Creative decisions that are right for you.

Taking my time to find the right position.

Taking my time to find the right position.

Time to take a look at cutting and fitting the new rear mudguard. There is much talk in bike building circles about getting the stance of your bike right as a prerequisite for coming up with anything good looking. There is a school of thought that is very prevalent currently to have the line of the bike very flat. That’s to say, the visual line from the back of the seat running through the base of the tank to the front suspension should be pretty much parallel to the ground. Hence you see lots of bikes that are all starting to look the same and share the almost totally flat seat which is almost ubiquitous in its manifestation. This is all well and good if you’ve got the time, money and the need to go down this route. Personally I haven’t. As I’ve mentioned before, without resorting to large amounts of frame modification  (read expensive welding bills and jiggery) and spending a whole pile of cash on different suspension equipment, there’s not much one can do beyond a certain point. The creative challenge is therefore to move away from the standard look enough to create difference and come up with something that works with the proportions one is presented with. This can be a lot harder than you think, but it is possible on a very limited budget and is generally a case of taking ones time in positioning, cutting and mounting components. Once you’ve cut metal there’s very little you can do to rescue things, so it pays to exercise patience and adopt a methodical approach no matter how quickly you want the project to be completed.

Position set, holes drilled, just the light to mount.

Position set, holes drilled, just the light to mount.

Of course, what “looks right” is a purely subjective conclusion. Because these kinds of projects are pretty personal in their nature, the result must first be right for you, in your own eyes. That’s the most important thing really. Decisions you make in a build are always contextualised by a whole host of factors and compromises that one has had to deal with on the journey to the final outcome. Others may not like your final iteration but then invariably they have little knowledge of this context. As a maker, of anything, one has the luxury of knowing that you could change or modify things in future if the urge takes you, but it’s an option that you can reserve to exercise if you so choose.

When I first built this bike I made a pile of decisions about how it would look based how I felt about the life it would lead, about practical issues like comfort and durability as much as aesthetic considerations. I reserved the right to change things if I wanted to but generally didn’t feel the need to do much other than periodic tweaking. Now, some time later, it is time to make some changes  based on living with it and riding it for a few years. There are still certain things about the stance I can do little about, but these are not a problem. The bike started life as a factory custom and so caries with it some small legacies of that life which I’m happy to live with, like the long forks and the steep rake of the tank.

A rather blurry shot courtesy of my iPad, but you get the idea.

A rather blurry shot courtesy of my iPad, but you get the idea.

So here are some shots showing the process of getting the new rear mudguard (fender) sitting in the right place, at the right angle in the right way. Once I’d cut the bare rolled section I’d bought to roughly the correct length I spent ages with bits of foam, tape and cups of tea trying it in different positions to get the look I was after. Once I was happy I marked the mounting holes for drilling and returned to the shed for some hole making. The critical factor was getting enough section over the wheel without it looking overly long but still having enough curve available to support the light/plate assembly at the right angle. I didn’t think things had changed much until I held up the new piece next to the old one to see that I’d actually reduced the length by about 150mm, very satisfying.

The final shot shows the guard in place with the light mounted and everything else ready to go. The final piece of this refresh is painting the petrol tank, which I’m currently working on a design for and I’ll be posting about that very soon.

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Seize the moment.

Stripped and ready for action.

Stripped and ready for action.

The decision to get cracking on the bike coincided with two pieces of good fortune. First, work called just before I started on it to ask if I’d mind staying at home that week as there wasn’t enough work going through the studio to keep me busy. Regret that I wouldn’t earn any money that week was countered by the prospect of getting a fair crack of the whip on my bike build, so a reasonable result. Then, to my utter surprise, the weather turned unseasonably warm and sunny for about a week, perfect for fettling bits of metal out in the shed and garden. Having wrestled the bike into the back garden, no easy task given a very narrow access alley out back and the need to fit some much reduced width handlebars, the strip down was quick. Originally I’d built it in a way that would enable me to take it apart if I ever needed to and so was grateful for having made that decision. The work plan was front mudguard first, then the clocks and headlight area and finally the rear mudguard. After a quick once over and a clean it was time to get started.

Not bad, considering.

Not bad, considering.

