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.


When you’re unsure, redraw.

Sketch by Jon Tremlett for soulcraftcandy 2014

Ok, so there’s been a bit of a gap between this and the last post, I’ve been working, putting in some serious time on a freelance job, one which involved constructing a couple of full sized mock ups of some new airline seat concepts, in polyboard. For those of you who don’t know, polyboard is that stuff that folk normally use for presentations, a couple of sheets of very thin card with a foam core. It’s great for what it was designed for but, it also makes a great modelling material provided you know what you’re doing. I’ve been making models out of this stuff for longer than I care to remember so it presents few challenges as such, the main obstacle these days is that the forms that are created in CAD by the designers are so complex that we are now operating well beyond what a basic sheet material can achieve.


Fortunately there are ways around this, including software that essentially creates complex nets for making paper models, which can be utilised to assist in turning curved surfaces into flat plates that one can cut, bend and glue together. It’s hard work, but becoming a skill fewer and fewer people possess, so there may be hope for me yet! Here’s a pic of the kind of thing I’ve been building. This is a very old model so no one will mind me showing it, the more recent stuff is, as usual, highly confidential so no pics of that for a few months at least.

Anyway, enough about work. Todays post is actually about this sketch above, the next stage in creating the drawings for Mr. C. After my initial efforts, see the relevant post here, it became obvious that what I wanted wasn’t anywhere near what I’d initially drawn so was beyond a quick set of modifications. Only one thing for it, redraw the whole thing. Not a problem, the learning and critique of the first sketches really informs your hand second time around so the process is more focused and as a result much better. What I do find though is that I can’t force this part of the process, it has to happen when the mood takes rather than when sitting down and telling oneself to get on with it. Needless to say the use of the magic blue biro helps as well, laying gentle lines first and slowly building up. This is now much more what I’m after in terms of view angle, the position of the bike on the page, the curve of the road and where the police car is. This will now get transferred onto Bristol board for the final bit and I’m already thinking I should do another version in tandem which shows a motorcycle which is closer to the kind of bike Mr.C constructs using four cylinder engines. More very soon, and thanks for taking the time to read the post today.

Today I drew a car!

Mustang sketch by Jon Tremlett for soulcraftcandy.

I’m currently working my through a small book I bought recently about creativity. Needless to say I find it extremely interesting. The book is called “12 Rules of Creativity” by Michael Atavar, you’ll find it here. In the opening chapter is some stuff about training your eyes to really look at things, to really see what’s in front of you. What’s this got to do with drawing this car? Well, I’ve tried a number of times over the last few months to get this picture underway, and each time I have utterly failed to capture it in any way that was remotely close to what I was looking for. Realising the other day that it would be a good idea to have another go, I thought I’d read that chapter in the book again before picking up the pen. By reading the pages and looking up at some photographs I’d taken of the car on the computer screen, it was suddenly much easier to see what I was looking at and, see in my minds eye the composition of the image I wanted to create. Funny that. I’m not exactly sure how it worked but some connection in the brain suddenly got made, and forms that I’d struggled with previously seemed to be more easily understood. Once I’d established an eye line and got my head around the extreme perspective the sketch progressed fairly quickly, though I did have to have a couple of goes at getting the wheel angle where I wanted it.

Consequently I’m pretty happy with this first drawing, which I’ve done in my favourite blue Bic biro on a very cheap sketch pad. It will go onto the light box next so that it can be traced onto some watercolour paper ready for painting and inking.

Ultimately the picture is going to be a gift for my friend Christophe in France. We will be visiting him next month for a house warming party, so I’m hoping he’ll like it and put it up in the new place. He’s a confirmed petrolhead, and this is him in his beloved Mustang, a car I can only describe as a ballistic tank.

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.

From blank sheet to finished picture – part 1.

With five of the small Cafe Racer colour pictures done and posted there is one left to do which will complete this set. Rather than merely post up the final finished version of it I thought it might be interesting for people to see more of the process I go through when creating these images. So for this one I’ve scanned the various stages as I complete them.


The first step, once the overall composition had been decided, happens on the newsprint pad where I rough out a couple of sketches to get a feel for what I’m after. Often this involves sketching it out a couple of times as in this case. The first sketch is really just  about working out the proportions, rider position and the general look of the bike in the image. Once you’ve got something then you’re in a position to make changes as you see fit.


So with this done, I decided that I wanted a slightly different looking bike and to move the rider up the tank a bit, good reason to do another sketch. I wanted to base this drawing around a twin cylinder Norton and a quick search on the net yielded the right picture which could inform me about engine details and other bits and bobs. I can now start to work these into the drawing.


With these two sketches done there is enough information on the sheets to allow me to transfer the image onto the A4 Bristol Board for the final version. This is where my handy little light box comes into its own. If there is a need to blow up or reduce the sketch size for this stage then it is simply a matter of printing out a quick scan at the right size before hitting the light box. For the pencil stage I need a good point to the pencil so use a 2mm leaded technical push pencil, with an H grade lead, which keeps a point well and isn’t so hard as to leave big grooves in the paper when you erase it. Most of the drawing is done freehand though I resort to my ellipse guides to get the wheels nice and tight. At this stage I’m building in all of the details gleaned from reference pictures like the engine case shapes, cylinder head position and brake details. I love density in these drawings so put a lot of effort into distorting things slightly and filling in all of the big gaps that normally exist when looking “through” a motorcycle. It’s also a good time to get all those tiny details in. I don’t necessarily need accuracy here but I do like things to be reasonably believable, if that makes sense. With the bike and rider done, I loosely put a box around it which will approximate the background block. By the time this pencil layout is done, my mind has already started to think about what colour to paint the bike, the riders helmet design and the background colour. Time to get the brushes out and a look at the various painting and inking in the next post.




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.


Keeping track of ideas.


One of the consequences of conducting ones creative activities in a small studio room, essentially a converted child’s bedroom measuring barely 10×6 feet, stuffed with bookcases, desks, computers and all the required paraphernalia, is that keeping track of things is a perpetual challenge. The question “now where did I put that?” rings in my ears all the time. Any activity, creative or otherwise, brings about default behaviours in us like how we file things, store items and arrange our work area. We create our own individual systems which are very particular and often not logical in the eyes of others. I’m also sure it’s a truism that we spend countless hours every year modifying our little systems in the search for an ideal solution. I know I do, and it’s not always about easing the process of finding stuff. Being able to see your ideas is a very important part of stimulating the creative process. In the past I’ve enjoyed the luxury having lots of sketches and drawings laid out to view, it helps with seeing where you’ve been and also where you’re going, or would like to go with an idea. The challenge is being able to maintain that connection between your vision and the work in progress. This applies as much to images we collect as reference as to our own output.


I have a wall in here upon which I stick sketch sheets and stuff, but it never feels big enough. As a result it constantly changes, acting as a road map for current work and keeping the connection going with ideas and thoughts which still hold my attention. It would be fantastic to sit in a studio the size of an aircraft hangar, but that’s not going to happen any time soon, so making the best use of what’s available really counts. The computer, which holds a huge resource in my image bank, and provides access to the universe of the net only has a screen that is so big. So to cram as much into this space as possible these compositions of ideas, as shown here, are a great way for me to see lots of ideas all at once, make decisions about them, and assist myself in direction finding.