While work on the “Catch Me” picture progresses and it moves slowly to its conclusion I thought I’d post a couple of other things in the meantime. For me it’s really important to have more than one work in progress at any one time, it helps to keep me inspired, assists in keeping my drawing hand active and my eye “in”, and most importantly of all, prevents me from getting bored.
So first up is this picture which some long term followers may recognise, it having made its first appearance on the blog about two years ago. Back then it was just a picture of a bloke on a bike, sat in the middle of an empty page, and since then it has sat in a drawer here waiting for me to finish it. Every now and again I’ve taken it out of the drawer, put some pencil lines in the background and promptly put it away again, unhappy with what I imagined would be a fitting background. I’d lost count of how many times this had happened. Here’s a link to that original post.
The other day though, something clicked, a penny dropped and I finally discovered what I wanted to do with it. Based on the idea that the guy riding the bike is going somewhere, I imagined him escaping the world he occupies during the working day, jumping on his bike and heading out somewhere better. It’s probably a context shared by many of us who wind up spending a great deal of our time in those slightly crumbling semi suburbs around the edges of cities, full of light industrial activity, crappy cafes and diners and run down buildings festooned with strange advertising hoardings. It puts a little back story behind the image and brings it to life a bit more. Why I hadn’t thought of any of this before escapes me. Creating this background reminded me that this is a great way to inject a bit of humour into a picture and include a level of detail that draws the eye to the image beyond the great big bike stuck in the middle of it. I’m so glad I did it this way and it has prompted a whole string of thinking about dealing with some other images I have failed to finish and are lying in a drawer waiting for their moment. I hope you like it too.
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.
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.
In the previous post I alluded to my attempts to find new directions in which to take some, or all, of the drawings that pop out of the studio here. For a long time now there has been a persistent challenge in completing the ink drawings in particular, which has somehow not diminished or been overcome no matter the approach taken. It is that old thorny issue of context. Whether the inability to get this nailed is the result of never being formally trained in illustrative techniques, or some weird hangover from years drawing objects as a product designer I’m not sure. The more I think about it, the more I’m persuaded it’s a combination of things, some of which go right back to when we learn to draw in the first place and how we look at the world we are trying to capture.
The connection between ones minds eye and the imagination is a fascinating one and is undoubtedly different in all of us. How we imagine things, scenes, objects and the like also varies within us from moment to moment. When drawing from life one is saved from creating context because, in a way, it’s right there in front of us, and we are able to use some visual editing to eliminate that which we feel is surplus to our requirements. In imaginative drawing this is almost reversed, we must “fill in” first before editing down.
What’s this got to do with stories you might ask? Well, part of the success or failure of an imaginative image, I believe, lies in providing enough information to not only hold the eye of the viewer, but also to captivate their imagination in the hope that we allow them to extract as much as possible from the image. In a way we try to tell a story, or at least provide enough to start a story off, to allow the imagination to take us somewhere. Although a fairly simple sounding premise it has taken me some time to work this out in my own mind, which I’d much rather do than read it in some book or other. Because I’m a person who sees objects more than scenes in the minds eye, providing this context is always a struggle. Previous attempts have had mixed success. Shaded geometric shapes have helped to place the image on the page, but no more. Inserting scenes such as horizon lines inhabited with trees and buildings have helped too but run the risk of pulling the central image back towards reality and becoming repetitive. What I wanted to find was a format that would give more flexibility whilst being very much in tune with the language of the images.
The little drawing above might give you a fairly clear idea as to where this is going.
Following on from the last post, the point was quickly reached where the decision as to what to do with the rider figure needed making. Leaving him as a kind of abstract blank space didn’t seem to look at all right. A few basic outlines looked better but didn’t add that much to the overall image, so the third of my choices remained. Why we spend so much time agonising over these things sometimes mystifies me, especially when it’s such a small jump to achieving the finish and one realises that it wasn’t such a big deal after all. That’s life I suppose.
It would be good at this point to be able to offer some kind of critique of the finished drawing but I’m currently in that place where I have been looking at it for so long that it is hard to get observations in some kind of order. So for the time being you will have to decide for yourselves whether it works or doesn’t. Others eyes will see things that mine currently miss, so revisiting it in a few days will give me a fresh perspective, and the capacity to work out how to move things on from here. There is certainly something in this leaving areas blank idea, but it needs properly evaluating, experimenting with and developing further.
