While work on the “Catch Me” picture progresses and it moves slowly to its conclusion I thought I’d post a couple of other things in the meantime. For me it’s really important to have more than one work in progress at any one time, it helps to keep me inspired, assists in keeping my drawing hand active and my eye “in”, and most importantly of all, prevents me from getting bored.
So first up is this picture which some long term followers may recognise, it having made its first appearance on the blog about two years ago. Back then it was just a picture of a bloke on a bike, sat in the middle of an empty page, and since then it has sat in a drawer here waiting for me to finish it. Every now and again I’ve taken it out of the drawer, put some pencil lines in the background and promptly put it away again, unhappy with what I imagined would be a fitting background. I’d lost count of how many times this had happened. Here’s a link to that original post.
The other day though, something clicked, a penny dropped and I finally discovered what I wanted to do with it. Based on the idea that the guy riding the bike is going somewhere, I imagined him escaping the world he occupies during the working day, jumping on his bike and heading out somewhere better. It’s probably a context shared by many of us who wind up spending a great deal of our time in those slightly crumbling semi suburbs around the edges of cities, full of light industrial activity, crappy cafes and diners and run down buildings festooned with strange advertising hoardings. It puts a little back story behind the image and brings it to life a bit more. Why I hadn’t thought of any of this before escapes me. Creating this background reminded me that this is a great way to inject a bit of humour into a picture and include a level of detail that draws the eye to the image beyond the great big bike stuck in the middle of it. I’m so glad I did it this way and it has prompted a whole string of thinking about dealing with some other images I have failed to finish and are lying in a drawer waiting for their moment. I hope you like it too.
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.
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.
Two posts ago I talked about the many distractions hanging in the air these days, they are all mostly still there though my mind is slowly learning to ignore them. After all, one can only do one thing at a time and besides there are quite a few things to finish before immersing myself in a new medium, material, technique etc. Best get those done then.
Here is a more completed scan of the picture featured in that very post. The bike and rider are now done and it’s background time, again. I wanted something impactful but simple, colour but not complicated. I’d settled on a sun and sky combination and wondered about treating it as a series of concentric arcs of colour across the page. Sounds simple enough I thought, though knowing also how easy it can be to make a complete mess of a decent picture through the application of an ill considered final detail, I resolved to “sketch” it out in Photoshop first. So now we get the image shown below.
It is not looking too shabby at this stage, but I’m already wondering whether this is achievable in ink and paint given that the paper is Bristol Board, not the best thing for getting large areas of really flat colour. This is one aspect that Photoshop and other similar softwares can’t mimic. The digital space is a nigh on perfect canvas, free of the foibles of papers, boards and other physical media. Ones brushes are consistent in their behaviour, even when using a tablet as I do, and their “feel” is experienced through your gliding across the uniform surface of the tablet and the application of tiny variations in pressure. All lovely, but nothing like the real thing. So whilst I’ve got myself a scheme that seems to tick all of the boxes for me, the real challenge now will be rendering it in the mucky, unpredictable and unforgiving analogue space, where water manages to help and hinder all at the same time.
Lots of folk who say they can’t draw actually can, and time and again one finds out after some very elementary enquiry that the reason they’ve got to thinking this is that they never take any time to practice, and so, when they do pick up a pencil or pen it always leads to disappointment. For those of us who draw a lot, this kind of existential dilemma is a less formidable obstacle to overcome. That doesn’t mean though that things are necessarily easier for us. We still need to practice, just as much as someone who plays a musical instrument does, it’s the way we keep our skills sharp and develop ourselves.
The greatest practice is sketching and the best thing about it is that you can do it anywhere and at any time pretty much. It doesn’t have to be from life, though keeping ones observational skills up to scratch pretty much necessitates it. With a whole world out there to look at there is plenty of subject matter to choose from and nothing to be intimidated by. I have always subscribed to the view that it’s ok to visit a zoo, for example, and simply draw a building or a tree. You sketch what catches your eye, what you naturally gravitate toward. if you don’t like drawing people then don’t draw them unless you actually want to improve this skill. Sketching can be so easily turned into a stick with which we beat ourselves with, and this removes the fun from the exercise.Sketching is a drawers play time, the serious stuff comes later, so enjoy it. I’m sure lots of us reckon we don’t do it enough, but no one is counting the hours. The important thing is to do it when you can.
