Supporting a good cause.

113_CycleBerlin©JonTremlett2016

This blog of mine started out as something that happened in the background as I pursued my life as a freelance designer and maker, providing a motivator for my interest in developing my drawing and other creative outlets. Over time it has started to include, every now and then, things that happen in my professional life as well. Being a freelancer, though an often precarious existence, allows you to branch out from your core skills when the urge takes you. As a result I have been able to undertake some graphic and illustrative work which is interesting, challenging and different. Some of it is paid work, which helps to balance the books, and at other times it is not. The great thing is that the choice to undertake unpaid work is mine and mine alone, and so what often precedes this is the question of whether or not the subject interests me.

In this case it did. The image above is a small water colour and ink drawing that I have recently finished. My niece Rose, who is currently resident in Berlin, is involved in a campaign to promote the many benefits of cycling in the city. As part of their strategy to increase awareness of these benefits they are exploring ways to communicate the freedom that cycling gives both the city’s inhabitants and visitors alike. Hence she asked me if I could come up with an image that did this that they could use on promotional materials that they could sell, helping to raise funds for the campaign. It was a very open brief and one I felt I could find an answer to.

Needless to say there was a good deal of head scratching and sketching, and at one point I began to doubt my ability to find something to work through. And then out popped this idea, centred around the idea of cycling being a means of spreading freedom, joy and good health. The heart shaped balloon (symbolic of love, joy and good health) flying over the city, powered in a highly sustainable way by a cyclist, hints at the freedom that cycling gives you to go pretty much anywhere whilst benefitting yourself and the city at the same time. The inclusion of the iconic television tower as a recognisable Berlin landmark contextualises the scene and helps to bring a lighter more comedic flavour to the sense of freedom that the picture hints at. Rose peppered her request with words such as quirky, whacky and unusual, and I tried to bring these to life in the “mad inventor” character and his extraordinary machine, drifting high above the city much to the astonishment of local bird life and observers in the tv tower.

The final image was first traced in pencil onto some heavy water colour paper on the light box and then stretched onto a board. I’ve discovered that stretching the paper after you’ve placed a drawing onto it doesn’t seem to distort it in any way, and can save you hours of painstaking redrawing from your original sketches. With some photographs of the tower and views of the city it was then simply a case of laying the greys and colours on in light tints to slowly build up the the tones that I needed to achieve. This takes a while, but enables you to bring the image up to where you want it without overdoing things. Painting the cityscape was the hardest part, forcing oneself to be abstract is a good deal harder than I realised. When all the colour was down and the image dry, it was then a case of outlining with technical pens to bring some definition to bear.

I’m told that it has been very enthusiastically received, though I am yet to see what they will do with it. I really hope it brings some further recognition to their campaign and puts a smile on a lot of faces. It was certainly worth doing and I’m very happy with the result. I hope you like it too.

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T-shirts, prints and shop fronts, it’s all go.

Bonnie_girl_design©JonTremlett2016

At the time of the last post I’d just sent the second batch of t-shirt ideas over to my contact to see if he would go for any of them. I didn’t have to wait too long this time for a reply, he picked the one shown here. It would be tempting to be a little disappointed with this result after all the work that’s been done, but this is outweighed by the knowledge that I learned a great deal during the process, and have actually ended up with some images that I really like and can do something with in the future.
So, one of the things that I’m going to do is create some hand made prints. This is something that I have wanted to do for a long time. With all these fresh images to now play with it seemed like as good a time as any to have a go. The way the designs have worked out, in very obvious black and white format, they will hopefully lend themselves very easily to a basic printing process.

Lino_cut_1©JT2016

To be honest with you I haven’t done anything like this for a very long time. Wondering which printing process to try led to lots of questions, the answers to which became self evident quite quickly. There are lots of different approaches to take ranging from the utterly basic to highly involved, simple block printing through to complex etching processes. I plumbed for the simple and settled on having a go with lino cut printing. The last time I dabbled with this process was back at school many years ago, so any learning that I had gained back then was gone and forgotten. Again, another opportunity to learn something new. The shot here shows my starting point. On the left is the design I wanted to transfer onto the lino sheet ready for cutting, on the right is it drawn out onto said lino. I have reversed the image, so that it will print the right way around and started to make some tentative cuts into the surface to create the relief to take the ink. This is as far as I’ve got for now and I’ll update the next steps in a subsequent post.

