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.

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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.

Still digging away.

Helmet_Sketch_front©JonTremlett

I went to Finland at the beginning of July for a big family party with some friends and a few days R&R. Whilst there, our good friend Lauri asked me what was happening to the blog, why wasn’t I posting much at the time. I found it hard to answer his question and perhaps I was actually finding it difficult to admit to my own laziness. His voice has been ringing in my ear ever since, so this one’s dedicated to him, for making me aware of my shortcomings and being a friendly conscience. The truth of the matter is that it has been hard to dig myself out of a period of creative block and a time full of big distractions.

So where are we with things? Well, that old helmet I mentioned in the last post is now primed in white and ready to take a design as soon as I’ve finalised what it will be. The sketch above will give you a fair idea of where I’m going with this.

The main thrust of the idea, if you can call it that, is a kind of homage to cafe racers of old, those young men who started it all off all those years ago and the places they frequented in pursuit of their thrills. This is something that is geographically close to me as much as having a strong emotional pull. Firstly I live in west London not far from that bastion of British motorcycling heritage, The Ace Cafe, and a particular stretch of highway called The North Circular Road. These two features lie at the heart of the original cafe racing scene of the early sixties. That’s the main bit. The second part is due to the Rolling Stones and the opening track on an old vinyl album I have of theirs which is a fantastic rendition of Route 66, the classic R&B standard written by, and originally recorded in 1946 by Bobby Troup. I absolutely love this track, and what ties it to my homage project is that the North Circular Road is actually the A406 in the english road numbering system, so it’s not a giant leap to end up with “get your kicks on the A406”.

So, as you can see, we’ve got a small group of likely lads doing just that on the front of the helmet. What goes on the back will undoubtedly contain the above modified chorus and then I think, various references to the road and the famous cafe that still occupies its original site.

Thruxton1_©JonTremlett2015

There are a couple of other interesting projects hatching right now too. I’ve been asked to design a t-shirt for a local shop and this has prompted me to start thinking about a couple of designs of my own. This sketch is one of those ideas. It is very rough but, contains the seeds of an idea and hints at the new style of drawing I’m going to need to execute in order to give any designs a cleaner look and some much needed impact. More on that later………

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.

Don’t rush it, you’ll finish it soon enough.

Biro drawing by Jon Tremlett for Soulcraftcandy.

So here’s a progress update on the biro ink drawing I’m working on at the moment. It’s coming along really well though it is taking quite a long time to complete. The thing is, you reach a point in a drawing where you really start to see how it will turn out, and inspired by this you open yourself to  an internal pressure to get it finished. This can be a good thing, you are energised to put in the effort but, it can also be a bad thing because if you’re not careful you rush things, and when that happens you make mistakes. Although it can often be a little frustrating at times it is always better for me in these situations to take a deep breath, take frequent breaks to take stock of the marks I’m making on the paper and accept the fact that slow is good, and that I’ll get to the end, one small step at a time. I’m having to be extra mindful with this one too. It is not a commission but a work based around a request, and the last thing I want to do is muck it up. I want it to be the best one I’ve done so far and as a result my internal pressure gauge is already off the scale!

Catch_me_detailJonTremlett2014

From this detail shot you can see I hope, how much pen work goes into these things, so you get an understanding of how important it is for me not to make mistakes. I spend a lot of time scribbling on a separate sheet to get the pen running right and my hand steady (I have a natural shakiness at close range). There’s a discipline to cross hatching, getting the tone and line direction consistent which requires huge concentration. Sometimes it just doesn’t work, the angle of the pen gives too much black or the pressure you’re using is too firm and at times like this you just have to step back, scribble on a loose sheet until you’re happy and then come back to it. No one ever said this was easy, so I try not to think that. In essence the greater the effort the greater the reward. Let’s see how I cope with the rest of it.

It’s never too late to finish something.

V-Bobber by ©JonTremlett 2014

While work on the “Catch Me” picture progresses and it moves slowly to its conclusion I thought I’d post a couple of other things in the meantime. For me it’s really important to have more than one work in progress at any one time, it helps to keep me inspired, assists in keeping my drawing hand active and my eye “in”, and most importantly of all, prevents me from getting bored.

So first up is this picture which some long term followers may recognise, it having made its first appearance on the blog about two years ago. Back then it was just a picture of a bloke on a bike, sat in the middle of an empty page, and since then it has sat in a drawer here waiting for me to finish it. Every now and again I’ve taken it out of the drawer, put some pencil lines in the background and promptly put it away again, unhappy with what I imagined would be a fitting background. I’d lost count of how many times this had happened. Here’s a link to that original post.

The other day though, something clicked, a penny dropped and I finally discovered what I wanted to do with it. Based on the idea that the guy riding the bike is going somewhere, I imagined him escaping the world he occupies during the working day, jumping on his bike and heading out somewhere better. It’s probably a context shared by many of us who wind up spending a great deal of our time in those slightly crumbling semi suburbs around the edges of cities, full of light industrial activity, crappy cafes and diners and run down buildings festooned with strange advertising hoardings. It puts a little back story behind the image and brings it to life a bit more. Why I hadn’t thought of any of this before escapes me. Creating this background reminded me that this is a great way to inject a bit of humour into a picture and include a level of detail that draws the eye to the image beyond the great big bike stuck in the middle of it. I’m so glad I did it this way and it has prompted a whole string of thinking about dealing with some other images I have failed to finish and are lying in a drawer waiting for their moment. I hope you like it too.