Bicycle portraits are not new. Not something I came up with. Not by a long shot. I think Taliah Lempert’s custom bicycle portraits (www.bicyclepaintings.com) were the first I saw. I believe they were oil on canvas. But she may have used acrylic paints and board. Nichalas Blades’ super-detailed, larger-than-life size, oil paintings (www.nickalablades.com) are my current fave. I’d love to own one, but that will have to wait until I win the Lottery. I’d love to paint my own, and I’m pretty sure I could pull one off, but I haven’t the space these days. Although, I do have the time.
As an art student, I preferred print making and photography to painting. I liked that photos and prints could be replicated easily and distributed to more people. And you could do so relatively cheaply. Painting always seems a slow laborious process that resulted in one cool work that collude be displayed only in one place at a time. I also liked that prints and photos could be easily remade with modifications.
Later in life, like in my early-30s, I rediscovered painting and found I really enjoyed it. I had purchased my first house and wanted to decorate the expansive walls with art. Sadly, on my bike industry salary, I was unable to buy any of the art I saw in Santa Fe’s many galleries. Besides, I thought, I could do what those artists were doing myself. So, I picked up a brush and started doing portraits in oil. Our home in California is full of them, now.
In 2006, I went back to school and got a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Industrial Design. Along the way, I learned to use Adobe Illustrator. And I got quite good at it. It wasn’t as hands-on as print making and painting are, but I liked how drawings could be tweaked and modified. And I love the intense salable detail of Vector art. Needless to say, I use Illustrator a lot.
Back in September, after I lost my job, decided to open up Illustrator and created some images I had been thinking about for several months. In the process, I opened up some of the files I created when I was in ID school . Among the images I found a four-model bike line concept I spent an afternoon or three developing.
While riding one day, I though, “Could a bike line be developed around any random theme?” The first thing that popped into my head was Egypt. I thought about that for a second, considering various Ancient Egyptian iconography I had seen and came up with Scarab Bicycles. For the rest of the ride, I thought about how that could be made a bike line.
When I got home, I started putting together the line, first researching scarabs. I designed a logo and a head badge. I then came up with four models I thought had legs (no pun intended), model names based on various beetle types, plus one that was a riff on the Beatles. I decided the line would be 100% focused on bikes for local and urban commuting, each meeting the needs of a different user group.
I spent a few days working on it. I posted it to my FaceBook page. Then I moved on. I liked what I came up with, but really had no intention of doing anything with Scarab beyond the exercise of creating it.
Bike Race Team Cars Are Cool
The drawings I did for Scarab were basic and simple—developing the concept and getting it on “paper” was the goal. But I had spent a bunch of time on a the wheels. So, when I saw these old illustrations again, I thought I could use the Japan(ese) Beetle, a Keirin-inspired fixie—for a series of Team Car illustrations I wanted to explore as T-shirt concepts. The shirts would likely be four-color, silkscreen printed, so simple was key. Ultimately, the bike drawing was useless for what I wanted to do, but it reminded me of some to the clever ways I solved a few complex bike issues, like the spokes an chain.
When I did the Team Cars, I did them with relatively simple bikes, but not as simple as others I have seen. I wanted the components to be recognizable. I wanted the knowledgable buyer and viewer to notice the cranks were Campagnolo Record with Nuovo Record or Super Record chainrings, for example. I wanted the 36 spokes and nipples to look like they would on a real bike. And I wanted the bikes to be recognizable as those of the champions who rode them. But, I had to do this in four colors, two of which would be white and black.
The first car I did was the Brooklyn Team car. Brooklyn is my favorite 1970s team. I love all the visuals they came up with, from the iconic jersey and unique blue Gios Torino frames to the Brooklyn and Perfetti logos and, obviously, the team cars.
I had been collecting team car photos for about a year for this project, but hadn’t found the Brooklyn car. While watching A Sunday in Hell, I noticed it might be an Opel, but which model, I wasn’t sure. As luck would have it, the very next day Ray Napoles posted a photo of the Brooklyn car on Instagram (onthebackfoot) shot by Bill Woodul. He then sent me another Woodul photo of the team wagon. That’s what I used to make my image.
I loaded the car with three bikes and added some wheel in the back. Everything was done in red, white, blue or black. There were a lot of spokes and I wondered if I could find a printer to do them justice.
