Can you draw women?

Bike_girl_comp©JT2016

Ok, so here’s a thing, time for a confession, I’m pretty rubbish at drawing women. There, I’ve said it. This sounds like one of those introductory confessions one might be asked to make upon a first attendance at a therapy group. Like, “Hi, my name’s Jon and I can’t draw women”. This is neither something to be proud of or be ashamed to admit. Don’t ask me why this is so, it’s just the way it is. Some people probably find drawing people, whatever their gender or form much easier than others. Other folk probably find drawing men less hard because it is easier to express generic masculine traits and you can get away with portraying less good looking men (!?). And then there are those who find the innate curvature and character of the female form easy to capture because they just do. One thing’s for sure though, and that is that when asked to view a drawing of a woman most of us automatically make some kind of judgement based on the perceived beauty of the rendered subject, i.e. if your drawing doesn’t portray a pretty/elegant/feminine woman, it’s the first thing people will comment on.

The above is only intended to be a cursory observation, the whole discussion around how we render and view human subjects is much, much more wide ranging that this, but what it does do, I hope, is shed some light onto how difficult it is to get to grips with a subject area such as this. Not being someone who has ever really received the benefit of extensive life drawing classes or any formal training in figure drawing, I have arrived at a point in my creative life lacking the confidence to draw half the people who surround me. I’m sure I’m not alone.

This new challenge came about through a request from a contact about possibly designing some t-shirts for women. Throwing my usual caution to the wind I agreed to have a go and then quickly realised that I would have to do something about the fact that I have never really successfully drawn women who look like women. To be honest with you, when I’ve had to do it in the past I’ve either traced off a magazine picture or concocted something akin to a rather effeminate man. So, time to put all of that to one side and see if I could actually learn how to do it more convincingly. I don’t know which is harder, learning a new skill like this in a straight drawing sense or in the cartoonish vein in which I normally work? Time to find out.

BGsketch_comp©JT2016

Thankfully, and this is again where the internet comes into its own; one is not short of resources to study as a way of starting. One can not only gain access to myriad video based tutorials on YouTube etc., but you can also find every single kind of cartoon style referenced so you can easily see how different characteristics are emphasised depending on the style you want to follow. To give you just a couple of examples; if mastering eyes is problematic for you, there are hundreds of variations and iterations to be found within the Manga drawing style and if the classic hour glass figure is something that you want to focus on, you will find plenty of guidance if referencing mid 20th century lifestyle and fashion illustration.

My brief, such as it was, was “Marilyn Monroe in a Bell helmet”. Quite a broad brief to say the least, so plenty to think about. My first scribbles, shown above in the first selection from my sketch books was as much about the brief as it was about learning the distinct attributes of a woman’s face. Eye shape, size and position, the jaw line, the line of the brow, the position and proportion of the nose and the mouth. These all sound incredibly obvious but until you have to think about them and draw them, your brain just rumbles on telling you that this should all be easy as it knows all this stuff already. No it doesn’t, you have to teach it and at the same time convince your drawing hand to follow. This goes right back to previous posts I’ve written about the idea of embedded knowledge. You’ve got to look and look and look, and then draw, draw, draw until hopefully things start to feel natural. It takes work and there’s no easy way around it unless you want to spend your life tracing photographs.

I was also trying to think about shirt designs at the same time, so this had quite an impact on my sketching, both in terms of speed and overall feel. Some of my attempts are way off, some are starting to point towards something more workable. The second of the images is another compilation of sketches where I am starting to get the hang of it, though you can see I’m yet to get my eye shape and spacing anywhere near right. I must confess also, that by this point I’d had gone back to referencing some old lifestyle photos in a book to try and speed things along. It seems to work best for me if I am combining an iterative drawing approach with regular reference to other materials. Placing a crash helmet onto a woman’s head brought its own challenges and I ended up taking lots of photos of my own crash hat at various angles to give me an idea of how its many curves look when not viewed simply in elevation. The bikes I didn’t seem to have a problem with. Funny that.

More on this in the next post I hope.

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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.

Julian and the big Green Meanie.

JW_photo

Firstly, a very happy New Year to all of my readers and followers, may 2015 be a great year for all of you. Here at Soulcraftcandy I’m hoping for a year full of interesting drawing projects to grapple with, some new adventures featuring some new materials and obviously, a whole host of new fans and followers. Not too much to ask for then! So let’s kick off the new year with a story featuring a very old friend, a big green machine and a triumph of physics over human ambition.

