Can you draw women?

Bike_girl_comp©JT2016

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.

BGsketch_comp©JT2016

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.

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A good pen is an expensive tool, look after it.

The finished workshop polo shirt.

The finished workshop polo shirt.

So here is the shirt design for Bill Bunn Motorcycles, my local bike shop, in its finished form. The guys very kindly gave me a polo shirt in way of payment, which makes one feel very good about the idea of bartering. The quality of the screen printing is really good and the level of line and detail they have managed to keep is very high. A great result.

This black and white block reductive drawing is becoming strangely addictive. Partly I think it has to do with the process being quite quick, you see results quite fast but, it also has much to do with the simple pleasure of pen use and the decision making process. Areas of the drawing are either black or white and that’s it, this way or that, simple. As more drawings take shape it becomes easier to decide which way to go, ones ability to “see” what gets left out becomes clearer. It is amazing how the eye and brain are able to build a complete image from only a rather basic framework of information.

Big_Ink_CB750©JonTremlett2015

This activity is also helping me to complete some drawings which have been lying dormant in the drawing chest because I couldn’t decide on how to finish them. This indecision invariably comes from a lack of confidence and a worry about messing something up having invested a great deal of time and effort into it. For some reason this temerity seems to disappear once I start thinking of completing them in this style. One example is the drawing above. It must have sat in the drawer for about a year while I dithered over the final execution. However, armed with a couple of freshly filled Rotring pens it all came together rather quickly. there is still some background to complete to bring it on a bit further but essentially a neglected work has taken on new life.

Techy pens1

One aspect of working in this way is that I’ve realised that I actually have a rather unhealthy pen fetish! I’m actually a bit of a technical pen nerd in reality. It is a necessary part of using these things that one has to be rather fastidious about their cleanliness in order to get the best out of them, and I find myself enjoying this often messy job. There’s something terribly satisfying about making the first lines after a thorough clean and refill of my most oft used pen. What strikes me as a bit excessive is why I have to have so many of the things? At least a dozen at the last count, though not all are in working order. Long neglected at the bottom of a drawer, one or two are utterly dried up and solid with ink residue, a rock hard shellac like substance that seems to be impervious to most solvents. Prolonged soaking in cleaning fluid, often weeks, helps to release things but often the smaller sized nibs are beyond help. I have no idea why I have so many, like many bits of drawing equipment we just seem to accumulate them unwittingly over time. I remember purchasing my original Rotring box set over 30 years ago, second hand from a market stall but where the others have come from is anyones guess. Likely bought because I’d forgotten I had that size already or they were so bunged up I just went and got a new one rather than bother cleaning them out. Profligate and lazy days to be sure. One thing being a freelancer teaches you though, is looking after your stuff so hopefully m nibs can look forward to a more pampered and productive life from here on.

Shotgun drag bike – slowly the bike emerges from the paper.

Shotgun_greys©JonTremlett2014

In a continuation from the previous post, here are some further images charting the progress of the Shotgun drag bike picture. In this first one I’m still very much in the process of laying down the grey tones, and as you can see this pretty much covers most of the parts of this bike, including the tyres, which are not painted red. As I mentioned previously this is very much a process of laying on tone and building up to the desired intensity in small steps. Most people who’ve ever rendered anything will tell you that true black doesn’t really exist, and they’d be right. But with this style of drawing or painting I like to create areas of absolute black as they help give the image punch and underline the more cartoonish nature of the final picture. So where possible it’s good to get those bits done at this stage too.

Shotgun_frame1©JonTremlett2014

In this second image you’ll see that I’ve completed the exhaust pipes having finished with the greys, before starting on the frame colour. Exhaust pipes, especially chromed ones are a lot of fun to do, but they do rely on you having some decent reference material to work from. In this case there was plenty going on in the photograph, so the reflections are quite colourful and intricate. The engine, and therefore the near vertical exhaust pipe too, provide a real central anchor point for the picture and the reflections really help to draw the eye to the focal point of the image.

Shotgun_frame2©JonTremlett2014

This final image shows the picture with the frame pretty much done. Again, this was a process of laying down slightly diluted tones of the red colour in steps, slowly building the colour up giving the frame tubes their form and highlight areas as you go. I took some time to get the base red right, mixing scarlet and orange inks to obtain something with the right amount of vibrancy. Diluted this gave a lovely pink for the lighter areas and with a bit of dark rich brown mixed in created a great tone for the shadows. It can be a bit nerve wracking when working with such strong colour as the last thing you need is to smear it across an area where it’s not wanted, or worse, get a small droplet landing on your pristine white surround. Once this stuff is down, there is no way to get rid of it or cover it up. But taking your time and working slowly and methodically pays dividends, and allowing things to dry every few minutes is a good habit to get into.

