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.




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: 

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.