Rider’s Lens: Marko Sajn’s Illustrated Figures
In today’s installment of Rider’s Lens, we share the captivating work of Slovenian artist and bike shop owner Marko Šajn of Loose Cycles. Find a selection of Marko’s signature figures, read his story of finding art through skateboarding and BMX, and get to know more about what cycling and creative expression mean to him here…
Words and illustrations by Marko Šajn (@sajn_marko)
I’m Marko Šajn, a visual artist working in the field of graphics, painting, and art publications. I studied painting and graphics at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and since 2016, I have been working as a freelance graphic designer for various international clients, while simultaneously devoting most of my spare time to painting. I’m also an active member of the Hiša Kulture v Pivki gallery and part of the Riso Paradiso collective in Ljubljana, a risograph printing studio and artist collective. I live and work in the countryside around Pivka, Slovenia. I co-own and work in a bike shop in Ljubljana, Slovenia, called Loose Cycles.
As an artist, cyclist, and business owner, I try my best to drift from one thing to the other in a way that gives me energy and somehow allows me to manage it all relatively okay, though it’s a challenge since they all require a lot of time and devotion. Bikes have been a big part of my growing up, and everything I do today is connected to either skateboarding or bikes in some way.
I became interested in art because of skateboarding and BMX, and when I started working as a graphic designer—after attending the Academy of Arts for a couple of years—I only wanted to do it if it was for cycling or skateboard brands. Somehow, I managed to work on some really nice projects with some great people. One of those projects was being a graphic designer for Bombtrack bikes for a couple of years. I learned a lot about design but even more about how the bike industry works during that time. Then, when COVID happened, I got a call from a friend, Tine, who wanted to open a bike shop. A couple of phone calls later, Loose Cycles was born, and life became even more interesting.
A natural progression led me to where I currently am. Before getting accepted into the Ljubljana Art Academy, I never had any real interest in drawing figures. But, once there, I fell in love with the complexity of the human figure. I love how you can draw it over and over again, and it will always look different. You can always find ways to make it more complex, or in my case, make it as simple as possible.
Because I was studying old techniques of printing, we had to simplify everything in order to make it work. It takes some time to realize how important that is, being able to use as few lines as possible to create something that anyone can recognise. It’s probably also why my work looks so graphic. Even my paintings could easily be done as a woodblock print or, even better, a screenprint. I still draw figures, only now they are not based on models or real-life scenes. They are mostly a representation of my thoughts and emotions.
These days, I have a hard time finding time for commissions because of the bike shop and also because I want to work on my personal stuff as much as possible, so I only take on projects that I feel some kind of connection to. They are always somehow connected to the outdoor community, which is where I feel at home. Most of the people who get in touch and want me to design something for their businesses or projects are people who cycle, run, climb, or are somehow spending a lot of time in nature. At the time of writing, I’ve been working on a very special project together with Neža Peterca, which we’re planning to go public soon. I think that we definitely took on more than both of us can manage with our schedules, but we both feel like this is so important and good that it would be a shame not to do it. More about that soon!
The human figures that appear in my works have almost no significant features that make them relatable to real-life people. You can notice differences in gender and skin tones in the figures, but that is for the purpose of delivering a clear message of the vibe of a certain painting. Other than that, I draw the characters so that anyone could relate to them one way or the other. I believe that my work is highly emotional, and that’s also one of the reasons behind my drawing people.
The way the figures move or are positioned creates a mood in the image, and a lot can be interpreted just by those couple of objects/fields of color. It’s a sense of inner peace and calmness that I am trying to achieve in my work, and I don’t want to give out all the details straight away as I believe that that wouldn’t allow the viewer to look at the work from an objective point of view and create a story—a feeling of their own. Thus, I try to leave the viewer curious and the motive open to individual interpretation. The figures are as personal as they are universal.
I use very basic tools: pencils, paintbrushes, and acrylic color. Sometimes, when I’m preparing the sketches for a new painting, I also use watercolors, but not that often. I rarely create work in the field. I actually bought a small set of watercolors and a watercolor sketchbook just for that, but so far, I’ve never managed to put it to use.
My life as I know it is surrounded by bikes, either in the bike shop talking about and selling bikes or at home, where I try to go on a bike ride as often as possible. I really love cycling in general. But, sometimes, I wish people didn’t know that I work in a bike shop or know anything about bikes, for that matter. I have a lot of different interests outside of the world of bikes, but conversations always tend to go in the direction of bikes no matter what. I love talking about art, politics, and what goes on in the world, and I really appreciate the friends who talk to me about all of that, not just bikes.
I think I’m in a very good place right now. I’m working on my personal stuff on a daily basis, and if there are some projects that are commissioned, they are always projects that I like. So, I guess I would like it to continue that way. I would love to exhibit more outside Slovenia and travel around because of that. The project that we’re working on with Neža is an example of what I would like to do more of. It’s a perfect mix of my interests, it combines art with the outdoors, and the outcome is something useful that is also good for the planet.
When I’m not working on art, I mostly try to spend as much time as I can outdoors. I broke my elbow a few months ago, and now I’m finally back riding bikes, but before I could ride, I was trail running and hiking quite a lot. I’m also a mountain bike guide, and the injury has prevented me from guiding this year. Luckily, I’m getting back in shape now, and I’m looking forward to guiding two tours before the end of the season.
Before I go, I would also like to mention how grateful the rest of the Loose Cycles crew and I are to BIKEPACKING.com. Slovenia is extremely popular in the bikepacking community these days, and bikepackers from all over the world come by the shop every day, sharing stories about their adventures, asking for help, or just wanting to hang out. Many of them come because they saw us mentioned on this website, and it’s really a pleasure and a privilege to spend time with like-minded folks from all over the place.
Marko’s Illustration Tools
I prefer the organized mess of my studio to work in, so I normally don’t carry anything special with me, at least not when bikepacking. However, I have a small Moleskine and a pencil and sharpener within reach at all times. This way, if I get bored or an idea pops up, I can do a quick sketch, and if I end up liking it enough when I browse through the sketchbook later, I’ll continue working on it in the studio. Sometimes, I even use my phone for basic sketches, although I really don’t like it, and it’s only a last resort if there are no pencils around.
This was one of those random sketches on the train ride home from work. I didn’t like the book I was reading at the time and was thinking about how nice it would be to go on an overnighter somewhere warm (I think it was January or February when this happened). I thought about how I rarely remember the journey, but the places where I stop—either to sleep or just to look at the view at the top of a climb—stay with me for a long time. I wanted to capture that moment of silence when you stop and stare into the distance, thinking of all sorts of things and nothing at all at the same time.
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