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.
The day before yesterday I travelled up to Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire to meet a very interesting chap who’d invited me to come and take a look at his old bike. The fellows name is Nik Fisk and the bike in question is a Triumph engined drag bike called Shotgun built in the late sixties. Nik invited me over having made contact via the blog as he was very interested in commissioning a picture of Shotgun. I’d read about this particular bike in Classic Bike magazine and had also, unwittingly, taken a photograph of Nik pushing it around the paddock at a Dragstalgia meeting at Santa Pod Raceway a couple of years ago. Our email exchange put all of these bits of information together and I leapt at the chance to go and take a look at this bit or drag racing history and meet the man himself. Hence I spent a very interesting, amusing and pleasurable Saturday afternoon standing in the driveway of a house in the village of Podington, where the bike actually lives in Nik’s mates Gordon’s garage.
As the sun beat down we devoured home made sandwiches, supped tea, bantered a good deal and admired this wonderful machine. Nik was more than happy to fill me in on the long and varied history of the bike while Gordon, who does most of the spannering on it, elaborated on various technical points and added another layer to our rather humourous discussion. It was fantastic and the guys were wonderfully enthusiastic and knowledgable about both the bike and their experiences of the vintage drag race scene here in the UK.
So this is now my next project. I’m going to have a go at doing a picture of the bike for Nik that he can use in his promotional armoury as he shows it as well as rides it. I’ll gather up my facts and tell you more about this lovely old bike and its life in a subseqquent post but, for now I just wanted to share a couple of pictures of it because it’s a real beauty.
My thanks to Nik and Gordon for such a great day, I hope I can do their faith justice.
Applying the thousands of ink dots that make up the shadow areas in the “Slugger” picture featured in the previous post, got me thinking about what the image would look like if it was in colour. This short period of playful thought led to the creation of this second image based on the same drawing. It seemed like a fun idea to start by turning the bike into a street machine, but something built for short sprints like dashing between sets of traffic lights. So it needed lights, some different handlebars and a license plate, all fairly easy to include. It also felt right that it should be brightly coloured, a reflection of the exuberance of the activity it was created for.
So the main body of the picture employs the watercolour and pen technique used a good deal lately. I love the way it gives the pictures such a punchy look, almost jumping off the page and into your eyeballs. I so liked the dotted tyre shading from the last version I kept it in, contrasts nicely with the grey.
The bit I’m most pleased with though is the background, the bike really needed something big and bold behind it. I had a good fiddle in Photoshop before doing it, playing around with some ideas based around red, amber and green, the traffic light palette, but these merely made the whole thing look like some odd homage to Rastafarian culture. Needless to say they got dumped, too weird, too complicated, but the red element remained as it worked really well with the bright orange of the bike. This final version is simply primary red overlaid by a darker tint made by adding black. The background is air brushed using gouache paint. I covered the whole picture area with lo-tac film and cut around the bike very carefully with a craft knife, it always surprises me how little pressure is needed to cut the film so it pays to exercise the upmost patience. A solid red was then sprayed on and left to dry before removing the film. Another piece of film was then laid over and the lines for the wave forms were put on in very soft pencil. These were then cut out, again with a fresh bladed craft knife, and sprayed with tint made from the same red with some black added. Even though the picture already had a black ground line, the above process was repeated once more so that pure black could be sprayed on to give the gradient shading of the black area dissolving into the red. Challenging, messy and rather time consuming but the outcome is everything I wanted.