Bill_B's_New_shop_front2016

The final image here is something else entirely. Regular visitors to the blog may remember that back last summer I designed some t-shirts for my local bike shop, Bill Bunn Motorcycles, here in Ealing. It’s great to report that they’ve been selling well and the guys there wear their shirts religiously when working in the shop. I visited there a couple of weeks back only to find that they have undertaken the next steps in their shop refresh and gone and had new front signage made based around the shirt design. I had to take some pictures. They tell me the box signs are back lit, so at night it’s all illuminated which I’m looking forward to seeing sometime soon. I’m immensely chuffed that they have considered the design good enough to take it to this end. A big thanks to them for boosting my confidence and paying my work such a compliment.

Putting your learning into practise.

Girl_T_Comp©JonTremlett2016

As you will have read in the previous post, I have been expending a lot of energy recently learning how to draw women as part of a project to try and produce some designs for t-shirts for women. It has not been as easy as it sounds, and to be honest with you I’m still not sure that I have cracked it, though I feel I’m certainly making progress.

The journey from the collection of sketches to some finished proposals has been a long one involving lots more sketching and redrawing in an effort to get some kind of unifying style working across the various ideas. This process is invariably made all the more challenging by the considerations and resulting constraints that come from thinking clearly through the whole process of how these shirts are made and printed. The quality of the final printed image is reflected in, and can be traced right back to, the quality of the picture you create in the first place. The shirts made from any of the selected images will be screen printed which means I need to aim for crisp line work and clearly defined details.

In the absence of a more detailed brief I decided that I would go forward with a combination of ideas. Firstly I picked two rather obvious ideas based firmly on a girl riding a bike, and then chose a couple of others based around a more emblematic approach. Each one was worked up as an inked drawing to start with, and done as neatly as I could manage. The girls on the bikes were reasonably straight forward to do in a general sense though I was really conscious of introducing something to try and bring some increased movement to the images. I’m not a fan of using speed lines and blurring to do this, my drawing style doesn’t work that well with them, so elected to simply try and show movement by trying to mimic hair blowing in the wind. The second two choices came from trying to approach them more like logos than pictures and incorporating some recognisable cues from the cafe racer scene like chequer pattern and jacket decoration.

Girl_T_Comp2©JonTremlett2016

Drawing these things is time consuming enough, but tidying up the high resolution scans can be even more so. Again, it’s back to the quality of the image you start with. Screen printers will invariably ask for vector based artworks and so each drawing needs converting from a scanned bitmap image to vectors in a program such as Adobe Illustrator. The software handles this with ease, but you have to ensure that your starting image is as clean, crisp and high contrast as possible. The vectorising process essentially traces your drawing creating paths and fills as it goes. By adjusting various controls in a dialogue box you are able to influence the fidelity with which the software does this task. The cleaner your starting point, the fewer options the process has for including or excluding small elements of the drawing and details. Once the drawings are vectorised though, you can easily include them in more complicated designs in Illustrator, edit them further, or simply use the resultant artwork as it is. If I was more proficient in Illustrator to begin with I might be able to draw these things directly in the program, but sadly my skills aren’t there yet. At least using this approach I end up with both a good quality digital artwork and a nice ink drawing for the portfolio as well. Because the digital images are now editable, one can make limited changes to them if need be, without the need of doing a whole new drawing.

112_T-shirt_comp1©JonTremlett2016

Finally I thought it would be fun to show the ideas as shirts rather than just images on their own. Plundering an image search for white T’s being worn, it was simply a case of pasting the designs into place to lend a degree of realism to the whole thing. I then sent these to my client/contact and began the waiting process. Let’s see what he comes back with.

