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.

New drawings and a wake up call.

Wakey wakey Jon!

Writing the first post at the end of an absence is the hardest thing. It’s not about working out where to start per se but, it’s more about avoiding the endless list of excuses as to why this has happened. This is not so much to make my readers feel some kind of sympathy for me, more to do with appeasing my own guilt at having been so neglectful. Ok, that’s the bit about feeling bad done with. There is one big excuse though.

CR_group©Jon Tremlett2016

You may have noticed in a couple of the pictures from the last post that I’m standing in front of a rather untidy brick wall. Well, that was the remains of my kitchen and was taken at a time when we had just embarked upon a major overhaul of the house. Various building works to remove some walls, make holes in others and finally fit a new kitchen were already turning our lives upside down. It went on for quite a few weeks. To finish everything off it was down to me, a form of self selected masochistic punishment, to build some big floor to ceiling cupboards, box out the under stair area and fit bookcases, all after redecorating the whole of the ground floor. It took a while and consumed my life until well after Christmas. All done now, until I need to get cracking on the first floor. A smaller project that one.

I was still doing some drawing but not making the effort to blog about it, so I’ll shed some light on what I’ve been up to on that front over the following posts. The photo above is of three black and white reductive ink drawings that were done after doing the t-shirt for my local bike shop (they sell like hot cakes by all accounts, which is good to hear). I have a contact in the US who fancied some designs for shirts of his own, having seen the blog post, so I set out to see what I could rustle up for him. Two of them made it through to printing and can be found in the apparel section of his web shop here, http://carpyscaferacers.com. They look pretty good combined with his type work so I’m hoping they’ll sell well and more work comes of it.

Thrux_comp1©JonTremlett2016

These next two pictures are really to shed some light on my process and show the preliminary sketches I do for these pictures so that you can see where things come from and how they change and develop as I move them through to inking them up. I invariably reach for my favourite blue biro for preliminary sketches, for no other reason than they’re lovely to use and one can achieve such a variety of line weights. This helps hugely when I want to move a line or change details. These are then traced off on the light box, making changes along the way, to give me a base drawing that I can then ink over. It may seem rather a long process, repeating a drawing two or three times but, it’s the best way to get it how you want it. The downside is that this is one of the main reasons why these drawings take so much time.

Thrux_comp2©JonTremlett2016

As before the inking is done with Rotring and Steadler technical pens so that I can maintain as crisp a line quality as possible and there is no ink bleeding on the thin Bristol Board I use. Because the ink is similar to Shelac based Chinese ink, it is very black which is a great help. You don’t have to go over everything twice to get great opacity and it’s just about sturdy enough to cope with tidying up the drawing with a small eraser after you’ve finished. The creation of printable artwork for shirt printing requires these drawings to be scanned and converted to vector paths in a graphics package, so the cleaner and crisper the initial scan the better. I’ll talk more about the whole vectorising thing in a later post.

I hope you like todays pictures and thanks for visiting the blog.

A good pen is an expensive tool, look after it.

The finished workshop polo shirt.

The finished workshop polo shirt.

So here is the shirt design for Bill Bunn Motorcycles, my local bike shop, in its finished form. The guys very kindly gave me a polo shirt in way of payment, which makes one feel very good about the idea of bartering. The quality of the screen printing is really good and the level of line and detail they have managed to keep is very high. A great result.

This black and white block reductive drawing is becoming strangely addictive. Partly I think it has to do with the process being quite quick, you see results quite fast but, it also has much to do with the simple pleasure of pen use and the decision making process. Areas of the drawing are either black or white and that’s it, this way or that, simple. As more drawings take shape it becomes easier to decide which way to go, ones ability to “see” what gets left out becomes clearer. It is amazing how the eye and brain are able to build a complete image from only a rather basic framework of information.

Big_Ink_CB750©JonTremlett2015

This activity is also helping me to complete some drawings which have been lying dormant in the drawing chest because I couldn’t decide on how to finish them. This indecision invariably comes from a lack of confidence and a worry about messing something up having invested a great deal of time and effort into it. For some reason this temerity seems to disappear once I start thinking of completing them in this style. One example is the drawing above. It must have sat in the drawer for about a year while I dithered over the final execution. However, armed with a couple of freshly filled Rotring pens it all came together rather quickly. there is still some background to complete to bring it on a bit further but essentially a neglected work has taken on new life.

Techy pens1

One aspect of working in this way is that I’ve realised that I actually have a rather unhealthy pen fetish! I’m actually a bit of a technical pen nerd in reality. It is a necessary part of using these things that one has to be rather fastidious about their cleanliness in order to get the best out of them, and I find myself enjoying this often messy job. There’s something terribly satisfying about making the first lines after a thorough clean and refill of my most oft used pen. What strikes me as a bit excessive is why I have to have so many of the things? At least a dozen at the last count, though not all are in working order. Long neglected at the bottom of a drawer, one or two are utterly dried up and solid with ink residue, a rock hard shellac like substance that seems to be impervious to most solvents. Prolonged soaking in cleaning fluid, often weeks, helps to release things but often the smaller sized nibs are beyond help. I have no idea why I have so many, like many bits of drawing equipment we just seem to accumulate them unwittingly over time. I remember purchasing my original Rotring box set over 30 years ago, second hand from a market stall but where the others have come from is anyones guess. Likely bought because I’d forgotten I had that size already or they were so bunged up I just went and got a new one rather than bother cleaning them out. Profligate and lazy days to be sure. One thing being a freelancer teaches you though, is looking after your stuff so hopefully m nibs can look forward to a more pampered and productive life from here on.

