Well, here’s the final finished version of the first foray into the world of capturing the story behind an image. I’m quietly pleased with it even though it probably represents the simplest approach to all of the story stuff I have been posting about these last couple of times. It works, and that is the most important thing. Yes, there is much room for improvement but as a first stab it’s encouraging to feel that the framing and words add to the image rather than take anything away.
What is interesting is how looking at it now sparks an immediate desire to improve things, to create more. That’s not to say that what happens next is merely an extended exercise in duplication across any number of pictures, more a wish to really get stuck in, and learn properly how to make best use of all the different devices at ones disposal, and perhaps invent some new ones too, specific to these drawings.
Opening any book about creating comics and graphic novels invariably floods you in established conventions for framing, speech and thought balloon use, caption box positions, view angles, perspectives and all manner of inking and texturing techniques. All of it is there for us to learn from. It can be a bit intimidating. The best bit though is realising that none of it is compulsory, and that all of these things are there to be played with. Their task is to inform the image being created, rather like an arrow or two might inform a diagram, so there’s no need to use all of them all of the time. Much more fun to find the things that work for you and the types of image you create, than feeling the need (and pressure) to become a master of all before venturing to the paper to make your first mark. There will be lots of experiments and invariably lots of trial and error involved but, without learning through doing, things won’t move forward, or worse get stuck in a repetitive rut. And we can’t have that.
So the search has been on to find how to start thinking about stories behind the images and how best to communicate them. In a way a potential solution was staring me in the face, though I’d failed to recognise it. A very strong instance of not being able to see the wood for the trees. The “tipping point” was completing the cut down dragster drawing featured in The Line Is Drawn post. By cropping the image I had essentially put a box around it, the story in the image was contained mainly within this box, though it broke out to imply the story being much bigger than this constraint. The issue with previous drawings had been the open nature of the final image, with nothing to hold the image it was left to sit adrift in a space that then just flowed out to the edge of the paper. Sometimes paintings and drawings only start to make sense once we have framed them for hanging, and it was this sentiment that I was trying to capture. Rather than rely purely on the edge of the paper to provide the boundary of the contextual space, I realised that what may best serve these kinds of drawings is to create this boundary myself. Create distinct frames like they do for comic books and graphic novels.
It was a kind of “aha” moment. Had I found a mechanism for completing the images and communicating the “story” better? It seemed such an obvious realisation but then what is directly in front of you can be the hardest thing to see sometimes.It is nothing new, a technique that has a long history running through the comic universe to storyboards and beyond but, such a simple approach could really compliment the images as they are essentially cartoons in themselves and might benefit hugely from such a solution.
Conveniently there was a drawing here which I have struggled with completing for quite some time. It’s another in the dragster series and is sitting in the middle of a big bit of A2 paper, you may remember it from a post back in August. I got so far with it, then kind of stopped, the more I worked on it, the more the life seemed to drain out of it. The context I’d created in my imagination just wasn’t working so it got put to one side, to await a flash of inspiration and energy. It seemed a perfect candidate for experimenting with the “crop and box” approach. Interestingly, what happened was that it made me think much harder about what’s inside the boundary I’ve drawn. As a consequence the story has changed and with it a new context is starting to emerge in the background. The drawing has a new life, one that I’m more than happy with so far and looking forward to finishing.
So as a first stab it’s kind of working, an image I was perhaps bored with has regained my interest, and that’s such an important part of this exercise. They key now is to explore how this development pans out across future images. Certainly I don’t want it to become an exercise in cutting and pasting formats and such across a host of work, each piece must remain unique in its own way. What’s good is the fact that the idea is so simple and basic that it is ripe for all manner of playing with, and that flexibility is exciting.
Following on from the last post, the point was quickly reached where the decision as to what to do with the rider figure needed making. Leaving him as a kind of abstract blank space didn’t seem to look at all right. A few basic outlines looked better but didn’t add that much to the overall image, so the third of my choices remained. Why we spend so much time agonising over these things sometimes mystifies me, especially when it’s such a small jump to achieving the finish and one realises that it wasn’t such a big deal after all. That’s life I suppose.
