Can you draw women?


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.


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.


It feels good getting back in the saddle.


Wow, it’s been two months since the last post!  I don’t for a moment think that that is a good thing but, the time has now passed so there’s little point worrying about it. Summer is always a busy time and this year is no exception, though I would have preferred it if one of the things that’s been happening in the meantime wasn’t the premature termination of my working contract. Hey ho. At least I wasn’t fired, I just became the resultant collateral damage of a major falling out between other parties who couldn’t resolve their differences. Such is the unpredictability of freelance working I suppose, and something that we all have to get used to by necessity rather than choice. As you can imagine, finding the next thing to do is a challenge which drags me away from keeping my blog up to date.

But enough about that. Today the creative itch has finally got the better of me and sketches have been scanned, paper has been stretched and the need to draw is whispering in my ear. So, what am I going to work on next?


Some time ago, far too long to be considered as recently, I was contacted by a guy in California, a certain Mr Steve Carpenter, who has made a very successful business out of building cafe racers for select customers. He wanted to know if we could do something together. I said yes, of course, the guy’s a very respected builder and a very creative chap. I feel rather honoured to be asked, frankly. So my next project is to create some specific artworks for Steve in my black biro style, based around some ideas we’ve talked about.

So here are a couple of initial sketches, done in blue pen on newsheet, which are my first attempts at capturing what Steve and I have chatted about. I think you can get the gist of what we’re thinking from the images. These two are first thoughts and are not yet exactly what I’m after. There are a stack of post-it notes here covered in notes about what I want to change about them, I find this the best way to document my thoughts and satisfy my inner editor, so the final image will be different. But these are a solid start in trying to capture the feeling I’m after and get a feel for the overall “shape” of the picture I want to create. Mr. C knows I do this as a hobby, so he’s not applying any pressure, I’m very capable at doing that myself (!), but looking at these sketches today and reading through the notes makes me want to get on with it and rev up the creative engine again.

It’s good to be back.

Creative energy spreads.


With all of the making happening in the back garden and in the makeshift workshop that is the garden shed, it would have been so easy just to forget about the artworks for a few days. But these things never sleep, whatever’s on the drawing table in the studio lets you know it’s there every time you walk in the room. The hope was that some making activity would bring a fresh spur to the drawing work and so it proved. By splitting my creative time in this way, both fed off the energy that was now available seeing as I wasn’t going to be working for a few days.

This picture above was started a while back but was taking ages to finish. Procrastination had set in as a reaction to my being a little daunted by pushing it along. I wanted to see how I’d get on with some heavier textured water colour paper, and whether I could hold the detail given the rougher surface. It was also a challenge to figure out the best way of rendering all of that smoke, something I’d not had much success at in the past.

In the end the detail concerns were pretty unfounded, the technical pen worked out ok on the paper once it was fully dry, though I would say that it does tend to get a bit “hairy” if you labour the pen too much. The smoke bit on the other hand was a tad more tricky. I had kind of promised myself that I’d have a go at being a bit more free with my brush work a while ago and saw this as a perfect way to get some practice. Smoke being of a very “wafty” nature I thought it would suit a more loose approach. What I didn’t reckon on was actually how hard it was to do. I take my hat off to all those whose water colour style is more conventional than my own, the impressionistic feel they give to brush work is a hard won prize indeed. Initially I was far too deliberate, the cloudiness needed just wasn’t there and no amount of blending the marks I’d made seemed to work. In the end I plumped for just loading up a No.4 brush and smearing, can’t think of a better word for it, wash all over the required area and trying to blur it all with more water whilst still wet. It kind of worked but I failed to achieve any consistency across the whole area. Not wanting to overdo it I left it at that, though I will be having another few tries at getting the looseness I’m after on some other pieces which are coming along behind this one.

Before the making starts.

Strange proportions and some serious wear and tear you can't see.

Strange proportions and some serious wear and tear you can’t see.

In the last post, which was primarily concerned with getting into some making as an antidote to creative imbalance, I mentioned that the project I’d be launching myself into would be a refresh of my already custom built little 250cc motorcycle.