The friend in question is Julian, a lovely former wild boy I have had the pleasure of knowing for over forty years. Once a hard core bike rider, his various exploits deserve a blog all of their own, now a responsible dad. Having said that, he has never really lost the bug and as we speak is preparing himself for an off road rally trip over on the Baja peninsula. Watch out Mexico. Back in the day, Julian was the first person I knew who fully embraced the modern sports bike and the newly (at the time) burgeoning cult of the public track day, a barely veiled excuse for Joe Public to go ballistic on his road bike within the controlled confines of a proper race track. Needless to say at one such event our man came a cropper.

Julian has always been interested in my pictures and finally got around to asking me to do a commission for him. It goes without saying that his choice of subject is poignant, being a depiction of him aboard that sports bike on the fateful day he badly broke his ankle and hung up his leathers for a while.

Here’s the photograph, above, he supplied as reference and as you can see it’s not in the best condition or particularly in focus, but that’s not too much of a problem, there is more than enough information here to get going. I wanted to base the picture on this view rather than create a new one, but just tweak it here and there as it’s a great image to start with.

JW_First_trace©JonTremlett2015

The first step is to get the photo into my painter program where I can trace over it in digital pencil to establish some outlines to work with. This initial process also helps to embed some knowledge of the subject into my head so I can start to think about which bits I want to change moving forward. I’m still too much in love with hand techniques to go fully digital with a painting yet but, I’m sure one day soon it will happen. Though when you do that all you get is a print of your artwork, not the actual artwork itself, which is a very different outcome.

JW_Blue©JonTremlett2015

Using the printed trace as an underlay, it’s then onto the light box for another tracing exercise where I can start to move parts of the drawing around, like changing the position of the rider, and playing with the proportions of some details very slightly to gain extra emphasis here and there. Working with the blue biro helps me to see one drawing clearly over the top of the other. You’ll see I’ve shifted him off the seat a bit and given him a more heroic “knee down” stance to get some added dynamism into the picture.

JW_Pencil©JonTremlett2015

This third stage is the final pencil outline drawing on to the water colour paper I’ll use for the painting itself. Again, working on the light box, I trace off the blue biro drawing, tightening details as I go but only putting in the lines that I really will need to rely on. An H or 2H pencil is best for this bit, and light pressure so that it doesn’t leave grooves in the paper surface. All this redrawing might seem rather time consuming but it means I don’t have to worry too much about moving a line or erasing things, both of which will only damage the surface of the water colour paper. Once this is complete I soak the paper and stretch it onto a wooden board in readiness for taking the paint washes. Through experimenting I’ve found that it doesn’t distort the drawing in any way if you stretch the paper after putting the image on it, the secret is just to be patient and resist scrubbing and dabbing the paper too much during the process.

JW_Paint1©JonTremlett2015

When the paper is fully dry it’s time for the first layers of wash. Here I’m using a combination of cake based watercolours, some from tubes and intense liquid watercolours. For colours such as the characteristic Kawasaki green the liquid colours are brilliant. They both lift the image off the page and give it real punchiness. In combination with something like Payne’s Grey one can achieve some lovely transitions from light to dark and some really intense shadow areas. I love them though it pays to exercise caution as a little colour goes a long way and it stains the paper unlike the more “floating” colours.

The next post should see it completed and I’ll take that opportunity to cover more details of the process. So watch this space, it will be here very soon.

Starting the Shotgun commission.

Shotgun_sk_1©JonTremlett2014

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.

No.8 and a trip to the Tate.

Matchless cafe racer by Jon Tremlett

This is number eight, the penultimate picture in this series and for me one of the best ones. Finding that the limits of my embedded knowledge were being reached I had resorted to flicking through one of the many reference books here in an attempt to top it up a bit. I find with great books that each different viewing often reveals a new set of surprises. In this case a lovely picture of an old Matchless jumped off the page and at once demanded to serve as inspiration for this picture. As with all these drawings the final picture is never really a true rendition of the reference, they all get pushed and pulled about a fair bit to suit the original vision, but this one’s got a bit more truth behind it than some. One detail in particular stands out, and is one that reveals how an utterly simple approach can be just as effective as a far more complex solution to the same problem. The simple curving shadow line along the fuel tank, to delineate reflection, very clearly says “polished metal” without the need to apply any more shapes, shadows or colour areas. A triumph of less being more, and oh so simple.