Can you draw women?

Bike_girl_comp©JT2016

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.

BGsketch_comp©JT2016

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.

A good pen is an expensive tool, look after it.

The finished workshop polo shirt.

The finished workshop polo shirt.

So here is the shirt design for Bill Bunn Motorcycles, my local bike shop, in its finished form. The guys very kindly gave me a polo shirt in way of payment, which makes one feel very good about the idea of bartering. The quality of the screen printing is really good and the level of line and detail they have managed to keep is very high. A great result.

This black and white block reductive drawing is becoming strangely addictive. Partly I think it has to do with the process being quite quick, you see results quite fast but, it also has much to do with the simple pleasure of pen use and the decision making process. Areas of the drawing are either black or white and that’s it, this way or that, simple. As more drawings take shape it becomes easier to decide which way to go, ones ability to “see” what gets left out becomes clearer. It is amazing how the eye and brain are able to build a complete image from only a rather basic framework of information.

Big_Ink_CB750©JonTremlett2015

This activity is also helping me to complete some drawings which have been lying dormant in the drawing chest because I couldn’t decide on how to finish them. This indecision invariably comes from a lack of confidence and a worry about messing something up having invested a great deal of time and effort into it. For some reason this temerity seems to disappear once I start thinking of completing them in this style. One example is the drawing above. It must have sat in the drawer for about a year while I dithered over the final execution. However, armed with a couple of freshly filled Rotring pens it all came together rather quickly. there is still some background to complete to bring it on a bit further but essentially a neglected work has taken on new life.

Techy pens1

One aspect of working in this way is that I’ve realised that I actually have a rather unhealthy pen fetish! I’m actually a bit of a technical pen nerd in reality. It is a necessary part of using these things that one has to be rather fastidious about their cleanliness in order to get the best out of them, and I find myself enjoying this often messy job. There’s something terribly satisfying about making the first lines after a thorough clean and refill of my most oft used pen. What strikes me as a bit excessive is why I have to have so many of the things? At least a dozen at the last count, though not all are in working order. Long neglected at the bottom of a drawer, one or two are utterly dried up and solid with ink residue, a rock hard shellac like substance that seems to be impervious to most solvents. Prolonged soaking in cleaning fluid, often weeks, helps to release things but often the smaller sized nibs are beyond help. I have no idea why I have so many, like many bits of drawing equipment we just seem to accumulate them unwittingly over time. I remember purchasing my original Rotring box set over 30 years ago, second hand from a market stall but where the others have come from is anyones guess. Likely bought because I’d forgotten I had that size already or they were so bunged up I just went and got a new one rather than bother cleaning them out. Profligate and lazy days to be sure. One thing being a freelancer teaches you though, is looking after your stuff so hopefully m nibs can look forward to a more pampered and productive life from here on.

Dot shading and the tale of two fingers.

Two Fingers, an ink artwork by Jon Tremlett for Soulcraftcandy 2015

We’ve all done this at some point surely?

It has often crossed my mind that there is something mildly masochistic about certain aspects of pursuing a creative life. Obviously there are all of the usual traits that we exhibit like the vocational tug toward a certain specialism, the need to express ourselves, a slavish attention to detail and a preparedness to burn the midnight oil to meet a deadline but, there is also this uncontrollable little monster that drags you back toward things which make you uncomfortable and disinclined to take an idea forward. I’ve come across lots of these over the years and generally, once one succumbs to the temptation (can’t think of a better way to put it) you find you’re off on another journey that prior to that moment you said you’d never take again. And oddly, you’re quite enjoying the trip. These are perhaps slightly too strong words to describe it but I think it’s true nonetheless. The little monster that is the subject of todays post is dot shading.

I’ve written about the challenges of using this technique before, it is incredibly time consuming and can sap your will power if you let it, and have even gone as far as saying I wouldn’t use it again. But you see, and this is where the masochism comes into play, for some reason I just can’t resist it. It is an utter monster of a technique but, and this is where it really gets you, it just gives great looking results, pure and simple. Never say never again, I don’t think so. There a change in attitude in the air today which suggests I’ll happily be engaging with this technique a lot more from now on. It’s got me hooked, the evil thing.

