Support your local bike shop.

The finished design at it will look on the shirt back.

The finished design at it will look on the shirt back.

It is an old english adage that the centre of any small community is the local pub, a hub around which much of the activities of the local people revolves. This is invariably true and in larger communities it is also true that local shops and tradespeople make a huge contribution to the life and vibrancy of a place. Now more than ever it falls upon us, particularly here in the Uk, to support these small local businesses as more and more areas fall victim to the scourge of the megastore. I’m trying to do my bit, buying bread from the baker, meat from the butcher and sundries from the local hardware store. Being an avid motorcyclist I’m also making myself a regular customer down at my local bike shop.

Bill Bunn Motorcycles, a small family business, has been in existence for about 50 years and is the epitome of what your local bike shop should be; compact, friendly and happy to handle everything from an engine rebuild to changing your oil. The guys there are always helpful, good humoured and armed with years of hard won wisdom and experience to help you keep your machine(s) on the road. They are a top team and deserve to stay in business for many years to come. Fortuitously, for me at least, it turns out that they are fans of my work, having found it via the blog last year sometime. A resulting chat, enjoyed whilst dropping the little Suzuki off for a new tyre fitting, revealed that they’re refreshing the store this year, sprucing it up a bit with fresh paint and a general sort out. So, along with some lovely old photographs they have, the guys wanted to hang some prints of my cartoons on the walls too. One should never pass up this kind of opportunity and I’ve supplied some framed prints to them with some prices if anyone might want to purchase one. They also asked about perhaps doing a design for a t-shirt based on one of the drawings so that they could get some shop shirts printed up. I said yes.

How to turn this into a vector artwork?

How to turn this into a vector artwork?

The title image to this post is the final design for the first shirt, we’re thinking of doing more if these prove popular, and will be printed on white on the back of the shirts with a shop logo on the front. I’ve never really spent much energy before working up stuff for a t-shirt print, though I have been thinking about it a lot recently, so this was a great chance to work out how to do it.

Although there are now lots of options open to anyone wanting to have some shirts printed, from simple transfers to laser cut vinyls, the one technique that still stands above the others in terms of crispness and quality is screen printing, and for that most of the printers require vector file artwork. So I needed to get from highly detailed dot shaded hand drawing to vector line art and I had no clear idea how. I knew that all the relevant software needed was sitting in front of me, I just hadn’t used it in this way before. Time to learn some new tricks and jump into the web for tips, advice and a whole host of helpful tutorials on Youtube.

Starting with a high resolution scan of the source image in Photoshop and converting it to a bitmap image, it was relatively simple to cut it out from the background and start tidying it up. What caught me by surprise was how long it would take to remove all of the dot shaded areas and then touch up the picture with erasers and brushes so that line thicknesses and detail areas were not so fine as to get lost in the subsequent tracing process in Illustrator. I admit that I had to go back and forth between the programs several times before things started to look right. Eventually I got it how I wanted it and dropped it into a layout for the final design.

Vectorised and ready.

Vectorised and ready.

The second thing that took me by surprise was the reversal process to create the artwork. Screen printing requires that the artwork, what’s to be printed, is presented in black on a white background. With this shirt the print will be white ink on a black shirt, so the artwork for the drawing needs to be reversed so that it’s the white bits that get printed and not the black bits. I hope this makes sense. The tricky bit here was making sure that when reversed the highlight areas in the normal image weren’t so small as to disappear during printing. This reversal had to be done in Photoshop before the tracing process took place but, it worked out pretty well.

The shirts are now ordered and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on one, it will be he first properly printed t-shirt I’ve ever designed, and that it in itself a really big step for me. As a result I’ve been pushing on with a couple of my own designs and I’m hoping to get those to print before too long. If they’re any good I’ll put some up in the blog shop. Watch this space.

Before I go, a quick apology for the blue copyright stuff across the images today. Like many I suffer from image appropriation and this is a small gesture to try and eliminate a bit of it.

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There’s treasure to be found in discount bookstores.

Pen&inkbook

It may sound rather overblown to make the claim above but, it does seem to be invariably true. Yes, of course it depends very much on what you’re looking for, and let’s face it, some of our hobbies and interests are somewhat esoteric in nature but, armed with an open mind and an open eye it’s amazing what you can find. Discount bookstores, like charity shops, are always worth popping into because you never know what they’ve got on offer, and any purchase it thus unexpected and a surprise.

Hence the reason for sharing the above book with you today. I found it quite by chance a couple of weeks ago in just such a store in Chiswick in West London. My good friend Ben mentions it regularly so I thought I’d drop in one day and take a browse. Immediately I saw this book I knew I had to have it, and at four quid it was a steal.

