Confronting your creative comfort zone, one step at a time.

Paint and ink detail be Kon Tremnlett for Soulcraftcandy.

Welcome to the first post of the new year, a year supposedly fully fueled with fresh resolve to go beyond merely just carrying on. Actually, to be honest, I made no new resolutions regarding the blog, and this may end up being a good thing as it will keep the devil of disappointment from the door for a while. Y’see, it’s not even the end of January and the thieves of time have already raided the creative cupboard and made off with more than they usually swipe. The important thing at times like this is not to stop altogether, to keep chipping away, even if it is only a small bit at a time. This is how it goes sometimes and part time work can often morph into something with a greedy appetite for your precious time. I liken it to when we used to listen to the radio on sets that possessed a manual tuning dial. Often the signal would fade or go crackly, and in order to hear the music again you had to lean over and move the tuning control ever so slightly. Clarity would return. So currently the dial of life needs some subtle turning to get back to a more balanced feeling.


But creative work never stops and thankfully the drawing projects are still on going, just a bit more slowly than usual. The image above is a detail of what’s on the drawing board right now. Essentially it’s a larger colour version of a drawing I did over a year ago as part of the original cafe racer series in biro. I’ve been wanting to do a colour one for ages, so got the brushes out just before Christmas and have been chipping away ever since.


Like previous pictures this one is being done on Bristol Board using water colour washes and my trusty technical pens. Although progress is slow, I’m enjoying every minute of it and, taking my time has allowed me to make some considered changes to my plan and think a bit more deeply about what I’m doing.


This is all good stuff, but it’s also causing me to realise that I should perhaps be trying to do more with the paint. I’ll try and explain what I mean. At the core of it would be a feeling that I am not a natural painter, someone who’s automatically at home with the medium. For me, and this probably harks back to formative years, the application of paint to an image has always been a colouring in exercise, following some kind of predetermined outline to render a colour picture. It has never really ever been used as an expressive tool in its own right. As a result I’ve established this kind of comfort zone in which my painting exists and is quite cosy for me. So there’s a challenge in the near future to see if I can get out of that comfort zone and see if I can make more of what’s out there. People endlessly talk about thinking outside of the box these days, well this is a challenge of DOING outside of the box.Painting, whether it be in oils, acrylics or water colour is a combination of many skills and techniques and yes, it is daunting to think that one is only in possession of a small amount of skill and a couple of techniques but, it is also exciting to know that there is a world of image making still out there waiting to be tried. My professional life does not allow me the luxury of experimentation so, somehow expectedly, I’ll need to break some habits too if I’m going to improve my skills. Rather like the picture from the last post, you never know what’ll happen until you try, so flinging some paint around could reveal some interesting things. The key will be to learn, as much as create and make. Here’s to an experimental and rewarding 2014.  I’ll keep you posted.


Another stunt.


It’s good to have some kind of working titles for sketches and drawings if for no other reason to enable you to find stuff as you file it all away in some hard drive somewhere having scanned it. My trick cycling cafe racers are now the Cafe Stunts series, no point being too elaborate about it.


This is the second one, which goes by the name of “FlyBy 1”, which means there’s a second one on its way. I’m doing these at a small scale, the colour block on this one is only 200mm, or 8 inches, across on a sheet of A4 Bristol Board. It’s quite a challenge to keep the detail level where you want it, and in order to make life a bit easier for myself I’m applying washes and subsequent inking at various stages so I can keep track of all the fiddly bits. This builds the image in stages. I wanted backgrounds that didn’t contain any detail so they act as a real counterpoint to the detail of the drawing and help lift it off the page. Big areas are tricky to fill evenly on this paper, but for me the resulting patchiness of the colour helps to reinforce the hand made nature of the images. Some of the liquid colours I’ve got here work well in this mode and others really don’t, so most of the backgrounds are at the red/brown part of the spectrum. They seem to work well with the chrome elements too. I hope you like it.


Challenge yourself, try something new.


An intrinsic part of the creative life is to challenge things. To challenge existing norms, preconceived notions, behaviours and expectations, as well as a whole host of other aspects of our existence. One of the most rewarding is when we challenge ourselves. Sometimes it is not important wether we succeed in this endeavour, but more so that we engage in the process as a learning experience. Developing new skills and learning new approaches is a key goal behind moving forward.


Last year was the year of the biro pen and I pushed myself as far as I could in finding and developing a technique that allowed me to express myself fully with that particular medium. I pretty much reached my limit and some of the resultant drawings, particularly the Cafe Racer series, were very rewarding to complete. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to turn my back on all that work and take off in a new direction. Investing so much time and effort would be wasted if that were the case, and anyway doing these things is like playing a musical instrument, you have to keep your hand in shape through practice, so more will undoubtedly follow.


What is driving a fresh desire to push some other personal artistic boundaries this year showed its hand a bit towards the end of last year with the advent of more colour images. Again it was kind of pleasing to do them that way, essentially refining the biro pen technique and applying watercolour, but I couldn’t escape the fact that they were taking an enormous amount of time to complete. This year I want colour to play a larger part, but I also want to be more productive in the time available, to see more of the many ideas generated become finished pictures rather than footnotes in a pile of loose paper.


So the first approach is to work smaller and work faster, still incorporating many of the things like boxing and cropping explored last year, and to develop a punchy technique which works well with these new format images.


The Dirt Rider above is my first attempt. It is smaller, about 19cm across. I’ll be posting some more very soon and will tell you how I’m making them then. I sincerely hope you enjoy this one and those that are to come.


Go easy with that colour.

CB based CR, first sketch.

