Well, here it is, the finished Mustang picture I’ve been working on over the last week. A slightly more intense painting session took hold yesterday and before I knew it I was sat staring at a completed picture. It would be fair to say I’m more than happy with it given that it’s not a subject I visit very often. I’ve never been a car fan, so they don’t appear on the radar as great subjects unless they are extraordinary, and even then I pretty much have to force myself to draw them. Just one of those things I suppose. Anyway, the main stimulus for doing this one was that it’s going to be a gift for a friend so that helps to keep the focus and the enthusiasm up at a level where you need it to make a decent job of it.
There is very much a kind of groove that one gets into when doing something like this. At the beginning of the session things are all rather laboured, small decisions about colour tone, wash density, which bit to do next and even which brush to use seem to take forever. but slowly things speed up and it’s all relatively easy to jump from one thing to the other. It must be a confidence thing too. After painting for an hour or so it all starts to feel more natural and intuitive, and this is really evident in ones ability to push concerns about mucking something up to one side and just get on with it. One gets into a flow which certainly doesn’t happen when trying to complete a picture by picking up the brushes for a few minutes here and there. Best to reserve some quality time and get stuck in.
There were some bits that I found quite difficult. For example the bush or hedge that sits behind the car and the way it’s reflected in the bodywork and windshield. In my reference photo the hedge is much larger but I wanted to reduce it’s presence and use it to help frame the car and give more prominence to the big bulbous hood. I’ve never been good at vegetation so this was a bit of a challenge but great practice for future projects. The other bits that presented a challenge were the headlamps. the lenses are a mass of prismatic forms and they are filled with so many reflections I found it quite hard to see what I was doing and replicate them in a believable way. Thankfully they aren’t too prominent in the overall scheme of things so my rather bitty interpretation of them isn’t to jarring. Again, all good practice for the future. I hope you like the final result as much as I do, and thanks for stopping by and reading todays post.
It would be fantastic to say that after only a day of painting that the picture was complete, but I know I don’t work that fast and besides, any faster would be a rush and that’s when mistakes happen. Anyway, as you can see from the shot above it has come a long way from the blue sketch shown in the last post. I suppose at this point the car is about half done.
Barring a couple of small detail changes it was very straightforward to trace off on to the watercolour paper using the lightbox. I use a good old HB pencil for tracing off, and I’ve found that once you’ve captured the image you can then stretch the paper as you would normally and not loose any of the pencil work. This is a really handy discovery and means I can avoid endless hours mucking about with grids and such transferring the drawing on to paper stuck to a big wooden board.
All of us who have been lucky enough to have been on the receiving end of any artistic tuition will have been told at some point or other that there is no such thing as black when making a drawing or a painting. So the first challenge when rendering a black car is working out what colour it is. An old tutor I had at design school always recommended starting with Payne’s Grey and working from there. He’s been proved right so many times. So the picture is built up using various dilutions of Winsor and Newton Payne’s Grey, wash upon wash. This means you can work slowly toward the shade you’re after without putting down a whole load, and subsequently realising it should have been lighter. It’s time consuming, but a lovely technique. To get the slight blueness in the highlights I put a very thin wash of Indigo Blue down first. The bits that look black, but are in fact an intense dark blue, were put down quite thick as those areas had very defined lines to follow. For the area of shadow under the car I’m going to use a half and half mix of W&N Payne’s Grey and Schmincke Payne’s Grey which will give me a slightly warmer shade. I’ll mention here that although I have three tubes of paint here all called Payne’s Grey, from different manufacturers, they are all quite different. It helps to buy a few and find the one that suits your technique the best.
The background contains the concrete telegraph pole shown, and a whole swathe of a large green leafed hedge that sits behind the car in my reference shot. There’s a big tree in there as well so they will go in towards the end of the painting process so that I can build them up gradually and frame the car just enough without swamping it. It’ll be done soon.