The next team car I wanted to do was the 1988 Team Hitachi-Eddy Merckx Citroen. The Hitachi team was another whose visuals I was a big fan of. The 1987 Hitachi-Rossin jersey was the first team replica jersey I ever bought. I picked one up when I lived in Japan in 1987. I still it. Lose another 30 pounds and I may be able to squeeze into it.
The Hitachi car was going to be a little harder to do in four colors, unless I printed it on white T-shirts. That way, the white would be the shirt material and I could add a “fifth” color. I decided to design it with five colors, red being the fifth and which could be made orange if necessary.
Old Race Bikes Are Cool, Too
Although I had plans to do more cars, I found I really liked the little bike drawings I had done and decided to do a drawing of one bike. When I enlarged the drawing, it was obvious I’d have to start over and redo almost everything. There simply wasn’t enough detail. And while some of the short cuts I took looked fine when small, at the larger size, they just weren’t going cut it.
The first bike I did was my personal 1972 Dreher/1973 Brooklyn Team bike, which had been raced by Belgian sprinter Julien Stevens over those two years. Initially, I designed it for four-color silkscreen process. But it looked too flat. it needed more color—tan sidewalls and brake hoods, silver components plus various random colors in decals— irregardless of what I may do with it in the future. I still wanted to keep it simple and in all spot color.
From there, I moved to my personal 1979 Gios Torino Super Record. Because both bikes are so similar, I thought it would be a simple matter of adding white panels to the decals, tweaking the fork crown and adding Super Record derailleurs. I was wrong. The lugs, seat stay caps, and Gios logos were totally different between the two bikes. Plus, I had Nuovo record chainrings on the older bike and Super Record on the 1979. That meant redrawing those damn things again.
While I worked on the 1979, I discovered a few mistakes I had made on the original bike. I went back and corrected those. And after posting a couple of the portraits on social media, an eagle-eyed follower pointed out I had put the left pedal on backward. Duh. Each bike seemed to take longer than the last to complete.
I decided to do a portrait of all my vintage bikes, with my 1980 Colnago Roger De Vlaeminck next, followed by my 1988 Hitachi Team Eddy Merckx next. The Colnago should be easy, I thought. But the Merckx would mean I had to draw a full Mavic 2000 parts group, do a more complicated graphics package and Look pedals.
Again, I started with the 1979 Gios as a base for both bikes and along the way found a bunch of mistakes. I fixed them on the Colnago and Merckx and went back and fixed them again on the Gioses. Apparently, none of these bikes were never going to be finished.
Before I started another bike that required a new component group and new frame (My Dura-Ace 7400-equipped Look Kevlar 2000 was next on the list.), I decided I’d use my 1979 Gios as a basis for a portrait of Roger De Vlaeminck’s 1975 Paris Roubaix-winning Gios. As before, I thought it would be a simple tweak of frame geometry, replacing the fork with the one from my older Gios and being sure I had the right parts mix on there. And, as before, I was wrong. I found more mistakes and, while tweaking the geometry I made new mistakes that I later discovered while drawing Eddy Merckx’s 1974 World Championships bike.
I then went on a roll and banged out a series of my dream bikes, with each finding more corrections to make on all of the previous drawings. I had to tweak lugs, move bits of the chain around between layers to get correct positioning, recreate the chain, redraw graphics with more accurate detail, redraw entire components, add details I had left off when my plan was to keep them simple and adjust the positioning of parts that mysteriously moved somehow at at some time.
To date, I have done all my vintage road bikes (1972-1991), four of my dream bikes, two Roger De Vlaeminck bikes, two Eddy Merckx bikes, one Francesco Moser bike, one Marc De Meyer bike and one Felice Gimondi bike. Some of the bikes are a little more detailed than their predecessors and I added gradients to the bikes that had been painted with metallics.
I still have no idea what I’m gong to do with these portraits. Of course, Id’ love to find a way to make money with them. I’ve explored doing a series of limited-edition prints. And although I had some digital samples done, I’m a ways from getting that going. For one, I definitely want to be sure the drawings are worthy. Second, I need to be sure they’re is a buying public for them.
I also am thinking about offering to do custom portraits of bike for other collectors. If this appeals to you, let me know. I still need to figure out the best printing process for one-offs, but I’m sure there is a solution out there.