Beer fuelled silliness.

Spoof magazine cover by Jon Tremlett for soulcraftcandy ©2013

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.

 

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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.

Are you ever unhappy with your work? Perhaps this is why.

Red_Jacket_Racer_by_JonTremlett2013

What do you do whilst thinking about how to finish a picture? This question is usually answered by going and doing something else for a period of time while the imagination, now freed from staring at the problem, finds a solution in its own time. In this instance though, the answer was to promptly do another picture. It’s smaller and was done a bit more quickly. When I’d finished it I was quite happy with it, the red jacket experiment worked well. The following day however, with fresh eyes. I didn’t like it at all. Something wasn’t right, and while I wondered what was suddenly wrong with it, I got to thinking about what it was inside me that would not allow the picture to enjoy any approval. This episode brought to mind a quote from a recent book about creativity by Seth Godin, “The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly”, which was shown to me by my partner a couple of weeks back. To me this quote goes some way to explain why we self appraise our work, not just that we do, and illustrates the relationship between the two agents of this internal process, ambition and taste. here it goes:

 

 On Good Taste.

 

Ira Glass understands how you feel.

 

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get passed this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have…… And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work, …… It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions”.

 

What I also found interesting about the above was that it explained to me something that has bugged me for ages. Have you ever allowed a friend or family member to see a piece of work? Has that viewing resulted in a spout of gushing praise that made you feel uneasy? After graciously accepting the praise, have you then struggled to explain why to you, in spite of their protestations, the piece is not very good at all and you should do better? I’m sure it’s not just me. The introduction of the ideas of taste and ambition really help to frame the argument you want to make, your only real challenge is to find the right words to use. Let’s face it, people get very upset if you tell them you’ve got better taste than they have! It’s surely about the education of that taste, and we are all responsible for our own in that regard. I must read this book.

 

Here’s to closing the gap.

 

Take your imagination for a walk.

83_Wheelie_2

There aren’t many drawings here in my collection that are based fairly and squarely on actual, real machines. The bike in the picture today is probably as close as I’ve got in some time to depicting an actual bike. On the one hand this is down to the fact that I find “copying” from reference material a rather dull activity, and on the other it has a lot to do with keeping my imagination fed, watered and happy. Those of us who enjoy documenting the wonderful world around us through image making most likely occupy an area similar to that found between the two intersecting circles of a Venn diagram, where the real and imaginary overlap, and each image is a result of varying percentage combinations of the contents of those two circles. For me the ratio feels very much tipped in favour of imagination but, sometimes I wonder whether this is actually the case. What is my imagination up to during the process of making an image such as this one above? Is it actually creating anything or is it busy bending a set of reality based frameworks, and blending those with a healthy dose of embedded knowledge to create something which my  eye is happy with? I’m not sure, but it’s an interesting question all the same.

 

Generally speaking, an active imagination is a happy one, and though we all know that this isn’t always the case, learning to feed it with good stuff is an important life lesson. The pleasure though, in this activity, is that it seemingly has no problem propelling itself along at a fair old clip when it’s found something to get its teeth into, and for me this is where reality plays it’s biggest role, in influencing the choices my imagination makes and providing the fuel for the journey. This is one of the key reasons why these pictures come out the way they do. My imagination needs not only to bear creative fruit but also has to have something to distort, to have fun with in order to function properly. It’s a strong urge and one I’m almost powerless to resist, so most of the time I don’t try to. But there is some control involved somewhere as it doesn’t just run wild all the time. Perhaps it is like a kind of dog, look after it, feed it properly and give it regular exercise and it stays a loyal and rewarding companion.

 

Cafe Racer 3, finally.

Finally, finally, finally the wind has been in the right direction and the third of the Cafe Racer series is now done. Boy, did this one suffer an awkward and time consuming birth! After all of the misgivings expressed in the previous post about teetering along the line between reality and caricature, it took a bit of effort to apply the finishing touches. There was no way that I was going to be able to drag it back towards cartoon humour, so the best thing to do was just focus on what would suit the central image and concentrate on that. Needless to say, I think it’s turned out not too badly considering the hand wringing of the last few days.

 

When the central characters and bikes are stationary in a drawing it’s interesting to note that my mind’s eye considers and composes completely different approaches to the contextual background, or what goes in to help place the image on the page. This is almost a subconscious act. When things are in motion, my imagination automatically starts thinking very graphically, with lines and blocks as a way of emphasising that motion. When things are stationary quite the opposite occurs, with visions of horizons and landscapes being the main focus. Not a bad situation to be in, a fertile imagination is a great thing but, it does lead to quite different feeling final outcomes. Somewhere along the line it would probably be worth trying to swap these two traits around to see what comes out but, for the purposes of not wanting to create too many distractions before this series is finished I’ll leave that for now.

