Putting your learning into practise.


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.


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.


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.

Virtual interactions.

Soulcraftcandy cartoon cafe racer.

Two posts ago I talked about the many distractions hanging in the air these days, they are all mostly still there though my mind is slowly learning to ignore them. After all, one can only do one thing at a time and besides there are quite a few things to finish before immersing myself in a new medium, material, technique etc. Best get those done then.


Here is a more completed scan of the picture featured in that very post. The bike and rider are now done and it’s background time, again. I wanted something impactful but simple, colour but not complicated. I’d settled on a sun and sky combination and wondered about treating it as a series of concentric arcs of colour across the page. Sounds simple enough I thought, though knowing also how easy it can be to make a complete mess of a decent picture through the application of an ill considered final detail, I resolved to “sketch” it out in Photoshop first. So now we get the image shown below.

Soulcraftcandy cartoon cafe racer.

It is not looking too shabby at this stage, but I’m already wondering whether this is achievable in ink and paint given that the paper is Bristol Board, not the best thing for getting large areas of really flat colour. This is one aspect that Photoshop and other similar softwares can’t mimic. The digital space is a nigh on perfect canvas, free of the foibles of papers, boards and other physical media. Ones brushes are consistent in their behaviour, even when using a tablet as I do, and their “feel” is experienced through your gliding across the uniform surface of the tablet and the application of tiny variations in pressure. All lovely, but nothing like the real thing. So whilst I’ve got myself a scheme that seems to tick all of the boxes for me, the real challenge now will be rendering it in the mucky, unpredictable and unforgiving analogue space, where water manages to help and hinder all at the same time.



Making it different.

TT racer sketch

Apart from the story conveyed by an image to the viewer, a picture also contains another story, that which lies behind its creation. This is not the narrative expressed by the image but the tale of how the image was made. Whenever I look at an image the “maker” in me can not resist trying to work out how it was made. It is this questioning which drives my desire to try and share, whenever possible, the processes which lie behind the images I create. The techniques I use are not complex and I don’t use any cunningly developed or unique ways to create them, so why not let others see how these things come into being.


Above is the first sketch for a picture I am now working on. It comes from a series of sketches done for the V-twins project. The inspiration for it is american dirt track TT racing where oval tracks are supplemented with right hand turns and jumps. I find the idea of flinging a big heavy 750 around this kind of circuit attractively bonkers and so, worthy of a picture. It’s done simply in plain blue biro pen on some of the cheapest and low quality sketching paper I own. Believe me, it’s a good deal messier than the scan shows thanks to the wonders of playing with the levels in Photoshop in readiness for posting. Those shaded areas cover a multitude of hidden lines and you can see the engine has received some attention from the Tippex pen too.


Using my trusty little lightbox the image was transferred onto some water colour paper, firstly in pencil which was then overdrawn with fine black biro pen. I wanted to try having another go at introducing some colour to the images so thought I’d start on familiar ground with some water colour paints and inks. Normally one would stretch paper before making even an outline drawing, but that would not allow lightbox use so I stretched it after copying the drawing across. It’s a great way to do it and the image doesn’t seem to suffer any distortion at all.


The following images are my progress updates. The first is laying on some light washes to give the image its base colour. The second shows you what I’m aiming towards. By applying my usual biro pen technique over the washed areas I can achieve the impact I want but with a degree of colour behind it, and thus a nice bit of punch too. I suppose it’s very like how you ink in a comic strip but here I’m aiming for some variation in the tones and not such a contrasty finish. The third one just shows how far I’ve got. In reality I should have applied all the washes before picking up the pen but wanted to show what’s building as much as see for myself whether I was on the right track or not. Looking good, though forgive the odd colouration, my camera does odd things with daylight.



Don’t buy it, build it.

A couple of years ago I came to the end of a long term contract which had seen me running a modelmaking and prototype workshop for a small Industrial Design company in west London. I’d had, and in fact still do have, a very good relationship with the guys at the company and had often been able to work on small personal projects after hours over the course of the contract. Before I headed out into the world again to look for more work I had a desire to make something substantial for myself. After not much thought I decided I’d like to build a motorbike, or at least modify one to my personal spec. This is something that I’d actually been wanting to do for years but never had the time or opportunity to have a go.

Over the course of an evening, armed with three of my favourite creative tools, a pint of beer, a pencil and a pad of paper I sat down to plan my project. I had managed to persuade the guys to let me use the workshop for an extra month before going, so that set my timeframe. But what bike was I going to modify? I wrote many lists covering capacities, bike type and performance criteria in an effort to get a clear idea. I’ve always had a soft spot for 250cc bikes and after rejecting many other larger alternatives (I’ve already got a big bike anyway) I settled on the idea of creating a small runabout for town use based around a single cylinder 250.

