Getting togged up for an autumn sunday ride normally involves donning your favourite jacket, picking out some warmer gloves, pulling on those comfy old boots and changing the helmet visor for one not so darkly tinted. It does not usually involve pressing a clean shirt, selecting an appropriately coloured neck tie, applying polish to shiny black shoes, fiddling with cuff links and putting on a suit. But this is exactly what I found myself doing last Sunday as I prepared myself for the London staging of The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride.
Initiated a few months ago by a bunch of guys in Australia in an effort to bring Cafe Racer and modified bike riding people together, the event has spread across the globe encompassing groups in cities across Australia, North America, Europe and beyond. The basic idea, to dress up nice and smart and gather at a pre-arranged location, before setting out across town together for a gentle ride to a destination where we can all park up, have a good chat and enjoy a drink (no-alcoholic of course).
As you can see I elected to take the 250, being the most modified of my two bikes. After a quick polish on the Saturday, and resplendent in its new fork gaiters and mini Bates style headlight, it certainly looked the part. The little bike performed perfectly, managing to hold its head high amongst a sea of much larger, more eye catching and certainly more noisy machinery. There must have been about sixty of us in total.
It was an excellent day and a huge thanks must go to Adam and the guys at the Bike Shed MCC for putting in the effort to organise a brilliant event. Great people on lots of great bikes. Roll on the next one, it can only get bigger.
This is a sketch for one of the remaining drawings that are left to do. This was done as a kind of experiment. It’s at least 60% bigger than any of the others for a start, which allowed me to be a little less precise with everything, and seeing what an increase in scale would look like proved a useful exercise. Sometime in the future it would be great to create some much bigger drawings and my first tentative steps in this direction are being taken now. As mentioned above it’s not significantly larger than any of the others but, creating it starts to give me a feel for what changes when you go up in size. How you deal with proportion, detail and tonal variation across the drawing. One also has to consider the implication on ones preferred medium. I’m not sure that working in biro across an A1 sheet or larger is going to be a fruitful or spirit crushing experience. Only one way to find out I suppose.
It’s drawn directly, no pencil rough out, on to heavy duty (1400 weight) lining paper, the stuff you stick on your walls at home to even out a wall surface before painting. It’s not good quality paper for sure but, it does have this kind of hard textured surface which works really well with a medium point biro, almost making it feel like using a pencil such is the subtlety of shading one can achieve. Being quite thick allows you to work into the paper a good deal to achieve the thick black areas but, the pay off is not the usual warping and distortion you get with other, albeit finer, papers.
Yes, it can be a bit scratchy and coarse but it’s great stuff, cheap as chips and comes on a roll, so you can cut sheets to any size. I would mention though that at first it was a challenge to get it to lie flat, at all. Leaving it under a pile of books for a couple of days didn’t work, so I ended up ironing it with a hot but dry iron and then left it in a pile under a couple of pads. Much better. This weeks top tip for ploughing through sketches without worrying about using up your expensive art shop bought sketch pads. I’m going to have a look at lighter weights of lining paper to see if the texture is different and check out how they perform. An update will hit the blog soon.
Armed with the blue pencil sketch from the previous post, I used it as an underlay to create the final version of this drawing. Having said before that layout paper provides a good opacity for tracing through it became obvious fairly early on that despite this it was often difficult to pick out the lines that I wanted to follow. As a result I found working slowly and with a medium hardness pencil the best way to go. Basically I could erase things if I didn’t like them, though there is always the danger that you’re going to wreck the paper just at a critical moment as you get a bit enthusiastic with the eraser. I always try to avoid this by stretching my hand across the sheet and working the eraser slowly between my thumb and forefinger. Still, the danger is always not too far away.
I seem to have acquired a two pronged attack to adding detail to the drawings. I insert a certain amount in the pencil stage and then include more as I proceed with the ink pen stage, and so the drawing looks kind of half done at this stage. I also have to say that when I’m unsure about something, like the rider’s expression for example, I’ll leave it half done and continue to work on it in pencil as the inking process moves forward. Something in the way the drawing takes shape seems to help me find the right look further down the line.
Inking on this drawing was straight on top of the pencil on the layout paper. I realised I didn’t have any kind of light box that would allow me to easily transpose the image onto my favoured Bristol Board. This was something I didn’t forsee but was able to solve relatively quickly soon after as I made my own. I’ll cover that in the next post.
As a consequence the process of laying down layers of biro ink onto quite thin paper lead to the paper doing what it always does in these instances and that is to wrinkle quite badly, particularly around the areas where you put in the most effort. I suppose it must be that the constant pressure and side to side action of the pen stretches the paper. I could see myself ironing it in a desperate effort to make it flat enough to stick to a backing board. I know ironing a drawing sounds a bit mad but it does work provided you place it face down before you start and work slowly from the centre outwards and keep the iron dry. Stay away from the steam button. The strange things that my brain is filled with eh? As an aside, I first learned about ironing paper from the father of an old friend who I was best man for at his wedding. He told me to iron all the cash I was due to hand over to the chauffeur and various other folk that day. The reason being that it would give a great impression and that a man in a top hat and tails should be armed with suitably smart money. Whatever.
Fortunately I didn’t need to flatten out the drawing in the end before getting it onto a backing sheet, to protect it as much as anything else. In its current state the paper drawing doesn’t have any ground line or background, I’ve added these in a very scribbly way in photoshop just to see what it looked like. I’ve been mucking about on a multitude of photocopies with all kinds of backgrounds and ground lines. I’ve not found what I’m after yet but will add to the final drawing when I do. Coming up with ideas which both convey speed, and sit naturally with the style of the drawing is proving a lot harder than I thought it would. Perseverance will win out in the end though. I for one will certainly be happier when it does. The last thing I want to do at this point is f**k up a decent drawing with a failed background experiment.
The inspiration for this image is definitely from my love of racing machines and a burgeoning liking for big twins and singles. There’s something about these engines that’s kind of pure and simple, though having said that many are certainly not so. I also have tried to convey in the rider the sense of barely controlled power and the kind of expression that I’m sure many of us make when we feel we’re really opening the taps. There’s still much more work to do and progress to be made but at this point I feel the drawings gaining a definite look of their own.