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.