Supporting a good cause.

113_CycleBerlin©JonTremlett2016

This blog of mine started out as something that happened in the background as I pursued my life as a freelance designer and maker, providing a motivator for my interest in developing my drawing and other creative outlets. Over time it has started to include, every now and then, things that happen in my professional life as well. Being a freelancer, though an often precarious existence, allows you to branch out from your core skills when the urge takes you. As a result I have been able to undertake some graphic and illustrative work which is interesting, challenging and different. Some of it is paid work, which helps to balance the books, and at other times it is not. The great thing is that the choice to undertake unpaid work is mine and mine alone, and so what often precedes this is the question of whether or not the subject interests me.

In this case it did. The image above is a small water colour and ink drawing that I have recently finished. My niece Rose, who is currently resident in Berlin, is involved in a campaign to promote the many benefits of cycling in the city. As part of their strategy to increase awareness of these benefits they are exploring ways to communicate the freedom that cycling gives both the city’s inhabitants and visitors alike. Hence she asked me if I could come up with an image that did this that they could use on promotional materials that they could sell, helping to raise funds for the campaign. It was a very open brief and one I felt I could find an answer to.

Needless to say there was a good deal of head scratching and sketching, and at one point I began to doubt my ability to find something to work through. And then out popped this idea, centred around the idea of cycling being a means of spreading freedom, joy and good health. The heart shaped balloon (symbolic of love, joy and good health) flying over the city, powered in a highly sustainable way by a cyclist, hints at the freedom that cycling gives you to go pretty much anywhere whilst benefitting yourself and the city at the same time. The inclusion of the iconic television tower as a recognisable Berlin landmark contextualises the scene and helps to bring a lighter more comedic flavour to the sense of freedom that the picture hints at. Rose peppered her request with words such as quirky, whacky and unusual, and I tried to bring these to life in the “mad inventor” character and his extraordinary machine, drifting high above the city much to the astonishment of local bird life and observers in the tv tower.

The final image was first traced in pencil onto some heavy water colour paper on the light box and then stretched onto a board. I’ve discovered that stretching the paper after you’ve placed a drawing onto it doesn’t seem to distort it in any way, and can save you hours of painstaking redrawing from your original sketches. With some photographs of the tower and views of the city it was then simply a case of laying the greys and colours on in light tints to slowly build up the the tones that I needed to achieve. This takes a while, but enables you to bring the image up to where you want it without overdoing things. Painting the cityscape was the hardest part, forcing oneself to be abstract is a good deal harder than I realised. When all the colour was down and the image dry, it was then a case of outlining with technical pens to bring some definition to bear.

I’m told that it has been very enthusiastically received, though I am yet to see what they will do with it. I really hope it brings some further recognition to their campaign and puts a smile on a lot of faces. It was certainly worth doing and I’m very happy with the result. I hope you like it too.

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Putting your learning into practise.

Girl_T_Comp©JonTremlett2016

As you will have read in the previous post, I have been expending a lot of energy recently learning how to draw women as part of a project to try and produce some designs for t-shirts for women. It has not been as easy as it sounds, and to be honest with you I’m still not sure that I have cracked it, though I feel I’m certainly making progress.

The journey from the collection of sketches to some finished proposals has been a long one involving lots more sketching and redrawing in an effort to get some kind of unifying style working across the various ideas. This process is invariably made all the more challenging by the considerations and resulting constraints that come from thinking clearly through the whole process of how these shirts are made and printed. The quality of the final printed image is reflected in, and can be traced right back to, the quality of the picture you create in the first place. The shirts made from any of the selected images will be screen printed which means I need to aim for crisp line work and clearly defined details.

In the absence of a more detailed brief I decided that I would go forward with a combination of ideas. Firstly I picked two rather obvious ideas based firmly on a girl riding a bike, and then chose a couple of others based around a more emblematic approach. Each one was worked up as an inked drawing to start with, and done as neatly as I could manage. The girls on the bikes were reasonably straight forward to do in a general sense though I was really conscious of introducing something to try and bring some increased movement to the images. I’m not a fan of using speed lines and blurring to do this, my drawing style doesn’t work that well with them, so elected to simply try and show movement by trying to mimic hair blowing in the wind. The second two choices came from trying to approach them more like logos than pictures and incorporating some recognisable cues from the cafe racer scene like chequer pattern and jacket decoration.