I wrote a little brief for finding the donor bike in the form of a list. It had to be light and manoeuvrable, cheap to buy, run and fix but, most importantly it had to have potential. With only a month of workshop time available I knew I wouldn’t have time for complex frame work or to farm stuff out, I had to do whatever I could myself and quickly. I set myself a budget and dived into the web in search of a likely candidate. I finally settled on Suzuki’s GN250, an oft maligned little commuter custom like a Yamaha SR250, but better looking and with more appropriate geometry. Although they turned up on ebay fairly regularly the prices were high and condition questionable. I tracked a good one down in Gloucester – lady owner, low mileage, big rear rack. Perfect. I took the train down, and rode it home the same day.

I was as excited about going to get it as I’d been some years ago when I went to pick up my new Triumph. It was everything I wanted it to be. The dealer had serviced it for me and put in new oil etc. It started easily and coped admirably with everything I threw at it on the ride back to London. Assuming an “aero” tuck with my nose buried in the clocks we hit an indicated 80 mph, the brakes worked ok, and despite minimal suspension damping, floppy steering and a totally square rear tyre I stayed out of all the hedgerows. It was 120 miles of fun. And it did the whole lot on less than a tank of juice.

Once my mate Richard and my girlfriend had stopped laughing at my new purchase it got a good clean and I took some quick photos outside Rich’s garage so I could chop the thing about in Photoshop and sketch out my planned mods.

Ever since I’d decided that I wanted to create a little roadster for town I’d not stopped thinking about a retro styled scoot with a single seat and so this was my start point for mucking about very roughly in Photoshop. Without much work it turned out that I could get close to what I had in my minds eye quite quickly. One of the reasons I’d gone for the GN was that geometrically it already possessed the right kind of stance, not too high at the front end, with a short wheelbase. As a result I could leave the wheels where they were, and the frame too for that matter and just chop the rest around, creating mudguards, seats etc as I went. This was a Sunday, so I gave myself until the end of the day to reach my final idea.

Inspired by classic bikes of the 50’s and 60’s I’d very much latched onto the “Bobber” style, though I had no intention of giving the little 250 a hard tail, really not a practical solution for London riding. Other details would be changing though, like suspension, fenders, handlebars and exhaust but, for now these simple visuals gave me enough information to get on with the task of planning the build.

Next up, where to start and where to get the bits I was going to need.




Tmts-The last part.

With the metal parts done I still had no idea what I was going to do about the bodywork colour. I knew that I wanted it to be bright, but I also wanted it to be right. By deciding to apply colour to the wheels and other smaller details I thought I’d be able to postpone making up my mind a bit longer and that the presence of these other pieces of the drawing would give me some indication of which direction I wanted to go in.

The wheels are a big part of any bike drawing. As much as any other part they lead the eye in emphasising any perspective used,can give an image direction and motion, and anchor the drawing to any ground plane. They are also, or can be at least, big blobs of colour. In this case there’s no perspective to worry about so their main function is to complete the drawing and ground it.

We perceive tyres as being bklack but in reality they are anything but, ranging from almost white highlights to virtually black  in the shadows. I like to keep these things simple and so chose to start with black, for shadows etc and then applied white to give gradated greys and lend the tyre some basic form, nothing more.

And now the time for the bodywork.

Orange, definitely orange I’d decided. A bright, fast colour that makes me think of sport, racing and speed. It’s a great colour for bikes, think KTM and Kawasaki. Wanting to build it up slowly I applied it with colour pencil, and quickly realised that Bristol Board requires quite a bit of pressure to build up a good layer. Finally doing the exhaust and inserting a fat ground line finished it off.

I’m quite pleased with the result given that it’s a fairly simple image. I could fuss over it for another hour or so but I’ll leave it as it is for now. The colours worked ok in the end and lend the drawing a bit of that “punch” that lifts it off the page. But it’s what is not there that slightly bothers me. It’s a contextual thing, the lack of a background or other device holding it back. In all my subsequent drawings this is something I’m still figuring out.

I could have, of course, avoided a great deal of this mucking about by simply scanning the black line drawing into Photoshop and just playing around for a while. But I decided not to. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly I find it’s too easy to create something on screen and then be utterly unable to repeat it on paper,  colour matching being a perfect example of this. Also, the texture of the paper can have a quite strong influence on the colour medium that is applied to it, and I find it utterly laborious trying to replicate this on screen, especially when all I’m doing is having a quick look at how something might look.

Secondly, and this is a process issue more than anything, I find it burns up my time and plonks me squarely in left brain mode when all I want is to be in right brain, creative mode for a bit longer. Left brain is the logical half of the partnership and I find it starts to restrict my thoughts and actions, particularly when I’m working on a drawing. Perhaps I have yet to learn how to be truly creative with a computer program, but I find even the simplest of menu sequences takes me into left brain territory and keeps me there like some kind of hostage. I’m sure this is a subject that I will return to a lot more later on.

In an earlier post I mentioned that I felt like I’d gone too far with full colour and wanted to draw more before getting into all that. So from this point onward I went back to monochrome, pencil or pen, in an effort to get myself drawing more and thinking about colour less.