 

Look out for Cafe Racer No.4, coming very soon.

 

Drawing from imagination – embedded knowledge.

A while ago a friend commented that my bike drawings looked like they had been done by someone who knew about bikes and that this was a good thing, it lent the images a believability which in some way rescued them from being merely the fantastical noodlings of a deranged mind. This got me thinking. What was it that enabled this believability given that all of the images are created without using specific photographic references or direct observation from life?

I have a very good book by Ron Tiner called “Figure drawing without a model”, get it here, which covers the subject of creative drawing from the imagination and, whilst reading the introduction my attention was drawn (excuse the pun) to a particular passage in which he references this point. In a nutshell he poses the argument that every one of us has a degree of embedded knowledge about the world around us and that the essence of drawing from the imagination is about developing various tools which allow us to access this knowledge and use it in image making. Although the book deals specifically with drawing the human figure there are many parallels to be found in rendering other subjects. What I find interesting about all this is this notion of embedded knowledge, how we acquire it, access it and use it in creative expression through drawing.

It’s probably worth considering this idea of embedded knowledge a bit more, what is it exactly? Our memories and imaginations are a huge combined resource that we carry with us at all times. Our minds are filled with stored references to the world around us, some are stored as images, others as direct tactile experiences. Some as emotional responses and others as smells and sounds. Our minds catalogue them and store them away for us to refer to later on through any number of triggers. If we consider the human form as an example, it is something we are all deeply familiar with and very knowledgable about. We have absorbed this knowledge since birth but, if we’re asked to draw a man running for example, we find it hard, we are unable to bring to the fore the precise information required to visualise this action in a believable way. This is because our mind has stored the act of running as exactly that, an action, not a picture of running. This makes drawing a running man difficult although we inherently “know” all there is to know about running already. This is, in it’s simplest form, embedded knowledge, and our challenge as we seek creative expression is teaching our minds to access it, our imaginations to use it, and finding ways to generate more of it.

The book goes on to explore lots of creative tools and practices which will aid the reader in the development of imaginative drawing techniques, but my own thoughts stayed very much with this first chapter. I wanted to consider further this idea and how it influences my own output.

Following the premise that Ron Tiner makes, that through observing and practicing the drawing of the human figure we learn it’s many characteristics, I arrived at the notion that this activity ultimately creates familiarity. We learn so much about, and become so familiar with the human figure that we can, in the end, visualise it in any situation we chose. It is this familiarity that struck a chord. If this is the case then there surely must be other ways to attain it as often we don’t have the luxury of endless visual practice?

So, here’s my theory about how we gain this familiarity. It seems to me that it comes from three main activities: learning, absorption and creation.

In learning we do what Ron suggests in his book, that we accrue knowledge through repeated action. By observing and drawing we learn the way things are and create the foundations for how things could be.

The absorption part breeds familiarity through purely being around something for a long time and physically interacting with it. For example, I have never really sat down and drawn a bike engine in any detail from observation, not even from a photograph. But having spent a good deal of my time around them, fixing them, cleaning them etc I have gained a familiarity which allows me to draw them with a degree of confidence if not precise detail.

Finally there is the creation element, and I hope this makes sense as I arrived at it from considering my time spent as a product designer. In this instance creating new design ideas or concepts requires the use of both imagination and pre-embedded knowledge from the outset. One informs the other to create new, never seen before, ideas. The process of developing a design fully often requires the visualisation and re-visualisation of every aspect of the object, its every facet and detail, even though it has never existed in reality. This generates in the mind of the designer a familiarity with the object which is both intimate and detailed and subsequently, enables them to visualise it without reference.

Although these three directions may appear distinct, there is always some overlap to be found. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if everyone uses a combination of at least two most of the time.They all lead to the same point. The final interesting thing about this familiarity, born of all of these activities, is that it itself becomes embedded knowledge and is there for us to access in future. So one could propose that by learning to access embedded knowledge, it leads us to being able to create more of it. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why our drawings get better as we do more of them?

A final thought for today is this. When someone says, “you have such a vivid imagination”, are they actually referring to your ability to dream up stuff, or the fact that you are purely able to access your embedded knowledge?