By this stage the picture is really starting to jump off the page, the red frame bringing a whole new three dimensional feeling to the piece. Nearly there.

Confronting your creative comfort zone, one step at a time.

Paint and ink detail be Kon Tremnlett for Soulcraftcandy.

Welcome to the first post of the new year, a year supposedly fully fueled with fresh resolve to go beyond merely just carrying on. Actually, to be honest, I made no new resolutions regarding the blog, and this may end up being a good thing as it will keep the devil of disappointment from the door for a while. Y’see, it’s not even the end of January and the thieves of time have already raided the creative cupboard and made off with more than they usually swipe. The important thing at times like this is not to stop altogether, to keep chipping away, even if it is only a small bit at a time. This is how it goes sometimes and part time work can often morph into something with a greedy appetite for your precious time. I liken it to when we used to listen to the radio on sets that possessed a manual tuning dial. Often the signal would fade or go crackly, and in order to hear the music again you had to lean over and move the tuning control ever so slightly. Clarity would return. So currently the dial of life needs some subtle turning to get back to a more balanced feeling.

 

But creative work never stops and thankfully the drawing projects are still on going, just a bit more slowly than usual. The image above is a detail of what’s on the drawing board right now. Essentially it’s a larger colour version of a drawing I did over a year ago as part of the original cafe racer series in biro. I’ve been wanting to do a colour one for ages, so got the brushes out just before Christmas and have been chipping away ever since.

 

Like previous pictures this one is being done on Bristol Board using water colour washes and my trusty technical pens. Although progress is slow, I’m enjoying every minute of it and, taking my time has allowed me to make some considered changes to my plan and think a bit more deeply about what I’m doing.

 

This is all good stuff, but it’s also causing me to realise that I should perhaps be trying to do more with the paint. I’ll try and explain what I mean. At the core of it would be a feeling that I am not a natural painter, someone who’s automatically at home with the medium. For me, and this probably harks back to formative years, the application of paint to an image has always been a colouring in exercise, following some kind of predetermined outline to render a colour picture. It has never really ever been used as an expressive tool in its own right. As a result I’ve established this kind of comfort zone in which my painting exists and is quite cosy for me. So there’s a challenge in the near future to see if I can get out of that comfort zone and see if I can make more of what’s out there. People endlessly talk about thinking outside of the box these days, well this is a challenge of DOING outside of the box.Painting, whether it be in oils, acrylics or water colour is a combination of many skills and techniques and yes, it is daunting to think that one is only in possession of a small amount of skill and a couple of techniques but, it is also exciting to know that there is a world of image making still out there waiting to be tried. My professional life does not allow me the luxury of experimentation so, somehow expectedly, I’ll need to break some habits too if I’m going to improve my skills. Rather like the picture from the last post, you never know what’ll happen until you try, so flinging some paint around could reveal some interesting things. The key will be to learn, as much as create and make. Here’s to an experimental and rewarding 2014.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

Not idle, just busy.

Inking a bike cartoon by Jon Tremlett for Soulcraftcandy.

A very small pang of guilt always accompanies  the short gaps which crop up between posts. Try as we might, I’m sure most of us amateur bloggers suffer from the same twinge every time we look at our records and note the time passed since the last posting. And lets be honest, most of us are juggling busy everyday lives, where the opportunities to grab an hour or two for “doing your stuff” are often few and far between. If like me, your blog relies on a fair bit of creative output as well, then finding the time to “make your stuff” as well presents its own pressures.

 

Busy times make for lots of juggling, and grabbing the briefest moments in which to exercise the creative muscles. Being short lived, these moments often fail to embed themselves fully in the memory and one finds oneself often thinking that you haven’t done much at all. But this isn’t so, it’s just one perception of the extension of the period between starting something and actually finishing it. small steps mean slower progress, but progress none the less.

 

So here above is where I am in the inking phase of the drawing I showed you in pencil layout in the last post. Having not done a full blown biro drawing for a while I’d forgotten how much effort goes into them, but it’s pleasing to have got this far, and see it emerging slowly from the paper in all its glory. It is slightly bigger than previous efforts, I put some pens in the shot for scale, so will take a little longer anyway.

 

Much time is being currently spent adjusting to life with a new part time contract job, and its effect will ripple out for a little while longer as I find a new rhythm. I’m back working in an industrial design studio, something I haven’t done for quite a while. Although you never really forget how to do it, like riding a bicycle, it is only now that I’m realising that I am needing to use a completely different set of creative muscles than those utilised in just making models for folk and scribbling away at home. It is proving very enjoyable though, and brings much needed regularity to a freelance life riddled with the usual uncertainty.

