Supporting a good cause.

113_CycleBerlin©JonTremlett2016

This blog of mine started out as something that happened in the background as I pursued my life as a freelance designer and maker, providing a motivator for my interest in developing my drawing and other creative outlets. Over time it has started to include, every now and then, things that happen in my professional life as well. Being a freelancer, though an often precarious existence, allows you to branch out from your core skills when the urge takes you. As a result I have been able to undertake some graphic and illustrative work which is interesting, challenging and different. Some of it is paid work, which helps to balance the books, and at other times it is not. The great thing is that the choice to undertake unpaid work is mine and mine alone, and so what often precedes this is the question of whether or not the subject interests me.

In this case it did. The image above is a small water colour and ink drawing that I have recently finished. My niece Rose, who is currently resident in Berlin, is involved in a campaign to promote the many benefits of cycling in the city. As part of their strategy to increase awareness of these benefits they are exploring ways to communicate the freedom that cycling gives both the city’s inhabitants and visitors alike. Hence she asked me if I could come up with an image that did this that they could use on promotional materials that they could sell, helping to raise funds for the campaign. It was a very open brief and one I felt I could find an answer to.

Needless to say there was a good deal of head scratching and sketching, and at one point I began to doubt my ability to find something to work through. And then out popped this idea, centred around the idea of cycling being a means of spreading freedom, joy and good health. The heart shaped balloon (symbolic of love, joy and good health) flying over the city, powered in a highly sustainable way by a cyclist, hints at the freedom that cycling gives you to go pretty much anywhere whilst benefitting yourself and the city at the same time. The inclusion of the iconic television tower as a recognisable Berlin landmark contextualises the scene and helps to bring a lighter more comedic flavour to the sense of freedom that the picture hints at. Rose peppered her request with words such as quirky, whacky and unusual, and I tried to bring these to life in the “mad inventor” character and his extraordinary machine, drifting high above the city much to the astonishment of local bird life and observers in the tv tower.

The final image was first traced in pencil onto some heavy water colour paper on the light box and then stretched onto a board. I’ve discovered that stretching the paper after you’ve placed a drawing onto it doesn’t seem to distort it in any way, and can save you hours of painstaking redrawing from your original sketches. With some photographs of the tower and views of the city it was then simply a case of laying the greys and colours on in light tints to slowly build up the the tones that I needed to achieve. This takes a while, but enables you to bring the image up to where you want it without overdoing things. Painting the cityscape was the hardest part, forcing oneself to be abstract is a good deal harder than I realised. When all the colour was down and the image dry, it was then a case of outlining with technical pens to bring some definition to bear.

I’m told that it has been very enthusiastically received, though I am yet to see what they will do with it. I really hope it brings some further recognition to their campaign and puts a smile on a lot of faces. It was certainly worth doing and I’m very happy with the result. I hope you like it too.

Advertisements

T-shirts, prints and shop fronts, it’s all go.

Bonnie_girl_design©JonTremlett2016

At the time of the last post I’d just sent the second batch of t-shirt ideas over to my contact to see if he would go for any of them. I didn’t have to wait too long this time for a reply, he picked the one shown here. It would be tempting to be a little disappointed with this result after all the work that’s been done, but this is outweighed by the knowledge that I learned a great deal during the process, and have actually ended up with some images that I really like and can do something with in the future.
So, one of the things that I’m going to do is create some hand made prints. This is something that I have wanted to do for a long time. With all these fresh images to now play with it seemed like as good a time as any to have a go. The way the designs have worked out, in very obvious black and white format, they will hopefully lend themselves very easily to a basic printing process.

Lino_cut_1©JT2016

To be honest with you I haven’t done anything like this for a very long time. Wondering which printing process to try led to lots of questions, the answers to which became self evident quite quickly. There are lots of different approaches to take ranging from the utterly basic to highly involved, simple block printing through to complex etching processes. I plumbed for the simple and settled on having a go with lino cut printing. The last time I dabbled with this process was back at school many years ago, so any learning that I had gained back then was gone and forgotten. Again, another opportunity to learn something new. The shot here shows my starting point. On the left is the design I wanted to transfer onto the lino sheet ready for cutting, on the right is it drawn out onto said lino. I have reversed the image, so that it will print the right way around and started to make some tentative cuts into the surface to create the relief to take the ink. This is as far as I’ve got for now and I’ll update the next steps in a subsequent post.

