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.

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The strength of conviction.

I realised this morning, with a somewhat heavy heart, that I hadn’t posted here for over a month. The shame induced by this sorry situation was dealt with swiftly, over a cup of coffee, as I set up the computer on the kitchen table and took some photographs of the latest completed drawing. Working here rather than in my little studio has its disadvantages, the cat likes to clamber over me and wander freely over the keyboard, but the light is great and the french windows afford me a view of the sky and some trees which lift the spirits on a cold morning.

The Bull, biro on drawing paper by Jon Tremlett 2013

So here, finally, is the finished version of The Bull. Regular followers will know that this drawing has taken me an age to complete, and has also been the reason behind a creative journey from unbounded enthusiasm, through plodding frustration, and finally to a kind of relieved joy. Shutting it away in a drawer and going off to do other things helped to put some distance between me and the problems I had with it but, what actually tipped the balance was showing it to my partner and talking the problem through. Fresh eyes and a critical view from someone possessed of no mean creative talent themselves, helped me to see what I had previously not been able to visualise. With refreshed urgency I was then able to finish it off in a single afternoon sitting.

 

I have just started reading a very interesting little book about drawing and I’ll post my thoughts on it when I’ve got a bit further through it. I’m only a couple of chapters in but have already come across a possible explanation as to why this particular image was so problematic for me. Courage, or the lack of it, was holding me back. The fear that I would end up making a complete pigs ear of things was actively stopping me from making marks on the paper, even in light pencil. My minds eye knew roughly what I was after but the connection between imagination and enactment was somehow broken. The fear of failure, of coming away from something one had already invested so much time in with little to show for it, had called a halt to the free flow that had powered the making of the drawing thus far. By taking a break and sharing it with another set of eyes I realised that it was the strength of my conviction that was holding everything up. Rather than deciding on a single course of action and working that through, I had been sketching out possible solutions without really settling on any of them. I had put myself at the centre of a loop I couldn’t get out of. Loop broken, I was able to focus and finish the task quite easily. Much important learning was done. This doesn’t mean it won’t happen again, but at least I’ll have a better idea of how to deal with it when it does.

 

I hope you enjoy the picture as much as I do now.

 

It’s enough to make you dotty. A dragster in monochrome.

Dragster cartoon©JonTremlett2013 at Soulcraftcandy

Maintaining momentum, and keeping the creative juices flowing, is always one of the challenges one has to overcome when engaging in an artistic pursuit which has to fit in around the everyday goings on of ones life. It’s easy to loose the flow, and returning to an unfinished image rarely results in picking up the thread exactly where you left it. I suppose that one of the key disciplines of any artist is to develop techniques which enable you to do this as seamlessly as possible. I don’t have any hard and fast routines that I follow in order to make this easier but one thing I do do is always try and have a number of little projects on the go at any one time, all at different stages. This means that when I’m deep in thought about how to solve a problem on one picture, there is always another close by which I can engage with, one where the work is at a stage where I don’t have to overcome any issues in the execution. So dipping in and out of things keeps the creative ball rolling rather than running to a dead stop as endless time is wasted staring at a problem until the answer comes. In fact this act of “dotting about” helps me to uncover the answers that I’m looking for.

 

So whilst pondering what to do about the background for the picture featured in the last post, I had a good look through the “pending ideas you should really finish” pile and pulled one out to serve as the “other” project. I had a dabble last year with some sketches following a visit to a drag race meeting, made a couple of drawings, and then promptly left it there. I’m not sure why. This drawing above was all ready for some treatment having been carefully pencilled out onto a nice bit of drawing paper, I just hadn’t thought much about how to take it further. I’m not sure what inspired my choice of technique, it could have been my recent visit to Tate Modern to see the Roy Lichtenstein show or something else entirely. Doing something different really appealed though and so out came the trusty old technical pens and I set to work.

 

Although the dot shading is a madly labour intensive way to do things, this drawing proved to be very enjoyable to do and a pleasant alternative to the paint and ink technique I’ve been doing a lot of recently. You have to take a break every now and then though as all the little specks of black make your eyes go a bit funny after a while. It’s a lovely way to gradually build up tone though and really plays to the cartoon nature of the drawing. I’ve called it “The Slugger” after a certain baseball bat, a blunt though effective instrument that gets the job done. I hope you like it.

 

Cafe Racer-hot off the press

Cafe Racer 1

Hot off the press comes the first finished drawing from the Cafe racer series.

 

Having made the decision to work on a series of drawings, all connected by a core theme, there is a kind of flow starting to emerge during the process which has not necessarily been present before. Previously the completion of any drawing was quickly followed by the question of which sketch to pick up next and move forward. Despite working on several drawings concurrently it was always there in the background and served as a persistent distraction.

 

With a number of preparatory sketches clinging to the wall of the studio room an order is establishing itself as to what’s coming up next and this leaves the mind free of constantly needing to think of new ideas all the time. Focusing on concentrated idea generation sessions and then working through a series feels quite liberating in a way. It’s a much more methodical way of working as opposed to the rather scatter gun approach of before.

