Capturing ideas at the precise moment they occur is always a little tricky. It is not unusual for them to crop up at times when one is nowhere near a pen and paper (another great reason for always carrying a sketchbook with you, a habit I’m very slack at perfecting) or you’re in the middle of doing something else and perhaps don’t have the time to scribble it down. The mad dash home, where one can make a note of it before it disappears into the ether, invariably finds me repeating it to myself over and over in an effort to somehow embed it into my memory. It’s often like trying to remember the details of a dream.
This image above is the result of one such occasion and having sketched it out upon returning to base, I stuck it on the wall from where it has been shouting at me ever since. A discussion over a pint of beer in a pub with a good friend turned to imagining a series of rather ridiculous magazine titles. Based on a number of publications we both read regularly, it seemed appropriate to take inspiration from them, and within a short space of time we’d spun off into a nonsensical world. This one stems from our goofing about with Sideburn magazine, a fine publication devoted to the celebration of flat-track racing and the burgeoning new custom bike scene spreading across the motorcycling world. It’s a great read and the product of a lot of hard work put in by the guys who put it together, Gary Inman and Ben Part. I’d like to stress that this tongue in cheek spoof is in no way meant to denigrate the fine work that the guys do.
At first I was rather reluctant to take it beyond a very rough sketch on some newsprint paper, but as I said, it nagged and nagged at me, so finally I caved in and decided to make it a bit more finished. Usefully it got me using a couple of bits of software that I haven’t touched for a while, so it was a gentle skills refresher too.
Whether its humour survives the major test of sharing the joke with others remains to be seen. The important thing is that it’s now done and the itch has been scratched, so to speak. It is likely that some of the other ideas in this group will find the light of day at some point, but not quite yet, I’ve got some other things I want to get underway first.
A slight deviation from the well ploughed furrow of motorcycle art today, as one of my other projects reaches its end. Now that the gift has been given, I can let you in on something that I’ve ben working on for the last few sessions. My friends visit the blog and so it is always a good idea not to show stuff too early, they may see things they’re not meant to.
This is a gift picture done for a very good friend, Martin, to celebrate his birthday. It’s done on A4 Bristol Board using my favourite current techinique of watercolour wash and drawing pen. My friend is a strangely quixotic german, and over dinner the other week my partner and I came up with this idea of the dis-functional knight based on the Cervantes character of Don Quixote. Oddly, Martin too has a sidekick called Sancho, his cat. It seemed very fitting at the time. It took more than a couple of goes to get the horse looking silly enough, but I think I succeeded in the end. And turning my hand to a bit of calligraphy, after rushing to the library for a reference book, was an interesting experience, like dipping a toe into an adjacent pool of different colour water. Needless to say Martin loved it, and his wife Adriana knew exactly what the picture was referring to.
Selling a picture is a rewarding experience and one always hopes that the buyer will enjoy it for many years to come. One is of course always happy and grateful for their support and custom, and it’s a great feeling knowing that you have made that connection with someone. Giving a picture, or indeed anything that you have created or made, invokes completely different feelings, particularly when it’s a complete surprise to the receiver. I get a real kick out of seeing their faces and feel tremendous gratitude from hearing their appreciation and thanks. I always hope that every time they see it, the picture reminds them not just of me, but of that moment and the friendship that we share. These kinds of gifts are often wholly unique and the investment in time, energy and care in their making says a lot about how much your care about someone and what their friendship means to you. It’s a wonderful thing.
So the search has been on to find how to start thinking about stories behind the images and how best to communicate them. In a way a potential solution was staring me in the face, though I’d failed to recognise it. A very strong instance of not being able to see the wood for the trees. The “tipping point” was completing the cut down dragster drawing featured in The Line Is Drawn post. By cropping the image I had essentially put a box around it, the story in the image was contained mainly within this box, though it broke out to imply the story being much bigger than this constraint. The issue with previous drawings had been the open nature of the final image, with nothing to hold the image it was left to sit adrift in a space that then just flowed out to the edge of the paper. Sometimes paintings and drawings only start to make sense once we have framed them for hanging, and it was this sentiment that I was trying to capture. Rather than rely purely on the edge of the paper to provide the boundary of the contextual space, I realised that what may best serve these kinds of drawings is to create this boundary myself. Create distinct frames like they do for comic books and graphic novels.
It was a kind of “aha” moment. Had I found a mechanism for completing the images and communicating the “story” better? It seemed such an obvious realisation but then what is directly in front of you can be the hardest thing to see sometimes.It is nothing new, a technique that has a long history running through the comic universe to storyboards and beyond but, such a simple approach could really compliment the images as they are essentially cartoons in themselves and might benefit hugely from such a solution.
Conveniently there was a drawing here which I have struggled with completing for quite some time. It’s another in the dragster series and is sitting in the middle of a big bit of A2 paper, you may remember it from a post back in August. I got so far with it, then kind of stopped, the more I worked on it, the more the life seemed to drain out of it. The context I’d created in my imagination just wasn’t working so it got put to one side, to await a flash of inspiration and energy. It seemed a perfect candidate for experimenting with the “crop and box” approach. Interestingly, what happened was that it made me think much harder about what’s inside the boundary I’ve drawn. As a consequence the story has changed and with it a new context is starting to emerge in the background. The drawing has a new life, one that I’m more than happy with so far and looking forward to finishing.
So as a first stab it’s kind of working, an image I was perhaps bored with has regained my interest, and that’s such an important part of this exercise. They key now is to explore how this development pans out across future images. Certainly I don’t want it to become an exercise in cutting and pasting formats and such across a host of work, each piece must remain unique in its own way. What’s good is the fact that the idea is so simple and basic that it is ripe for all manner of playing with, and that flexibility is exciting.
In the previous post I alluded to my attempts to find new directions in which to take some, or all, of the drawings that pop out of the studio here. For a long time now there has been a persistent challenge in completing the ink drawings in particular, which has somehow not diminished or been overcome no matter the approach taken. It is that old thorny issue of context. Whether the inability to get this nailed is the result of never being formally trained in illustrative techniques, or some weird hangover from years drawing objects as a product designer I’m not sure. The more I think about it, the more I’m persuaded it’s a combination of things, some of which go right back to when we learn to draw in the first place and how we look at the world we are trying to capture.
The connection between ones minds eye and the imagination is a fascinating one and is undoubtedly different in all of us. How we imagine things, scenes, objects and the like also varies within us from moment to moment. When drawing from life one is saved from creating context because, in a way, it’s right there in front of us, and we are able to use some visual editing to eliminate that which we feel is surplus to our requirements. In imaginative drawing this is almost reversed, we must “fill in” first before editing down.
What’s this got to do with stories you might ask? Well, part of the success or failure of an imaginative image, I believe, lies in providing enough information to not only hold the eye of the viewer, but also to captivate their imagination in the hope that we allow them to extract as much as possible from the image. In a way we try to tell a story, or at least provide enough to start a story off, to allow the imagination to take us somewhere. Although a fairly simple sounding premise it has taken me some time to work this out in my own mind, which I’d much rather do than read it in some book or other. Because I’m a person who sees objects more than scenes in the minds eye, providing this context is always a struggle. Previous attempts have had mixed success. Shaded geometric shapes have helped to place the image on the page, but no more. Inserting scenes such as horizon lines inhabited with trees and buildings have helped too but run the risk of pulling the central image back towards reality and becoming repetitive. What I wanted to find was a format that would give more flexibility whilst being very much in tune with the language of the images.
The little drawing above might give you a fairly clear idea as to where this is going.