Bill_B's_New_shop_front2016

The final image here is something else entirely. Regular visitors to the blog may remember that back last summer I designed some t-shirts for my local bike shop, Bill Bunn Motorcycles, here in Ealing. It’s great to report that they’ve been selling well and the guys there wear their shirts religiously when working in the shop. I visited there a couple of weeks back only to find that they have undertaken the next steps in their shop refresh and gone and had new front signage made based around the shirt design. I had to take some pictures. They tell me the box signs are back lit, so at night it’s all illuminated which I’m looking forward to seeing sometime soon. I’m immensely chuffed that they have considered the design good enough to take it to this end. A big thanks to them for boosting my confidence and paying my work such a compliment.

Putting your learning into practise.

Girl_T_Comp©JonTremlett2016

As you will have read in the previous post, I have been expending a lot of energy recently learning how to draw women as part of a project to try and produce some designs for t-shirts for women. It has not been as easy as it sounds, and to be honest with you I’m still not sure that I have cracked it, though I feel I’m certainly making progress.

The journey from the collection of sketches to some finished proposals has been a long one involving lots more sketching and redrawing in an effort to get some kind of unifying style working across the various ideas. This process is invariably made all the more challenging by the considerations and resulting constraints that come from thinking clearly through the whole process of how these shirts are made and printed. The quality of the final printed image is reflected in, and can be traced right back to, the quality of the picture you create in the first place. The shirts made from any of the selected images will be screen printed which means I need to aim for crisp line work and clearly defined details.

In the absence of a more detailed brief I decided that I would go forward with a combination of ideas. Firstly I picked two rather obvious ideas based firmly on a girl riding a bike, and then chose a couple of others based around a more emblematic approach. Each one was worked up as an inked drawing to start with, and done as neatly as I could manage. The girls on the bikes were reasonably straight forward to do in a general sense though I was really conscious of introducing something to try and bring some increased movement to the images. I’m not a fan of using speed lines and blurring to do this, my drawing style doesn’t work that well with them, so elected to simply try and show movement by trying to mimic hair blowing in the wind. The second two choices came from trying to approach them more like logos than pictures and incorporating some recognisable cues from the cafe racer scene like chequer pattern and jacket decoration.

Girl_T_Comp2©JonTremlett2016

Drawing these things is time consuming enough, but tidying up the high resolution scans can be even more so. Again, it’s back to the quality of the image you start with. Screen printers will invariably ask for vector based artworks and so each drawing needs converting from a scanned bitmap image to vectors in a program such as Adobe Illustrator. The software handles this with ease, but you have to ensure that your starting image is as clean, crisp and high contrast as possible. The vectorising process essentially traces your drawing creating paths and fills as it goes. By adjusting various controls in a dialogue box you are able to influence the fidelity with which the software does this task. The cleaner your starting point, the fewer options the process has for including or excluding small elements of the drawing and details. Once the drawings are vectorised though, you can easily include them in more complicated designs in Illustrator, edit them further, or simply use the resultant artwork as it is. If I was more proficient in Illustrator to begin with I might be able to draw these things directly in the program, but sadly my skills aren’t there yet. At least using this approach I end up with both a good quality digital artwork and a nice ink drawing for the portfolio as well. Because the digital images are now editable, one can make limited changes to them if need be, without the need of doing a whole new drawing.

112_T-shirt_comp1©JonTremlett2016

Finally I thought it would be fun to show the ideas as shirts rather than just images on their own. Plundering an image search for white T’s being worn, it was simply a case of pasting the designs into place to lend a degree of realism to the whole thing. I then sent these to my client/contact and began the waiting process. Let’s see what he comes back with.

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.

There’s treasure to be found in discount bookstores.

Pen&inkbook

It may sound rather overblown to make the claim above but, it does seem to be invariably true. Yes, of course it depends very much on what you’re looking for, and let’s face it, some of our hobbies and interests are somewhat esoteric in nature but, armed with an open mind and an open eye it’s amazing what you can find. Discount bookstores, like charity shops, are always worth popping into because you never know what they’ve got on offer, and any purchase it thus unexpected and a surprise.