 

It is an inescapable truth that none of us work in the same way. Part of the journey that this blog hopes to chart is that bit which concerns finding the way of working, the methodology if you like, that best suits what I’m doing. It goes beyond being systematic purely for systematic’s sake. The world is ridden with systems and creative activities are no exception. If you ask any other creative person what the best way of working is, they will invariably enlighten you to their preferred ways of working. This is not a bad thing in itself but in most cases it’s the way that works best for them. The key is listening to their comments and adjusting your own approach incorporating those points you want to include. What you decide upon is never set in stone, and in fact should be able to evolve as you and your skills do. It should be all part of the fun, so if it’s not working, change it.

 

Finally, why cafe racers? In brief there are a couple of reasons that stand out from the field. The first is that to me they represent a very elemental form of machine. Simple, uncluttered and encompassing a purity of purpose which appeals to my sense of form and function being in balance. The second is perhaps a bit more romantic in nature. These machines in a way signal the birth of personal customisation in its purest form. English cafe racers and american bobbers could be said to be the first street specials of the post war era and as such are now the bedrock of all subsequent modifying styles from diggers to streetfighters, and choppers to street trackers. It’s a style that has endured and continues to do so. This is my way of celebrating that. The fact that I live only about three miles from the original Ace Cafe might have something to do with it too.

 

A short foot note. This drawing is going to be submitted for a public art show here in Ealing at the end of March. It may even be for sale, in which case it could be a first if it finds a happy owner. Fingers crossed.

 

Scribbles.

Despite much evidence to the contrary it is still a feature of the drawing activity (for me anyway) that one finds oneself staring blankly at a clean piece of paper without the slightest notion of what to put on it. You find yourself a bit stuck. Somewhere back in the annals of the blog this subject has probably already been mentioned, but the other day it happened again and a long forgotten way to get round it emerged from the deepest recesses of the ol’ grey matter.

As a child, art class at junior school was always something to look forward to with relish. as a consequence we needed absolutely no encouragement to throw ourselves head long into cramming the available paper sheet with images. It was as if our naivety gave us a courage to overcome any fears we may have harboured about subject matter, scale, detail and colour in our image making. The sheer joy of being creative for an hour or two gave us the energy to be unconstrained by any and all compositional constraints. What a lot of fun it was but, sadly it wasn’t the same for everyone and things don’t stay this way for ever. In fact I remember certain kids who suffered being utterly intimidated by a blank sheet of paper or a full palette of paints. Gregory King wasn’t one of them though, oh no, he knew exactly what he was going to paint or draw every time, a big red racing car. The bigger and redder the better. These remained a bedrock of Greg’s creative output for as long as I knew him. When charged with the task of rendering a nativity scene he would find a way to squeeze a big red racing car in there somewhere. We could analyse Greg’s fascination but I digress. The essence of this is that he had found a way to never be short of an idea.

As we learned more and knew more, our creativity changed too. The free flowing rampage across the paper of pencil, charcoal and paint fell victim to learned concerns about proportion, composition and fidelity of colour. It was as if a pendulum was swinging towards its other extreme and would culminate in either total mastery of ones medium or the frozen wastes of the blank sheet of paper. For any of us who’ve accessed our artistic creativity for most of our lives, learning to steer the pendulum towards the former outcome rather than the latter is a lifelong challenge which we confront relatively frequently. Moments of absolute flow are matched by others of a kind of creative block. Only we ourselves can solve the problem and navigate these moments. These strategies are not hard to learn, the challenge lies in finding those which work for you and remembering them when needed.

For some all it takes is simply making a mark on the paper, drawing a random line to get you going. For others it starts with an inky fingerprint or a splash of paint. Some people choose to merely copy something to get the process started. The sketch at the top of this post began with a personal favourite, hovering over the paper with a pen and gently touching the surface as the hand engages in a random series of movements. In a way it’s just like starting with a random line but feels very different and prescriptive. Anyway sooner or later something begins to appear. It doesn’t take much and off the imagination goes down some path. As the sketch emerges I maintain this hovering approach with the pen and move around the drawing adding bits here and there, slowly building elements and detail. Using a pen means not being able to erase anything, which has interesting side effects and introduces a gentle kind of discipline to the process. Though having said that, the slightly non-comital nature of line creation helps to keep the whole thing a bit more fluid. This more scribbly way of making an image is quite liberating and definitely helps to loosen up the mind as well as the hand.

In a way the drawings created are never really finished, you can stop whenever you choose to, and this lends them a liveliness often lacking from more formal sketches and drawings. Their quality might only be appreciated through the eyes of the beholder, but if they’ve unlocked the block then their purpose is complete. Here’s the next sketch that popped out straight after the one above.

Slow progress is still progress.

It’s been a while since the last post and it is great to say that the time was spent doing something incredible. More about that at the bottom of this post my friends.