Recently I have been attempting to learn how to get a bit more digital with some of my drawings. A request to design a t-shirt has prompted a flurry of rather uncoordinated activity as I grapple with the process of converting a complex ink drawing into a vectorised artwork for screen printing. Luckily there are myriad guides and tutorials available on-line to assist me in learning the ins and outs of image tracing in Illustrator, and pixel fiddling in Photoshop, all of which have proved invaluable.

Pen&inkbook01

I mention this because this learning activity has given rise to a couple of thoughts. Firstly, the whole process of vectorising images would be a whole lot easier if I created drawings better suited to vectorising in the first place. The second is that in order to do that I need to learn some new tricks to apply during the drawing activity which help in the division of an image into dark and light areas and create ways of texturing, when needed, that translate well when making the jump to digital. This is where this book comes in as it is stuffed with information on how to create all manner of drawing details that can apply to the above.

The books author, Robert Gill, is a technical illustrator by trade and the book is full to the brim with his observations, expertise, tricks, hints and learnings, all garnered from a lifetime of experience. There are chapters that cover everything from basic perspective techniques to creating textures, from rendering plants and trees to drawing basic figures. There is even a section on equipment with a great segment covering Rotring technical pens and how to get the best out of them. I love it.

There is one more aspect to why I’m so enamoured by this book, and it is this. Drawing is a lifelong learning experience and something we all want to be better at. Through constant practise and experimentation we do get better at it but, there are times when you need extra input to boost your learning and skills. Since leaving art college and witnessing the transition from analogue to digital media within the design studio environment, I don’t recall being taught or learning anything new relating to analogue drawing techniques, other than what I’ve learned through my own scribbling. What lies behind a persons ability to create images through drawing is a large reservoir of accumulated knowledge covering everything from proportion and perspective, to materials and techniques. Design school stuffed a great mountain of this knowledge into my head many years ago. Outside a formal teaching program we have to add to this learning through self discovery, using practise and experimentation to hone our skills. But there are some things which we need to learn in different ways. This book is just such a tool for this purposes. Pen and ink drawing is one of my favourite drawing styles but, finding an easily accessible reference for learning new techniques has always been hard. This book has most of what I’m after, right in front of me in black and white.

Pen&inkbook02

It’s like finally having the analogue equivalent of a cool set of digital plug-ins for Illustrator or Photoshop. I don’t need to use it all the time, copy anything from it or read every page but, it is there to refer to and glean information from whenever I want to consider creating new effects through better mark making. Much of it may seem rather old fashioned but pen and ink drawing is just that, a pen, some ink and a piece of paper, nothing complicated. The complex part is training the soft, organic creature holding the pen and the little grey matter engine that powers it.

Here’s a link to the book, I found it on Amazon here.

Still digging away.

Helmet_Sketch_front©JonTremlett

I went to Finland at the beginning of July for a big family party with some friends and a few days R&R. Whilst there, our good friend Lauri asked me what was happening to the blog, why wasn’t I posting much at the time. I found it hard to answer his question and perhaps I was actually finding it difficult to admit to my own laziness. His voice has been ringing in my ear ever since, so this one’s dedicated to him, for making me aware of my shortcomings and being a friendly conscience. The truth of the matter is that it has been hard to dig myself out of a period of creative block and a time full of big distractions.

So where are we with things? Well, that old helmet I mentioned in the last post is now primed in white and ready to take a design as soon as I’ve finalised what it will be. The sketch above will give you a fair idea of where I’m going with this.

The main thrust of the idea, if you can call it that, is a kind of homage to cafe racers of old, those young men who started it all off all those years ago and the places they frequented in pursuit of their thrills. This is something that is geographically close to me as much as having a strong emotional pull. Firstly I live in west London not far from that bastion of British motorcycling heritage, The Ace Cafe, and a particular stretch of highway called The North Circular Road. These two features lie at the heart of the original cafe racing scene of the early sixties. That’s the main bit. The second part is due to the Rolling Stones and the opening track on an old vinyl album I have of theirs which is a fantastic rendition of Route 66, the classic R&B standard written by, and originally recorded in 1946 by Bobby Troup. I absolutely love this track, and what ties it to my homage project is that the North Circular Road is actually the A406 in the english road numbering system, so it’s not a giant leap to end up with “get your kicks on the A406”.

So, as you can see, we’ve got a small group of likely lads doing just that on the front of the helmet. What goes on the back will undoubtedly contain the above modified chorus and then I think, various references to the road and the famous cafe that still occupies its original site.

Thruxton1_©JonTremlett2015

There are a couple of other interesting projects hatching right now too. I’ve been asked to design a t-shirt for a local shop and this has prompted me to start thinking about a couple of designs of my own. This sketch is one of those ideas. It is very rough but, contains the seeds of an idea and hints at the new style of drawing I’m going to need to execute in order to give any designs a cleaner look and some much needed impact. More on that later………