Girl_T_Comp2©JonTremlett2016

Drawing these things is time consuming enough, but tidying up the high resolution scans can be even more so. Again, it’s back to the quality of the image you start with. Screen printers will invariably ask for vector based artworks and so each drawing needs converting from a scanned bitmap image to vectors in a program such as Adobe Illustrator. The software handles this with ease, but you have to ensure that your starting image is as clean, crisp and high contrast as possible. The vectorising process essentially traces your drawing creating paths and fills as it goes. By adjusting various controls in a dialogue box you are able to influence the fidelity with which the software does this task. The cleaner your starting point, the fewer options the process has for including or excluding small elements of the drawing and details. Once the drawings are vectorised though, you can easily include them in more complicated designs in Illustrator, edit them further, or simply use the resultant artwork as it is. If I was more proficient in Illustrator to begin with I might be able to draw these things directly in the program, but sadly my skills aren’t there yet. At least using this approach I end up with both a good quality digital artwork and a nice ink drawing for the portfolio as well. Because the digital images are now editable, one can make limited changes to them if need be, without the need of doing a whole new drawing.

112_T-shirt_comp1©JonTremlett2016

Finally I thought it would be fun to show the ideas as shirts rather than just images on their own. Plundering an image search for white T’s being worn, it was simply a case of pasting the designs into place to lend a degree of realism to the whole thing. I then sent these to my client/contact and began the waiting process. Let’s see what he comes back with.

Can you draw women?

Bike_girl_comp©JT2016

Ok, so here’s a thing, time for a confession, I’m pretty rubbish at drawing women. There, I’ve said it. This sounds like one of those introductory confessions one might be asked to make upon a first attendance at a therapy group. Like, “Hi, my name’s Jon and I can’t draw women”. This is neither something to be proud of or be ashamed to admit. Don’t ask me why this is so, it’s just the way it is. Some people probably find drawing people, whatever their gender or form much easier than others. Other folk probably find drawing men less hard because it is easier to express generic masculine traits and you can get away with portraying less good looking men (!?). And then there are those who find the innate curvature and character of the female form easy to capture because they just do. One thing’s for sure though, and that is that when asked to view a drawing of a woman most of us automatically make some kind of judgement based on the perceived beauty of the rendered subject, i.e. if your drawing doesn’t portray a pretty/elegant/feminine woman, it’s the first thing people will comment on.

The above is only intended to be a cursory observation, the whole discussion around how we render and view human subjects is much, much more wide ranging that this, but what it does do, I hope, is shed some light onto how difficult it is to get to grips with a subject area such as this. Not being someone who has ever really received the benefit of extensive life drawing classes or any formal training in figure drawing, I have arrived at a point in my creative life lacking the confidence to draw half the people who surround me. I’m sure I’m not alone.

This new challenge came about through a request from a contact about possibly designing some t-shirts for women. Throwing my usual caution to the wind I agreed to have a go and then quickly realised that I would have to do something about the fact that I have never really successfully drawn women who look like women. To be honest with you, when I’ve had to do it in the past I’ve either traced off a magazine picture or concocted something akin to a rather effeminate man. So, time to put all of that to one side and see if I could actually learn how to do it more convincingly. I don’t know which is harder, learning a new skill like this in a straight drawing sense or in the cartoonish vein in which I normally work? Time to find out.

BGsketch_comp©JT2016

Thankfully, and this is again where the internet comes into its own; one is not short of resources to study as a way of starting. One can not only gain access to myriad video based tutorials on YouTube etc., but you can also find every single kind of cartoon style referenced so you can easily see how different characteristics are emphasised depending on the style you want to follow. To give you just a couple of examples; if mastering eyes is problematic for you, there are hundreds of variations and iterations to be found within the Manga drawing style and if the classic hour glass figure is something that you want to focus on, you will find plenty of guidance if referencing mid 20th century lifestyle and fashion illustration.

