Rider’s Lens: Bikesketching with Nuri Galbe
In this edition of Rider’s Lens, we meet Spanish artist Nuri Galbe, who shares a collection of pages from her mixed-media sketchbooks and some encouraging words on how to get started combining drawing and bikepacking to add a new layer to your rides. See more here…
Words and illustrations by Nuri Galbe (@bikesketching)
I’m Nuri, and I was born in the Collserola mountain range, in Barcelona, the largest urban nature park in Europe. I grew up hiking and biking, riding fast and using my foot directly on the tire to slow down. When mountain bikes appeared, I learned to climb slopes and ride challenging routes with my heart in my mouth so as not to set foot on the ground.
This active life has brought me great joy; the greatest was meeting my husband during a weekend ride in the Pyrenees. We have kept exploring ever since: hiking, biking, and skiing, from Africa to the Arctic Circle, from East Asia to the backbone of the Americas, and several countries in between. Our most recent one was bikepacking 1,450 km (900 mi) this summer from Lyon, France, to Linz, Austria.
On the other hand, my interest in drawing has come and gone. I went through several artist studios and painting techniques before realizing that I needed to let my hand be free and spontaneous again. One day, I stumbled upon the Urban Sketchers and their motto, “The world, one drawing at a time.” I was inspired by the Urban Sketches and their drawing on location, open gatherings, and sharing knowledge, beers, and laughter. I got hooked. Fusing both worlds together happened naturally.
People often tell me, “I would love to do that,” and my response is always the same: “Did you draw when you were a child? Well, then you know how to draw!” Let yourself go and draw just for the pleasure of it, enjoying the moment. Drawing has become a daily habit of mine and I’m here to encourage you to give it a try.
Bikesketching: Letting Yourself Go
Sketching on location while bikepacking is capturing an instant, a place, a story to highlight. It’s a pause to reconnect with the environment’s beat. You are still a passer-by, yes, but for less so.
Creating a sketch is like a making a 5, 10, or 30-minutes photograph but with a slow look at details that are usually missed. It’s an invisible thread that connects you to what you draw. Writer and poet Nan Shepherd, explains in The Living Mountain that she doesn’t “go out, outdoors” on the mountain, but “enters” instead… “for a moment you become stone or the earth’s ground,” writes Nan.
Bugs come out and walk on my sketchbook, drops of dew that seep down your neck with a chill… and the mosquitoes. Yes, there are miseries also. On location, you might sketch under a burning sun, wind, glares, and people blocking your view. This summer, at the Danube River, while drawing a fisherman, a bunch of hungry mosquitoes buzzed around. “If the fisherman can stand still, I can too,” I thought. And I did. Later on, on the saddle, the itching was driving me crazy for a couple of days.
Not all drawings are cool. If a dud comes out, I take the opportunity to experiment on it. You have nothing to lose, do you? Mistakes lead you to discovery, and experience is learning. Embrace the duds!
When riding with friends, you have limited time (it depends on their patience, really). I take advantage of snack pauses or flat tyres to sneak in a sketch. The dilemma is awalys, do I eat or draw? On day rides, bringing yummies with you to share with your ridng partners helps with their patience!
Technique and sketching gear
While bikesketching, I’m not into being too academic. I just enjoy without regrets. And regardless, the sketch has a life of its own, and it takes the direction it pleases. I go as spontaneously as I can. And know what? Some of my rougher, quicker sketches are my best, such as the one at the river crossing with the figure lacing up his shoes.
A slow ride doesn’t have to mean riding slow, and a fast sketch doesn’t have to mean drawing fast. My husband’s nap on the bench sketch, took me four minutes but was drawn with decided lines. If I can’t put color, I try to leave the shadows done.
I really enjoy putting the color stain first and then the line on top, loosely, and a bit wild. On the other side, if you are in a hurry, starting with lines lets you color later on (like the bikes under the linden tree). I choose according to the moment. Mixed-media is great to vary and experiment with, like the yellow church painted with crayons. When preparing and packing for the trip, however, you have to make a choice, so I decide beforehand on my (minimum) kit for each outing.
On bikepacking trips, I prefer the mixed-media paper sketchbook, which is smooth and accepts a little water. I don’t care much either: I can cut an entire notebook to fit into the 14cm long top tube bag with two top zippers.
Watercolor means unpredictable fluidity and textures. That’s another fun part. I use a travel palette filled with additional pans and stuck to it with blue tack or a magnetized tiny box with only five colors. And for the lines, a calligraphic pen (to make thin and thick lines in a stroke), Liner or Pentel Brush pen with waterproof ink. They are all great. I also like to bring a couple of watercolor pencils (warm and cold colors) to draw people fast. With water, their tones mix magically, and they’re great for adding details on top of the color stain. An opaque white marker can also be useful to sparkle light or to separate planes that don’t differ enough.
I NEVER FORGET:
The brush with water deposit. No need for an extra little water pot. (Or you may use the bike’s bottle cap placed upside down). And my must for any bikepacking trip is plastic freezer bags: for the drawing gear, for the sketchbook, and to not have any worries if it rains, if a pen spills, or if the sketchbook covers wear out. Although my bike bags are waterproof, I always carry freezer bags: they are weightless, cheap, and you find everything at first sight.
YOU’LL NEVER SEE ME WITH:
A pencil to make “a first sketch.” A sketch of a sketch? Nonsense! Not with an eraser. And you’ll never catch me with a ruler for perfectly straight lines. No way!
Try Bikesketching Yourself
If you’ve read this far, you’re likely curious to experiment in new ways. Nobody gets the best drawing every day. So what? In a remarkably short time, your gaze changes, and with it, the stroke. Enjoy documenting your bikepacking journey in a fresh way. Accept the painting accidents and let go, like a kid. You’ll discover the beauty of spontaneous sketching and the satisfaction when you fill an entire sketchbook. Social media may be a source of inspiration, and you can learn from different styles and resources.
Once you start, you likely won’t quit. Today, I’m into a couple of personal projects: one relates to Collserola, where sketch by sketch, I try to capture the singular character that the mountain and its inhabitants have imprinted into each other through generations and its places and habits. The second project is a visual and personal hike and bike (not hike-a-bike) journey in the eastern Pyrenees, from one of the most well-known valleys to the most unknown ones.
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