In a continuation from the previous post, here are some further images charting the progress of the Shotgun drag bike picture. In this first one I’m still very much in the process of laying down the grey tones, and as you can see this pretty much covers most of the parts of this bike, including the tyres, which are not painted red. As I mentioned previously this is very much a process of laying on tone and building up to the desired intensity in small steps. Most people who’ve ever rendered anything will tell you that true black doesn’t really exist, and they’d be right. But with this style of drawing or painting I like to create areas of absolute black as they help give the image punch and underline the more cartoonish nature of the final picture. So where possible it’s good to get those bits done at this stage too.
In this second image you’ll see that I’ve completed the exhaust pipes having finished with the greys, before starting on the frame colour. Exhaust pipes, especially chromed ones are a lot of fun to do, but they do rely on you having some decent reference material to work from. In this case there was plenty going on in the photograph, so the reflections are quite colourful and intricate. The engine, and therefore the near vertical exhaust pipe too, provide a real central anchor point for the picture and the reflections really help to draw the eye to the focal point of the image.
This final image shows the picture with the frame pretty much done. Again, this was a process of laying down slightly diluted tones of the red colour in steps, slowly building the colour up giving the frame tubes their form and highlight areas as you go. I took some time to get the base red right, mixing scarlet and orange inks to obtain something with the right amount of vibrancy. Diluted this gave a lovely pink for the lighter areas and with a bit of dark rich brown mixed in created a great tone for the shadows. It can be a bit nerve wracking when working with such strong colour as the last thing you need is to smear it across an area where it’s not wanted, or worse, get a small droplet landing on your pristine white surround. Once this stuff is down, there is no way to get rid of it or cover it up. But taking your time and working slowly and methodically pays dividends, and allowing things to dry every few minutes is a good habit to get into.
By this stage the picture is really starting to jump off the page, the red frame bringing a whole new three dimensional feeling to the piece. Nearly there.
It’s been a very busy month since my last post, one that has seen this picture progress to being finished along with some other stuff too. rather than jump straight to the final image, here is a slightly retrospective look at the process I have been through in completing this commission.
So this first image is of the final layout sketch which will now dictate how the picture will be in its final form. This one is traced through, using my little lightbox, on to an A3 sheet of good quality drawing paper using the previous sketch as an underlay. This stage is when I do most of the adjusting, moving things around slightly, changing some proportions here and there, and generally tightening things up. For the first time the drawing takes on a kind of crispness which really helps in being able to see properly what’s what and get the view finalised. Once I’m happy with this version, it’s pretty much ready to go and ready to be transferred onto the sheet of Bristol Board for the final rendering. This transfer stage is normally quite quick and easy, but this time was a rather fraught event. The size of the Bristol Board sheet was too large for the lightbox, the last thing you want is to crease or damage the paper whilst tracing through. Instead I had to rig up a makeshift lightbox using a small glass topped table and some desk lights and kneel on the floor to draw. It was hot day and the heat from the lights made the whole thing a rather nerve wracking affair, the board starting to warp after only twenty minutes. But it got done soon enough and I was really itching to get cracking with the colour phase.
So this image is of the the engine after a couple of painting sessions. I don’t know exactly why, but I always like to start at the centre of the picture and work outwards. With the bikes this invariably means doing the engine area first. It’s actually a really good way to get started. The main constituent colour here is Payne’s Grey, either on its own or mixed with other colours for different hues and shades. Keeping the paint quite thin, colour and tone are built slowly in layers, it gives more control, and allowed to dry every now and then to stop paper warp and the surface from degrading through sogginess. Once I’m happy with an area I’ll get the technical pen out and start the process of outlining and blacking to start to bring the whole thing out of the surface and give it some punch. This also helps to set the early tone for the drawing and acts as a guide for putting down subsequent colour areas. Looking good so far.
A couple of posts ago I put up some colour photographs of a lovely red vintage drag bike called Shotgun. I’ve been asked by its owner, Nik Fisk, to create a picture of the bike for him. It’s taken a couple of weeks to get going but here is the first layout sketch done in preparation for the final picture. It’s done in black biro on heavy weight lining paper. When I was taking the photographs we discussed in some detail the view we wanted to achieve in the finished piece, something that hinted at the length of the bike, but also showed off the overall shape well and the fantastic old Triumph engine that sits at the heart of the beast. Having the right hand exhaust pipe nearly vertical we reckoned this would allow the curvature of the left pipe to be a feature and would also create a strong central element to the picture.