My brief, such as it was, was “Marilyn Monroe in a Bell helmet”. Quite a broad brief to say the least, so plenty to think about. My first scribbles, shown above in the first selection from my sketch books was as much about the brief as it was about learning the distinct attributes of a woman’s face. Eye shape, size and position, the jaw line, the line of the brow, the position and proportion of the nose and the mouth. These all sound incredibly obvious but until you have to think about them and draw them, your brain just rumbles on telling you that this should all be easy as it knows all this stuff already. No it doesn’t, you have to teach it and at the same time convince your drawing hand to follow. This goes right back to previous posts I’ve written about the idea of embedded knowledge. You’ve got to look and look and look, and then draw, draw, draw until hopefully things start to feel natural. It takes work and there’s no easy way around it unless you want to spend your life tracing photographs.

I was also trying to think about shirt designs at the same time, so this had quite an impact on my sketching, both in terms of speed and overall feel. Some of my attempts are way off, some are starting to point towards something more workable. The second of the images is another compilation of sketches where I am starting to get the hang of it, though you can see I’m yet to get my eye shape and spacing anywhere near right. I must confess also, that by this point I’d had gone back to referencing some old lifestyle photos in a book to try and speed things along. It seems to work best for me if I am combining an iterative drawing approach with regular reference to other materials. Placing a crash helmet onto a woman’s head brought its own challenges and I ended up taking lots of photos of my own crash hat at various angles to give me an idea of how its many curves look when not viewed simply in elevation. The bikes I didn’t seem to have a problem with. Funny that.

More on this in the next post I hope.

The big Green Meanie – it’s finished.

A personal commission by Jon Tremlett for Soulcraftcandy.

For once, having said in the previous post that I was close to finishing a picture, I have done exactly that, and faster than I thought I would too. So here is the finished article. The pictures are the wrong way around today, finished one first, purely because it’s great to open a post with a completed picture. I’m pretty happy with how it has come out.

You will notice that I have left the top of the picture plain white rather than include the very dark area at the top of the reference photo. What drove my decision in the end was the thought that I wanted the main subject to really stand out, surrounding it in big dark bits would have dulled it off too much. So there’s just a hint of ochre wash back there to lift it further.

A personal commission by Jon Tremlett.

This view, and apologies for my iPad’s inability to take a decent photo in my studio, shows things at about the half way stage. With such dark areas in the image it was a bit of a juggler getting the various tones down in an order where they didn’t conflict too greatly. What helped was mixing two different kinds of grey, one for the riders leathers and the other for the bike area shadows, so I could maintain a distinction between them. The shadow areas go down in a couple of passes with the brush, but the leathers took rather longer, slowly building the tone with much thinner washes. The really tricky bit, doing the helmet and face, came last and again was a slow build. I’m not afraid to admit I find faces and flesh tones quite difficult so going slowly with a small brush gives me the best chance of getting it right. Finally, once all the above is dry, my attention switches to the ground area and their associated shadows, making sure I don’t include too much detail so as to keep your eye focused on the big green thing in the middle.

There is always a process of final fiddling and fettling at the end of the main paint stage. Each time your eye returns to the image after a short break you pick up on little things which just need a small tweak so out comes the tiny brush for some edge honing, some white gouache to bump some highlights up and a colour pencil or two. Some things you can’t adjust so there’s only so much you can do, your biggest challenge is knowing when to stop. This one turned out to be more of a painting than a drawing, something I don’t do that often, but I don’t think it loses anything because of that. Yes, it was a challenge but, it was a fun one to undertake which is just as important.

Thanks for dropping by today and hopefully you’ve enjoyed the post.

Julian and the big Green Meanie.

JW_photo

Firstly, a very happy New Year to all of my readers and followers, may 2015 be a great year for all of you. Here at Soulcraftcandy I’m hoping for a year full of interesting drawing projects to grapple with, some new adventures featuring some new materials and obviously, a whole host of new fans and followers. Not too much to ask for then! So let’s kick off the new year with a story featuring a very old friend, a big green machine and a triumph of physics over human ambition.