Here are a couple of sketches done the other day on a visit to the RAF museum at Hendon in North London. I tend to go with my old chum Ben, who’s pretty handy with a pen, and this lends an extra dimension to the day as we are able to meet up after sessions and discuss our sketches and the views, angles and processes we’re engaging with. It makes it much more interesting. I took a brown paper sketchbook I bought recently and after a couple of roughs in soft pencil I thought I’d have a go with a brown ink pen, which works well with the paper, and splodge some highlights around with a thin white chalk. The first one is looking up into an open cockpit of a Lightning fighter with a dummy pilot sat inside. The second a cylinder head from the radial engine on the front of a Bristol Bulldog biplane. There is so much to look at at the museum that one is never short of a subject, the collection is huge and it’s free to visitors too. What more do you need?
Finally here’s an update of the cherry red bobber I’ve been working away on of late. For a background I’ve decided to mimic the kind of bold swipes designers sometimes use to back up their marker drawings. More about this in the next post when it should be finished.
So the search has been on to find how to start thinking about stories behind the images and how best to communicate them. In a way a potential solution was staring me in the face, though I’d failed to recognise it. A very strong instance of not being able to see the wood for the trees. The “tipping point” was completing the cut down dragster drawing featured in The Line Is Drawn post. By cropping the image I had essentially put a box around it, the story in the image was contained mainly within this box, though it broke out to imply the story being much bigger than this constraint. The issue with previous drawings had been the open nature of the final image, with nothing to hold the image it was left to sit adrift in a space that then just flowed out to the edge of the paper. Sometimes paintings and drawings only start to make sense once we have framed them for hanging, and it was this sentiment that I was trying to capture. Rather than rely purely on the edge of the paper to provide the boundary of the contextual space, I realised that what may best serve these kinds of drawings is to create this boundary myself. Create distinct frames like they do for comic books and graphic novels.
It was a kind of “aha” moment. Had I found a mechanism for completing the images and communicating the “story” better? It seemed such an obvious realisation but then what is directly in front of you can be the hardest thing to see sometimes.It is nothing new, a technique that has a long history running through the comic universe to storyboards and beyond but, such a simple approach could really compliment the images as they are essentially cartoons in themselves and might benefit hugely from such a solution.
Conveniently there was a drawing here which I have struggled with completing for quite some time. It’s another in the dragster series and is sitting in the middle of a big bit of A2 paper, you may remember it from a post back in August. I got so far with it, then kind of stopped, the more I worked on it, the more the life seemed to drain out of it. The context I’d created in my imagination just wasn’t working so it got put to one side, to await a flash of inspiration and energy. It seemed a perfect candidate for experimenting with the “crop and box” approach. Interestingly, what happened was that it made me think much harder about what’s inside the boundary I’ve drawn. As a consequence the story has changed and with it a new context is starting to emerge in the background. The drawing has a new life, one that I’m more than happy with so far and looking forward to finishing.
So as a first stab it’s kind of working, an image I was perhaps bored with has regained my interest, and that’s such an important part of this exercise. They key now is to explore how this development pans out across future images. Certainly I don’t want it to become an exercise in cutting and pasting formats and such across a host of work, each piece must remain unique in its own way. What’s good is the fact that the idea is so simple and basic that it is ripe for all manner of playing with, and that flexibility is exciting.
The third version of this sketch is now complete as far as the main subject of the image is concerned. So as not to reduce the exercise to one of exact and complete copying I elected to change a couple of features about the central picture in an effort to try rendering certain details differently as much as to maintain my interest in it. So you’ll see that this time the main body of the engine is made to look black, the bike has taken on a two tone colour scheme and the rider figure has taken to wearing a check shirt amongst other small changes.
Third time around this was still a fun picture to create and the inclusion of a bit more detail in these small areas, such as the shirt material make it much more interesting to look at. It is often said that both God and the Devil live in the details and this is utterly true, ones treatment of detail can make or break a drawing or design, so a cautious approach is always a watch word when trying things like this. Is it successful? I’m not sure that success is the right word to describe it, though I would say that working at a larger scale, this drawing is only six inches wide, would help in depicting the finer points and relieve the need to try achieve things with a very small brush which is still too big.
This buff background arises from necessity as much as choice. I wanted to post the image before departing for a long weekend away so time is short. Some careful trimming of the scanned image and a block fill, with a little shadow, was the solution to time pressures. Judging ones own work is always tricky but in this instance I’d say it works quite well. The colours are suitably contrasty to give the drawing some “pop” and help it stand out. What really ticks the box though is the contrast offered between the very hand made nature of the painted image and the utterly smooth, flat nature of the machine made background. It would be interesting to see how this looks in printed form, something I’ll experiment with later perhaps, and equally, it would be interesting to see what happens when this flat colour is applied by hand using Gouache or Acrylic paints.
There is some black and white pen work which desperately needs attention lavishing on it so messing about with colour may have to take a back seat for a time. The challenge is whether this exercise has committed enough to memory for it all to move forward again the next time I pick up the brush.