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.

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Are you ever unhappy with your work? Perhaps this is why.

Red_Jacket_Racer_by_JonTremlett2013

What do you do whilst thinking about how to finish a picture? This question is usually answered by going and doing something else for a period of time while the imagination, now freed from staring at the problem, finds a solution in its own time. In this instance though, the answer was to promptly do another picture. It’s smaller and was done a bit more quickly. When I’d finished it I was quite happy with it, the red jacket experiment worked well. The following day however, with fresh eyes. I didn’t like it at all. Something wasn’t right, and while I wondered what was suddenly wrong with it, I got to thinking about what it was inside me that would not allow the picture to enjoy any approval. This episode brought to mind a quote from a recent book about creativity by Seth Godin, “The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly”, which was shown to me by my partner a couple of weeks back. To me this quote goes some way to explain why we self appraise our work, not just that we do, and illustrates the relationship between the two agents of this internal process, ambition and taste. here it goes:

 

 On Good Taste.

 

Ira Glass understands how you feel.

 

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get passed this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have…… And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work, …… It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions”.

 

What I also found interesting about the above was that it explained to me something that has bugged me for ages. Have you ever allowed a friend or family member to see a piece of work? Has that viewing resulted in a spout of gushing praise that made you feel uneasy? After graciously accepting the praise, have you then struggled to explain why to you, in spite of their protestations, the piece is not very good at all and you should do better? I’m sure it’s not just me. The introduction of the ideas of taste and ambition really help to frame the argument you want to make, your only real challenge is to find the right words to use. Let’s face it, people get very upset if you tell them you’ve got better taste than they have! It’s surely about the education of that taste, and we are all responsible for our own in that regard. I must read this book.

 

Here’s to closing the gap.

 

No.8 and a trip to the Tate.

Matchless cafe racer by Jon Tremlett

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.

 

A new picture and an inspiring book.

81_FlyBy_2

This is the second version of FlyBy. There wasn’t anything wrong with the first one, it just seemed like a good idea to do another one, and bring in some more of the classic cafe racer details like a black leather jacket with patches on and a big silver tank on the bike.

 

The background got really patchy on this one but once it had dried out fully it didn’t seem too bad after all. The colour works really well with the bike image and it would have been foolhardy to think that it could be rescued or changed in any way by adding more liquid. I’m really pleased with the reflections on the exhaust and the engine side cover, I confess I referred to some photographs to truly try and get a handle on these parts. There is certainly a “way” of doing these things, and it is reliant on being able to pick the information  you want from a photo as it is in being able to access ones embedded knowledge. The former certainly feeds the latter, the photos serving purely to inform what I’m doing rather than be representative of the only way things can be rendered. More of these to come.

This is a great book.

This is a great book.

On another note today, here’s a really great book to recommend. It’s called “An Illustrated Life” by a chap called Danny Gregory. Essentially it is a collection of features on various creative people and their sketchbooks, including he author, though the books are very much the heroes. It is a fascinating look into other worlds where the books are used as journals for recording everyday life, through to how various artists use them as repositories for ideas and laboratories for creative experimentation. To accompany all of this visual candy there is also plenty to read, each featured person is given plenty of column inches to explain what they use their books for, how they do it and, just as importantly, why they do what they do. It is all very enlightening and interesting stuff, I can’t recommend it enough as a source of energy, inspiration and delight. For any of us who spend any time slowly filling sketchbooks all this might at first seem a bit intimidating, but go with it and it soon becomes clear that we are all doing the same thing, just differently and individually. It’s readily available through all the usual channels. Here’s a link: To the book.

Illustrated_Life2 Illustrated_Life3 Illustrated_Life4

 

 

Drawing from imagination – embedded knowledge.

A while ago a friend commented that my bike drawings looked like they had been done by someone who knew about bikes and that this was a good thing, it lent the images a believability which in some way rescued them from being merely the fantastical noodlings of a deranged mind. This got me thinking. What was it that enabled this believability given that all of the images are created without using specific photographic references or direct observation from life?