It would be good at this point to be able to offer some kind of critique of the finished drawing but I’m currently in that place where I have been looking at it for so long that it is hard to get observations in some kind of order. So for the time being you will have to decide for yourselves whether it works or doesn’t. Others eyes will see things that mine currently miss, so revisiting it in a few days will give me a fresh perspective, and the capacity to work out how to move things on from here. There is certainly something in this leaving areas blank idea, but it needs properly evaluating, experimenting with and developing further.
Finally today, and on a much lighter note, a small cartoon for consideration. Some of us have an unfortunate habit of being able to read a word or phrase and always manage to insert extra letters. An example, if I see a real estate sign that says “To Let” I cannot fail to see the word “toilet”. I’m sure I am not the only person to suffer from this affliction. Well, a well known helmet manufacturer released a new product recently, The Castel. Reading the press release blurb I couldn’t help but think that it was called The Castle. Suffice to say this stuck in my mind, and that morning over a coffee at a local cafe the sketchbook came in very handy. The biking world can be very dry sometimes, it’s good to poke fun at it every now and again. Enjoy.
The title for todays post is phrased as a question and is one that is occupying a sizable chunk of my creative brain power at the moment. Although a single question, it concerns two very distinct aspects of the drawing you see above, which is shown in nearly finished form.
The first aspect of the question arises from my decision to crop the image and leave some of the image blank. Why? Well it stems from some feedback that has come this way in recent weeks, and some older thinking from a while ago which centred around the issue of how to introduce another dimension into the monochrome ink drawings. Combining the “less is more” approach and the often mentioned ability of the eye and brain to work together to complete an image, the time seemed right for some experimentation. When soliciting comment from others about the drawings it is interesting to hear that in some cases there is almost too much information provided, that the eye, brain and imagination are left with no work to do. Everything is there in front of them and there are no gaps for them to fill in. This got me thinking about where the edges of the drawing lies and how much information is then left within the space. Hence the cropping, which I could have done simply on a completed drawing in Photoshop, but that wouldn’t be the same.
The other part of the titles question touches the same subject but lies behind my decision to leave the rider figure blank. The line that this part of the enquiry is concerned with is that which does or doesn’t depict the missing rider. Are the blank spaces amongst the bikes details exactly that, is the figure simply delineated by a simple outline or is his form expressed in line only ie legs, head, arms etc?
It is far easier to add to a drawing than it is to subtract, particularly when working in ink. I wanted the drawing to be grounded so have only cropped on three sides and have slowly built up the image until it meets my ruled edges. Once the bike is complete I can then work toward figuring out where the line work for the rider will go, moving through my three options until I’m happy. Of course it may all end up looking a bit odd, but unless one tries these things one will never know.
Before getting on to the main purpose of todays post, an update on another of the biro drawings, there is just enough time to show you one more of the Cyclomotor drawings unearthed the other day. As you can see this is a colour one and as far as I can remember it was quite a big one, something like A1. What does remain firmly in the memory is how it was done. My tutor at the time insisted we make some of our drawings in colour and as this was a drawing project brushes were out. I had had a small tin of these oil pastels kicking around at home for a few years but had never used them, so this was a perfect opportunity to give them a try. They are called Neocolour by Caran D’Ache and are quite hard in their consistency. They are not at all appropriate for any kind of detail work but for big jobs they rule. They go down quite evenly for a pastel and what is really nice is that you can smudge them in a very controlled way with your finger and blend the colours into each other with some control. I’m wondering if I can use them for some of these bike drawings if I can get the scale up big enough, could be fun.
Looking at this old drawing today gives me real pleasure. It represents something that I work constantly to rediscover these days, a kind of naive confidence in the way the drawing is made that lies beyond the bounds of the years of formal training that followed this period of my experience. The errors in perspective and construction seem easily carried by the sheer boldness of the enterprise. I still have some of those pastels somewhere, perhaps it’s time to dig them out.