Support your local bike shop.

The finished design at it will look on the shirt back.

The finished design at it will look on the shirt back.

It is an old english adage that the centre of any small community is the local pub, a hub around which much of the activities of the local people revolves. This is invariably true and in larger communities it is also true that local shops and tradespeople make a huge contribution to the life and vibrancy of a place. Now more than ever it falls upon us, particularly here in the Uk, to support these small local businesses as more and more areas fall victim to the scourge of the megastore. I’m trying to do my bit, buying bread from the baker, meat from the butcher and sundries from the local hardware store. Being an avid motorcyclist I’m also making myself a regular customer down at my local bike shop.

Bill Bunn Motorcycles, a small family business, has been in existence for about 50 years and is the epitome of what your local bike shop should be; compact, friendly and happy to handle everything from an engine rebuild to changing your oil. The guys there are always helpful, good humoured and armed with years of hard won wisdom and experience to help you keep your machine(s) on the road. They are a top team and deserve to stay in business for many years to come. Fortuitously, for me at least, it turns out that they are fans of my work, having found it via the blog last year sometime. A resulting chat, enjoyed whilst dropping the little Suzuki off for a new tyre fitting, revealed that they’re refreshing the store this year, sprucing it up a bit with fresh paint and a general sort out. So, along with some lovely old photographs they have, the guys wanted to hang some prints of my cartoons on the walls too. One should never pass up this kind of opportunity and I’ve supplied some framed prints to them with some prices if anyone might want to purchase one. They also asked about perhaps doing a design for a t-shirt based on one of the drawings so that they could get some shop shirts printed up. I said yes.

How to turn this into a vector artwork?

How to turn this into a vector artwork?

The title image to this post is the final design for the first shirt, we’re thinking of doing more if these prove popular, and will be printed on white on the back of the shirts with a shop logo on the front. I’ve never really spent much energy before working up stuff for a t-shirt print, though I have been thinking about it a lot recently, so this was a great chance to work out how to do it.

Although there are now lots of options open to anyone wanting to have some shirts printed, from simple transfers to laser cut vinyls, the one technique that still stands above the others in terms of crispness and quality is screen printing, and for that most of the printers require vector file artwork. So I needed to get from highly detailed dot shaded hand drawing to vector line art and I had no clear idea how. I knew that all the relevant software needed was sitting in front of me, I just hadn’t used it in this way before. Time to learn some new tricks and jump into the web for tips, advice and a whole host of helpful tutorials on Youtube.

Starting with a high resolution scan of the source image in Photoshop and converting it to a bitmap image, it was relatively simple to cut it out from the background and start tidying it up. What caught me by surprise was how long it would take to remove all of the dot shaded areas and then touch up the picture with erasers and brushes so that line thicknesses and detail areas were not so fine as to get lost in the subsequent tracing process in Illustrator. I admit that I had to go back and forth between the programs several times before things started to look right. Eventually I got it how I wanted it and dropped it into a layout for the final design.

Vectorised and ready.

Vectorised and ready.

The second thing that took me by surprise was the reversal process to create the artwork. Screen printing requires that the artwork, what’s to be printed, is presented in black on a white background. With this shirt the print will be white ink on a black shirt, so the artwork for the drawing needs to be reversed so that it’s the white bits that get printed and not the black bits. I hope this makes sense. The tricky bit here was making sure that when reversed the highlight areas in the normal image weren’t so small as to disappear during printing. This reversal had to be done in Photoshop before the tracing process took place but, it worked out pretty well.

The shirts are now ordered and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on one, it will be he first properly printed t-shirt I’ve ever designed, and that it in itself a really big step for me. As a result I’ve been pushing on with a couple of my own designs and I’m hoping to get those to print before too long. If they’re any good I’ll put some up in the blog shop. Watch this space.

Before I go, a quick apology for the blue copyright stuff across the images today. Like many I suffer from image appropriation and this is a small gesture to try and eliminate a bit of it.

When you get buried, it takes time to dig yourself out.

Can you guess what it is yet?

Can you guess what it is yet?

It’s funny how certain changes in activity totally change your perception of time and its passing. I’m sure that part of my brain looks back at the previous post and tells me that it was only posted yesterday. The reality is of course, very different, and I awoke this morning with a terribly guilty feeling about the blog and how I’ve ignored it for absolutely ages. This won’t do, I thought, and resolved to post today come hell or high water.

