If you are not already acquainted with his work, then let me introduce Michael Valenti. Hailing from Lindenburg Illinois, via Boston and Chicago. He’s an artist who loves to cycle. A cyclist who lives for art. He is the Veloist; a cunning portmanteau of Velo & Artist. If he’s not chasing the Peloton around the globe on his trusty ‘Steel is Real’ Waterford bike creating amazing art as it happens, then he’ll be in the studio or out on the home roads of Illinois & Wisconsin with his beloved Veloist.CC. We have been huge fans of his art and also avid followers of his Social media posts, including his hilarious ‘Bonjour from the tour ‘despatches for some time now. We had to reach out, discover more about the art of cycling and, the cycling in his art. We were hopeful of a short interview, yet we received so much more and via the mediums of facetime Michael welcomed us in with open bandwidth into his life and creative world. Without further ado, please charge your bidons with your weapon of choice and enjoy our chat with the amazing artist that is Michael Valenti
How often and what type of riding do you do?
I’ll get out three or four times a week in the summer and at least once a week in the winter. If I get up and work early I have the luxury of mid-day rides. I do about 4000 miles a year and almost split between trails and road.
What type of bikes are you riding?
About four years ago I went from four to one bicycle. So I had a steel frame made to accommodate larger wheels. So I have two wheelsets. A road set/cross set and I switch them out depending on what I’m doing.
What kind of frame did you have made?
It’s a Waterford frame. There is a company in Wisconsin that make nice frames. It’s got the pretty little lugs. They are most famous for their Paramount frame. You should check them out. I take it with me to the Tour. I trust it.
Can you take us on a spin through your creative history to this point in time?
I started my career as an Art Director for advertising agencies. Working on big brands like Hallmark Cards, McDonald’s, Allstate Insurance for twenty-five years. From there ventured out on my own with a few partners to work directly for clients we’d find. It was the first taste of a freelance lifestyle which I was good at because I had so much experience in the industry.
My Bike will take me everywhere. My pen can take me anywhere.
Tell us about the Veloist and its beginnings?
Sometime around 2007 I started drawing cycling images for fun. And the Veloist was born out of working with a writer friend and a social media idea. At first, it was a blog site with followers but no way to make any money which as you know was a big problem as social media was in its early years. After a few years of just having fun with the social site it dawned on me I could print and sell the poster images. That’s when I set out to create a library of work while I was still working on other client jobs. It was a slow build with a plan to go at it full time in 2017 — which I did.
Cycling club Veloist CC originated to connect with riders in the real world. When we go out. We get in our rhythm. I’ll hang on for as long as I can but if you want me upfront, be prepared to slow down.
What first inspired you to capture cycling artistically?
Easy, I like bikes. Riding them, drawing them. And my marketing brain said there was a potential niche to work in. Other than the great classic old cycling posters I couldn’t find anyone working exclusively in the category. Voila! A long term idea was born. Keep making cycling art I love using the iconic races, places and faces of cycling until I can’t. And then just continue to sell the prints until I can’t. And then sell the business — a good retirement strategy in my mind.
You appear to be very prolific. How do you maintain this level of creativity?
I have no big secrets other than I love what I do and I do what I love. Most days I don’t go to work, but I go to work every day if you know what I mean. And after thirty years of solving client’s visual problems, coming up with new ideas is what I’m best equipped to do. Ideas fall out of my hand, when that stops, I’m done.
Which artist or peer inspires you most and why?
My real inspiration comes from classic travel poster art and cycling poster designs. I have a connection to the work but don’t copy any of it.
As for real artists that inspire my thinking, that’s easy too. I’m a true fan of American designer and artist Milton Glaser. Maybe best know for I Love (heart) NY, and the Bob Dillon poster with coloured hair. His work is intellectually stimulating but simple, thoughtful. I’m always looking for ideas and to me, MG is the high bar.