Finally today, and on a much lighter note, a small cartoon for consideration. Some of us have an unfortunate habit of being able to read a word or phrase and always manage to insert extra letters. An example, if I see a real estate sign that says “To Let” I cannot fail to see the word “toilet”. I’m sure I am not the only person to suffer from this affliction. Well, a well known helmet manufacturer released a new product recently, The Castel. Reading the press release blurb I couldn’t help but think that it was called The Castle. Suffice to say this stuck in my mind, and that morning over a coffee at a local cafe the sketchbook came in very handy. The biking world can be very dry sometimes, it’s good to poke fun at it every now and again. Enjoy.
While the urge to “ship” or complete any drawing or image is a strong one, it’s very much proving to be a case of “slowly, slowly, catchy monkey” with this one. Jacket and hands done, head and legs to follow, and then something to ground it. Pushing aside the daily distractions of everyday life to focus on a specific creative task, particularly when that task is not born of your normal world of deadline fueled rushing about, is a skill which all of us amateurs must constantly struggle with. I am no different. It is good to know though, that these periods of slow progress are more than balanced by highly productive phases when stuff just pours out of your head and hand, and across the page. these slower moments are also a great opportunity for reflecting on sketch work and ideas, learning new things, recharging the creative batteries and dabbling in other creative pursuits.It would be good to finish it off by the end of the week though.
Here above is another of the sketches done on lining paper a while ago whilst churning out ideas for the Cafe Racer series.I like the idea behind it but my execution of the idea went a bit off track which led to me not including it in the first series. Rather like with the previous sketch shown in the last post I managed to make a bit of a fudge of the front wheel and that kind of ran all the way up the front forks too. Must try harder. You’ll also notice, and fair dues if you haven’t, that the rider figure has a strange look about him. Amongst other things his nose is a tad weird and his chin’s gone the same way too. It’s only a sketch so one can’t be too critical but, these things matter if one is to learn from examining ones own work and improve things for the future. What works though is the bike, apart from the front bit of course. It has that solidity to it that I’m always looking for, a great big engine surrounded by a chunk of hefty engineering. Again this will likely get redrawn sometime in the future, perhaps in another medium, and much bigger even. certainly a contender for the pending file.
This drawing is one that’s been hovering around unfinished for a while, but is now done. I hope you like it. I’ve always been intrigued by funny front ends. I’m in no position to ever build a bike with such a concoction of engineering complexity, but I get some satisfaction from drawing these things. There are lots of sketches in the pile but this one made the cut last time around. The lines in the background come as a result of the following tale.
A good friend mine met me for a casual late sunday pint over the weekend and made a couple of interesting observations about the last drawing post. He was very complimentary about the image itself but what he said after that was the bit that mattered. He began by making comments about some of the much earlier drawings that had been on the blog earlier in the year. He liked them too but felt that they were somewhat isolated and hovering in a space not tied to anything. We agreed that it was the lack of background which created this feeling. What was really interesting was what we discussed next. Asked if I would ever start doing drawings of real bikes like BSA’s and Triumphs I said that I wouldn’t. The reason I gave was that it didn’t interest me, creating images of what already existed. There were already plenty of those in the world I suggested, and besides I didn’t feel like getting bogged down in worrying if I’d got all those niggley little details correct, stuff like that. He did not disagree with this approach but said that by including even a very simple horizon line in the newer drawings, what it achieved was to bring the drawing into the real world. This creation of a reference to reality somehow made the drawing more believable, placing it in a context that could be related to and giving a dimension, a depth if you like, that had previously been missing. I liked his thinking and was impressed with his perception.
You may remember that some time ago I spent quite some time talking about what to do in terms of backgrounds for some of the images. I’d messed about with a whole stack of print outs but never settled on a final approach or approaches. This conversation with my friend, although short, provided all the validation that I had not been able to find within myself for the direction that these things should take. Fantastic.
This is not only a great relief, but also a great way to follow on from my previous post about learning to judge your own work and be critical about it. I realised that I had completely failed to fully analyse this aspect of the images and come up with a strategy for what to do about it moving forward. I must at this point also thank Cecilia, one of my subscribers, for alerting me to the fact that one very good and simple way of engaging with the process of being critical about ones output is to go and do something completely different for a while. To engage in something totally unrelated to what you’ve been focussing on. This clears the mind and freshens the eyes in a way few other things can. Fresh eyes bring a new perspective. In the above case my friend Richards eyes were the fresh perspective. Thanks mate.
Adopting this idea on the latest drawings is really working, what will be interesting is where it goes next.
This is how far I’ve got with the work up of the sketch I showed last time out. It’s going into ink now so watch this space.