Drawing cycling portraits admittedly started as a self-serving venture. Looking for a breather from the largely geometric aesthetic I gave my illustration work, I dug down deep to my formal college Drawing 2 class and after a seven-year hiatus, I gave realistic portraiture another shot. After some hesitation, I decided to publish them but still didn’t have the courage to tag the people referenced. The internet can be a small place and they were quickly tagged for me but this served as the little form of validation I needed. I figured if people could be recognized, then they couldn’t be that bad right?
As people began reaching out, I felt the community opening up to me. I was grasping for something that I could identify with and living in a relatively isolated area, in some really isolating times, I was pretty desperate for some sense of community. Since making this pivot I have been able to connect with some really amazing people from all over the world, further solidifying my love for the cycling community and my drive to contribute to it.
When scouring the internet for references there are few things that I look for before dedicating hours to a piece.
Personalities are what attracts me most to a particular reference. Influenced by skateboarding growing up, I saw cycling in a very different light than I do now. To me, it was reserved for either transportation or pure athleticism. As more stories are told of relatable people doing extraordinary things and leading amazing lives through cycling, the weaker those old narratives become. Broadening the cycling community is something I hope to achieve through my art and showing that there is no correct way to ride a bike is a narrative I push with every piece I create.
This portrait of Martin Palden (@yellowhatphoto) originally shot by Alex Buck (@a.l.e.x.b.u.c.k) just oozed style and brought me back to the skate culture I grew up in. No need for Lycra, fast shades or other expensive gear that turns so many people away. I fell in love with skateboarding because of its accessibility, this portrait to me shows that biking can be accessible too.
Gear is not everything but it does play an important role in choosing the subject matter for me. I gravitate towards drawing riders that can seamlessly tie their personal aesthetic to their bike and the limited pieces of gear they can fit onto it. Having the ability to customize a bike to be an extension of one’s self continues to be something that captivates me.
Jorja aka Big Drop Jambz (@jambi_jambi) is one of my favorite personalities in biking and is a master of tuning her bike to fit her personality
This shot of Hubert d’Autremont (@the.other.mountain) is a perfect example of a beautifully crafted bike that blends seamlessly with the builder.
A note on color: I try to use a limited color palette to define certain areas that may be confusing if left black and white and to add depth. Ethan Goodwin (@allergictocars) Shot by John Watson (@johnprolly).
Another criterion to consider when approaching a subject is positioning and movement. References with an exaggerated perspective can be tricky to nail proportionally but if you’re prominently posting on the grid, the added effort will give your work some variety.
Posture and body positioning can add alot of context to a portrait. Sam Scipio (@salmonilla) shot by Brad Hammonds (@bradhammondsphoto)
Josh Becker (@mybucketsgotaholeinit) blurring the lines between mountain biking and gravel riding. Shot by John Watson (@johnprolly)
This portrait taken by Serena Rio (@rad_rio) gives a unique perspective of how Spencer Harding (@spencerjharding) likes to get rad on his bike.
Incorporating familiar narratives can help people connect with your work. Here’s John Farrell (@fareljohnferrell) of the Skid Lizards (@skidlizards) entering the pain cave.
As I continue to grow as a cyclist, I am finding that I am able to relate to my own work more. Some recent pivotal moments for me include outfitting my bike for its first fully loaded bikepacking trip and finding my way out of a serious bonk after a long ride with no fuel on hand. Experiences like these and stories from cyclists that I continue to connect with will inform me of where my work goes next.
I am available for commission work so if you’d like to work together, please email me at email@example.com or reach out through Instagram @backroadbean