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.