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.