On to the main thrust of the post, oddly a much shorter paragraph, and this is a kind of progress snap shot of the second drag racing picture being worked up in biro. This one is taking a little time as I’m kind of learning as I go. In a break from usual practice this one’s being done on a different paper than usual, Fabriano Drawing Paper, whiter than cartridge with a slightly different texture. It’s a learning exercise as the pen engages with the surface in a softer way which means needing to be much more delicate with any pressure. It also tends to be much harder to hold a crisp line, though having said that it does give shaded areas a looser feel than that achieved with Bristol Board. The big test will be to see how it deals with larger areas of black and the fine feathering used on wheels etc. It is probably better suited to larger drawings where a softer medium can be used like pencil or crayon. I’ll persist though and see how it turns out.
A couple of days in and the V-twin learning exercise is progressing well. It has not been easy balancing ones need to learn a configuration whilst at the same time not getting sucked into rendering hefty amounts of accurate detail which only serves to slow down the whole process and make it less fluid. In a way this is a process which repeats each time a new project is started, though it does vary greatly in its effect and is something one has to be constantly mindful of. There is a time for detail and a time for covering as much ground as possible. The secret is to learn and train oneself so that the jump between the two becomes instinctual, it’s not the easiest skill to learn and I struggle with it all the time.
Todays images are selected from the Dragster project inspired by my recent visit to a drag race meet. The one at the top of the post is a snap shot of a work in progress depicting a machine being pushed through the paddock on its way to the staging area. It’s kind of working as a drawing but needs a lot more work to reach completion, though it’s great to get to grips with all of the bits and pieces, the plumbing and components, that all fit together to make the whole.
This one and the sketch below are from one of the larger sketch pads where the small scamps from the sketchbook get a work out. What’s different about these two is that there is hardly any bike on show. There is enough to give you the impression whilst your attention is drawn mainly to the riders and their attire, and I like that. There is a wonderful element to this racing scene which is both graphically bold and very colourful, strangely evocative of a bygone era almost. Wonderful serif fonts used in names and numbers and a healthy usage of glitter paint, retro and modern styles all coming together in a riot of colour. It would be great to capture some of that in the final drawings, which means reaching for the colour paints and inks, can’t wait. The overhead view in particular should allow a picture of a very different aspect ratio which will be interesting to create.
For completely illogical reasons that now escape me, I’ve been using this particular light blue pen for all the sketches done this week. It’s not a very sophisticated device being from a set of three I bought for a pound some time ago, pink and purple were the other colours, but there is something in the ink and the way the pen releases it that works really well with the sketch paper. I have no idea if I’ll be able to find any more when it finally runs dry. For now it does its thing well and constantly reminds me how often great results can come from using the most basic tools.
With the print store now active, some space in the old brain is now free again to concentrate on filtering through influences and inspirations, sketching out ideas and hopefully generating some new images. Getting back into the swing of things as it were. It has also provided a moment to reflect on where things are going and how to try and incorporate various ongoing media experiments into the work flow.
The recent visit to the Dragstalgia meet at Santa Pod raceway has gone some way to rekindle interest in the whole dragster thing and this has started to filter through into the pages of the sketch book in preparation for launch into some more finished pieces. Like so many aspects of this motorcycling interest it serves up so much visual inspiration it seems often difficult to decide which bits to tackle first. There is a kind of blindness that descends upon you when venturing into an enormous retail store sometimes, there is so much stuff in front of you that you have no idea where to look first. It’s the same with some of these biking subjects, particularly if one finds oneself staring at the panorama of images downloaded from the camera into your photo library. The feeling can be that you are looking at everything and nothing at the same time. I find I can only get round this by switching it off and doing something else for a while. The subconscious is then somehow released to do what it does best and filter through the information before popping a mail into your mental in-box to let you know some form of direction has been chosen.