving and such like. Being utterly analogue in their function they have now been generally superseded in most applications by digital technology, so they are rare things to come across. Working from a fixed pivot point, two pointers, connected by a series of pivoting arms allow the operator to follow an image with one pointer whilst the other creates a replica of that image on another surface at a greater scale, like 2:1 say. In 3 dimensions the principle is the same though in this case the first pointer follows the surface of an object, positioned on a turntable, while the second allows the operator to create a scaled up or reduced version of that point in space on a second turntable nearby. If this doesn’t make sense, then I hope that seeing some images and a short film will help to make things clearer.

The pantograph pivot and counterweight assembly.

The pantograph pivot and counterweight assembly.

Last weeks visit to Ed’s studio in Camberwell, South London was to finally see the pantograph he had built. It was impressive. Through our earlier discussions we had figured out that these machines could take many forms, it is the core geometry which provides the link between different designs. So not surprisingly Ed’s machine is a very different looking beast to the one I built, and amply demonstrates how a different “brief”, ie what you want to make with it,  effects the final design and layout of the machine. Here’s a link to the studio website where you will find a great stop frame film of the guys building their machine and then using it to cut complex forms out of large blocks of expanded polystyrene with a hot wire, and other images. When I visited the studio last week the hot wire had been replaced by a high speed cutting head which the guys had used to carve even more complex forms from similar blocks. You will also see that the machine consists of the two main elements required for the pantograph to work, a pivoting arm that holds the “pointers” and a pair of connected turntables supporting the final piece and the model from which it is being traced.

Ed Barton pantograph at Soulcraftcandy

The business end, a high speed cutting head.

In the next post I’ll reveal the details of the machine I put together for an artist, and expand a bit more on how these things work.