A couple of posts ago I put up some colour photographs of a lovely red vintage drag bike called Shotgun. I’ve been asked by its owner, Nik Fisk, to create a picture of the bike for him. It’s taken a couple of weeks to get going but here is the first layout sketch done in preparation for the final picture. It’s done in black biro on heavy weight lining paper. When I was taking the photographs we discussed in some detail the view we wanted to achieve in the finished piece, something that hinted at the length of the bike, but also showed off the overall shape well and the fantastic old Triumph engine that sits at the heart of the beast. Having the right hand exhaust pipe nearly vertical we reckoned this would allow the curvature of the left pipe to be a feature and would also create a strong central element to the picture.
It would be far simpler, and probably much easier, to sketch directly over a printed photograph, or do it digitally using something like Corel Painter, but that would defeat the object of this exercise. In asking me to create a picture for him, Nik is looking for something created in a particular style, which we reckoned would be called something like “factual caricature”. This is not about creating a facsimile image, more about giving the image a degree of character which a photograph just can’t do. So with a picture up on the screen as reference I like to work freehand directly onto the paper, working out the relative positions and proportions of things as I go. It’s a rather organic process, one which not only makes you look carefully at the subject, but also embeds knowledge about that subject into your minds eye as you go. I find this part of the process invaluable and it enables me to make the slight scale and proportional changes which bring the caricature into the image. It allows me to do things like make the engine slightly bigger and bulk up the exhaust pipes to increase the sense of power of the unit for example. I always like to increase the fatness of tyres on bike pictures, in makes them look more planted in my view, but at the same time I need to make sure that the ellipses that outline the wheels are as correct as possible. This sketch shows a revised front wheel from the original sketch, done with some ellipse guides at a smaller size (my templates only go so big), rescanned and photoshopped into place. So when I’m freehanding the outline drawing for the final picture I’ve got some decent guidelines to work to.
The drawing is about 380mm from the back of the rear wheel to the tip of the front and sits very nicely on an A2 sheet, so a really good size which will allow lots of details to be shown. The next step is to check over this one, make some notes for adjustments and then use the light box to start the process of getting it onto the Bristol Board I’ll use for the final painting. This is going to be a lot of fun and I’ll be posting progress reports as things take shape.
The sharing of pictures which are completed as gift commissions is always a little tricky. Firstly you need to wait until the gift has actually been given, and secondly as in this case, I was waiting for it to be published on a club website before picking up my small trumpet and giving it a blow.
This depiction of slightly exuberant sidecar piloting was done for the brother in law of a very good and old friend of mine Ben, whose approaching 50th birthday required a special kind of gift. Adrian, the brother in law, is an ardent sidecar enthusiast and is setting out this summer on a european tour on his outfit with his wife Polly. Over a coffee with Ben, we agreed that a speeding outfit with fresh french produce bulging out of all available spaces would be particularly apt.
When undertaking an exercise such as this I like to work from some decent reference material and Ben duly supplied me with some photographs of Adrian, Polly and the big Honda outfit. Whilst one doesn’t want to slavishly depict every detail exactly, a cartoon is an interpretive exercise after all, it’s good to have all the information available for feeding the distortional process which occurs when the pencil hits the paper. I’ll openly admit that my skill in creating facial likeness is not very good, a frequent obstacle in undertaking any commissions, but thankfully in this case I was rather saved by needing to show him riding and so with a helmet on his head. Background information really helps here too as you can pick up little things which you can include in the image which help to flesh out the character you’re trying to show, like the soccer team scarf and riding gear.
The pencil layout before applying the colour washes and ink.
This one was drawn onto Bristol Board before being coloured with watercolour washes and then inked up using technical pens of various widths. I thought it came out really well and was thrilled to hear that Adrian was chuffed to receive such a unique gift.
With five of the small Cafe Racer colour pictures done and posted there is one left to do which will complete this set. Rather than merely post up the final finished version of it I thought it might be interesting for people to see more of the process I go through when creating these images. So for this one I’ve scanned the various stages as I complete them.
The first step, once the overall composition had been decided, happens on the newsprint pad where I rough out a couple of sketches to get a feel for what I’m after. Often this involves sketching it out a couple of times as in this case. The first sketch is really just about working out the proportions, rider position and the general look of the bike in the image. Once you’ve got something then you’re in a position to make changes as you see fit.
So with this done, I decided that I wanted a slightly different looking bike and to move the rider up the tank a bit, good reason to do another sketch. I wanted to base this drawing around a twin cylinder Norton and a quick search on the net yielded the right picture which could inform me about engine details and other bits and bobs. I can now start to work these into the drawing.
With these two sketches done there is enough information on the sheets to allow me to transfer the image onto the A4 Bristol Board for the final version. This is where my handy little light box comes into its own. If there is a need to blow up or reduce the sketch size for this stage then it is simply a matter of printing out a quick scan at the right size before hitting the light box. For the pencil stage I need a good point to the pencil so use a 2mm leaded technical push pencil, with an H grade lead, which keeps a point well and isn’t so hard as to leave big grooves in the paper when you erase it. Most of the drawing is done freehand though I resort to my ellipse guides to get the wheels nice and tight. At this stage I’m building in all of the details gleaned from reference pictures like the engine case shapes, cylinder head position and brake details. I love density in these drawings so put a lot of effort into distorting things slightly and filling in all of the big gaps that normally exist when looking “through” a motorcycle. It’s also a good time to get all those tiny details in. I don’t necessarily need accuracy here but I do like things to be reasonably believable, if that makes sense. With the bike and rider done, I loosely put a box around it which will approximate the background block. By the time this pencil layout is done, my mind has already started to think about what colour to paint the bike, the riders helmet design and the background colour. Time to get the brushes out and a look at the various painting and inking in the next post.