Starting the Shotgun commission.

Shotgun_sk_1©JonTremlett2014

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.

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Havin’ it large.

Life size print of a cartoon by Jon Tremlett at soulcraftcandy.

The above phrase, regularly used and a feature of the colloquial landscape that is modern english, often refers to a bout of over indulgent and often excessive behaviour, invariably fueled by alcohol.

 

Despite there being little alcohol consumed at the time this idea was born, the phrase seems most apposite in describing the birth of the above creation. For quite a while now, the suggestion that the drawings should perhaps take on a larger scale has been hovering about in the back of my mind but, achieving this jump up in size presented lots of challenges that would need to be overcome. Aside from wondering where in the house one could create a big enough space to do it, the mechanics of transferring a basic layout onto large boards or sheets is something I’ve not yet figured out. I know that simply drawing straight onto large format sheets is tricky, ones perceptions of perspective and proportion are distorted, and being so close to the image as you make it means you can’t “see” all of it, so you have to keep standing back to check on your progress. There are lots of tools out there to help with these issues like projectors and setting up a copying grid, but the fact remains that it’s a daunting undertaking if you’re not practiced at it. I really wanted to see what one would look like blown up, before embarking on a creative exercise of this size.

Life size print of a cartoon by Jon Tremlett at soulcraftcandy.

Fortunately for me, a good friend who runs a small architectural office offered the use of his A0 plotter to run something out as an experiment. I knew that printing out a massive version of one of the finished biro drawings would rapidly consume his stock of black printing cartridges, not a good idea seeing as this was a generous offer already, so elected to use one of the early sketches which is much lighter in tone. The scale for the print was based on the size of the front wheel which would be approximately life size. There was no way it was going to fit on a single piece of paper either, so I split the picture in two with a bit of an overlap so it could be trimmed and glued together afterwards. The sketch was re-scanned at 1200 dpi to avoid any pixelation when blowing it up, resized across two sheets of A0 light weight plotter paper and converted into a pdf file to keep the file size down a bit, we didn’t want to be sat there for hours while the plotter got on with the job.

 

Back at base the sheets were trimmed on the kitchen table and the two edges stitched together with spray glue, before being pinned to a rough frame made from some scrap lengths of baton found in the shed. Choosing to do this on a really hot day at the start of a very rare heatwave meant the exercise was a little fraught and the subsequent union a little wrinkly, but it looks fine for what I wanted it to achieve. I took a couple of photos for the blog post with one of my crash helmets in the shot and the original sketch to give you an idea of the size of this thing.

Detail of cartoon by Jon Tremlett at soulcraftcandy.

There are some interesting things that spring to mind when I look at it. The jump in scale really shows up the distortion that occurs in the cartoon process, for example, although the riders body is about right, his head is really quite huge. The original sketch was done in biro onto non acid free lining paper which has a really gritty surface, and the way the line breaks up is very prominent in the blown up version and gives the whole thing a lovely looseness. Take a look at the detail shot to see what I mean.

 

So the question now is, what am I going to do next? I think it splits into two routes. The first one is to find a printing method, onto paper, canvas or vinyl, which will enable me to get one of the finished drawings done at this size. I can see them making great banners, or even applied to the sides of a vehicle in vinyl, though persuading anyone to take them may be harder than I imagine, but it’s worth thinking about. The second is to start to think seriously about how I would create a drawing at this scale, a journey probably riddled with experimentation with different media and tools which could be a lot of fun. Part of that journey has already started with the idea, hatched at the local coffee shop with my good friend Ben as usual, to investigate making a drawing instrument which creates the quality of line shown in the big print. And that is as exciting as actually doing the drawing itself, so I’ll keep you all posted on my travels in the world of large format printing and whether I can figure out how to construct the worlds biggest biro pen.

 

 

 

The 3D Pantograph Club, Part 1- Ed’s Machine.

Ed Barton Pantograph on Soulcraftcandy.

Ed and his 3D Scaling Pantograph.

It is an inescapable truth of freelance working for creative companies that you are rarely in a position to show or talk about the work you are engaged in, or have just completed. Issues of client confidentiality, and the fact that much of the work is usually a long way from entering the public domain mean you can’t show anyone what you’ve been making for quite a long time after the event. Hence the lack of “making” content on the blog for a long while.

Prompted by a recent visit to the studio of a sculptor friend, this is about to change however, as it has nudged me into digging a project out of the archive in readiness to post about it.

