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.

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That’s more like it.

Pencil layout by Jon Tremlett 2014 for Soulcraftcandy

As I mentioned in the previous post, the composition of the first picture for Mr. C needed further work resulting in a bit of a redraw. It’s funny how it works sometimes. In your mind you’ve got this image that you think is what you want. Then you draw it out and it’s a million miles away from what you are actually after. So after staring at it for a good while you redraw, thinking that this is going to be a bit of a marathon, and “pop” out comes what you were looking for in the first place. This is not the first time this has happened, so I don’t waste any energy thinking every first rendition will be the right one.

So what you see above is the tightened version made from the blue pen sketch. I use my small home built light box for doing this. It’s essentially a tracing exercise where all of the details are positioned where I want them and I sort out the final angle projections for the wheels and stuff. The hardest bit is getting the position of the figure right, and this will often involve several bits of paper as I try and find the right one. For example, the lower leg and foot in this picture was particularly problematic, for some reason I just couldn’t “see” it. I have a Japanese made posable figure here which I use in situations like this, he’s a very useful piece of kit.

Police car by Jon Tremlett 2014

I also had to do a fair amount of work on the chasing police car down in the lower right hand corner. The one in the main picture here is a kind of modern version based on something they might use right now but, it doesn’t sit well with the overall feel I’m looking for. Something more retro was called for as I want to create a notional connection with the original age of the bad boy Cafe Racer. Searching the web, as you do, turned up some fabulous old pics of what we would call here in the UK, Jam Sandwiches and Panda cars. Just like all modern societies we seem to relish the opportunity to give anything to do with law enforcement a nickname. So the force, “Plod” would drive “jam sandwiches”, essentially white cars with a dirty great red stripe down the side. These superseded the “Panda” cars which were oddly light blue with white doors and very slow. I digress. The other picture here today is my final choice for the police car. An early “Jam Sandwich” of the Triumph 2000 variety, suitably festooned with period accessories including the big illuminated box on the roof (a massive air brake), crappy roof mounted spots and a great big siren mounted in the middle of the bonnet to aid engine cooling. It takes me back to my youth tearing about the neighbourhood on my old Yamaha avoiding these characters.

From here there follows another light box session to transfer this onto Bristol Board ready for the final step which is the biro inking stage, which oddly I’m looking forward to a great deal as I haven’t done one of these for some time. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes, and thanks for dropping by 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.

SC_Sketch_1©JonTremlett2014

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?

SC_Sketch_2©JonTremlett2014

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.

Starting the Shotgun commission.

Shotgun_sk_1©JonTremlett2014

A couple of posts ago I put up some colour photographs of a lovely red vintage drag bike called Shotgun. I’ve been asked by its owner, Nik Fisk, to create a picture of the bike for him. It’s taken a couple of weeks to get going but here is the first layout sketch done in preparation for the final picture. It’s done in black biro on heavy weight lining paper. When I was taking the photographs we discussed in some detail the view we wanted to achieve in the finished piece, something that hinted at the length of the bike, but also showed off the overall shape well and the fantastic old Triumph engine that sits at the heart of the beast. Having the right hand exhaust pipe nearly vertical we reckoned this would allow the curvature of the left pipe to be a feature and would also create a strong central element to the picture.

It would be far simpler, and probably much easier, to sketch directly over a printed photograph, or do it digitally using something like Corel Painter, but that would defeat the object of this exercise. In asking me to create a picture for him, Nik is looking for something created in a particular style, which we reckoned would be called something like “factual caricature”. This is not about creating a facsimile image, more about giving the image a degree of character which a photograph just can’t do. So with a picture up on the screen as reference I like to work freehand directly onto the paper, working out the relative positions and proportions of things as I go. It’s a rather organic process, one which not only makes you look carefully at the subject, but also embeds knowledge about that subject into your minds eye as you go. I find this part of the process invaluable and it enables me to make the slight scale and proportional changes which bring the caricature into the image. It allows me to do things like make the engine slightly bigger and bulk up the exhaust pipes to increase the sense of power of the unit for example. I always like to increase the fatness of tyres on bike pictures, in makes them look more planted in my view, but at the same time I need to make sure that the ellipses that outline the wheels are as correct as possible. This sketch shows a revised front wheel from the original sketch, done with some ellipse guides at a smaller size (my templates only go so big), rescanned and photoshopped into place. So when I’m freehanding the outline drawing for the final picture I’ve got some decent guidelines to work to.

The drawing is about 380mm from the back of the rear wheel to the tip of the front and sits very nicely on an A2 sheet, so a really good size which will allow lots of details to be shown. The next step is to check over this one, make some notes for adjustments and then use the light box to start the process of getting it onto the Bristol Board I’ll use for the final painting. This is going to be a lot of fun and I’ll be posting progress reports as things take shape.

All drawn out? Grab the bull by the horns.

The Bull, a sketch by jon tremlett for soulcraftcandy 2013

There is a phrase we hear often when faced with tackling a thorny problem and one that seemed very apposite for inclusion in this post.

 

“You just have to grab the bull by the horns”.

