At the time that we speak to Eliza Southwood about her cycling artwork, she has been busy creating a fun action-packed week for a work experience girl she has taken on for the week. “Well that sure beats working at Coventry University Library!” I think, cursing my fifteen-year-old self for not having the wherewithal at the time to arrange a more exciting work experience when I had the opportunity.
I actually first contacted Eliza Southwood about a year or so ago. Looking for a new craft project and wanting to combine my love of cycling with one of my other rather more unusual (some might say geeky) hobbies (cross stitch), I decided that I would like to recreate one of Eliza’s amazing prints in cross stitch form. There was something about her style, the colours, the innate sense of movement in her work that I thought would translate well to the texture and level of detail you get with cross stitch…
My mega cycling cross stitch project is still on the back burner, having been interrupted by some pretty big life events... moving to a completely different part of the country, a change to my work arrangements, all these things take time to adapt to. And that's before you factor in the new baby - a sweet plus-tyred bike that I just can't bear to put down for too long.
Anyway, back to the main story... For any riders not familiar with her or her work, Eliza Southwood is an artist who specialises in print making, painting and illustration. Particularly well known for her cycling related artwork, Eliza recreates various scenes from the cycle racing world, from the macro to the micro and from grand tours and classics races to more local UK-based backdrops. The break away, the peloton, the gruppetto, the slow ascent, the fast descent, the battle for the sprint, the arm up signal for assistance, the sneaky look back before trying to make a break for it... she really captures those moments that make the races what they are. Her work has featured in various places from cycling publications like Boneshaker Magazine to the label of Cono Sur wine, official wine for the Tour de France.
Most of Eliza’s pictures are either screen printed or digitally printed. Screen printing involves building up the picture by transferring each colour to the page separately using different screens with different parts of the picture on them, whilst digital printing involves scanning a hand drawing onto a computer and then digitally colouring sections or adding texture.
Being big fans of Eliza’s artwork, we were really excited when she agreed to have a chat with us. Covering all manner of topics, from her own relationship with the bike to her particular aversion to the colour purple and the honour she felt at meeting Tour legend Indurain for a bit of work she was doing - over to Eliza!
AR - A lot of your artwork features cyclists and scenes from cycle races, what was it that inspired you to focus on cycling in your work?
ES - I like the imagery of cycling - the colours, the geometry of the bikes, and the landscapes that cyclists race in. There are so many possibilities with cycling.
AR - What is your favourite piece of artwork or which piece of work are you particularly proud of and why?
ES - My favourite piece of work is my Peloton print, which has done the rounds on Pinterest and is now available as a print in Habitat. It was based on a painting I did years ago for a client. I like the fact that it is nearly an abstracted view of cyclists.
I like the imagery of cycling - the colours, the geometry of the bikes, and the landscapes that cyclists race in. There are so many possibilities with cycling.
AR - Have you got any exciting cycling-related projects on the horizon at the moment?
ES - I’m working on a new Tour de Yorkshire print which should be coming out soon. I have three prints going on display in a Summer Salon group show coming up at the Palm Tree Gallery in Portobello Road from July 25th to the 30th [any riders in London may wish to check this out this week!]. I will always be producing new cycling prints, I never get tired of it. I also want to produce a smaller sized range of prints based on some paintings I did of infamous cyclists through the past century.
AR - Infamous cyclists, we like the sound of that! Anything else?
ES - I have a book cover coming out soon with Bloomsbury - it is called the The Beast, The Emperor and the Milkman, by Harry Pearson, about cycling in Belgium.
AR - Sounds very intriguing, we will have to check that one out! And anything else?
ES - Best of all my wine label for Cono Sur Wines has just been launched – look out for the new customised label for their Bicicleta range of wines, featuring the Tour legend Indurain. I had the honour of meeting him earlier this year - he is a charming, self-effacing man, very modest about his victories. Cono Sur are sponsors of the Tour de France.
I had the honour of meeting Tour legend Indurain earlier this year - he is a charming, self-effacing man, very modest about his victories.
AR - You have made pieces using both screen printing and digital printing techniques. How do you decide which technique to use when developing a piece, and what do you think each technique brings to the subject matter?
ES - I prefer to create screen prints as it is a handmade process. Digital work always starts with a hand drawing, which I scan into the computer and then add colour digitally. It is possible to add textures and effects very easily - which works well for illustration work. However most of my output now is screen printed - flat colours, some overlapping. Mistakes are common, which is part of the process - each colour is pulled through a screen by hand.
I prefer to create screen prints as it is a handmade process... Mistakes are common, which is part of the process.
AR - Colour plays a big part in your work, do you do much experimenting with colour before deciding on what feels right for a piece?
ES - Yes I do. I am completely obsessed with colour and I won’t make a print until I feel the colours are right. I never use purple if I can help it, and no neons either.
I am completely obsessed with colour and I won’t make a print until I feel the colours are right. I never use purple if I can help it, and no neons either.
AR - Your artwork really captures the feeling of cycling and the spirit of cycle racing, do you cycle yourself or are you a fan of cycle racing?
ES - I’m a fan of cycle racing but I’m not a great cyclist myself. I wish I was - I just make it to the studio and back!
AR - Your artwork has featured on a whole range of things from posters for cycling festivals, in cycling magazines and even on the label of the official wine for the Tour de France. Do you have any upcoming commissions you think our readers would be interested in?
ES - I’ve called off most of my commissions this year as I need time to work on a show I’m preparing for in November. It’s not bikes this time - it’s architecture-based. I wanted to try something different. But I’ll be back to cycling soon after!
AR - Where can we buy your artwork?
ES - You can buy it from various galleries and shops around the country or direct from my website (which is being refurbished at the moment :( )… Watch this space!