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.

A gift that keeps on giving.

77_Don_Lance-zinger

A slight deviation from the well ploughed furrow of motorcycle art today, as one of my other projects reaches its end. Now that the gift has been given, I can let you in on something that I’ve ben working on for the last few sessions. My friends visit the blog and so it is always a good idea not to show stuff too early, they may see things they’re not meant to.

 

This is a gift picture done for a very good friend, Martin, to celebrate his birthday. It’s done on A4 Bristol Board using my favourite current techinique of watercolour wash and drawing pen. My friend is a strangely quixotic german, and over dinner the other week my partner and I came up with this idea of the dis-functional knight based on the Cervantes character of Don Quixote. Oddly, Martin too has a sidekick called Sancho, his cat. It seemed very fitting at the time. It took more than a couple of goes to get the horse looking silly enough, but I think I succeeded in the end. And turning my hand to a bit of calligraphy, after rushing to the library for a reference book, was an interesting experience, like dipping a toe into an adjacent pool of different colour water. Needless to say Martin loved it, and his wife Adriana knew exactly what the picture was referring to.

 

Selling a picture is a rewarding experience and one always hopes that the buyer will enjoy it for many years to come. One is of course always happy and grateful for their support and custom, and it’s a great feeling knowing that you have made that connection with someone. Giving a picture, or indeed anything that you have created or made, invokes completely different feelings, particularly when it’s a complete surprise to the receiver. I get a real kick out of seeing their faces and feel tremendous gratitude from hearing their appreciation and thanks. I always hope that every time they see it, the picture reminds them not just of me, but of that moment and the friendship that we share. These kinds of gifts are often wholly unique and the investment in time, energy and care in their making says a lot about how much your care about someone and what their friendship means to you. It’s a wonderful thing.

 

Wrestling with your passion.

The Paddock Push.

Ok, so this one doesn’t fit into the cafe racer series but, it’s been with me for a while, slowly reaching completion and falling conveniently into the category of “ work needing to be finished. It’s called “Paddock Push”.

 

The inspiration for it came from a few different angles. Throughout the history of bike sport there have always been instances of intrepid individuals wrestling moderately inappropriate machinery around Off Road. Massive BMW’s careering across the Sahara in the Paris Dakar, Harley Davidsons pounding around the Catalina Grand Prix and overweight Brit engined motocrossers ripping up the fields of England. Wherever there are lightweights, one will find the heavyweights somewhere in the background.

 

This is not necessarily a homage to these feats of derring-do, however I am drawn to the thought of the unlikely hero, the underdog. The choice was to create one in full flight and one in a more static situation. The first to be complete is the latter, where the apparent grace and power of a big machine in motion is replaced by the struggle to man-handle the thing around when the engine has finished doing what it does best. If you’ve ever moved a heavy machine around on a loose surface you’ll understand why the guy is huffing and puffing.

 

The next cafe racer picture is nearly done. Watch this space.