The friend in question is Julian, a lovely former wild boy I have had the pleasure of knowing for over forty years. Once a hard core bike rider, his various exploits deserve a blog all of their own, now a responsible dad. Having said that, he has never really lost the bug and as we speak is preparing himself for an off road rally trip over on the Baja peninsula. Watch out Mexico. Back in the day, Julian was the first person I knew who fully embraced the modern sports bike and the newly (at the time) burgeoning cult of the public track day, a barely veiled excuse for Joe Public to go ballistic on his road bike within the controlled confines of a proper race track. Needless to say at one such event our man came a cropper.

Julian has always been interested in my pictures and finally got around to asking me to do a commission for him. It goes without saying that his choice of subject is poignant, being a depiction of him aboard that sports bike on the fateful day he badly broke his ankle and hung up his leathers for a while.

Here’s the photograph, above, he supplied as reference and as you can see it’s not in the best condition or particularly in focus, but that’s not too much of a problem, there is more than enough information here to get going. I wanted to base the picture on this view rather than create a new one, but just tweak it here and there as it’s a great image to start with.

JW_First_trace©JonTremlett2015

The first step is to get the photo into my painter program where I can trace over it in digital pencil to establish some outlines to work with. This initial process also helps to embed some knowledge of the subject into my head so I can start to think about which bits I want to change moving forward. I’m still too much in love with hand techniques to go fully digital with a painting yet but, I’m sure one day soon it will happen. Though when you do that all you get is a print of your artwork, not the actual artwork itself, which is a very different outcome.

JW_Blue©JonTremlett2015

Using the printed trace as an underlay, it’s then onto the light box for another tracing exercise where I can start to move parts of the drawing around, like changing the position of the rider, and playing with the proportions of some details very slightly to gain extra emphasis here and there. Working with the blue biro helps me to see one drawing clearly over the top of the other. You’ll see I’ve shifted him off the seat a bit and given him a more heroic “knee down” stance to get some added dynamism into the picture.

JW_Pencil©JonTremlett2015

This third stage is the final pencil outline drawing on to the water colour paper I’ll use for the painting itself. Again, working on the light box, I trace off the blue biro drawing, tightening details as I go but only putting in the lines that I really will need to rely on. An H or 2H pencil is best for this bit, and light pressure so that it doesn’t leave grooves in the paper surface. All this redrawing might seem rather time consuming but it means I don’t have to worry too much about moving a line or erasing things, both of which will only damage the surface of the water colour paper. Once this is complete I soak the paper and stretch it onto a wooden board in readiness for taking the paint washes. Through experimenting I’ve found that it doesn’t distort the drawing in any way if you stretch the paper after putting the image on it, the secret is just to be patient and resist scrubbing and dabbing the paper too much during the process.

JW_Paint1©JonTremlett2015

When the paper is fully dry it’s time for the first layers of wash. Here I’m using a combination of cake based watercolours, some from tubes and intense liquid watercolours. For colours such as the characteristic Kawasaki green the liquid colours are brilliant. They both lift the image off the page and give it real punchiness. In combination with something like Payne’s Grey one can achieve some lovely transitions from light to dark and some really intense shadow areas. I love them though it pays to exercise caution as a little colour goes a long way and it stains the paper unlike the more “floating” colours.

The next post should see it completed and I’ll take that opportunity to cover more details of the process. So watch this space, it will be here very soon.

That’s more like it.

Pencil layout by Jon Tremlett 2014 for Soulcraftcandy

As I mentioned in the previous post, the composition of the first picture for Mr. C needed further work resulting in a bit of a redraw. It’s funny how it works sometimes. In your mind you’ve got this image that you think is what you want. Then you draw it out and it’s a million miles away from what you are actually after. So after staring at it for a good while you redraw, thinking that this is going to be a bit of a marathon, and “pop” out comes what you were looking for in the first place. This is not the first time this has happened, so I don’t waste any energy thinking every first rendition will be the right one.

