The return of the sketchbook

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My new project for 2015 is to get my sketching mojo back and get drawing back on the Deano agenda. I don’t pick a pen up anywhere near enough and I decided to sort it out.

So I bought a brand new Moleskine — heavier weight, off white drawing paper of course and crucially a size just over A5, large enough to capture a decent canvas but small enough to tuck into a bag.  I bought some new pens to get me excited: Pentel fine line and heavy, fountain Pentel and Signpens, standard issue for designers. I thought I’d also try some brush Faber Castell pens too — all bets are off at this stage and using a new pen can often inspire as much as the subject. New tools always excite me and are essential at the outset of a project like this.

Subject matter was the next consideration. Sketching is like a muscle that needs exercising to grow it and then when fully pumped it needs plenty of reps to keep it up to scratch. So where am I constantly exposed to countless, interesting scenes? If you read this blog you know I frequent a lot of bars and restaurants and that seemed like the perfect subject. I’m there anyway, so why not sketch at the same time. In truth it’s not too obtrusive and is often a starting point for conversations. I was also inspired by the wonderful London Sketchbook’s section on bars and restaurants in London so off I went.

I’ve had a proper go over the past few weeks and if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen I’m getting into a groove of sorts. Sketching is habit-forming too and taps into my obsessive compulsive nature with a compulsion to collect views and in turn sketches. It’s great also to sketch what I would have otherwise Instagrammed. My first few sketches were a bit clunky but I was determined to just draw and create without worrying about the outcome. I have to get into a groove with it and not get too anxious. What I have found though is that my eye is getting better and better and each sketch is a reasonably faithful representation of the atmosphere of the bar or restaurant: calm, chilled, hectic, noisy, quiet, relaxed, full on. Of course no-one sits still or poses, so it brings huge challenges for me as faces were never my strong point, but either way I just draw.

I’ve also decided to use these sketches as illustrations for reviews of the place we visit, which I think adds an interesting dimension to the narrative of the drawing. The sketch below is a beautiful little neighbourhood restaurant in Debeavoir Town in North London called Sweet Thursday, named after a little known Steinbeck book. This isn’t a full-blown review but the hipster, retro, eclectic charm of the restaurant comes out in the drawing I think. It was late afternoon on a cold Saturday in February and we almost had the place to ourselves. The pizza was divine: just what we needed, packed with flavour, piping hot and a perfect foil to the great value and gullible on-tap organic wine. I built on my bare bones sketch later that evening and was quite pleased with the way it emerged. Enjoyable experimentation with fat black nibs to stress shadows and contrast.

It’s a fine line between spontaneity and overworking but I think I got this one about right. But there are no right and wrongs and I’m keen to experiment with new styles and techniques. Keep coming back to the blog to see how the project develops. Hope you like them.

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Learning to draw changed my life

As a student at Jacob Kramer College of Art in Leeds, we had a most intimidating life drawing tutor in Laimonis Mierins. Cutting an intimidating figure dressed in black with silver hair, Lem would scare, bully, cajole and coax his students to be brave. If we didn’t take drawing seriously, he’d threaten us all with a tommy gun that was left over booty from the Second World War. Yes, he really did.

He started us off using pencil; soft and forgiving, then charcoal; sooty and pliable, but graduated—slowly, mind—to using the most unforgiving of media: pen.  One of the toughest mediums to draw with, ink is the ultimate in mark-making; no room for error, but what errors you make have to be incorporated and believable.

In this era of Instagram gratification, I still like the discipline of looking hard, committing and interpreting life into line. This drawing of the train station in Porto took a bit of time, gave me a few scares but rewarded my fragile patience, every detail burnt into the memory.

I worked with one of our designers at Turn Key, Brian, to add another dimension to the drawing by adding colour digitally. I gave him free reign to interpret the drawing how he saw fit. There’s two versions here, one without the lifework and one with it. I love each equally, the abstract one works for me as the artist who drew it, the lifework inserted in my imagination. The line and colour version works best for people who’ve not seen the original I think.

The image was submitted to an exhibition of other designer works to celebrate 30 years of Thompson Brand Partners. I was particularly pleased how the drawing skills I learnt all those years ago could still deliver in an engaging and contemporary way.

Lem would be proud I think.

 

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Letraset Action Transfers

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You know when you see something and you’re instantly transferred to another time?

Yeah, that thing.

Rub down transfers (those of you who are young please bear with me) took many form over the years. Professional lettering, decals on models and the long-lost art of panorama rub down transfers. It sounds the most bonkers idea in the world but as kids we would get these sets of pre printed background onto which we would creatively apply transfers.

I know, mental.