I’d sketched out several solutions for mounting the front guard but, in the end opted for the simplest one which used two straps or hoops connecting the mounting holes on the fork legs with the guard mounted on top. Ok, not that elegant, but essentially all you need and adhering nicely to one of my general philosophies when approaching making anything, which is the KISS principal (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Due to the front forks having a leading axle arrangement, the mounting holes are off-set to the wheel centre so the straps needed to be of different lengths, and so I slotted the holes on the rear one to enable some positional adjustment when finally mounting the guard. Trimming the guard from the longer piece of rolled section I had was relatively easy, the tricky bit is joining it all together. For this you need to find the centreline of the guard, awkward on a thing that curves in two planes. My simple solution was to lie the piece on its side and establish the centreline as a height rather than a width, using a pen taped to an adjustable square. That done, it’s much easier to define the hole positions for your fixing screws or rivets to attach the mounting straps. Nothing worse than drilling holes only to find they’re in the wrong place. With the holes drilled I screwed the whole thing together using some M4 button headed screws and thread lock compound. Doing it this way allowed me to tighten things up just so, and minimise the risk of pulling the surface down onto the straps too much and dishing the top surface. The rolled mudguard blanks came with a polished finish but this is a nightmare to maintain, so the final thing was “brushed” with Scotchbrite before a treatment of anti-corrosion spray. Ok so far. Next up, the clocks and front light area.

Before the making starts.

Strange proportions and some serious wear and tear you can't see.

Strange proportions and some serious wear and tear you can’t see.

In the last post, which was primarily concerned with getting into some making as an antidote to creative imbalance, I mentioned that the project I’d be launching myself into would be a refresh of my already custom built little 250cc motorcycle.

Above are a couple of shots taken not long ago of how it was looking. From this distance and angle there doesn’t seem to be that much wrong with it but upon closer inspection it was really starting to show its age. First modified nearly six years ago, it has since endured a life of quite heavy use as a daily commuter and weekend run about. There were two aspects that I wanted to address in my refresh. Firstly, the finishes that I’d applied all those years ago were starting to look very tired. Numerous scrapes and scratches, injuries sustained from sharing public parking bays with careless scooter users, and general wear and tear had taken their toll on the paint work, and the protective lacquers applied to keep it all shiny had reached the limits of their life. Surface cracking and other problems giving the whole thing a rather worn appearance. Some patina of use is good, some just makes things look a bit sad and unloved. So time for a fresh face.

Secondly, there were some aspects of the proportions of the whole thing which I realised I hadn’t got very right the first time around. As you can see the bike is quite low at the back and high at the front, a product of it being a “Factory Custom” bike in its previous life. I wanted to reduce this height a bit to bring a bit more balance. The rear fender was causing me some worry too. I’d made it longer at the outset for practical reasons more than anything, to keep the road dirt off everything, but have come to see it as way too long, the overhang above the rear wheel being too far which seems to exaggerate the odd proportions even more so.

So the plan was to create two new fenders, or mudguards, see what I could do about the height of the front and give it a fresh coat of paint. Thinking it through it seemed like better sense to keep the guards in bare metal, very a la mode these days but, no more worrying about precious paint finishes on bits that get very dirty. I’d purchased two new rolled sections just for this purpose some time ago at a local autojumble so saw this as a quick fix solution that I could do at home.

Dealing with the front end would be a bit more tricky. The instrument bracket I’d made and its effect on the headlight position, together with the fly screen all contribute to a visual height at the front which seems at odds with the rest of the bike. Changing all this and giving it all a bit more breathing space should help, and mucking around with bar positions and suchlike will help too. The forks are pushed up into the yokes as far as they will go, so without drastic fork shortening there’s not much I can do beyond small changes. Some have suggested the more severe approach of having the frame modified but that’s way beyond the brief and, after all, this is a daily workhorse bike not a show pony aiming for total perfection. Not to mention the fact that major engineering of that magnitude costs a good deal of hard earned cash, probably more than the bike is worth.

The final piece in the puzzle will be the new paint scheme. The bike is mainly black and I’ll keep it that way. I want something subtle, but different enough to make it individual. With only the tank and side panels to do it needs to be quite simple. I’d like to have an element of hand painted brush work in there as well as a tiny splash of colour. I’m yet to settle on a final idea though I’m leaning heavily towards something slightly more decorative that a big white stripe. I’m going to keep in under my hat for now, until it’s resolved, as I’ve told a couple of friends it will be a secret until I’ve finished it. Don’t want to let the cat out of the bag yet.

Creative imbalance and making the most of what you’ve got.

Small, but with lots of potential.

Small, but with lots of potential.

It is the only word I’ve managed to come up with in trying to describe what’s been going on of late, imbalance. I’ve got a fair idea about where it’s come from and it has taken me a while to get to grips with it.