 

Yesterday I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective currently running at the Tate Modern Gallery in London. Although a fan of various aspects of Pop Art, I’d never really considered any of his work other than the large comic format pictures repeatedly paraded in front of us like Whaam! So it was very interesting to see a much more varied collection of pictures across a number of periods which followed the development of his unique style and approach. From his early experiments with abstract expressionism, through flat graphic interpretations of objects and on to landscapes inspired by chinese scroll paintings, with a fair bit of work in between, it proved an enlightening journey through the canon of an artist many might dismiss as a one trick pony. The landscapes and seascapes in particular, were both surprising and stunning, his Benday dot screen technique combined with some fantastically bold colours producing images that were both strangely mechanical and oddly dreamy at the same time. If you are  anywhere near London and the show is still running I would recommend going to see it. Rumours of ticket non-availability proved wrong, we got some without any problems. It’s on until May 27th.

 

Take your imagination for a walk.

83_Wheelie_2

There aren’t many drawings here in my collection that are based fairly and squarely on actual, real machines. The bike in the picture today is probably as close as I’ve got in some time to depicting an actual bike. On the one hand this is down to the fact that I find “copying” from reference material a rather dull activity, and on the other it has a lot to do with keeping my imagination fed, watered and happy. Those of us who enjoy documenting the wonderful world around us through image making most likely occupy an area similar to that found between the two intersecting circles of a Venn diagram, where the real and imaginary overlap, and each image is a result of varying percentage combinations of the contents of those two circles. For me the ratio feels very much tipped in favour of imagination but, sometimes I wonder whether this is actually the case. What is my imagination up to during the process of making an image such as this one above? Is it actually creating anything or is it busy bending a set of reality based frameworks, and blending those with a healthy dose of embedded knowledge to create something which my  eye is happy with? I’m not sure, but it’s an interesting question all the same.

 

Generally speaking, an active imagination is a happy one, and though we all know that this isn’t always the case, learning to feed it with good stuff is an important life lesson. The pleasure though, in this activity, is that it seemingly has no problem propelling itself along at a fair old clip when it’s found something to get its teeth into, and for me this is where reality plays it’s biggest role, in influencing the choices my imagination makes and providing the fuel for the journey. This is one of the key reasons why these pictures come out the way they do. My imagination needs not only to bear creative fruit but also has to have something to distort, to have fun with in order to function properly. It’s a strong urge and one I’m almost powerless to resist, so most of the time I don’t try to. But there is some control involved somewhere as it doesn’t just run wild all the time. Perhaps it is like a kind of dog, look after it, feed it properly and give it regular exercise and it stays a loyal and rewarding companion.

 

A new picture and an inspiring book.

81_FlyBy_2

This is the second version of FlyBy. There wasn’t anything wrong with the first one, it just seemed like a good idea to do another one, and bring in some more of the classic cafe racer details like a black leather jacket with patches on and a big silver tank on the bike.

 

The background got really patchy on this one but once it had dried out fully it didn’t seem too bad after all. The colour works really well with the bike image and it would have been foolhardy to think that it could be rescued or changed in any way by adding more liquid. I’m really pleased with the reflections on the exhaust and the engine side cover, I confess I referred to some photographs to truly try and get a handle on these parts. There is certainly a “way” of doing these things, and it is reliant on being able to pick the information  you want from a photo as it is in being able to access ones embedded knowledge. The former certainly feeds the latter, the photos serving purely to inform what I’m doing rather than be representative of the only way things can be rendered. More of these to come.

This is a great book.

This is a great book.

On another note today, here’s a really great book to recommend. It’s called “An Illustrated Life” by a chap called Danny Gregory. Essentially it is a collection of features on various creative people and their sketchbooks, including he author, though the books are very much the heroes. It is a fascinating look into other worlds where the books are used as journals for recording everyday life, through to how various artists use them as repositories for ideas and laboratories for creative experimentation. To accompany all of this visual candy there is also plenty to read, each featured person is given plenty of column inches to explain what they use their books for, how they do it and, just as importantly, why they do what they do. It is all very enlightening and interesting stuff, I can’t recommend it enough as a source of energy, inspiration and delight. For any of us who spend any time slowly filling sketchbooks all this might at first seem a bit intimidating, but go with it and it soon becomes clear that we are all doing the same thing, just differently and individually. It’s readily available through all the usual channels. Here’s a link: To the book.

Illustrated_Life2 Illustrated_Life3 Illustrated_Life4