Although finding the time to sit and draw of an evening can be a challenge when working, the days are long, it’s really only the pace of things that changes. This drawing above has taken some time as a consequence, at least it feels very much like that. When you’re in the groove, getting these things finished has a most satisfying pace to it. If things are a bit rusty or periods between drawing are lengthy and sporadic it’s very much a different story. An apparently inordinate amount of time seems to be spent staring at the page wondering what to do next. And then, when you’re ready to put pen to paper a wave of unfounded nerves descends as if to ask, “are you sure you want to do it like that?”. Known in my lexicon as “scribblers block”, it is a battle royal sometimes to get out of it and break the cycle. One has to accept it and work through it, though it can be a kind of agony at times.

As mentioned elsewhere on the blog, there are lots of little strategies to get over it. Switching between a number of drawings is one, getting a sketch pad out and going nuts for five minutes or so is another. Getting out of the chair and going for a short walk helps too. Whatever you do it becomes easier as time progresses and can even be used to limber up or refresh the mind even when things are going great.

This drawing continues with one of my current themes which is playing with chassis forms which are enclosed or wrapped. Granted it doesn’t allow as much detail to come through from the engine but, this is not an issue frankly. It gives the bikes a cohesive form factor which pleases me greatly. By keeping bodywork shading to a minimum the aim was to get the eye to focus on the stark contrasts that run from right to left. I hope you like it.

You will recognise this other image from the previous post. it’s coming along nicely and work will be continuing apace to finish it soon. It’s a strange thing but this drawing says something different every time one looks at it, particularly as it’s not finished yet. Maybe it will find its voice when done, but then again…….

Now, as promised a quick bit about what work was keeping the author from his doodles. After all this is meant to be a blog as much about making as drawing. Certainly what we’ve been working on fits into the amazing category in my book as it’s been as much a learning experience as just another job. Anyway, my friend Mandy Smith, a modelmaker of considerable skill, and I have been busy making plastic chocolate for an advertising campaign. This strange endeavour has introduced me to the world of resin casting, making silicon moulds and making double castings. At first encounter this process appears quite complex but after initial ignorance is overcome one begins to see that like many things in this field it’s as much about being methodical as much as grasping huge levels of technical knowhow. It was fun and when the time is right there will be something about it featured here on the blog, but currently confidentiality prevents me from showing more. If this tickles your interest and you’d like to learn more about what we do you can visit Mandy’s site here:

 http://cargocollective.com/mandymaker#1656991/About. 

There are some more works in progress to show and tomorrow I want to play with some paint so who knows what the next post will contain.

No going back.

The inescapable fact of the matter when you’re making drawings like these is that ink can be a mightily unforgivable medium. Once you’ve made that mark on the paper there is invariably no going back. You can’t erase it. I remember there being such a thing as an erasable biro pen many years ago but, I also remember that it wasn’t really so and always left some kind of witness behind it and the eraser used scuffed up the surface of the paper. Not that great really when you’re after a perfect image. But I digress. There are advantages however to putting oneself in the situation where you can’t really afford to make any mistakes. I’ve always found that it tends to focus ones concentration on the drawing and where the marks and lines go. Over time this also builds a confidence in oneself which allows you to be much more relaxed during the creative process. There is a joy to be had in “knowing” what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. It makes it all feel very natural and in some way takes you closer to that point of flow that I’ve mentioned before.

There are many agonising moments during the making of a drawing, but the most can often be the point where you’re just about to make the very first marks on the page. I know I’m not alone in suffering that dreadful emptiness when faced with a blank sheet of paper. As a kid sat in art class the blank page presented you with so much possibility that you almost froze in the face of its intimidating emptiness. As you mature creatively this diminishes for sure but it can pop up occasionally to test you. Thankfully with a pencilled outline already on the page I don’t suffer this fate at present but I do take one last long stare at the bare image before that first biro contact. One is still faced with many choices one has to make even at this point but to combat any unsureity I employ a couple of simple strategies to get me by.

The sketches in this post demonstrate my simplest approach. I start in the middle of the drawing and work outwards. There is a practical reason behind this as much as anything. By starting in the centre I can move around the piece I’m working on very easily without running the risk of picking up “wet” ink on my hand and then promptly smearing it all around the page. I always use a loose sheet of paper to lean on to avoid this but it is so easy to forget to move it as you go and make a mess. As the drawing progresses I then divide it up into areas and attack those one at a time. So for example I’ll do the engine, then the surrounding bodywork etc. Wheels are always done as a pair and I leave the rendering of the figure until after I’ve competed the bike. the final step is any shadow and ground detail and then finally the horizon or background, if there is one.

These two drawings have taken shape in parallel. Again it’s another strategy I use to help me along, working on more than one thing at a time. Despite the obvious advantage of giving you two finished drawings at the same time what this really does is help we out when I get stuck. It keeps the flow going when I run into a set of details I’m perhaps not sure about, and rather than sit idly there letting my mind and focus wander I can reach for the other drawing and keep going while my subconscious mulls over how I’m going to deal with the problem. A happy consequence can also be that something done on one drawing provides a solution for the other. A kind of win win thing.

These two will be finished very soon.