A Chat with Cycling Illustrator Ste Johnson about Life and Drawing Bikes
Back in 2012, a colleague and I started discussing why people who cycle to work need to have one outfit for cycling and another for when they arrive at work.
“Aren’t there comfortable and smart clothes that we can cycle in?” we discussed.
That colleague-turned-friend was Ste. And it was with him that I started Discerning Cyclist with as we embarked on a mission to help people find stylish clothes they could cycle in.
Back then there wasn’t much choice. There were “normal clothes” and there was “performance clothes”, but the paths didn’t cross much.
After a year or so Ste left the Discerning Cyclist project in order to focus on his burgeoning career as a freelance illustrator – but he still chipped in with beautiful cycling illustrations on the site from time-to-time, which you still see today.
Ste’s been lucky enough to do what he loves (illustrating) and even fuse it with some of his favourite other things, including Star Trek and, of course, cycling!
Indeed, Ste’s most recent project saw him illustrate Isabel Best’s new book, ‘Raincoats are for Tourists: The Racing Secrets of Raphaël Geminiani’, which was commissioned by Rapha and is available exclusive from them.
I caught up with Ste to hear more about this new project and discover just what goes into creating cycling illustrations.
DC: Ste, hi! Tell us about the new book you’ve been working on…
“Well, it’s called “Raincoats are for Tourists: The racing secrets of Raphaël Geminiani.
“It’s written by Isabel Best and I provided the illustrations to supplement the text.
“The concept for the book is that it’s a racing journal. The way it got described to me was to imagine that an illustrator accompanied Raphaël Geminiani throughout his lifetime and sketched out the events as they happened.
“For example, he talks a bit about working in his Dad’s bike shop, so I tried to bring these to life with sketches to represent these moments.
“Obviously this was quite hard as some of the things (such as his Dad’s bike shop) had no image references to take from, so I had to try to recreate a 1920s bike shop.
“To do this I researched bike shops from the 20s and 30s and amalgamated the ideas into one illustration.”
DC: What’s your process when you’ve been given a task such as provide illustrations for a book?
“First, I got a draft of the book from Isabel and simply read it. Then I read it again, making notes for anything that came to mind. Then I read it again but started fleshing out the ideas as I went. I sent these ideas to Chas and Guy (from the book’s publishers, Bluetrain) who went through them and whittled them down.
“From there, I did a rough sketch – something which just takes five or 10 minutes – they’re awful and basically scribbles – but they just about show what I want to draw and portray and sent them back over. These then got okayed or changed and from there I did a better more complete sketch based on this feedback. Then I did the final illustrations which you see in the book.
“These illustrations are meant to look like quick sketches, but they actually take a lot of time to do! This was largely because with a lot of them I had to build a scene from scratch – it’s not like I could look at an existing image and draw it. Most of these images didn’t exist per se – aside from the odd photo of the time – so I had to create them from scratch.”