It’s not only professional cyclists who spend the winter in warmer climes, making the most of a seasonal break from the racing calendar.
Illustrator David Sparshott, the artist behind the latest series of prints in the Rouleur shop – Iconic Team Jerseys, Iconic Road and Track Bikes, and Iconic Race Support Vehicles - is about to begin a five-month sojourn in Cambodia, filling his sketch book while his wife runs a community project.
“I’ll be back in time to catch some of the Classics,” he laughs, “and, hopefully, to come up with some new ideas for prints.”
His latest creations are the culmination of a lifelong interest in cycling which stepped up a gear about six years ago, owing to a growing disillusionment with football and a move to London.
Sparshott trained at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol and has worked as a freelance designer since 2006, building an impressive clientele, including the New York Times, the New Statesman and Jack Wills.
Take a look at his previous work, and the consistency of style is immediately apparent. Whether the commission be from The Guardian or Magma Books, the illustrations are recognisably Sparshott’s. There is a warmth to his pencil drawings that makes a refreshing change from the often cold and heavily mediated digital world.
“The immediacy of pencil drawing I find really nice,” he says. “It’s accessible as well. Anyone can make a mark on paper. I like that lo-fi, low-tech approach. After drawing in the sketch book, I work on it on a computer, but that’s just putting things together.”
Sparshott’s style has evolved, but this evolution is not the result of his training at RWA, he insists. He argues instead that his time there was more important for learning a working method.
“Once you’ve got that working method, the style, the way of drawing is a product of that. It just comes naturally. I’ve always drawn in that way. Then it becomes a process of recognising what works and what doesn’t work and the stages that I have to go through; a working methodology to end up with that distinctive look at the end of it; that consistency.”
It’s difficult to pick a favourite from Sparshott’s trio of prints in the Rouleur shop. Bicycles are notoriously an artist’s least favourite subject, and while he concedes that they are ‘quite fiddly’, he argues that drawing fine details like spokes and cables saves the final image from appearing too perfect, like a photo or computer generated image.
He faced a challenge of similar scale when selecting the machines to include in the print. Sparshott’s work is the latest iteration of a print by Magma, which had included Bromptons, tandems and Penny Farthings. He has narrowed the focus of the Rouleur print to racing bikes, notably the machines used by Moser and Indurain for the Hour Record and Sean Kelly’s Vitus 979.
There is likely nothing fiddly about drawing team kits, and the kits included on Iconic Team Jerseys are likely to be those cherished by any cycling fan, such as Coppi’s classic pale blue tunic with white chest band, TI Raleigh’s striking red, yellow and black jersey, and, of course, the Molteni-Arcore jersey made famous by Merckx.
“I love looking at all the old kits. Even now, at the start of each season, the teams tweak the jerseys slightly. I love the colours and the graphics; how awful some of them are, even now, and how nicely designed some of them are.
“The billboard style and the sponsors, it’s so ridiculous,” he laughs. “You get people saying, ‘I love the Sky kit’ and you think, ‘Bloody hell, it’s someone who sells satellite TV subscriptions.’ You associate with names and brands that otherwise you would detest, I think. It’s a weird juxtaposition.”
Sparshott’s Iconic Race Support Vehicles prints land in the Rouleur shop days after a discussion in the office about team vehicles and how photographs of convoys past have a power to instantly transport you to a previous era: the model, the shape, the wing-collared mechanic dutifully loading bikes onto the roof.
Sparshott admits that researching the vehicles took “absolutely ages” and involved a range of sources, including Corgi models, but he remained convinced of the concept.
“I thought that would make a really nice print edition, if I could go through lots of archival photos and find some rare or iconic vehicles that were used; the really distinctive ones.
“We haven’t really had them in the last 20 years. We went through a period where everyone had Skodas. Now everyone has Mercedes and BMWs, or Jaguars, like Team Sky. Before, it was really individual, some lovely old cars, and I really loved the retro feel to it; it just went hand-in-hand with the visuals, the sponsorship.
“I really enjoyed putting it together, but it took a lot of getting reference material together, and making sure I had the right model, and the right names and graphics on the side. It was definitely my favourite one to do.”
The prints make a welcome addition to the Rouleur shop and will likely do the same to the home of any Rouleur reader. We won’t expect updates for at least five months, with Sparshott busy in Cambodia, but we can be certain that when the new kits are unveiled, he will be monitoring them with interest.