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.
With five of the small Cafe Racer colour pictures done and posted there is one left to do which will complete this set. Rather than merely post up the final finished version of it I thought it might be interesting for people to see more of the process I go through when creating these images. So for this one I’ve scanned the various stages as I complete them.
The first step, once the overall composition had been decided, happens on the newsprint pad where I rough out a couple of sketches to get a feel for what I’m after. Often this involves sketching it out a couple of times as in this case. The first sketch is really just about working out the proportions, rider position and the general look of the bike in the image. Once you’ve got something then you’re in a position to make changes as you see fit.
So with this done, I decided that I wanted a slightly different looking bike and to move the rider up the tank a bit, good reason to do another sketch. I wanted to base this drawing around a twin cylinder Norton and a quick search on the net yielded the right picture which could inform me about engine details and other bits and bobs. I can now start to work these into the drawing.
With these two sketches done there is enough information on the sheets to allow me to transfer the image onto the A4 Bristol Board for the final version. This is where my handy little light box comes into its own. If there is a need to blow up or reduce the sketch size for this stage then it is simply a matter of printing out a quick scan at the right size before hitting the light box. For the pencil stage I need a good point to the pencil so use a 2mm leaded technical push pencil, with an H grade lead, which keeps a point well and isn’t so hard as to leave big grooves in the paper when you erase it. Most of the drawing is done freehand though I resort to my ellipse guides to get the wheels nice and tight. At this stage I’m building in all of the details gleaned from reference pictures like the engine case shapes, cylinder head position and brake details. I love density in these drawings so put a lot of effort into distorting things slightly and filling in all of the big gaps that normally exist when looking “through” a motorcycle. It’s also a good time to get all those tiny details in. I don’t necessarily need accuracy here but I do like things to be reasonably believable, if that makes sense. With the bike and rider done, I loosely put a box around it which will approximate the background block. By the time this pencil layout is done, my mind has already started to think about what colour to paint the bike, the riders helmet design and the background colour. Time to get the brushes out and a look at the various painting and inking in the next post.
One of the consequences of conducting ones creative activities in a small studio room, essentially a converted child’s bedroom measuring barely 10×6 feet, stuffed with bookcases, desks, computers and all the required paraphernalia, is that keeping track of things is a perpetual challenge. The question “now where did I put that?” rings in my ears all the time. Any activity, creative or otherwise, brings about default behaviours in us like how we file things, store items and arrange our work area. We create our own individual systems which are very particular and often not logical in the eyes of others. I’m also sure it’s a truism that we spend countless hours every year modifying our little systems in the search for an ideal solution. I know I do, and it’s not always about easing the process of finding stuff. Being able to see your ideas is a very important part of stimulating the creative process. In the past I’ve enjoyed the luxury having lots of sketches and drawings laid out to view, it helps with seeing where you’ve been and also where you’re going, or would like to go with an idea. The challenge is being able to maintain that connection between your vision and the work in progress. This applies as much to images we collect as reference as to our own output.
I have a wall in here upon which I stick sketch sheets and stuff, but it never feels big enough. As a result it constantly changes, acting as a road map for current work and keeping the connection going with ideas and thoughts which still hold my attention. It would be fantastic to sit in a studio the size of an aircraft hangar, but that’s not going to happen any time soon, so making the best use of what’s available really counts. The computer, which holds a huge resource in my image bank, and provides access to the universe of the net only has a screen that is so big. So to cram as much into this space as possible these compositions of ideas, as shown here, are a great way for me to see lots of ideas all at once, make decisions about them, and assist myself in direction finding.
The long weekend away turned into a longer period away from the drawing board thanks to another chunk of freelance work, a mad dash to the line in time for a client meeting abroad for my client and a hefty chunk of mechanism making. It worked out fine so here’s hoping more work from them soon.
Anyone who has a home workshop full of stuff, or a home studio full of the products of ones creativity will know that it is an oft occurring feature of life that whilst rummaging through things in order to find a particular item, one often uncovers another item long buried under a pile, or secreted at the bottom of a rarely opened box. It happens on our computers too. How many of us have hard drives stuffed with old files we barely know we still have? So it was a nice surprise to unearth some very old drawings from my first year as an art student. You’ll see that my interest in engines was already in plain view.
As some of you will know, and others perhaps not, ones journey toward a creative life in the UK often starts after you’ve spent eighteen or so years filling your head with maths, history, geography, languages and all manner of fact based academic luggage. Many of us don’t really know what creative career we would like to pursue and so a year on a Foundation course helps to point you in the right direction. It’s a fantastic period full of experimentation and exploration as you feel your way through a vast gamut of disciplines. After thirty years as a professional I really feel like doing another one it’s such an expansive experience.
So these two drawings are from that time, products of one of the many observational drawing assignments undertaken where the emphasis was on producing lots of images rather than how one made them. The one above is done in soft pencil on cartridge paper and is complete with smears, fingerprints and the lovely grubbiness one gets from the heel of your hand moving about the paper. I’m not sure, but I think the lower one is done in some kind of oil pastel, again on cartridge paper, and is vastly oversized. You can see from both that my interpretation and understanding of forms, and the ability to distinguish surfaces through light and dark areas is starting to assert itself but is very much a work in progress. I’m particularly amused by my rendering of various ellipses, a geometric shape that haunts many an interpretation of man made objects. I still struggle with them even now.
What is this object? It is a small engine that one attaches to the rear seat stays of a bicycle and drives the rear wheel via a roller lowered onto the tyre. A Cyclomotor perhaps? In the larger image it is upside down, the cylinder would point downwards in normal use. My uncle appeared from his cavernous garage with it on the day I mentioned to him that I was looking for something unusual to draw. Sadly I can’t remember what happened to the motor or the drawings after I photographed them.
Whatever it is that forms the output from your creative noodlings everyone gets asked at one point or another where their inspiration comes from. Those tiny little seeds of ideas, they must come from somewhere right? Whilst the answer to this question is often an easy one for most creative people, sometimes it’s difficult to be specific. I find that both cases apply to my own ideas. The former seem to be the direct result of consciously absorbing influences, looking at photographs, taking pictures myself, books, looking at blog sites etc. Others feel like they come from somewhere else, some far fetched corner of my subconscious that has been busy reviewing stuff without my really knowing about it.
What’s often interesting is that what I think will influence me actually doesn’t. For example, I can spend hours browsing images on-line across a whole raft of sites, collect a few, and then promptly forget all of them by the next day. If I take pictures myself and go through the whole process of loading them into i-photo and editing some of them, then they work their way into my memory bank more. It’s something to do with interacting with an image or other material that seems to be the key. I’m still working out why all this is so as I’d like to get to the point where I know inherently how to feed the engine of my imagination prior to a big ideas session. That sounds all too controlling but at present it’s worth thinking about.
The sketch at the top of the post was strongly influenced by this image above. For once I made a direct connection between seeing and idea creation. As I said, it’s not always this plain and simple. I came across this image on a blog site called Le Containeur, which is a fantastic site. You’ll find it here.
There is of course another step to all this which is when something you’ve created heavily influences another idea. This drawing of a dirt tracker is a direct result of making that first sketch. Ill try to expand on this over the next couple of days.