Rather than castigate myself for allowing it to happen, it has been much easier to recognise it for what it is and deal with it through action and a little reasoning. This imbalance stems from a shift in my working life over the last few months, and hence my creative output, which I’d not accounted for. Although my role is only part time, it has involved a lot of idea generation and thus a massive amount of drawing and sketching. Big projects, which require a lot of this kind of thing in their early stages, need sustained creative input and masses of ideas. It’s exhausting, creatively and physically. Where I went wrong is not remembering this to be the case and failing to keep any creative energy in reserve for my own stuff once I returned home. So it’s been difficult to draw, but more to the point, it’s been hard to generate ideas.

Shed_2

I’m showing you a couple of pictures of my garden shed, here in my back yard, as it has proved to be the answer to coping with this imbalance. Rather than spend any more time staring at blank sheets of paper the solution lay in getting out there and making something, turning raw materials into something else, using some tools and getting my hands dirty.

 

There had been a plan in the back of my mind for a while to refresh the little 250cc motorcycle that I’d modified some years ago when I started this blog. Over the years, as the miles have racked up, it has suffered the usual knocks and scrapes that these things are victim to, and overall the finish was starting to look very tired. I wanted to give it a freshen up, and make some changes to the overall design that I’d not got right first time around. So what to do for a making project was all ready and waiting, I just had to start. Before now I have relied on using workshop space owned by other people, this time around I didn’t have that option so my little shed was going to need to be the work space that I could use. As you can see it’s a small building with very limited floor area, but it does have an electricity supply, a big light on the rafters  and a work bench across one end. It houses all of my various tools, materials and other useful stuff accumulated over years of working as a prototype builder and modelmaker. Being of a sturdy design and construction it allows all manner of things to be hung from the walls, freeing up floor area and permitting at least a modicum of organisation. I don’t own any large machine tools, I’d need a bigger shed if I did, so most of the work would be done with hand and power tools with my trusty old Black and Decker Workmate acting as a secondary work bench. The only thing I can’t, and likely won’t do in there is spray paint, that will have to happen elsewhere. The shed was here in the garden when we moved into the house and I’ve always wanted to use it as a making space. now was my chance to put that thought into practice.

It just about fits in.

It just about fits in.

The third shot shows the bike pretty much in the shed. I didn’t need it completely inside, just enough to get some soldering done on the electrical loom, but it meant that I could work on it in there if the weather took a turn for the worse. By being methodical and tidying up as I went it was utterly surprising what I managed to do in this small space. Most of us work in some kind of organised chaos. Some cope well the more chaotic things are, others less, and over the years my natural inclination has veered toward the organised rather than the chaotic and this is a boon when working in a confined space. Having everything to hand helps too but, the order one maintains around oneself really is reflected in how one deals mentally with the making process.

The fruits of my labours are in the next post.

 

Confronting your creative comfort zone, one step at a time.

Paint and ink detail be Kon Tremnlett for Soulcraftcandy.

Welcome to the first post of the new year, a year supposedly fully fueled with fresh resolve to go beyond merely just carrying on. Actually, to be honest, I made no new resolutions regarding the blog, and this may end up being a good thing as it will keep the devil of disappointment from the door for a while. Y’see, it’s not even the end of January and the thieves of time have already raided the creative cupboard and made off with more than they usually swipe. The important thing at times like this is not to stop altogether, to keep chipping away, even if it is only a small bit at a time. This is how it goes sometimes and part time work can often morph into something with a greedy appetite for your precious time. I liken it to when we used to listen to the radio on sets that possessed a manual tuning dial. Often the signal would fade or go crackly, and in order to hear the music again you had to lean over and move the tuning control ever so slightly. Clarity would return. So currently the dial of life needs some subtle turning to get back to a more balanced feeling.

 

But creative work never stops and thankfully the drawing projects are still on going, just a bit more slowly than usual. The image above is a detail of what’s on the drawing board right now. Essentially it’s a larger colour version of a drawing I did over a year ago as part of the original cafe racer series in biro. I’ve been wanting to do a colour one for ages, so got the brushes out just before Christmas and have been chipping away ever since.

 

Like previous pictures this one is being done on Bristol Board using water colour washes and my trusty technical pens. Although progress is slow, I’m enjoying every minute of it and, taking my time has allowed me to make some considered changes to my plan and think a bit more deeply about what I’m doing.