The water colour paints that I have been experimenting with in my recent forays into the world of colour fall into three easily discernible groups. First there are those which come in small block form in a handy painting box. These are what you might call “classic” watercolours and although offering apparently quite vibrant yellows and reds, they are generally rather earthy in nature. The box I have here contains eighteen blocks, quite enough for most things. The second group are in liquid form, like toothpaste, and come in small tubes. My small collection of these covers some Payne’s Greys and some tinting greys of various hues. The third group are those Radiant Liquid Water Colours that look more like inks and come in small bottles with a pipette in the top.


The first and second groups are reasonably easy to get along with although there are moments when certain paints do weird things when applied to certain papers. I’m yet to get to the bottom of that one. The third group, those radiant fellows, are where all the danger lies and one must approach them with some caution. Through their vibrancy they tempt you to get a bit over excited with their application. One finds oneself forever walking a fine line between creating an image with a lovely glow to it, and utterly overdoing it, ending up with a riot of colour that could almost make your eyes bleed.


The “sketch” above, to me anyway, is one such moment when I stepped over that line. Thinking I’d go for a simple vegetative backdrop I piled on the colour like there was no tomorrow. Once I’d started I found I couldn’t stop myself. What was meant to be a rather subdued background ended up being furnished with nuclear powered bushes. The scan almost doesn’t do them justice and I had to go and do something else for a while rather than attempt a sky. It remains without said sky, the white mimicking the grey overcast look of a typical english day. It is stuck to the studio wall now, where it serves as a reminder to take it easy.


I do like the way the bike turned out though, which is what the sketch was all about in the first place. I traced this drawing off on the light box a couple of times so that I could monitor more what I was doing through working on the same picture a number of times. Version 2 will feature in the next post.


Finally, if you are reading this Larry, you can see that I’m using the pictures of your bike to inspire some images. The Honda CB750 is a handsome beast and serves as a great starting point for some future images. There is still work to be done but the process has started and you will be able to follow my progress here on the blog.


Play with your paints.

To those of you visiting the blog it looks like nothing has been going on for some time. In some ways this is true and, in others, nothing could be further from the truth. We are all, at some stage or another victims of things that are beyond our control. Sometimes they are things which require our immediate attention, are complex problems that need solving, or often purely connected to the mundanity of modern life. In this case it has been the latter, the need to go out and earn a meagre living. This unhelpful chunk of freelance work, because I’d rather spend my time at home drawing, has been a bit of a distraction, one of those monsters with lots of problem solving thrown in to leave you drained at the end of every day.

Creative image making has not ground to a halt though, it has merely slowed a bit and this is mainly due to me getting my water colour paints out and having a play. Keeping any colour work and the monochrome stuff going concurrently is quite a challenge as they require you to switch between knowledge centres in your brain all the time and I find that quite tiring. But the colour experiments have been fun so far and I’ll get the results of this fiddling up here as soon as possible.

In the meantime enjoy the latest of my “bikeheads”. These are always quite small and so serve as a great way to warm up or practise a particular technique. Returning to the brushes even after a couple of days exposes some rustiness unless one is a consummate expert, and I am certainly not, so it’s a good way to get back into the swing of things. What is interesting about playing with the paints and inks is that the outcome is still often a surprise, invariably unexpected, both good and bad. The good ones prompt you to commit that small action to memory, putting it in the “do that next time” folder. The bad ones go in the “don’t do that” folder and usually make your eyes bleed. I’ve got one of those to show you next time.


In the pipeline.

As mentioned previously there is a small queue of stuff which is patiently waiting to get onto the blog. It all needs scanning and fiddling with slightly to get it into the right shape to do that. This process seems to take more time than it rightfully should but, then again it’s worth making the effort to get them all looking as good as possible, even the sketches. So here are the first couple of recipients of a bit of tinkering.

This first one, above, is a half done colour version of a biro ink drawing which was originally posted back in October. That was quite a popular post, so encouraged by that and another watercolour picture which featured in September, it seemed like a good idea to see what this one would look like if given the same treatment. The base image is a scan of the original pencil sketch printed out onto a piece of plain fine grain watercolour paper. I paint straight onto this without bothering to stretch the paper or anything fancy. Filling out the detailed areas of the drawing first, the bike is then followed by the rider and finally the background. As this one is somewhat of an experiment, a black rapidograph pen (a Rotring 0,35 remember those?) was used to emphasise some of the outline stuff at this stage to see how it would look. Most of the above is done in a combination of greys. Oddly the solid block Payne’s grey in the paintbox, and the liquid Payne’s grey that comes in a tube are completely different colours, but this provides a nice choice between one which is quite blue in hue and one which is much blacker in character. I avoid using pure black as much as possible, which goes way back to being “informed” by an old tutor once that nothing in daylight is actually ever really black. Hoping to complete this very soon.

This second image is a detail of a drawing which is taking shape on the A2 Cartridge pad which spends most of its life leaning against that wall here in the micro-studio. Having talked about scribble sketching in a post before Christmas it seemed like a good idea to see if that technique could be explored a bit more and the jump up in size from A3 to A2 felt like the right thing to do. In all honesty there is a little bit of cheating going on here, there’s a very rough pencil layout underneath all the ink. Essentially though this is drawn pretty much off the cuff using my previous small sketch as a rough guide. This slightly rougher paper lends itself well to leaning the biro over almost to the point where it won’t make a mark, and scribbling away. There are some bits still to do to finish it off. Apologies if the image is a little dark around the edges but it’s too big to fit under the scanner so out came the camera. Really looking forward to finishing this one and then I can put both finished images in the gallery.