The flip side to Glaser is Ralph Steadman — right, is there a more polar opposite. What Steadman reminds me to do is not to worry too much about things, draw it, love it, move on. I try to find my furthest boundaries using RS as a yardstick. On my craziest day, I’ll never match the genius of either of these great artists.
If I dont think about it, it falls out of my hand.
Which individual piece (or series of work) are you fondest or most proud of? Not only from the finished aesthetic product but from the experience in creating and the memory’s it invokes?
Hoogerheid CX was a breakthrough design for me. It marked a moment in time when I went from creating “scenes” to creating a really strong graphic image. It’s layered with ideas but so simple in total. I like looking for little bits and ideas to put into each design and I think Hoogerheid CX started that practice.
Thee world championship bands, putting them in the wheels, the clogs because of where they are, the windmill. It was the first time I thought…”oh i can make them more graphic” From where I look at it there has been a growth curve.
Also, I just love anything Paris-Roubaix. PR packs all the excitement, history and drama of a bike race in one day, there’s even a finish on a track! How crazy is that when you think about it.
As for a complete series of work, hands down Tour de France. I’ve been to over forty stages now in three years and the plan is to keep going every year. Creating a new poster is a must for each year, can’t wait to do Nice!
But nothing beats being in France drawing pictures on the street of the Tour de France, during a TdF stage, drinking beers, fighting for a view, not speaking French, drawing the picture and getting back on my bike to go do it again. And again. Simply alive with magic.
One of the many pieces I love from your Tour DE France series is ‘St Michel’ from your 2016 Le Tour adventure. Can you describe your creative workflow from idea to finished piece?
The TdF St Michel print has sold very well and I think it’s the simplicity of the design. There is, of course, the interpretation of the Mont Saint Michel in the background behind the rider. In my mind, the rider is on the long road that leaves from the town. A single way in and out. It’s the route the Tour used when they were there. The rider has an old school look about him to add a more historic feel, after all, it’s been around a very long time. The colours are what I would call just a little bit dirty. For me, this also adds to the flavour of old posters. And the simple fact is when I interpret an image its more about what’s appealing and in my mind’s eye than reality. I’ve often said if you can take a photo of it, you don’t need me.
You’re a self-confessed Tour junkie visiting the Tour regularly and also the giro this year. How do you take in the stages?
For the first three years on the Tour de France, it was a campervan. This year since I only went for one week and I went alone for the first time did a car, B&B’s and small hotels. I have to say, that was easier on my body doing it that way, but I prefer the campervan. The freedom with a campervan is ridiculous. With the driver and myself, it’s just “where do you want to go, let’s go there! When do you want to get there? when we get there!”
I imagine there will be a scene, a lot of camaraderie doing it the campervan way?
The scene is great you pull into one of them, we call them ‘Mo-Ho’camps it’s crazy there can be like a 1000 vans. Up in Normandy a few years back I remember the ‘Mur De Bretagne’ it was like campervans as far as the eye can see. It’s difficult in the alps. If you want to keep moving you cant go to the tops, you have to be there 3-4 days before to get a spot on the climb. We’ll park up in the valley and ride up.
What does a typical day when visiting a grand tour look like for you?
You’ve been to some stages right! so you have to get there early. So I go to a stage I get there 3-4 hours early, everybody else is drinking, I’m drinking but I’m drawing. if I’m at a finish line, I have got the time down to where …im like oh there at 10k to go, I know exactly what I have to finish up. I don’t care who wins or loses in my drawings, because you know its more about atmosphere and location what i’m doing, so I go du-du-dut-dehhh, finish up, finish my beer. Pack it all up, put it on my bike, post a video. Sixty stages in, I’m like clockwork now.
Are the other fans courteous or do they distract you from what you are doing?
If you are standing there I’d rather talk to you. I talk and work the whole time. The drawings actually work out better when I’m distracted or (drunk). I don’t have to think about it. It’s a little bit easier for your intuitive self to come out. That’s where the talent comes out. If I don’t think about it, it falls out of my hand.