Now I’ve got that off my chest here’s a bit about the picture above. I was really happy by the look and feel of the “Catch me if you can” picture, the shape and composition, the background idea and the naughty hand gesture. Wanting to do another similar piece got me thinking and I realised it was the hand gesture that was holding my attention. It’s irreverent, slightly rebellious and hints to so many aspects of our lives on two wheels. It evokes great memories of shared teenage rebelliousness, our desire not to be dictated to by The Man and a general “Piss off” to the establishment. We’ve all done it at some point in time whether in jest or otherwise. Plenty of reasons in my mind for it to feature in some other pictures. You’ll notice I’m also still playing with the idea of the detailed street scene background. For me it’s a great way to get a bit of humour into the pictures and place the central character in a relatable context. Here’s a detail panel so you can see what’s going on in that section.

Detail of artwork by Jon Tremlett for Soulcraftcandy 2015

For those of you who are not familiar with it, the “V” sign is an almost uniquely English thing, though it is apparently shared across some of the Commonwealth nations like Australia and New Zealand. Essentially it means “f*** off”, and should not be confused with the contemporary peace sign or the victory salute loved by a certain Mr. Winston Churchill, where in both cases the back or the hand faces the giver rather than the receiver. With the back of the hand facing forwards, this becomes a potent symbol of abuse. No One really knows where it first came from, but the most popular myth is that it was used by English long bowmen during the 100 years war with the French, a lengthy conflict spanning the 14th and 15 centuries. It was said that captured archers had their bow string fingers cut off by the enemy, so on the battlefield the English archers would wave their fingers at the French to taunt them and show that they still had them intact. It’s a great story but, as I said, no one knows if it’s true.

Don't confuse the two.

Don’t confuse the two.

Thanks for dropping by today and I hope you enjoyed the post.

The big Green Meanie – it’s finished.

A personal commission by Jon Tremlett for Soulcraftcandy.

For once, having said in the previous post that I was close to finishing a picture, I have done exactly that, and faster than I thought I would too. So here is the finished article. The pictures are the wrong way around today, finished one first, purely because it’s great to open a post with a completed picture. I’m pretty happy with how it has come out.

You will notice that I have left the top of the picture plain white rather than include the very dark area at the top of the reference photo. What drove my decision in the end was the thought that I wanted the main subject to really stand out, surrounding it in big dark bits would have dulled it off too much. So there’s just a hint of ochre wash back there to lift it further.

A personal commission by Jon Tremlett.

This view, and apologies for my iPad’s inability to take a decent photo in my studio, shows things at about the half way stage. With such dark areas in the image it was a bit of a juggler getting the various tones down in an order where they didn’t conflict too greatly. What helped was mixing two different kinds of grey, one for the riders leathers and the other for the bike area shadows, so I could maintain a distinction between them. The shadow areas go down in a couple of passes with the brush, but the leathers took rather longer, slowly building the tone with much thinner washes. The really tricky bit, doing the helmet and face, came last and again was a slow build. I’m not afraid to admit I find faces and flesh tones quite difficult so going slowly with a small brush gives me the best chance of getting it right. Finally, once all the above is dry, my attention switches to the ground area and their associated shadows, making sure I don’t include too much detail so as to keep your eye focused on the big green thing in the middle.

There is always a process of final fiddling and fettling at the end of the main paint stage. Each time your eye returns to the image after a short break you pick up on little things which just need a small tweak so out comes the tiny brush for some edge honing, some white gouache to bump some highlights up and a colour pencil or two. Some things you can’t adjust so there’s only so much you can do, your biggest challenge is knowing when to stop. This one turned out to be more of a painting than a drawing, something I don’t do that often, but I don’t think it loses anything because of that. Yes, it was a challenge but, it was a fun one to undertake which is just as important.

Thanks for dropping by today and hopefully you’ve enjoyed the post.