I first met Ed up at the Ace Cafe, a favoured north London haunt of motorcyclists, where I got talking to him about his fabulous Moto Guzzi. When we discovered what each of us did for a living, and dug a little deeper, it became clear we had more in common that purely an appreciation of personally customised motorbikes. Ed mentioned that he was interested in building a 3D Pantograph, and I had completed the construction of such a device not that long previously. Needless to say he was interested in understanding what my project had revealed regarding these rather esoteric bits of equipment and a good many knowledge sharing conversations ensued.

Before going any further though, it is probably best to try explain what a 3D pantograph is exactly. I will try and be brief. A pantograph is essentially a scaling machine that allows the operator to enlarge, and in some cases reduce, the size of an image or object. They are more commonly found in the 2-dimensional realm where they are used to trace lettering or pictures for engraving and such like. Being utterly analogue in their function they have now been generally superseded in most applications by digital technology, so they are rare things to come across. Working from a fixed pivot point, two pointers, connected by a series of pivoting arms allow the operator to follow an image with one pointer whilst the other creates a replica of that image on another surface at a greater scale, like 2:1 say. In 3 dimensions the principle is the same though in this case the first pointer follows the surface of an object, positioned on a turntable, while the second allows the operator to create a scaled up or reduced version of that point in space on a second turntable nearby. If this doesn’t make sense, then I hope that seeing some images and a short film will help to make things clearer.

The pantograph pivot and counterweight assembly.

The pantograph pivot and counterweight assembly.

Last weeks visit to Ed’s studio in Camberwell, South London was to finally see the pantograph he had built. It was impressive. Through our earlier discussions we had figured out that these machines could take many forms, it is the core geometry which provides the link between different designs. So not surprisingly Ed’s machine is a very different looking beast to the one I built, and amply demonstrates how a different “brief”, ie what you want to make with it,  effects the final design and layout of the machine. Here’s a link to the studio website where you will find a great stop frame film of the guys building their machine and then using it to cut complex forms out of large blocks of expanded polystyrene with a hot wire, and other images. When I visited the studio last week the hot wire had been replaced by a high speed cutting head which the guys had used to carve even more complex forms from similar blocks. You will also see that the machine consists of the two main elements required for the pantograph to work, a pivoting arm that holds the “pointers” and a pair of connected turntables supporting the final piece and the model from which it is being traced.

Ed Barton pantograph at Soulcraftcandy

The business end, a high speed cutting head.

In the next post I’ll reveal the details of the machine I put together for an artist, and expand a bit more on how these things work.

Keeping it punchy.

72_Desert_repairs

Ok, so here’s the next one in the now growing collection of small pictures coming together here in the studio. This one is lifted from one of the worksheets done a couple of weeks ago. There were a couple of characters sat behind the bike in that version but I decided to take one of them out and slightly change the context of the picture.

 

These are proving really fun to do. It’s not just the drop in scale and the subsequent shortening of making time that provides the pleasure, as much as the change in approach to the punchiness of the colours and handling a different level of detail. It is logical to think that going smaller should also mean going simpler, and I would agree to some extent, though I would also argue that if you take too much away you risk losing something, be it the attention of the viewer or the impact of your picture. With less area of paper to accommodate the image one must work that little bit harder on maintaining a level of detail that still makes the image interesting to look at, hence all the little stickers and badges, and possessing an impact in some way, hence the use of bright colours. These are after all fun images of fun subjects, and so to me it pays to put the work in to help them jump off the page.

 

Keeping it cartoony.

71_Dirt_rider_2

Here’s the picture from the previous post all inked up and finished. This is as far as I want to take it. In contrast to the previous version of this picture, the one with the yellow fuel tank, this one was done with a black biro pen, I was interested to see the difference, and it works quite well though I have to admit to preferring the much blacker lines of the previous version. A good experiment to try though, and for me validates the decision to push the slightly more cartoony style on these smaller pictures. Because biro pen has the ability to give such a variety of line weight and density it’s always tempting, and indeed a struggle sometimes not, to get all carried away with layer upon layer of shadowing and tone which confuses the drawing. The stark simple lines created using the technical pens work well with the colouration to keep the drawing in cartoon territory which is what I’m after with these. It is also helping me get over my biro addiction.

 

Of course it would be a simple case of going over everything a bit more with the pen to blacken things up but the essence of the picture is already there in my mind, and that would simply look like trying to emulate one kind of rendering style with another. You’ll notice that the boundary box is grey rather than black in an effort to bring a bit of softness to the holding device as well. There are some grey pens here which I’ll experiment with to try and find my ideal solution. So, I hope you enjoyed seeing this one finally. On to the next one. More again soon.

 

Engines, old and new.

