Rider’s Lens: Julia Vallera’s Baja Divide Artwork and Disposable Camera Creations

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In this edition of Rider’s Lens, we talk with Vermont-based artist and media studies teacher Julia Vallera about illustrating and animating her recent experiences on the Baja Divide. We also share a collection of her one-a-day disposable camera photos taken during the ride and later sketched over to create an intriguing blend of reality and fantasy…

Words and photos by Julia Vallera (@lovedrawings)

My interests growing up were eclectic. I was super artsy and spent hours in my high school’s art room, but I also loved being athletic. I surfed, ran cross-country, and snowboarded. Early on I figured out that I’m most content when I’m able to do both.

At 18, I moved to New York City to attend art school and brought my bicycle with me. This is when my obsession with cycling really started to kick in. I rode everywhere all the time. I couldn’t believe how far I could go and how much I could see. I always carried drawing supplies and would draw the people and places I encountered around the city. Gradually, my bike rides got longer and longer and I was regularly biking out of the city for single or multi-day trips with my drawing supplies on hand.

Over the years I traveled a lot, sometimes with a bike and sometimes without, so I have a pretty substantial collection of sketchbooks. I’m now living in Vermont and I’m surrounded by beautiful trails and mountains where I can do the kind of mountain and gravel biking I love most.

  • Julia Vallera's Baja Divide Artwork
  • Julia Vallera's Baja Divide Artwork
  • Julia Vallera's Baja Divide Artwork
  • Julia Vallera's Baja Divide Artwork
  • Julia Vallera's Baja Divide Artwork

I prefer to draw from life and exaggerate elements that I find humorous or whimsical. I’m always on the lookout for peculiar moments that I can weave into my work. If it’s impossible for me to capture something in the moment I try to memorize key characteristics that I can recall later. Most of the time the drawing that results is more of a caricature that embodies a particular feeling rather than a photographic representation.

Cycling makes everything more fun and you get to see a lot more in less time. While riding I get quick glimpses of inspiration that I store for later. In between peddling I try to capture the idiosyncrasies of everyone and everything with as much detail as possible. Even if I don’t get the drawing right it helps me lock the visual into memory. That way, when I’m back at home or have more time I can generate more fleshed out illustrations and animations.

Julia Vallera's Baja Divide Artwork

My art supply list is pretty minimal when bikepacking. Recently, I’ve just been taking 3-4 of my favorite black-ink pens. They each vary in style and size. I buy them from a Japanese book store in NYC called Kinokuniya. Sometimes I bring along a few color markers for some contrast. I take whatever sketchbook has the most blank pages in it. Sometimes I staple loose paper together to use up what I have lying around.

I use a combination of Adobe After Effects, Photoshop, and Illustrator for my animation work. Adding motion to my drawings is very satisfying. It takes a lot of time and practice, but I love how it challenges me to understand the structure and personality of what I draw.

I teach animation and other digital media classes at a few colleges. My students inspire me. I think I learn as much from them as they learn from me. The classes I taught last year were so fun that I started an animation club so my students and anyone else can meet regularly, at no cost, to learn about and practice animation techniques.

Many of the projects I work on professionally involve advocacy and social impact related to technology. For example, I recently designed a public exhibit about data privacy and digital security. It includes activities, demonstrations, and resources that help people learn about the importance of protecting their data, along with ways to do it.

Julia Vallera's Baja Divide Artwork

Every so often I design and sell things like stickers, postcards, and t-shirts. I’ll go to art markets, sell stuff online, or barter with other artists. I do it for fun because I love sharing my work, but I put most of my energy into freelancing and teaching. Right now I have stickers, postcards, and shirts from my recent bike tour in Baja for sale. Instagram and Etsy are the best places to check them out.

Julia Vallera's Baja Divide Artwork

As well as packing my art supplies, I like to take a disposable camera with me when I go on bike tours and I take one photo a day. My longer tours typically last for 20-30 days, so it works out to be just enough photos. I really like the limitation of taking one photo per day and not knowing what it looks like until I get home.

Julia Vallera's Baja Divide Artwork
  • Julia Vallera's Baja Divide Artwork
  • Julia Vallera's Baja Divide Artwork
  • Julia Vallera's Baja Divide Artwork

Sometimes the pictures come out terribly, but other times they look great. Recently, I started drawing on top of the printed photos when I get them back. I either scan the photo and draw on it digitally, or draw directly on it with a pen. The drawings are a blend of reality and fantasy. I’ll add things to the photo that I remember seeing or was thinking about at the time. For example, I added jackrabbits, hummingbirds, and coyotes to some of the pictures I took in Baja. I gave a cactus hands and drew a girl sleeping on the back of an albino horse.

Making drawings like this is fun for me because I can tell a more personal story about the time and place where the picture was taken. I like it when the photos are slightly blurry or you can tell that they’re film. It creates a nostalgic feeling for me that inspires what I add to the photo.

Baja Divide Surly Pugsley

You can follow Julia on Instagram at @lovedrawings, visit her illustration website, or check out her Etsy store for stickers and T-shirts. And check back tomorrow for details on Julia’s Baja Rig, Big Gurl!

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