It would be far simpler, and probably much easier, to sketch directly over a printed photograph, or do it digitally using something like Corel Painter, but that would defeat the object of this exercise. In asking me to create a picture for him, Nik is looking for something created in a particular style, which we reckoned would be called something like “factual caricature”. This is not about creating a facsimile image, more about giving the image a degree of character which a photograph just can’t do. So with a picture up on the screen as reference I like to work freehand directly onto the paper, working out the relative positions and proportions of things as I go. It’s a rather organic process, one which not only makes you look carefully at the subject, but also embeds knowledge about that subject into your minds eye as you go. I find this part of the process invaluable and it enables me to make the slight scale and proportional changes which bring the caricature into the image. It allows me to do things like make the engine slightly bigger and bulk up the exhaust pipes to increase the sense of power of the unit for example. I always like to increase the fatness of tyres on bike pictures, in makes them look more planted in my view, but at the same time I need to make sure that the ellipses that outline the wheels are as correct as possible. This sketch shows a revised front wheel from the original sketch, done with some ellipse guides at a smaller size (my templates only go so big), rescanned and photoshopped into place. So when I’m freehanding the outline drawing for the final picture I’ve got some decent guidelines to work to.
The drawing is about 380mm from the back of the rear wheel to the tip of the front and sits very nicely on an A2 sheet, so a really good size which will allow lots of details to be shown. The next step is to check over this one, make some notes for adjustments and then use the light box to start the process of getting it onto the Bristol Board I’ll use for the final painting. This is going to be a lot of fun and I’ll be posting progress reports as things take shape.
Just a brief post this time as there is still much to do at the end of this Bank Holiday weekend and we are all back at school tomorrow.
So here above is the finished picture that was shown in a part done state a couple of weeks ago. Safe to say it’s very bright and colourful and has turned out pretty much exactly as I planned. I love using a bright orange on the bike tanks and so it seemed only logical to offset that with a blazing green for the background block. And because the bike’s standing pretty much on its nose, then angling the coloured area around it seemed like a good way of emphasising the the dynamic of the image.
This one’s done on a much smoother water colour paper than the usual fare and it makes a real difference to how the inking goes down and the control that one can exercise in the coloured areas. I hope you like it as much as I do. Gotta dash.
With all of the making happening in the back garden and in the makeshift workshop that is the garden shed, it would have been so easy just to forget about the artworks for a few days. But these things never sleep, whatever’s on the drawing table in the studio lets you know it’s there every time you walk in the room. The hope was that some making activity would bring a fresh spur to the drawing work and so it proved. By splitting my creative time in this way, both fed off the energy that was now available seeing as I wasn’t going to be working for a few days.
This picture above was started a while back but was taking ages to finish. Procrastination had set in as a reaction to my being a little daunted by pushing it along. I wanted to see how I’d get on with some heavier textured water colour paper, and whether I could hold the detail given the rougher surface. It was also a challenge to figure out the best way of rendering all of that smoke, something I’d not had much success at in the past.
In the end the detail concerns were pretty unfounded, the technical pen worked out ok on the paper once it was fully dry, though I would say that it does tend to get a bit “hairy” if you labour the pen too much. The smoke bit on the other hand was a tad more tricky. I had kind of promised myself that I’d have a go at being a bit more free with my brush work a while ago and saw this as a perfect way to get some practice. Smoke being of a very “wafty” nature I thought it would suit a more loose approach. What I didn’t reckon on was actually how hard it was to do. I take my hat off to all those whose water colour style is more conventional than my own, the impressionistic feel they give to brush work is a hard won prize indeed. Initially I was far too deliberate, the cloudiness needed just wasn’t there and no amount of blending the marks I’d made seemed to work. In the end I plumped for just loading up a No.4 brush and smearing, can’t think of a better word for it, wash all over the required area and trying to blur it all with more water whilst still wet. It kind of worked but I failed to achieve any consistency across the whole area. Not wanting to overdo it I left it at that, though I will be having another few tries at getting the looseness I’m after on some other pieces which are coming along behind this one.