So what you see above is the tightened version made from the blue pen sketch. I use my small home built light box for doing this. It’s essentially a tracing exercise where all of the details are positioned where I want them and I sort out the final angle projections for the wheels and stuff. The hardest bit is getting the position of the figure right, and this will often involve several bits of paper as I try and find the right one. For example, the lower leg and foot in this picture was particularly problematic, for some reason I just couldn’t “see” it. I have a Japanese made posable figure here which I use in situations like this, he’s a very useful piece of kit.

Police car by Jon Tremlett 2014

I also had to do a fair amount of work on the chasing police car down in the lower right hand corner. The one in the main picture here is a kind of modern version based on something they might use right now but, it doesn’t sit well with the overall feel I’m looking for. Something more retro was called for as I want to create a notional connection with the original age of the bad boy Cafe Racer. Searching the web, as you do, turned up some fabulous old pics of what we would call here in the UK, Jam Sandwiches and Panda cars. Just like all modern societies we seem to relish the opportunity to give anything to do with law enforcement a nickname. So the force, “Plod” would drive “jam sandwiches”, essentially white cars with a dirty great red stripe down the side. These superseded the “Panda” cars which were oddly light blue with white doors and very slow. I digress. The other picture here today is my final choice for the police car. An early “Jam Sandwich” of the Triumph 2000 variety, suitably festooned with period accessories including the big illuminated box on the roof (a massive air brake), crappy roof mounted spots and a great big siren mounted in the middle of the bonnet to aid engine cooling. It takes me back to my youth tearing about the neighbourhood on my old Yamaha avoiding these characters.

From here there follows another light box session to transfer this onto Bristol Board ready for the final step which is the biro inking stage, which oddly I’m looking forward to a great deal as I haven’t done one of these for some time. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes, and thanks for dropping by today.

When you’re unsure, redraw.

Sketch by Jon Tremlett for soulcraftcandy 2014

Ok, so there’s been a bit of a gap between this and the last post, I’ve been working, putting in some serious time on a freelance job, one which involved constructing a couple of full sized mock ups of some new airline seat concepts, in polyboard. For those of you who don’t know, polyboard is that stuff that folk normally use for presentations, a couple of sheets of very thin card with a foam core. It’s great for what it was designed for but, it also makes a great modelling material provided you know what you’re doing. I’ve been making models out of this stuff for longer than I care to remember so it presents few challenges as such, the main obstacle these days is that the forms that are created in CAD by the designers are so complex that we are now operating well beyond what a basic sheet material can achieve.

Polyboard_model1

Fortunately there are ways around this, including software that essentially creates complex nets for making paper models, which can be utilised to assist in turning curved surfaces into flat plates that one can cut, bend and glue together. It’s hard work, but becoming a skill fewer and fewer people possess, so there may be hope for me yet! Here’s a pic of the kind of thing I’ve been building. This is a very old model so no one will mind me showing it, the more recent stuff is, as usual, highly confidential so no pics of that for a few months at least.

Anyway, enough about work. Todays post is actually about this sketch above, the next stage in creating the drawings for Mr. C. After my initial efforts, see the relevant post here, it became obvious that what I wanted wasn’t anywhere near what I’d initially drawn so was beyond a quick set of modifications. Only one thing for it, redraw the whole thing. Not a problem, the learning and critique of the first sketches really informs your hand second time around so the process is more focused and as a result much better. What I do find though is that I can’t force this part of the process, it has to happen when the mood takes rather than when sitting down and telling oneself to get on with it. Needless to say the use of the magic blue biro helps as well, laying gentle lines first and slowly building up. This is now much more what I’m after in terms of view angle, the position of the bike on the page, the curve of the road and where the police car is. This will now get transferred onto Bristol board for the final bit and I’m already thinking I should do another version in tandem which shows a motorcycle which is closer to the kind of bike Mr.C constructs using four cylinder engines. More very soon, and thanks for taking the time to read the post today.