The cycling artist: Alumnus illustrates major cycling competitions

The cycling artist: Alumnus illustrates major cycling competitions

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Greig Leach is an enthusiastic cyclist and painter, and the Virginia Commonwealth University alumnus has found a way to combine his two passions. His postcard drawings depicting compelling moments in major cycling competitions have earned him fans around the world, including among the elite riders sometimes rendered in Leach’s works.

One of Leach’s next big projects will be a book on the 2015 UCI Road World Championships bike race, which will take place in Richmond Sept. 19-27, and on the races leading up to the UCI event. He presented the book idea for the event to Wilson Flohr, CEO of Richmond 2015 and an amateur painter. Flohr liked it and Leach is now the official artist for the competition.

The project is to create a book about the championships, and Leach will also have a hand in other memorabilia, including T-shirts, coffee mugs and socks, that will feature his artistic creations. Richeson Art, a company Leach has used since 1977 for art supplies, is sponsoring the project.

Leach raced bicycles on an amateur level back in the 1970s, when the sport was little known outside of Europe and the idea of an American professional cyclist seemed farfetched. He participated in bike races in major competitions such as the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia – just not as a rider, but as a painter.

Alumnus Greig Leach captures moments from major cycling competitions around the world through his paintings.<br>
Photos by Ahmed Asraf
Alumnus Greig Leach captures moments from major cycling competitions around the world through his paintings.
Photos by Ahmed Asraf

He attended the VCU School of the Arts in 1977, starting in commercial art but later switching to painting. By his senior year, he was married, had a son, worked full time and had seen his work featured in three solo exhibitions. In 1982, he turned his attention to working full time to support his family.

Leach remembers an illustration professor pulling him aside and urging him to pursue his interest in painting.

The professor said, “‘Look: you’re a painter, go be a painter,’” Leach said. “‘Someday your paintings will be used as illustrations.’ Almost 40 years later that’s exactly what happened.”

He likes to paint dancers, musicians, bar scenes and everyday life. He draws to relax, but also to earn a living. He draws all the time.

“I amuse myself by drawing,” Leach said. “Today, I was explaining something and found it just easier to draw it.”

I amuse myself by drawing.

Throughout his career, Leach has worked in restaurants and traveled to Europe. He recalls his first trip to Europe with his family, when he realized that after booking his tickets and arranging accommodations, he didn’t have enough left for daily expenses, such as food. His wife suggested buying blank postcards to draw places he visited and selling them to locals, tourists and online. He was able to support his family with the earnings from the postcards, marking the beginning of finding his artistic niche.

Locals or people who had special moments in the area requested postcard drawings of locations with special meaning to them – for instance, a street where a man proposed to his wife in Paris, or where a couple bought shoes in Rome. His clients directed him to draw places he wouldn’t have discovered on a normal visit.

“A local collector said that they preserved a bombed-out cathedral in Berlin,” Leach said. “I would have never known it existed.”

The cycling drawings started one day when he was watching the Tour de France on television and was inspired to paint scenes from the competition. Initially, he did the artwork just for himself. Then he began to sell them successfully through Facebook.

Then, in 2013, he approached the work in a more organized fashion, starting with the Giro d’Italia race. He watched the races live as an avid fan, paused the scenes he viewed as significant, painted them and posted them on his blog and Twitter to sell.

In 2014, he did the same for the Tour de France. He also established a KickStarter campaign at the outset of that race to fund a book collecting his work. The campaign was successful and at the end of the race he compiled his drawings for his “Book de Tour.”

The idea was simple. Tell the story of the tournament by combining his drawings of the tour in a book and adding blog-style annotations after each photo to explain what happened. The campaign ended at 104 percent of its goal. Three orders of the book signed by Leach and the winner of the competition sold at $500 each.

The book received a great response from cyclists, cycling fans and the media. Leach recalls when Alberto Contador crashed and broke his tibia, then got back onto the bike and rode 10 more kilometers up the mountain. Just before dropping out of the race, Contador had an interaction with a teammate and bid farewell. Leach captured the moment.

“This is significant, so I painted it,” Leach said. “When [Contador] tweeted his thanks to his fans, he used that painting as the image to go with the tweet.”

“Book de Tour” has seen different uses from multiple audiences. A copy of the book will be signed by as many featured racers as possible, and auctioned at the gallery of the United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit organization that coordinates organ transplants. All proceeds will go to the organization.

Alumnus Greig Leach captures moments from major cycling competitions around the world through his paintings.<br>
Photos by Ahmed Asraf
Alumnus Greig Leach captures moments from major cycling competitions around the world through his paintings.
Photos by Ahmed Asraf

In addition, Leach has a Dutch friend whose nephew wants to learn fluent English and is reading the book to improve his skills.

The wife of American cyclist Tejay van Garderen bought four pieces depicting her husband. While exchanging emails, she told Leach she and her husband use the images to tell bedtime stories to their daughter.

Leach has immense passion for painting. He believes drawing is a great way to meet people, see new places, and observe a subject in greater detail than when photographing it.

“It slows you down and makes you savor the experience,” Leach said.


Featured image up top : VCU alumnus Greig Leach holds a selection of his cycling paintings. Photo by Ahmed Asraf.


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