 

It’s not often I’m reluctant to pick up a pen or pencil and start scribbling but, this has very much been the case over the last few days. Returning home last week after a frantic three day stint of freelancing work, I can only describe my state as being “all drawn out”, bereft of any inclination to put pencil to paper. Why? Well, this particular bit of work involved creating about fifty separate drawings as part of a mammoth communication exercise at the early stage of a very large and complicated project. By the end of it I was done, the tanks would need refilling before another image left the end of my pen.

The Bull, original sketch by Jon Tremlett ©2012

The creative energy required for idea generation at times like this seems huge, but that doesn’t mean that there’s none there, just that less is available for a while. So this is a great time to reach for one of a number of pieces which are sitting comfortably in the “on-going” pile. Moving something along a bit, rather than needing to start afresh is, for me at least, a cunning way to grab the bull by the horns without expending too much effort, and get back into the swing of image creation after a bit of a lull. Making small adjustments and working up the level of detail are both important to the final outcome and are both things that one doesn’t need to rush, one can take ones time to think carefully about each change and work in a slower, more deliberate way. It is very satisfying.

The Bull t-shirt by Jon Tremlett ©2013

The main image at the top of todays post is such a work in progress and something I’ve been playing about with for quite some time. It started life as a very rough little sketch a couple of years ago and since then I’ve just tinkered with it. At first I thought it might make a good t-shirt design as in the version with the red gas tank, but never got far enough with it to confirm my suspicions. And then a few weeks ago I found it again and thought it might be better as a larger drawing in ink. What you see is the latest pencil layout for that big drawing. The t-shirt idea isn’t dead, but by finalising the details on the bigger drawing I’ll be in a much better position to undertake a reductive exercise to create a better shirt design. That’s the thinking anyway, and co-incidentally this picture has a working title of “The Bull”. S’funny how it worked out like that eh?

 

 

 

Havin’ it large.

Life size print of a cartoon by Jon Tremlett at soulcraftcandy.

The above phrase, regularly used and a feature of the colloquial landscape that is modern english, often refers to a bout of over indulgent and often excessive behaviour, invariably fueled by alcohol.

 

Despite there being little alcohol consumed at the time this idea was born, the phrase seems most apposite in describing the birth of the above creation. For quite a while now, the suggestion that the drawings should perhaps take on a larger scale has been hovering about in the back of my mind but, achieving this jump up in size presented lots of challenges that would need to be overcome. Aside from wondering where in the house one could create a big enough space to do it, the mechanics of transferring a basic layout onto large boards or sheets is something I’ve not yet figured out. I know that simply drawing straight onto large format sheets is tricky, ones perceptions of perspective and proportion are distorted, and being so close to the image as you make it means you can’t “see” all of it, so you have to keep standing back to check on your progress. There are lots of tools out there to help with these issues like projectors and setting up a copying grid, but the fact remains that it’s a daunting undertaking if you’re not practiced at it. I really wanted to see what one would look like blown up, before embarking on a creative exercise of this size.

Life size print of a cartoon by Jon Tremlett at soulcraftcandy.

Fortunately for me, a good friend who runs a small architectural office offered the use of his A0 plotter to run something out as an experiment. I knew that printing out a massive version of one of the finished biro drawings would rapidly consume his stock of black printing cartridges, not a good idea seeing as this was a generous offer already, so elected to use one of the early sketches which is much lighter in tone. The scale for the print was based on the size of the front wheel which would be approximately life size. There was no way it was going to fit on a single piece of paper either, so I split the picture in two with a bit of an overlap so it could be trimmed and glued together afterwards. The sketch was re-scanned at 1200 dpi to avoid any pixelation when blowing it up, resized across two sheets of A0 light weight plotter paper and converted into a pdf file to keep the file size down a bit, we didn’t want to be sat there for hours while the plotter got on with the job.

 

Back at base the sheets were trimmed on the kitchen table and the two edges stitched together with spray glue, before being pinned to a rough frame made from some scrap lengths of baton found in the shed. Choosing to do this on a really hot day at the start of a very rare heatwave meant the exercise was a little fraught and the subsequent union a little wrinkly, but it looks fine for what I wanted it to achieve. I took a couple of photos for the blog post with one of my crash helmets in the shot and the original sketch to give you an idea of the size of this thing.

Detail of cartoon by Jon Tremlett at soulcraftcandy.

There are some interesting things that spring to mind when I look at it. The jump in scale really shows up the distortion that occurs in the cartoon process, for example, although the riders body is about right, his head is really quite huge. The original sketch was done in biro onto non acid free lining paper which has a really gritty surface, and the way the line breaks up is very prominent in the blown up version and gives the whole thing a lovely looseness. Take a look at the detail shot to see what I mean.

 

So the question now is, what am I going to do next? I think it splits into two routes. The first one is to find a printing method, onto paper, canvas or vinyl, which will enable me to get one of the finished drawings done at this size. I can see them making great banners, or even applied to the sides of a vehicle in vinyl, though persuading anyone to take them may be harder than I imagine, but it’s worth thinking about. The second is to start to think seriously about how I would create a drawing at this scale, a journey probably riddled with experimentation with different media and tools which could be a lot of fun. Part of that journey has already started with the idea, hatched at the local coffee shop with my good friend Ben as usual, to investigate making a drawing instrument which creates the quality of line shown in the big print. And that is as exciting as actually doing the drawing itself, so I’ll keep you all posted on my travels in the world of large format printing and whether I can figure out how to construct the worlds biggest biro pen.