Rider’s Lens: Dean Liebau’s Illustrations
In our latest Rider’s Lens, meet illustrator Dean Liebau. Dean’s discovery of bikepacking helped him incorporate his love of outdoor exploration, positivity, and human connection into his illustrations…
Words and illustrations by Dean Liebau (@backroadbean)
Two things have been consistent in my life; my love for the outdoors and my need to create. Throughout my life, I have pulled on those two threads and it has led me to where I am today. I currently live in Vermont, a place that I find fosters creativity and outdoor pursuit and both on a very digestible scale. The community is tight here and it’s not hard to make friends that are involved in both the outdoors and the local art scene. It’s a place I have come to appreciate and reflect on my values as they shift to affecting people on the local level, rather than trying to cater to everyone imaginable and prioritizing quality of life over profession.
I came to Vermont after graduating with my graphic design degree with more questions than answers, very little professional experience as a graphic designer, and not much money in the bank. I picked up a bike out of necessity when my Subaru Outback broke down beyond repair. Incidentally, I’d been having conversations with my co-worker Tony about gravel biking and bikepacking around that time, new concepts to me then. He seized the opportunity and sold me his All-City Macho Man that summer. It became not only my main form of transportation but a big driver in my life.
This all may sound a little overblown, but I received my bike right when I needed it most. I was struggling to find something solid to lock on to, carrying all of this pent up creative energy but having a difficult time finding subject matter that sustained my interest. Being a creative these days is the most demanding it has ever been, which is both good and bad. It’s easier than ever to connect with people if you want to build a large audience, but it also can be all-consuming. The expectation is for creatives to have an endless flow of creativity on tap, but that’s just not how it works, at least not for me or anybody I know.
I spent countless hours trying to find my voice, trying to be witty and clever with everything I shared, constantly deleting things I didn’t think landed and curating everything I was putting out into the world. I was burnt out. My bike was there to distract me from my self-doubt and negative thoughts. I would escape by going on micro adventures, exploring my own backyard. Since moving to Vermont, I have lived in many different places throughout the state and with every move came new routes, often very rural and filled with hidden gems like flowy singletrack, wide open vistas, and endless gravel that would surprise me even after scouring the route the night before on Google Maps.
I was also participating in local biking events such as the Muddy Onion, Spring Roll, and Fall Fundo, connecting with new people, seeing new places and experiencing all that this state had to offer. I was still creating just as much as ever but it was during this time that I started creating just to create, sharing things when I felt like it. Illustration became another aspect of my life, not my entire life.
I became a heavy consumer of bikepacking culture and felt reenergized by the possibilities of it all. I was listening to podcasts, researching routes, drooling over the gear, and captivated by the personalities. I was also drawing inspiration from my days in the saddle, not literally, but through words in my journal and sub-par iPhone photos. These things were enough to jog my memory for when my day’s adventure came to an end and I was back in my studio reflecting on the day.
While I do think that it’s important to stay consistent as an illustrator, I try to avoid falling into a routine of blindy producing and sharing to social media. To challenge my perspective and change things up, I’ll enter local art shows, often, using processes and topics that are out of my normal comfort zones. This gives me anxiety every single time but in the end it’s always the most rewarding.
My process is not the most thrilling but it’s the one that gets me to my desired result and one that I really enjoy. I work mostly digitally, taking rough drawings, sketches, or photos, and importing them into Adobe Illustrator. I create the framework there with a Wacom digital drawing tablet and proceed into Photoshop where I do the bulk of my work of coloring and adding texture. The texture is found in old Life Magazines, retro Nat Geos, and anything else that catches my eye while I’m rummaging through crates at yard sales and antique stores. And when my collection of textures has amassed and the process starts to get stale, I take the opportunity to break out my airbrush kit, paintbrushes or to explore any other process that may challenge my perspective.
As I continue to combine my love for bikepacking and illustration, I would love to explore the option of taking my studio with me on my bike travels, taking journals with me and creating digitally, which at the moment is possible using an iPad Pro with apps such as ProCreate and Adobe Fresco. At the moment though, I enjoy this balance of gathering inspiration on my daily adventures and reflecting on them in my studio at night.
In loving memory of Tony Amenta, not sure where I would be without your infectious passion.
About Dean Liebau
A graphic designer by trade, Dean expresses his love of outdoor exploration, positivity, and human connection through illustration. His discovery of bikepacking has helped him incorporate these things into his daily life. Currently, he spends any of his time outside of his studio in Vermont drawing inspiration from his trips around the state and wherever else his bike will take him. Find more of his work on Instagram @backroadbean.