Hence the reason for sharing the above book with you today. I found it quite by chance a couple of weeks ago in just such a store in Chiswick in West London. My good friend Ben mentions it regularly so I thought I’d drop in one day and take a browse. Immediately I saw this book I knew I had to have it, and at four quid it was a steal.

Recently I have been attempting to learn how to get a bit more digital with some of my drawings. A request to design a t-shirt has prompted a flurry of rather uncoordinated activity as I grapple with the process of converting a complex ink drawing into a vectorised artwork for screen printing. Luckily there are myriad guides and tutorials available on-line to assist me in learning the ins and outs of image tracing in Illustrator, and pixel fiddling in Photoshop, all of which have proved invaluable.

Pen&inkbook01

I mention this because this learning activity has given rise to a couple of thoughts. Firstly, the whole process of vectorising images would be a whole lot easier if I created drawings better suited to vectorising in the first place. The second is that in order to do that I need to learn some new tricks to apply during the drawing activity which help in the division of an image into dark and light areas and create ways of texturing, when needed, that translate well when making the jump to digital. This is where this book comes in as it is stuffed with information on how to create all manner of drawing details that can apply to the above.

The books author, Robert Gill, is a technical illustrator by trade and the book is full to the brim with his observations, expertise, tricks, hints and learnings, all garnered from a lifetime of experience. There are chapters that cover everything from basic perspective techniques to creating textures, from rendering plants and trees to drawing basic figures. There is even a section on equipment with a great segment covering Rotring technical pens and how to get the best out of them. I love it.

There is one more aspect to why I’m so enamoured by this book, and it is this. Drawing is a lifelong learning experience and something we all want to be better at. Through constant practise and experimentation we do get better at it but, there are times when you need extra input to boost your learning and skills. Since leaving art college and witnessing the transition from analogue to digital media within the design studio environment, I don’t recall being taught or learning anything new relating to analogue drawing techniques, other than what I’ve learned through my own scribbling. What lies behind a persons ability to create images through drawing is a large reservoir of accumulated knowledge covering everything from proportion and perspective, to materials and techniques. Design school stuffed a great mountain of this knowledge into my head many years ago. Outside a formal teaching program we have to add to this learning through self discovery, using practise and experimentation to hone our skills. But there are some things which we need to learn in different ways. This book is just such a tool for this purposes. Pen and ink drawing is one of my favourite drawing styles but, finding an easily accessible reference for learning new techniques has always been hard. This book has most of what I’m after, right in front of me in black and white.

Pen&inkbook02

It’s like finally having the analogue equivalent of a cool set of digital plug-ins for Illustrator or Photoshop. I don’t need to use it all the time, copy anything from it or read every page but, it is there to refer to and glean information from whenever I want to consider creating new effects through better mark making. Much of it may seem rather old fashioned but pen and ink drawing is just that, a pen, some ink and a piece of paper, nothing complicated. The complex part is training the soft, organic creature holding the pen and the little grey matter engine that powers it.

Here’s a link to the book, I found it on Amazon here.

Julian and the big Green Meanie.

JW_photo

Firstly, a very happy New Year to all of my readers and followers, may 2015 be a great year for all of you. Here at Soulcraftcandy I’m hoping for a year full of interesting drawing projects to grapple with, some new adventures featuring some new materials and obviously, a whole host of new fans and followers. Not too much to ask for then! So let’s kick off the new year with a story featuring a very old friend, a big green machine and a triumph of physics over human ambition.

The friend in question is Julian, a lovely former wild boy I have had the pleasure of knowing for over forty years. Once a hard core bike rider, his various exploits deserve a blog all of their own, now a responsible dad. Having said that, he has never really lost the bug and as we speak is preparing himself for an off road rally trip over on the Baja peninsula. Watch out Mexico. Back in the day, Julian was the first person I knew who fully embraced the modern sports bike and the newly (at the time) burgeoning cult of the public track day, a barely veiled excuse for Joe Public to go ballistic on his road bike within the controlled confines of a proper race track. Needless to say at one such event our man came a cropper.

Julian has always been interested in my pictures and finally got around to asking me to do a commission for him. It goes without saying that his choice of subject is poignant, being a depiction of him aboard that sports bike on the fateful day he badly broke his ankle and hung up his leathers for a while.

