Colouring Bikes

Illustrator, Shan Jiang, talks us through his love of bikes as an exploration of the surreal

Shan Jiang takes inspiration from the real world around him and uses his illustrations to reimagine them; creating a surreal fantasy world where objects are recognisable but the dreamy atmosphere is not. Describing his style as, “figurative images with abstract meanings”, what can be gleaned unquestionably from his work is his love of bikes. His illustrations are inextricably intertwined with them, “I enjoy feeling the breeze on my face, the air and even the rain” he explains, “bikes make me feel free”.


The artist behind the front covers of The Ride Journal says that his influences come mainly from comics and the stories of Italo Calvino whose unique view of the world stirred Jiang to see his own differently. His soon-to-be published colouring book, Journey to the Edge of the World tells the story of a cat travelling around the globe, through bizarre landscapes, though Jiang leaves us in suspense as to whether the journey is real or simply dreamt up by the animal.


Adult colouring books have surged in popularity over the past year and Jiang’s decision to produce his own is a conscious decision to move away from digital and create something interactive. Just like the illustrator makes conscious choices about colours and pen strokes so too must the reader and Jiang believes that as adults we need this kind of play, this opportunity to use our imagination, think outside the box and create our own masterpiece.


The Plus: How did you get into illustration?
Shan Jiang:
I liked drawing from when I was very little and I also like reading. Although I studied graphic design at university, I enjoy creating images with narrative which contain many details that can convey stories or information that viewers can discover by themselves.

TP: What attracted you to bikes as a subject – are you a keen cyclist yourself?
I started to ride bikes from a young age. I used to go everywhere by bike as a teenager, even if the destination was on the other side of the city. I enjoy feeling the breeze on my face, the air and even rain! It makes me feel very free because I can take any route or stop anywhere I want to. The reason why I use the bike as a subject of my work is because of a long-run project for The Ride Journal from 2008 to 2016. I have continuously created 10 covers for 10 issues of the book during the past 8 years. I have since then used my love of bikes as a subject for ͚The Bicycle Colouring Book͛, which will be released in April with Laurence King Publishing.


TP: What influences came into play for this book?
My main influence is from comics which I have always been a big fan of. I’m a big fan of Otomo Katsuhiro, Paul Kirchner, Matsumoto Taiyo, Jean Giraud, Igarashi Daisuke and Herge͛s works. I also love stories by Italo Calvino, especially the stories from Cosmicomics, like The Distance of the Moon and Italian Folktales which he collected and edited. Their technique and view of the world inspired me to create my book.


TP: How does the process of illustrating for a colouring book differ from your normal designs?
The only difference with the illustrations I did for Laurence King was that I needed to focus on the line weight. All the lines have to be quite clear and distinct so the readers can pick up the area for colouring. Other than that I have kept to my style of illustration.


TP: Can you tell us a bit more about the title – why is it a ͞journey to the edge of the world?
Although it is colouring book, I put a loose story through all the pages. The story is about a cat travelling around the world (maybe it is just dreaming about travelling) and meeting all different types of bicycles, set in crazy, dystopian landscapes. The title reflects the story of the book.


‘The Bicycle Colouring Book: Journey to the Edge of the World’ by Shan Jiang is published by Laurence King Publishing and available to buy from April 2016.