I have a very good book by Ron Tiner called “Figure drawing without a model”, get it here, which covers the subject of creative drawing from the imagination and, whilst reading the introduction my attention was drawn (excuse the pun) to a particular passage in which he references this point. In a nutshell he poses the argument that every one of us has a degree of embedded knowledge about the world around us and that the essence of drawing from the imagination is about developing various tools which allow us to access this knowledge and use it in image making. Although the book deals specifically with drawing the human figure there are many parallels to be found in rendering other subjects. What I find interesting about all this is this notion of embedded knowledge, how we acquire it, access it and use it in creative expression through drawing.

It’s probably worth considering this idea of embedded knowledge a bit more, what is it exactly? Our memories and imaginations are a huge combined resource that we carry with us at all times. Our minds are filled with stored references to the world around us, some are stored as images, others as direct tactile experiences. Some as emotional responses and others as smells and sounds. Our minds catalogue them and store them away for us to refer to later on through any number of triggers. If we consider the human form as an example, it is something we are all deeply familiar with and very knowledgable about. We have absorbed this knowledge since birth but, if we’re asked to draw a man running for example, we find it hard, we are unable to bring to the fore the precise information required to visualise this action in a believable way. This is because our mind has stored the act of running as exactly that, an action, not a picture of running. This makes drawing a running man difficult although we inherently “know” all there is to know about running already. This is, in it’s simplest form, embedded knowledge, and our challenge as we seek creative expression is teaching our minds to access it, our imaginations to use it, and finding ways to generate more of it.

The book goes on to explore lots of creative tools and practices which will aid the reader in the development of imaginative drawing techniques, but my own thoughts stayed very much with this first chapter. I wanted to consider further this idea and how it influences my own output.

Following the premise that Ron Tiner makes, that through observing and practicing the drawing of the human figure we learn it’s many characteristics, I arrived at the notion that this activity ultimately creates familiarity. We learn so much about, and become so familiar with the human figure that we can, in the end, visualise it in any situation we chose. It is this familiarity that struck a chord. If this is the case then there surely must be other ways to attain it as often we don’t have the luxury of endless visual practice?

So, here’s my theory about how we gain this familiarity. It seems to me that it comes from three main activities: learning, absorption and creation.

In learning we do what Ron suggests in his book, that we accrue knowledge through repeated action. By observing and drawing we learn the way things are and create the foundations for how things could be.

The absorption part breeds familiarity through purely being around something for a long time and physically interacting with it. For example, I have never really sat down and drawn a bike engine in any detail from observation, not even from a photograph. But having spent a good deal of my time around them, fixing them, cleaning them etc I have gained a familiarity which allows me to draw them with a degree of confidence if not precise detail.

Finally there is the creation element, and I hope this makes sense as I arrived at it from considering my time spent as a product designer. In this instance creating new design ideas or concepts requires the use of both imagination and pre-embedded knowledge from the outset. One informs the other to create new, never seen before, ideas. The process of developing a design fully often requires the visualisation and re-visualisation of every aspect of the object, its every facet and detail, even though it has never existed in reality. This generates in the mind of the designer a familiarity with the object which is both intimate and detailed and subsequently, enables them to visualise it without reference.

Although these three directions may appear distinct, there is always some overlap to be found. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if everyone uses a combination of at least two most of the time.They all lead to the same point. The final interesting thing about this familiarity, born of all of these activities, is that it itself becomes embedded knowledge and is there for us to access in future. So one could propose that by learning to access embedded knowledge, it leads us to being able to create more of it. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why our drawings get better as we do more of them?

A final thought for today is this. When someone says, “you have such a vivid imagination”, are they actually referring to your ability to dream up stuff, or the fact that you are purely able to access your embedded knowledge?

Background noise.

As mentioned before on the blog there are always things going on in the background while work on the larger finished drawings is progressing. Sometimes this takes the form of working sketches which will form the basis of larger works, at other times they are small drawings that are used to practice techniques or develop an idea.

