Can you draw women?


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.


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.


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!


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.

Today I painted a car! Part 2.

Ford Mustang water-colour by Jon Tremlett ©2014

Well, here it is, the finished Mustang picture I’ve been working on over the last week. A slightly more intense painting session took hold yesterday and before I knew it I was sat staring at a completed picture. It would be fair to say I’m more than happy with it given that it’s not a subject I visit very often. I’ve never been a car fan, so they don’t appear on the radar as great subjects unless they are extraordinary, and even then I pretty much have to force myself to draw them. Just one of those things I suppose. Anyway, the main stimulus for doing this one was that it’s going to be a gift for a friend so that helps to keep the focus and the enthusiasm up at a level where you need it to make a decent job of it.

There is very much a kind of groove that one gets into when doing something like this. At the beginning of the session things are all rather laboured, small decisions about colour tone, wash density, which bit to do next and even which brush to use seem to take forever. but slowly things speed up and it’s all relatively easy to jump from one thing to the other. It must be a confidence thing too. After painting for an hour or so it all starts to feel more natural and intuitive, and this is really evident in ones ability to push concerns about mucking something up to one side and just get on with it. One gets into a flow which certainly doesn’t happen when trying to complete a picture by picking up the brushes for a few minutes here and there. Best to reserve some quality time and get stuck in.

There were some bits that I found quite difficult. For example the bush or hedge that sits behind the car and the way it’s reflected in the bodywork and windshield. In my reference photo the hedge is much larger but I wanted to reduce it’s presence and use it to help frame the car and give more prominence to the big bulbous hood. I’ve never been good at vegetation so this was a bit of a challenge but great practice for future projects. The other bits that presented a challenge were the headlamps. the lenses are a mass of prismatic forms and they are filled with so many reflections I found it quite hard to see what I was doing and replicate them in a believable way. Thankfully they aren’t too prominent in the overall scheme of things so my rather bitty interpretation of them isn’t to jarring. Again, all good practice for the future. I hope you like the final result as much as I do, and thanks for stopping by and reading todays post.

Today I drew a car!

Mustang sketch by Jon Tremlett for soulcraftcandy.

I’m currently working my through a small book I bought recently about creativity. Needless to say I find it extremely interesting. The book is called “12 Rules of Creativity” by Michael Atavar, you’ll find it here. In the opening chapter is some stuff about training your eyes to really look at things, to really see what’s in front of you. What’s this got to do with drawing this car? Well, I’ve tried a number of times over the last few months to get this picture underway, and each time I have utterly failed to capture it in any way that was remotely close to what I was looking for. Realising the other day that it would be a good idea to have another go, I thought I’d read that chapter in the book again before picking up the pen. By reading the pages and looking up at some photographs I’d taken of the car on the computer screen, it was suddenly much easier to see what I was looking at and, see in my minds eye the composition of the image I wanted to create. Funny that. I’m not exactly sure how it worked but some connection in the brain suddenly got made, and forms that I’d struggled with previously seemed to be more easily understood. Once I’d established an eye line and got my head around the extreme perspective the sketch progressed fairly quickly, though I did have to have a couple of goes at getting the wheel angle where I wanted it.

Consequently I’m pretty happy with this first drawing, which I’ve done in my favourite blue Bic biro on a very cheap sketch pad. It will go onto the light box next so that it can be traced onto some watercolour paper ready for painting and inking.

Ultimately the picture is going to be a gift for my friend Christophe in France. We will be visiting him next month for a house warming party, so I’m hoping he’ll like it and put it up in the new place. He’s a confirmed petrolhead, and this is him in his beloved Mustang, a car I can only describe as a ballistic tank.

It feels good getting back in the saddle.


Wow, it’s been two months since the last post!  I don’t for a moment think that that is a good thing but, the time has now passed so there’s little point worrying about it. Summer is always a busy time and this year is no exception, though I would have preferred it if one of the things that’s been happening in the meantime wasn’t the premature termination of my working contract. Hey ho. At least I wasn’t fired, I just became the resultant collateral damage of a major falling out between other parties who couldn’t resolve their differences. Such is the unpredictability of freelance working I suppose, and something that we all have to get used to by necessity rather than choice. As you can imagine, finding the next thing to do is a challenge which drags me away from keeping my blog up to date.

But enough about that. Today the creative itch has finally got the better of me and sketches have been scanned, paper has been stretched and the need to draw is whispering in my ear. So, what am I going to work on next?