 

Nevertheless there are lots of projects awaiting attention on the Soulcraftcandy side of things. There are some further investigations to undertake on the big format prints I want to create, there are some more spoof magazine covers lining up and a handful of fresh pencil layouts itching to be turned into something more distinct. And then there’s at least one post to write about my recent weekend trip to Berlin. Lots to do.

 

As I said, never idle, just busy.

 

All drawn out? Grab the bull by the horns.

The Bull, a sketch by jon tremlett for soulcraftcandy 2013

There is a phrase we hear often when faced with tackling a thorny problem and one that seemed very apposite for inclusion in this post.

 

“You just have to grab the bull by the horns”.

 

It’s not often I’m reluctant to pick up a pen or pencil and start scribbling but, this has very much been the case over the last few days. Returning home last week after a frantic three day stint of freelancing work, I can only describe my state as being “all drawn out”, bereft of any inclination to put pencil to paper. Why? Well, this particular bit of work involved creating about fifty separate drawings as part of a mammoth communication exercise at the early stage of a very large and complicated project. By the end of it I was done, the tanks would need refilling before another image left the end of my pen.

The Bull, original sketch by Jon Tremlett ©2012

The creative energy required for idea generation at times like this seems huge, but that doesn’t mean that there’s none there, just that less is available for a while. So this is a great time to reach for one of a number of pieces which are sitting comfortably in the “on-going” pile. Moving something along a bit, rather than needing to start afresh is, for me at least, a cunning way to grab the bull by the horns without expending too much effort, and get back into the swing of image creation after a bit of a lull. Making small adjustments and working up the level of detail are both important to the final outcome and are both things that one doesn’t need to rush, one can take ones time to think carefully about each change and work in a slower, more deliberate way. It is very satisfying.

The Bull t-shirt by Jon Tremlett ©2013

The main image at the top of todays post is such a work in progress and something I’ve been playing about with for quite some time. It started life as a very rough little sketch a couple of years ago and since then I’ve just tinkered with it. At first I thought it might make a good t-shirt design as in the version with the red gas tank, but never got far enough with it to confirm my suspicions. And then a few weeks ago I found it again and thought it might be better as a larger drawing in ink. What you see is the latest pencil layout for that big drawing. The t-shirt idea isn’t dead, but by finalising the details on the bigger drawing I’ll be in a much better position to undertake a reductive exercise to create a better shirt design. That’s the thinking anyway, and co-incidentally this picture has a working title of “The Bull”. S’funny how it worked out like that eh?

 

 

 

Alive and kicking.

Soulcraftcandy work in progress

It is probably very different for those who can maintain the discipline of posting to their blogs every day, but for the rest of us, who invariably post when we can, gaps appear in our flow and by the time we have seen them it is too late to close them up or fill them in. Such is the way of things. When posting relies quite heavily on making progress with a project or piece this is something you pretty much have to live with, cope with and try and overcome through trying just a bit harder. So, gaps are awkward but not the end of the world. My posting habits are erratic at times but this does not mean that nothing has been going on in the background.

 

Following the last post, showing the journey from blank sheet to finished picture (see below), work has continued on that small series, sketching out, drawing up and starting colour work on the last three images that will take me to the complete set of nine that I want. In the photo above, taken today in the mini-studio, you can see two of these remaining pictures. In the foreground is number eight just over half way through with most of the inking in done and only bike colour and background to finalise. Number seven, in the top left, is all done and only awaits a background block and final fiddling. I will of course post them up as they get fully finished. I thought this shot would also be useful for the fact that you can clearly see my technical pens lying next to the picture, which gives you a clear sense of the scale I am working at with these. Small.

Soulcraftcandy ideas and sketch wall..

This second shot shows the current state of my ideas wall. I am trying to develop the habit of changing it’s contents a bit more regularly though doubtless some of what you can see will appear very familiar to those who have been following the blog for any time. On the right hand side though you can see evidence of what has been occupying my blog-time of late. I have been getting some of the drawings ready for printing as small cards with the intent of selling some through the Soulcraftcandy BigCartel store. The top row shows some run-offs of the first set from the original Cafe Racer series done last year and below them are some prints off the home printer looking at how best to size these newer images for their own card set. Getting all the files clean after scanning, colour balanced and nice and crisp takes a good deal of time but hopefully the results will be worth it. So there is lots happening and I will be reporting on progress as the journey to print continues.

 

If you spotted it and guessed correctly, yes that is a picture of one of the cats at the very bottom of the shot, but fear not, this blog is not about to be overtaken by feline inspired craziness.