Above are a small group of what are known here as bikeheads. Invariably the larger drawings contain a character or two and it is often a challenge to get them looking right for the given context that they find themselves in. Finding the correct pose and body shape is never simple and the same goes for facial expression, and how this reflects the characters personality. The former are dealt with purely through sketching out varying forms but, the latter is harder, especially when you realise that even the slightest variation in line can change a facial expression completely. So as an aid to get things going I have started a kind of character bank in which to keep all the doodles of heads and faces that appear through the sketch sheets. It will then be easier to have a look through and find some inspiration when it’s needed. Adding some colour to these helps to bring out the character and keeps my colour pencil technique up to scratch too if it’s not being employed elsewhere.

Which leads me neatly onto this second group. Back in December a post contained some small groups of varying bike styles I was playing with at a reduced scale. Those had been completed in crayon and ink. These above were done purely to see what would happen if they were done using liquid inks and watercolours. To find out how intense the colours would be and how much of the detail could be held  given the very liquid nature of the medium and the coarser paper used. Very fine Rotring pen has been applied too, to firm up[ the outlines and add extra black where desired. The paper was fine for the paints but proved to be a bit too “wooly” for the finer stuff subsequently done with the pen. Next up will be a test on harder paper.

Some say you can’t learn to draw from a book. This may be so, or not, but a couple of really useful books I refer to regularly are Action Cartooning by Ben Caldwell, here, and Cartooning The Head & Figure by Jack Hamm, here. Both are invariably out on the desk when character sketching. Neither will teach you a style but, both will inform whatever your personal style may be. Great books.

 

A Teaser

In my last post I mentioned that I wanted to work up those two BMW inspired sketches in ink as a next step before playing around with some colour. Well, things as ever never go according to even the simplest of plans. Not through anything going wrong, far from it, but from being led up another path by my inquisitiveness.

When I’m playing about with colour on an image I’m always fearful of making a mess of it and spoiling a perfectly good drawing through the inappropriate application of paint or crayon. The latter you can sometimes remove with an eraser but, the former is a more tricky medium to shift. It always leaves a stain at the very least. So my thinking was that to avoid such situations I could print the sketch onto another sheet and play about with that. I’ve tried this before and it’s always been onto standard cartridge or stock printer paper. It’s a habit carried over from doing coloured design renderings back in the studio many moons ago, before anyone thought an Apple mac might be useful and anyone had any idea about Photoshop. The copier was my best friend.

 

My problem, or what I perceived as a problem was that I wanted to use some watercolours and these do not sit well with standard printer paper. The paint goes all streaky and the paper quickly starts to look like an unpressed shirt. I’d never thought to try printing onto watercolour paper as I’d always thought it would be too thick to go through my old Epson. How wrong I was. After a couple of false starts as the paper feeder got to grips with what must have felt like someone feeding it a doormat, it chugged through and the results are pleasing enough to warrant throwing some colour at it. As you can see from the picture above it’s not too shabby a result. I’ve printed out a couple of other scanned pencil sketches in the same way and I’ll pop those up on the blog as they come together and I get to grips with re-familiarising myself with my favourite paint medium.

Here is a bit of a teaser image for you too today. It shows me (though I’m not in the shot obviously) about coming up to half way through inking in a drawing of a massively engined single cylinder cafe racer I sketched out ages ago. I’d left it languishing in the sketch pile while I got on with other drawings but, coming across it the other day I thought I’d do something about it now. Of course I’ll put the finished article up on the blog as soon as it’s done for your delectation.

 

Also in the shot is one of my favourite tools. It’s a book, a fabulous book by a chap called Daniel Peirce and covers the story of a photographic project he undertook called Up-N-Smoke. It is essentially 140 pages or so of beautifully photographed bike engines. All vintages, all types and all lovingly lit. For me it’s a fantastic reference for shading in all of those apparently similar coloured metal parts, how reflections get cast on surfaces and bags of engineering details to feed the imagination for future drawings. It’s published by Veloce books (ISBN 978-1-84584-174-4 ).

 

There is art to be found in engines, that’s for sure.