Some time ago, far too long to be considered as recently, I was contacted by a guy in California, a certain Mr Steve Carpenter, who has made a very successful business out of building cafe racers for select customers. He wanted to know if we could do something together. I said yes, of course, the guy’s a very respected builder and a very creative chap. I feel rather honoured to be asked, frankly. So my next project is to create some specific artworks for Steve in my black biro style, based around some ideas we’ve talked about.

So here are a couple of initial sketches, done in blue pen on newsheet, which are my first attempts at capturing what Steve and I have chatted about. I think you can get the gist of what we’re thinking from the images. These two are first thoughts and are not yet exactly what I’m after. There are a stack of post-it notes here covered in notes about what I want to change about them, I find this the best way to document my thoughts and satisfy my inner editor, so the final image will be different. But these are a solid start in trying to capture the feeling I’m after and get a feel for the overall “shape” of the picture I want to create. Mr. C knows I do this as a hobby, so he’s not applying any pressure, I’m very capable at doing that myself (!), but looking at these sketches today and reading through the notes makes me want to get on with it and rev up the creative engine again.

It’s good to be back.

Shotgun drag bike – the finished picture.


Now that the finished picture is finally with its new owner, it’s the right time to post it here on the blog. It would have been unfair on Nik to put the finished picture up before he’d had a chance to see it in the flesh. Needless to say he had a very big smile on his face when he unwrapped the parcel, a moment that gave me great satisfaction and a fitting end to a project that has been utterly enjoyable to do, and has left me feeling that this could very well be the best picture I’ve done to date. So brilliant to get something just right. I think he’s going to hang it in his living room which makes me very proud and is rather flattering to be honest.

The front fairing was, in time honoured tradition, pretty much the trickiest part to complete in colour. As I hinted in the previous post, these intense liquid colours come with their own set of particular limitations, namely their ability to “blend” across larger areas and around complex details. Getting the red to “flow” around all of the lettering involved lots of quick brush work, letting things dry and using very diluted tints laid over each other. It took quite some time, but the result looks great in the context of the overall picture. We’d agreed that the bike would sit alone on the background and so the finishing touch was just to put the thick black line under the wheels and sign it. Job done.


Nik had also asked me to do him a smaller black and white drawing that he could use for t-shirts and cards. I chose a simple elevational view for this one, and the dot shading technique I’ve used on a couple of previous pictures seemed the best way to go. As I’ve said before, this is a rather time consuming way to apply shade to a drawing but it does give the finished thing a look which is very distinct and crisp.

With these two done it’s time to delve into the unfinished projects drawer and pull out a couple of sketches that have been on the back burner for some time now. There’s also the possibility that I’ll do another picture of the Shotgun, perhaps a partial drawing from another angle. I’m undecided at present but will post up how I get on with both of these options soon.

Shotgun dragbike – Finalising the layout.

Shotgun layout by Jon Tremlett 2014

It’s been a very busy month since my last post, one that has seen this picture progress to being finished along with some other stuff too. rather than jump straight to the final image, here is a slightly retrospective look at the process I have been through in completing this commission.

So this first image is of the final layout sketch which will now dictate how the picture will be in its final form. This one is traced through, using my little lightbox, on to an A3 sheet of good quality drawing paper using the previous sketch as an underlay. This stage is when I do most of the adjusting, moving things around slightly, changing some proportions here and there, and generally tightening things up. For the first time the drawing takes on a kind of crispness which really helps in being able to see properly what’s what and get the view finalised. Once I’m happy with this version, it’s pretty much ready to go and ready to be transferred onto the sheet of Bristol Board for the final rendering. This transfer stage is normally quite quick and easy, but this time was a rather fraught event. The size of the Bristol Board sheet was too large for the lightbox, the last thing you want is to crease or damage the paper whilst tracing through. Instead I had to rig up a makeshift lightbox using a small glass topped table and some desk lights and kneel on the floor to draw. It was hot day and the heat from the lights made the whole thing a rather nerve wracking affair, the board starting to warp after only twenty minutes. But it got done soon enough and I was really itching to get cracking with the colour phase.


So this image is of the the engine after a couple of painting sessions. I don’t know exactly why, but I always like to start at the centre of the picture and work outwards. With the bikes this invariably means doing the engine area first. It’s actually a really good way to get started. The main constituent colour here is Payne’s Grey, either on its own or mixed with other colours for different hues and shades. Keeping the paint quite thin, colour and tone are built slowly in layers, it gives more control, and allowed to dry every now and then to stop paper warp and the surface from degrading through sogginess. Once I’m happy with an area I’ll get the technical pen out and start the process of outlining and blacking to start to bring the whole thing out of the surface and give it some punch. This also helps to set the early tone for the drawing and acts as a guide for putting down subsequent colour areas. Looking good so far.