My absence has been mainly due to a heavy freelance workload that started back in January. Regular readers may remember me including details of some of my freelance work back in October last year, follow this link to that post. I was talking about making big aircraft seat mock ups out of poly-board. Well, the next stage of these things involves taking the mock up to the next level, which includes all design, engineering and detail changes as the design progresses. These next level mock ups are invariably made out of MDF (wooden fibre board), are quite complicated, require a higher level of finishing and weigh a ton. This is what I’ve been doing and in this case they have required the insertion of a fully working seat mechanism into the furniture. As usual I can’t reveal any details in picture form as those of us who do work in this area are invariably tied by rather scary non-disclosure agreements. Due to the competitiveness of the industry and the amounts of money involved, confidentiality is paramount. I can however show you a picture of the seat mechanism as this is already a commercially available item. Lovely isn’t it.

Seatmech1

Both of the mock ups I’ve been making required a lot of finishing in paint with various upholstered parts, so took quite a few weeks to complete working flat out. By the end of it I was exhausted both physically and creatively and I found it virtually impossible to get back to quiet drawing practise. So instead I built a new toilet under the stairs on the ground floor of my house. And now that’s done it’s time to start thinking about those little personal projects that keep the creative muscle working and drive my posts.

helmet1

So what’s on the drawing board? Well, a number of things actually. Here is the first one. A couple of years ago I bought a two very old and battered crash helmets at a junk sale. They were made in the 50’s by a company called Centurion in Norfolk, England. What’s surprising about them is that they’re made from paper pulp and resin, so not that protective when you think about it. Needless to say they are pretty worthless these days but, I think they are nice objects in themselves and deserve a home. For ages I’ve been thinking about getting some of my images off paper and onto some other medium, so I’m going to paint the helmets with some cartoons. To spur myself on I went and purchased some sign writers paints and started preparing the first helmet for painting. It required much rubbing down and liberal use of high build primer spray to create anything like an even surface to work on. It’s in white primer now and so nearly ready for applying the final design. I’m currently working up some sketch ideas for this and I’ll reveal some of that work in the next post, which I promise, will be very soon.

Dot shading and the tale of two fingers.

Two Fingers, an ink artwork by Jon Tremlett for Soulcraftcandy 2015

We’ve all done this at some point surely?

It has often crossed my mind that there is something mildly masochistic about certain aspects of pursuing a creative life. Obviously there are all of the usual traits that we exhibit like the vocational tug toward a certain specialism, the need to express ourselves, a slavish attention to detail and a preparedness to burn the midnight oil to meet a deadline but, there is also this uncontrollable little monster that drags you back toward things which make you uncomfortable and disinclined to take an idea forward. I’ve come across lots of these over the years and generally, once one succumbs to the temptation (can’t think of a better way to put it) you find you’re off on another journey that prior to that moment you said you’d never take again. And oddly, you’re quite enjoying the trip. These are perhaps slightly too strong words to describe it but I think it’s true nonetheless. The little monster that is the subject of todays post is dot shading.

I’ve written about the challenges of using this technique before, it is incredibly time consuming and can sap your will power if you let it, and have even gone as far as saying I wouldn’t use it again. But you see, and this is where the masochism comes into play, for some reason I just can’t resist it. It is an utter monster of a technique but, and this is where it really gets you, it just gives great looking results, pure and simple. Never say never again, I don’t think so. There a change in attitude in the air today which suggests I’ll happily be engaging with this technique a lot more from now on. It’s got me hooked, the evil thing.

Now I’ve got that off my chest here’s a bit about the picture above. I was really happy by the look and feel of the “Catch me if you can” picture, the shape and composition, the background idea and the naughty hand gesture. Wanting to do another similar piece got me thinking and I realised it was the hand gesture that was holding my attention. It’s irreverent, slightly rebellious and hints to so many aspects of our lives on two wheels. It evokes great memories of shared teenage rebelliousness, our desire not to be dictated to by The Man and a general “Piss off” to the establishment. We’ve all done it at some point in time whether in jest or otherwise. Plenty of reasons in my mind for it to feature in some other pictures. You’ll notice I’m also still playing with the idea of the detailed street scene background. For me it’s a great way to get a bit of humour into the pictures and place the central character in a relatable context. Here’s a detail panel so you can see what’s going on in that section.

Detail of artwork by Jon Tremlett for Soulcraftcandy 2015

For those of you who are not familiar with it, the “V” sign is an almost uniquely English thing, though it is apparently shared across some of the Commonwealth nations like Australia and New Zealand. Essentially it means “f*** off”, and should not be confused with the contemporary peace sign or the victory salute loved by a certain Mr. Winston Churchill, where in both cases the back or the hand faces the giver rather than the receiver. With the back of the hand facing forwards, this becomes a potent symbol of abuse. No One really knows where it first came from, but the most popular myth is that it was used by English long bowmen during the 100 years war with the French, a lengthy conflict spanning the 14th and 15 centuries. It was said that captured archers had their bow string fingers cut off by the enemy, so on the battlefield the English archers would wave their fingers at the French to taunt them and show that they still had them intact. It’s a great story but, as I said, no one knows if it’s true.

Don't confuse the two.

Don’t confuse the two.

Thanks for dropping by today and I hope you enjoyed the post.