All of our favourite characters were drafted into action: Captain Scarlet, Thunderbirds, Tarzan, Planet of the Apes, Space:1999 or Star Trek. Mundane commercial art-based backgrounds were provided on a fold out piece of card and it was our job to carefully apply transfers on to the background. This was fraught with difficulty of course. If you used a pencil that was too sharp it created an indent in the plastic that would result in a broken ape arm or a displaced phaser. Over time we cultivated rounded, blunt pencils that transferred the image flawlessly on to the backdrop careful not to ruin the gold dusted, magical transfer.

Brought up on comics, this gave me the freedom to imagine what it might be like to create our own stories. OK it was very limited, but we got a taste for it. Action Transfers (a Waddingtons games brand) was a birthday or Christmas staple, never the first thing to play with but always one for later, when the excitement had died down. It was odd that we could always tell they weren’t drawn by our favourite artists or even vaguely look like the characters we knew and loved but somehow it didn’t matter. The technology was rudimentary but we worked with it, there was nothing else to do.

Later when I trained as graphic designer, the technology of course had moved on and we were using transfers for high end typography using skills that have pretty much vanished.

Little did I know that as a fledgling designer I’d be using rub down skills honed under the bed covers, by torchlight, on a council estate in Leeds?

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Magic Markers saved my life

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I spent my early days as a young designer in a chemical fug. Day after day, my senses were dulled by fumes that made me light-headed and reckless. Intensified by the heat and pressure of a busy design studio, I became addicted to the mother of all creative highs.

Magic markers.

It’s incomprehensible of course these days that we would spend an entire day drawing stuff, colouring in with coloured felt tip markers, glue it to some board and then go see a client with the brand new thinking for their next campaign. But we did. In the modern age of PDF and We Transfer, sketching stuff out seems oddly quaint, although it’s not vanished entirely, it’s an affectation these days rather than the norm.

Back then markers were our expression, easy, quick tools that demanded skill to deliver ideas on the hoof. This process had its own vernacular too: markers were used to create scamps, roughs, flims or even thumbnails. As designers we were still close the commercial artists craftsmen who taught us our craft and we borrowed ancient terminology from these long-lost giants.

To someone who always loved drawing, the technical ability of these tools to deliver flat colour, crisp lines with no bleeding (here I go again) and flawless visuals was a revelation. Of course, you had to know the tricks and a scuffed drawing board could ruin work that would have to be done again. There was no Apple Save in those days. But you learnt quick. Shortcuts came thick and fast and everyone had their own armoury of kit and secret techniques to deliver the killer visual.

There was no finer sight than a full rack of juiced up markers, ready to do your bidding. I started on Magic Markers, the ad agency staple. The stubby glass bodied pens were fearsomely expensive and prone to drying out, and were soon usurped by the snazzy Pantone upstarts, who had the massive advantage of the pen colour matching the entire Pantone ink and paper family. Both co-existed with dedicated enthusiasts on both sides.

I learnt recently that the chemicals used in magic markers were very harmful to humans and even back then we’d joke lightheadedly about how these couldn’t be good for us. Of course now we can’t have a glass of wine without getting a warning so imagine spending a day intoxicated by killer toxins just to get an advert sketched out.

I love the past sometimes. That’s why I’ve just ordered a full set of greys to get cracking again.

What do you remember about magic markers?

A proper artist materials shop

There’s something beautifully old-fashioned about a proper artists materials shop. The smell, the rustle of paper, an exciting array of pens, graphite, crayon and a kaleidoscopic array of inks  all rub shoulders with each other, cheek by jowl with mysterious substances. Then there’s the smell…but don’t get me started!

Sadly, there’s not so many of them about these days, certainly outside of London you’d struggle to find one. Back in the day when I was a student there was handful, even in a city like Leeds. Dinsdales was my favourite but of course the rise of online retail and the march of technology in art and design has put paid to the physicality of the artists’ mecca.

In London however, it’s a different story even in 2014. In Clerkenwell where I work I discovered an exquisite store selling all manner of artists materials. Stuart R Stevenson, Artist and Guilding materials is right on Clerkenwell Road and is a real treasure trove. My fleeting visit for sign writer’s paint and sponges was too short but I’ll definitely return for a more leisurely mooch.  This brief visit recently yielded much joy and return visits will deliver much the same I think.

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One line portraits

These ultra minimalist portraits created by artist Quibe are stunning in their economy.

They capture so much by leaving so much out.

 

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Old buildings of Saigon

These lovely drawings caught my eye.

They are by Lys Bui and they depict the old buildings of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City of course). In his words they are “an attempt to portray the beautiful city through its architectural, historic & nostalgic treasures which have been slowly fading away due to the rapid development”.

I like the naive style and the bright colours – I’d quite like to see some of Leeds’ classic buildings drawn this way…I might give it a go.

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