RVA artist Greig Leach cycle-sprints to finish with 'Tour de Book'

December 20, 2014
Greig Leach poses with an over-sized oil pastel drawing in his studio. Photo by the reviewer.
photo by David J Bromley, courtesy Greig Leach

The definitions of cartoon art are varied, sometimes even mutually exclusive: loose and sketchy or finished and defined, for example. Compare E.C. Segar with Hal Foster. But many artists avail themselves of cartoon techniques who are not de facto cartoonists. When sequential presentation of an unfolding event or story is the format of the art and line quality, not mass, determine the aesthetic, it can be fairly stated that a cartoon-like product has been created. When the story is the 2014 Tour de France and the artist is Greig Leach, you have a series of impressionistic sketches that both document an international sporting event and capture the essence of the human drama and the natural landscape that is such a spectacle.

An active artist who doesn't like to let time go to waste, and also an avid cyclist and Tour fan, Leach nevertheless regretted the time spent watching this lengthy but compelling event. Upon the suggestion of his wife, actress Bridgett Gethins, he began to make his art in the house, not the studio, and document the race itself. Using freeze-frame on his DVR, he was able to produce numerous exciting sketches daily and still, for the most part, keep up with the race in "real time". The aforementioned "sketchy" quality is a real advantage here, reproducing in line the frenetic nature of the competition. The drawings have a compelling immediacy and the temporal restrictions and quantity demands the artist placed on himself help convey the pace and activity of a colorful and bold world event.

Every artist must know his subject. Formerly both an amateur racing cyclist and professional bike courier, riding up to 70 miles a day, Leach is qualified by both background and talent to do justice to the subject. Remaining active on the bicycle for fun and fitness, he is also one of Richmond, Virginia's more prominent artists. It should be no surprise, then, that when he decided to create a blog to document his daily creations, many people took note. Recognition of his accomplishment has been international throughout the cycling profession, earning accolades from such sources as Cyclingfans.com, cycling photographer Pete Geyer, and NBC's Phil Liggett, known to his viewers and listeners as "The Voice of Cycling". Many of the timely entries on theartofcycling.blogspot.com have been retransmitted via Twitter to engage an even larger audience.

Success in the digital medium has led to publication in the world of print: "Book de Tour: Art of the 101st Tour de France" by Dementi Milestone Publishing. This reviewer had an opportunity to visit with Leach recently and view the watercolors firsthand. The book is a fine reproduction of the changing colors and atmospheric conditions depicted by the artist; however, as is always the case, there is a certain 'glow' to the originals, owing to the passing of natural light through the pigment and reflecting back from the watercolor paper. In person, the art, part drawing and part painting, has a jewel like intensity of color. Reproducing the confident sketches slightly larger than original size, the 8.5" x 11" and almost 240 page book is ably edited by Sheree Whatley, who helps tell the story in stages over the three weeks of competition and camaraderie. Descriptions of the events are detailed at the bottom of each illustration, and a glossary of cycling terms is at the back to further interest and educate the uninitiated.

Many artists don't have the fortune to achieve critical success outside their own field of creativity; it is a testament to the authenticity of this work that Leach has garnered such a following and produced a classic. Soon to be available at Barnes & Noble bookstores, interested parties may, in the meantime, order online at Amazon.com. For those in the Richmond, Virginia vicinity, two venues are retailing the volume: the popular Chop Suey Books, and, just in time for Christmas or Holiday gift buying, enthusiasts may also obtain a signed copy at Carytown Bicycle Company from 1pm - 4pm on December 21, 2014.


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