"Bike Touring Lady"

by Marcy Day

In 2016, I quit my job to ride my bike around the world. I’d been working as a producer at an advertising agency in LA, and I was ready for a big change after 6 years of a little too much stress and a lot of late nights.

I flew to Vietnam with a used bicycle and met up with my boyfriend for the start of our bike tour. What originally started as a 3-month sabbatical, turned into a 10,000-mile ride all the way to Istanbul, Turkey. After riding for over two years, we decided to give the bikes a break and I’ve been travelling and working as an illustrator ever since.

My painting process always starts with looking through photos from my travels for inspiration. Whether its rice fields in Indonesia or wild camels in Mongolia, I never run out of things to draw. Most of my paintings are versions of an experience or a place I’ve travelled. So far I’ve been through 35 countries and painting is my way of keeping a visual journal, and a way for me to process all the new things I’m absorbing on a daily basis. Illustrating is a very solitary activity which forces me to sit and reflect on composing all the colors and images floating around in my head into a tangible object. I like to paint strong women doing adventurous things like biking, hiking and surfing – in a way I think I’m painting a bit of myself in every piece.

In my recent work, I’ve been playing around with different textures to break up the layers throughout a piece, add some depth, and achieve the look of a paper collage instead of a flat illustration. I create all of my digital illustrations on my iPad using the Procreate app. I spend hours creating my own brushes and then experiment with layering them on top of one another until each element has a paper quality.

I studied painting in college and received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, so I’m definitely inspired by the master artists before me. The use of vibrant, saturated colors in Gauguin’s Tahiti paintings, the layering of bold shapes in Matisse’s work, and the way Frida Kahlo painted a bit of herself in every piece she created – drawing on her environment and life experience – has been a huge influence on my art practice. If I’m ever having a hard time getting started, I just start flipping through a saved folder of images of their work on my phone and immediately feel the need to start sketching.

Color is also a huge part of my work. I’ve tried to paint with muted colors and there’s just something in me that dies inside when I have too much brown or cream tones in a piece. I like to experiment with using limited color palettes and play around with unusual color pairings. I almost never paint a sky blue, and if I do it’s because something else in the scene is not typical – like a hot pink mountain range or yellow ocean waves.
This piece (“Bike Touring Lady”) is representative of my bike tour around the world. I wanted the scene to be anywhere so the viewer could inject themselves in the illustration. There’s something universal about feeling like you can conquer the world after doing something really difficult. To me there’s nothing more representative of absolute freedom than when you’re about to head downhill on a bike and it’s just you and the open road ahead of you.

I began this piece with a simple sketch composing the scene. I then starting blocking in color using a limited palette of 5 colors: purple, pink, green and turquoise and a little bit of a rusty red for the sun and the girl’s pants so they’d stand out against the more pastel shades. Adding the texture to each section of the illustration really brings the whole thing together. I try to mix it up with darker watercolor areas, paint splatter effects, and rough charcoal brushes. I also really like to play with shadows to set the time of day –  In this piece, I used lots of a dark maroon-purple to create the feeling of late afternoon. Lastly, I drew the woman on the bike and added all the highlights and line work using a thin pencil brush. I wanted her hair to look like she was gaining some speed and the road to be headed far off into the distance. It’s so easy for me to overwork a piece, that I struggle with finishing anything. I feel like I’m still trying to master the perfect balance of adding all the fine details I want with keeping things bold and graphic. I think this piece is a good mix of both because my eye doesn’t get lost in the landscape and maintains a separation of all the shapes throughout.

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