 

This is all good stuff, but it’s also causing me to realise that I should perhaps be trying to do more with the paint. I’ll try and explain what I mean. At the core of it would be a feeling that I am not a natural painter, someone who’s automatically at home with the medium. For me, and this probably harks back to formative years, the application of paint to an image has always been a colouring in exercise, following some kind of predetermined outline to render a colour picture. It has never really ever been used as an expressive tool in its own right. As a result I’ve established this kind of comfort zone in which my painting exists and is quite cosy for me. So there’s a challenge in the near future to see if I can get out of that comfort zone and see if I can make more of what’s out there. People endlessly talk about thinking outside of the box these days, well this is a challenge of DOING outside of the box.Painting, whether it be in oils, acrylics or water colour is a combination of many skills and techniques and yes, it is daunting to think that one is only in possession of a small amount of skill and a couple of techniques but, it is also exciting to know that there is a world of image making still out there waiting to be tried. My professional life does not allow me the luxury of experimentation so, somehow expectedly, I’ll need to break some habits too if I’m going to improve my skills. Rather like the picture from the last post, you never know what’ll happen until you try, so flinging some paint around could reveal some interesting things. The key will be to learn, as much as create and make. Here’s to an experimental and rewarding 2014.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

Can I draw like a designer?

CB750 sketch by Jon Tremlett for Soulcraftcandy

When I got up this morning I knew I needed to write a blog post today. It’s been a while since the last one and my guilt is starting to gnaw at my conscience. My only problem was that I didn’t know what I was going to write about, and then the phone rang.

 

It was a good friend calling to ask for some advice on behalf of a colleague of his. In a nut shell the colleague was asking how she, an engineer, could learn to draw like a product designer and did I know of any courses that might teach such a thing? During the conversation my brain split into two parts, the first attempting to answer the question, the second thinking “ what a good subject for a post”. Here’s what the two parts came up with, given that the question can be answered in two ways, the simple answer and the slightly more complicated one.

 

Firstly I don’t know of any courses that will teach you how to draw like this in isolation. A design course might, but it’s not guaranteed and, let’s face it, if you only want to draw like a designer then a full blown design course is a very long winded way of going about it. However, if you have a modicum of drawing ability, then there are various books available which do a very good job of illustrating (sic) the various techniques that designers use to communicate their ideas in drawing form. Here’s a link to one I find very useful. The double sided key to this approach is knowing what it is you’re looking at on the page, and then putting in the hours and hours of practice that will embed the techniques into your canon of visualising skills. Although this is the simple answer to the question it is far more than a mental and creative cut and paste job. Only practice makes prefect, don’t forget, and you’ve got to have some drawing ability to start with.

 

The more complicated answer involves taking a closer look behind the question itself. The question, “ how do I draw like a product designer?”, provokes the immediate response, “well, how do you think product designers draw?”. Is the answer very quickly, or with a pen, or with one eye shut, or with magic ink? The answer is both none and all of the above, and this is where it gets complex. Essentially all designers who draw use it as a way of communicating their thinking, their ideas. Yes, we can all use words to back up what we are on about, but most of us draw our ideas because they are required to explain themselves when we are not there to represent them. Drawings are used to communicate everything from general concepts and aesthetics, to mechanical solutions and fine details. They are a core mechanism of the discipline which transcends language and helps others to understand the idea. Without some visual representation design is a pretty worthless exercise. Conversations between designers are often both visual and verbal.

 

The complexity arises when we realise that designers, even those working in a similar field, all draw differently, and the reason is because we have all spent a long time finding the techniques which we personally are most comfortable with, the ones we like the most, and are happiest exploiting. So, we are all the same but different. The other complicated bit is that drawing is a direct output from a thought process, which involves several elements like imagination, mechanical considerations, technical parameters and materials knowledge etc etc. So you can see that when designers draw, they are actually doing a lot more than purely making an image. Does this therefore mean that in order to be able to draw like a designer, you essentially have to be one? If you’re happy adopting a style or technique then perhaps not, but remember that whilst most designers can draw, not everyone who draws is a designer. I hope this makes sense as it’s taken me a while to boil it down to this brief explanation.

 

Here’s a lovely quote I read the other day about drawing, and is another great reason why all designers should consider the benefits of developing drawing skills.

 

“I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster, and leaves no room for lies”. Le Corbusier.

Before I go, the sketch above is one of the projects on the go at the moment. A lovely chap called Larry sent me some info about his bike some time ago, we were discussing a possible commission. Sadly that didn’t happen, but I haven’t forgotten about it, and have finally got around to starting a drawing based on the bike, a Honda CB750. So Larry, if you’re reading this, I’ll be in touch soon.