Above are a couple of shots taken not long ago of how it was looking. From this distance and angle there doesn’t seem to be that much wrong with it but upon closer inspection it was really starting to show its age. First modified nearly six years ago, it has since endured a life of quite heavy use as a daily commuter and weekend run about. There were two aspects that I wanted to address in my refresh. Firstly, the finishes that I’d applied all those years ago were starting to look very tired. Numerous scrapes and scratches, injuries sustained from sharing public parking bays with careless scooter users, and general wear and tear had taken their toll on the paint work, and the protective lacquers applied to keep it all shiny had reached the limits of their life. Surface cracking and other problems giving the whole thing a rather worn appearance. Some patina of use is good, some just makes things look a bit sad and unloved. So time for a fresh face.

Secondly, there were some aspects of the proportions of the whole thing which I realised I hadn’t got very right the first time around. As you can see the bike is quite low at the back and high at the front, a product of it being a “Factory Custom” bike in its previous life. I wanted to reduce this height a bit to bring a bit more balance. The rear fender was causing me some worry too. I’d made it longer at the outset for practical reasons more than anything, to keep the road dirt off everything, but have come to see it as way too long, the overhang above the rear wheel being too far which seems to exaggerate the odd proportions even more so.

So the plan was to create two new fenders, or mudguards, see what I could do about the height of the front and give it a fresh coat of paint. Thinking it through it seemed like better sense to keep the guards in bare metal, very a la mode these days but, no more worrying about precious paint finishes on bits that get very dirty. I’d purchased two new rolled sections just for this purpose some time ago at a local autojumble so saw this as a quick fix solution that I could do at home.

Dealing with the front end would be a bit more tricky. The instrument bracket I’d made and its effect on the headlight position, together with the fly screen all contribute to a visual height at the front which seems at odds with the rest of the bike. Changing all this and giving it all a bit more breathing space should help, and mucking around with bar positions and suchlike will help too. The forks are pushed up into the yokes as far as they will go, so without drastic fork shortening there’s not much I can do beyond small changes. Some have suggested the more severe approach of having the frame modified but that’s way beyond the brief and, after all, this is a daily workhorse bike not a show pony aiming for total perfection. Not to mention the fact that major engineering of that magnitude costs a good deal of hard earned cash, probably more than the bike is worth.

The final piece in the puzzle will be the new paint scheme. The bike is mainly black and I’ll keep it that way. I want something subtle, but different enough to make it individual. With only the tank and side panels to do it needs to be quite simple. I’d like to have an element of hand painted brush work in there as well as a tiny splash of colour. I’m yet to settle on a final idea though I’m leaning heavily towards something slightly more decorative that a big white stripe. I’m going to keep in under my hat for now, until it’s resolved, as I’ve told a couple of friends it will be a secret until I’ve finished it. Don’t want to let the cat out of the bag yet.

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.



Worksheets, organising your ideas.


I mentioned in the last post how hard it can be sometimes to keep track of ideas, organise them and maintain connection with them as you go. Those thoughts were prompted by a session going through the piles of loose sheets that don’t get put on the wall in the studio and the ideas that they contain. It’s amazing how fast one can build a pile of paper, and how much time one can spend subsequently sifting through them.


The new year has brought with it a desire to try and bring some kind of order to how ideas are collated and stored, and then how to access them a little more quickly. A solution, which I’m now trying to make a habit of, was found in a book and I don’t mind admitting as much. I’m lucky that here in Ealing I have access to a public library which has escaped closure. It is a fantastic resource for all kinds of things aside from books and is completely free. They have quite a good arts section and a good few books about all aspects of drawing and painting. One publication I borrowed recently was by a cartoonist and animator. An interesting book though much of it was very specific to his latter trade, but what struck me was how he organised his work. There were many examples of worksheets he created for each project which explored everything from frame compositions to colour palettes and other tiny details. Although most of it was way too complicated for my needs, it was the central concept of the worksheet that stuck with me. The sheet above is one of my first worksheets, or ideas sheets. I haven’t gone as far as making a grid of boxes to sketch in or scribble notes in but getting the ideas down this way helps with any grouping I may want to create, and more importantly it is now possible to increase the density of ideas stuck up on the wall by a considerable degree. So simple, so effective.