Here’s the photograph, above, he supplied as reference and as you can see it’s not in the best condition or particularly in focus, but that’s not too much of a problem, there is more than enough information here to get going. I wanted to base the picture on this view rather than create a new one, but just tweak it here and there as it’s a great image to start with.

JW_First_trace©JonTremlett2015

The first step is to get the photo into my painter program where I can trace over it in digital pencil to establish some outlines to work with. This initial process also helps to embed some knowledge of the subject into my head so I can start to think about which bits I want to change moving forward. I’m still too much in love with hand techniques to go fully digital with a painting yet but, I’m sure one day soon it will happen. Though when you do that all you get is a print of your artwork, not the actual artwork itself, which is a very different outcome.

JW_Blue©JonTremlett2015

Using the printed trace as an underlay, it’s then onto the light box for another tracing exercise where I can start to move parts of the drawing around, like changing the position of the rider, and playing with the proportions of some details very slightly to gain extra emphasis here and there. Working with the blue biro helps me to see one drawing clearly over the top of the other. You’ll see I’ve shifted him off the seat a bit and given him a more heroic “knee down” stance to get some added dynamism into the picture.

JW_Pencil©JonTremlett2015

This third stage is the final pencil outline drawing on to the water colour paper I’ll use for the painting itself. Again, working on the light box, I trace off the blue biro drawing, tightening details as I go but only putting in the lines that I really will need to rely on. An H or 2H pencil is best for this bit, and light pressure so that it doesn’t leave grooves in the paper surface. All this redrawing might seem rather time consuming but it means I don’t have to worry too much about moving a line or erasing things, both of which will only damage the surface of the water colour paper. Once this is complete I soak the paper and stretch it onto a wooden board in readiness for taking the paint washes. Through experimenting I’ve found that it doesn’t distort the drawing in any way if you stretch the paper after putting the image on it, the secret is just to be patient and resist scrubbing and dabbing the paper too much during the process.

JW_Paint1©JonTremlett2015

When the paper is fully dry it’s time for the first layers of wash. Here I’m using a combination of cake based watercolours, some from tubes and intense liquid watercolours. For colours such as the characteristic Kawasaki green the liquid colours are brilliant. They both lift the image off the page and give it real punchiness. In combination with something like Payne’s Grey one can achieve some lovely transitions from light to dark and some really intense shadow areas. I love them though it pays to exercise caution as a little colour goes a long way and it stains the paper unlike the more “floating” colours.

The next post should see it completed and I’ll take that opportunity to cover more details of the process. So watch this space, it will be here very soon.

It’s never too late to finish something.

V-Bobber by ©JonTremlett 2014

While work on the “Catch Me” picture progresses and it moves slowly to its conclusion I thought I’d post a couple of other things in the meantime. For me it’s really important to have more than one work in progress at any one time, it helps to keep me inspired, assists in keeping my drawing hand active and my eye “in”, and most importantly of all, prevents me from getting bored.

So first up is this picture which some long term followers may recognise, it having made its first appearance on the blog about two years ago. Back then it was just a picture of a bloke on a bike, sat in the middle of an empty page, and since then it has sat in a drawer here waiting for me to finish it. Every now and again I’ve taken it out of the drawer, put some pencil lines in the background and promptly put it away again, unhappy with what I imagined would be a fitting background. I’d lost count of how many times this had happened. Here’s a link to that original post.

The other day though, something clicked, a penny dropped and I finally discovered what I wanted to do with it. Based on the idea that the guy riding the bike is going somewhere, I imagined him escaping the world he occupies during the working day, jumping on his bike and heading out somewhere better. It’s probably a context shared by many of us who wind up spending a great deal of our time in those slightly crumbling semi suburbs around the edges of cities, full of light industrial activity, crappy cafes and diners and run down buildings festooned with strange advertising hoardings. It puts a little back story behind the image and brings it to life a bit more. Why I hadn’t thought of any of this before escapes me. Creating this background reminded me that this is a great way to inject a bit of humour into a picture and include a level of detail that draws the eye to the image beyond the great big bike stuck in the middle of it. I’m so glad I did it this way and it has prompted a whole string of thinking about dealing with some other images I have failed to finish and are lying in a drawer waiting for their moment. I hope you like it too.