When you go to a stage do you have an idea of what you want to do or are you free sketching? Shows me sketchbook
Well, I know what’s in the air and what might happen. I have books of sketches ( shows me a sketch of Planche de belle Filles) This was done the day before. It’s always about are their ideas and things that can happen before the stage. I do my homework the day before or the morning off and I go see how that plays out and what else may along the way. if its a mountain stage and there is a battle going, and it’s real King of The Mountain stage, then I might think I will definitely do a polka dot as it’s important to that day and if there is an iconic landmark for sure I’d want to do something to that.
When your there you don’t just sketch and paint you also do a serious amount of riding. Do you have any favourite climbs of all the ones you have done in Italy and France?
Yeah that’s important to me. We did Sella Ronda, Madonna Del Ghisallo, Passo de Mortirolo,…I don’t know if I have a favourite, They are hard. I was telling my friends I did 40000ft in 2 weeks and that’s normally a whole summer. The Tourmalet was unrelenting and heavy…and I’m going to do it again. I did Alpe D’Huez the day before the tour and that was fun, the crazy’s were there. The Mortirolo was insane, just straight up and It was cold and wet. I’ve been cold in my life but I’ve never been colder than coming back down from the Mortirolo.
My legs were hurting just watching the Mortirolo this year, did you smash a good Strava time up it?
….Yeah, it was like two days!!! Strava for me is to keep a record not break one. Remember I said I ride a steel bike, that means I’m not trying thaaaat hard.
Which race or cycling location not yet captured, would you most like to visit render to canvas/paper next?
Strada Bianche and L’Eroica. Both are on the must-do, must go, must-see list. Italy is dripping with cycling history, it’s what I love. And let’s be honest, I’d go for the cycling and stay for the coffee. I’ve put L’Eroica next year 2020 about this time on the calendar. I think they are my people. I don’t care about riding the event as much as the people, atmosphere and the places I could draw and be a part of.
I’m going to the Pyrenees next year with eleven of my friends to take in the Tour. We are hoping to do 5 or so stages. Staying in La CLosure at B&B we’ve been to before.
My next gig, I’m trying to put together…I think you might have seen it on social media. Google Urban sketching. It seems like all the Millenials have discovered that drawing in a coffee shop is fun ( tongue firmly in cheek) instead of an iPad. It’s funny, that what I have been doing intuitively for thirty years is now trendy. SO what I would like to do at some point is put a note out to the people who follow to take, say 5 people who are artists on a cycling trip to Tuscany to draw for a week. Where you get to ride your bike in Italy and get to draw. Whether you draw or not, I will tell you that, we get on a bicycle someplace in Italy and we’d ride that bike for 30miles and we’ll stop in a plaza in a beautiful village, the tour van meets us with the gear and we sit with a glass of wine and we’d start drawing pictures for a couple of hours and I guarantee that you would go home with something you would want to put on your wall. If you draw 2-3 every day you’ll have twenty-thirty to pick from by the end of the trip.
One drink, One book and One Album?
DRINK: Whiskey, any. ( Needed to fight the demons.) BOOK: A book of Five Rings -Miyamoto Musashi ( I’m a closet ninja ). MUSIC : Bruce Springsteen, any. ( truth )
A massive chapeau to Michael for sharing his passion, his life and pearls of wisdom with us. We love his distinctive art. How he plays with perception, the fluidity of his protagonists and also how the bold imagery riffs across the cultural scales of contemporary to yesteryear.
If you have not checked out his website, head over and when you love his artwork you can Sign up on his website and get 30% off first purchase at Veloist.com
I’m heading over to his website right now to buy said Mont ST Michel print before the rest of you get to it. Shouldn’t be said but it’s almost that time of year, treat yourself or put one on your Santa list
Darren & Craig
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