Before getting on to the main purpose of todays post, an update on another of the biro drawings, there is just enough time to show you one more of the Cyclomotor drawings unearthed the other day. As you can see this is a colour one and as far as I can remember it was quite a big one, something like A1. What does remain firmly in the memory is how it was done. My tutor at the time insisted we make some of our drawings in colour and as this was a drawing project brushes were out. I had had a small tin of these oil pastels kicking around at home for a few years but had never used them, so this was a perfect opportunity to give them a try. They are called Neocolour by Caran D’Ache and are quite hard in their consistency. They are not at all appropriate for any kind of detail work but for big jobs they rule. They go down quite evenly for a pastel and what is really nice is that you can smudge them in a very controlled way with your finger and blend the colours into each other with some control. I’m wondering if I can use them for some of these bike drawings if I can get the scale up big enough, could be fun.

 

Looking at this old drawing today gives me real pleasure. It represents something that I work constantly to rediscover these days, a kind of naive confidence in the way the drawing is made that lies beyond the bounds of the years of formal training that followed this period of my experience. The errors in perspective and construction seem easily carried by the sheer boldness of the enterprise. I still have some of those pastels somewhere, perhaps it’s time to dig them out.

Drag bike half done

On to the main thrust of the post, oddly a much shorter paragraph, and this is a kind of progress snap shot of the second drag racing picture being worked up in biro. This one is taking a little time as I’m kind of learning as I go. In a break from usual practice this one’s being done on a different paper than usual, Fabriano Drawing Paper, whiter than cartridge with a slightly different texture. It’s a learning exercise as the pen engages with the surface in a softer way which means needing to be much more delicate with any pressure. It also tends to be much harder to hold a crisp line, though having said that it does give shaded areas a looser feel than that achieved with Bristol Board. The big test will be to see how it deals with larger areas of black and the fine feathering used on wheels etc. It is probably better suited to larger drawings where a softer medium can be used like pencil or crayon. I’ll persist though and see how it turns out.

 

 

Time to sell some prints.

 

 

A kind of hotrod.

So, another unscheduled gap in posting comes to an end, thankfully. Regularity and consistency remain difficult habits to develop but, this is very much a work in progress. It has been a busy time lately with much happening in the background, more about that in a moment, and the occasional distraction, for example a first time visit to Santa Pod raceway to see some drag racing and feed the imagination. All I can say at this juncture about that experience is that I have never heard anything quite as loud in my whole life. And spectacular too, despite it being a “nostalgia” meeting, much of the machinery looked anything but old or remotely passed its best.

 

What’s been happening in the background has been much more exciting though on a personal level. Prompted by a steady flow of positive comments, and encouraged to make something more of this drawing project I’m engaged in, it’s time for others to have the opportunity to enjoy the drawings as real things, beyond the virtual world on screen. As a result I am in the process of setting up a small internet shop through which you will be able to purchase high quality art prints of a selected group of drawings. I have been lucky enough to find a fantastic printer who I know I can rely on and whose attention to detail and quality of output are superb, so I am very enthusiastic about moving forward. The shop is not live yet but, getting this far has been an interesting journey through online service suppliers, low level brand fiddling, design, learning about print technologies, and cardboard tube sourcing. Currently the final details are being sorted out in readiness for the grand opening and are reminding me that there is no substitute for putting in the effort and getting it right first time. So the next couple of weeks is promising to be very interesting as things come together, and I will be posting regular progress updates as Soulcraftcandy enters a new era.

 

I have found a little time to do some drawing too. Not as much as I’d like but enough to keep the hand and eye in. Todays picture is a sketch in which I’m trying to do two things. The first is to draw at a slightly larger scale than before. This drawing is about 20 inches across, which is quite a bit larger than previous pictures and challenges my ability to make all of the proportional changes needed to jump up in size. Harder than it sounds.

 

Secondly I’m having a go at trying to concentrate the detail and tonal density of the drawing at the centre of the page whilst the outlying areas of the drawing fade away, and couple this with leaving the rider figure outlined but unrendered. The eye and brain, working together, have an incredible ability to complete an unfinished image, to fill in the gaps, if you can give them enough basic information to start with. This drawing may not be finished in the true sense of the word, but in another way it already is. In some ways it’s already a bit overdone but, finding that fine line between the two seems to be something worth spending some time trying to find.

 

Finally here is a very loose preliminary sketch for the above bike and I’ve got a funny feeling this isn’t the last time this one will be influencing another drawing. You will also notice the inclusion of a new logo, a small sign that things are changing. More about that next time. Watch this space.

Hotrod sketch