Gift Guide: Six items for the analog artist on the move

By Stephen Haynes

Do you know a cycling artist? These six items easily fit in a frame bag and allow for artistic adventures on the go.

Moleskine Large Watercolor Notebook – $20
At 8 ½ x 5 ½ inches, the Moleskine Watercolor Notebook is big enough to capture just about any scene, both real or imagined, yet small enough to fit just about anywhere. Its 72, 200-gram, cold-pressed watercolor pages stand up well to abuse of all kinds, from pencil, pen, watercolor, gouache and casein, to collage and sticker collecting. Moleskine makes a smaller 5 ½ x 3 ½ that I find too small and two larger A4 (11 3/4 x 8 1/4) and A3 (11 3/4 x 16 1/2) size books, both of which are nice, but too big for my purposes. I’m totally in favor of using cheaper materials and sketchbooks, as the cost of art supplies can get heady at times, but I can’t recommend this book enough for its utility and classic styling.

Sakura Koi Water Brush – $7.50
The Koi Water Brush from Sakura is a tool that I’ve come to greatly appreciate, especially when used in concert with water-soluble mediums like the Derwent Watercolor Pencils or Winsor & Newton Watercolor Markers I highlight below. The Koi can also be used to activate charcoal, pencil, non-binding ink (like that found in traditional ball points) and dried gouache lending your sketches a soft, painterly feel, which can be left as is, or reworked as you like. One part synthetic brush tip, one part water tank, the Koi is easily filled via faucet, stream or just about any other water source and comes in three different size brush tips: small, medium (pictured) and large. Easy on the budget, easy to pack and carry, loads of fun to use.

Derwent Watercolor Pencils Set of 12 – $20
The Derwent Watercolor Pencils are so cool it’s hard to convey how fun and useful they are in such a short format. Used as traditional colored pencils, they perform as one might expect, but when activated with water, they become slippery and nearly endlessly malleable. Create depth in your image by building layer upon layer of color, blending with water as you go along. They also work great in mixed media sketches, like the one shown here. Available in sets from 12 -72 colors, or individually from various outlets.

Winsor & Newton Watercolor Markers – $6 each
Much like the colored pencils above, the Winsor & Newton Watercolor Markers can be used like regular old markers, or they can be softened with water. The difference between the two is that the markers retain the original line a bit more and are also more pigmented; therefore, they come across as brighter and more vibrant. Despite being the only watercolor marker I own, it has proven to be a lot of fun to use and travels well (read, doesn’t need to be sharpened).

Pentel Pocket Brush – $20
The Pocket Brush uses black, waterproof ink, making it great for producing sketches and drawings of lasting quality or as an outliner over other media, like the watercolor marker and pencils mentioned previously. The Pentel Pocket Brush comes with two ink cartridges, one of which will last a good while, unless you’re prone to filling in large sections of paper with solid black. Replacement cartridges can be purchased in sets of two for under $5. This is without a doubt the best $20 I’ve spent on art supplies in the last decade. If you’re at all curious about the items in this roundup, start here.

Pentel Presto! Jumbo Correction Pen – $5
A staple of comic book artists everywhere, the Pentel Presto! Jumbo Correction Pen is great as both a quick-drying corrective tool and an easy solution for adding highlights. The Presto! Jumbo holds 12 mL of thinner-free, ozone-safe correction fluid dispensed through a fine-tipped roller ball, allowing for easy pinpoint applications that dries to the touch in a few seconds. The corrected area can then be readdressed with whatever medium you so choose, or not. While this isn’t an absolute necessity in my kit, I almost always use it when I have it.



Creating Art from a Ride – Mark Bowers’ Drava

Words by Jeffrey Stern, photos via Mark Bowers

Mark Bowers, the creator of Drava, a visually and artistically represented reaction to Strava is creating art, just by riding his bike. According to Bowers, he thinks of it as his counterbalance to America, or even the world’s current obsession to obtain quantifiable data in nearly every facet of our daily lives. From smartphones to tablets, wearable devices like the Fitbit and Garmin computers, as well as everything in between, Bowers says, “Devices, surveys, assessment, and testing are influencing the way we appreciate the human experience.”

Many cyclists train using complex power meters and computers to analyze their efforts and progress towards a certain goal, often times taking over the experiential part of riding and turning the fun, thing you did as a kid pastime, into a chore and often dreaded. Inevitably, there are riders in our circles of friends who devour and crave this data, and others who prefer the simplicity of the freedom provided by the bike. The term “no garmin, no rules” is often one thrown around, suggesting without the use of technology the true freedom a bicycle provides can shine through.

Constantly, Bowers has questioned the benefit, truth, and application of these measurements that ultimately seem to dehumanize the experience. Through his ride Drava, he’s able to mimic the collection of data obtained with any number of GPS devices, as he explains further, “By using a truly analog method of pencil and paper, I’m creating a physical record of my ride experiences. These drawings are created through the act of riding a bike – bumps, accelerations, braking and flow.”


How does he capture these experience on a ride? He’s designed, hand built, 3D printed and laser cut numerous device iterations of Drava, most recently with cardboard, zip ties, rubber bands and coins as his building materials. His latest device, dubbed Drava 2.0, can easily be reproduced and shared he says.



As a kid Bowers frequented the local Wagner Schwinn Bicycle Shop where they knew him by name. It wasn’t until he had his first real job in high school that he could afford to buy a real bike; a purple anodized 1993 Trek 7000. He loved the adventure of the ride and was bit first by the mountain biking bug because of the element of nature and his surroundings in Michigan. In his early thirties, he purchased his first road bike because of a move to Chicago, where pavement riding was the easiest option in the big city. He learned to love road riding in his adopted home and has spent time in the saddle for a multitude reasons. “I have ridden for the adventure, training, destinations, competition, mental sanity, daily work commute and the bar…beer is good for you after all,” he says with a sly smile.

Post-Ride Brew

Post-Ride Brew

A high school art teacher by trade, he uses his job, family and free time as the the framework for his creativity. He cites his inspiration from artists like Jim Dine, James Valerio, Maria Tomasula, and others, but adds that he appreciates anyone who has the passion and desire to create. He often seeks silent time after a long day teaching students, so his paintings reflect his feelings, “I make very small paintings that are obsessive in detail because my art studio is tiny and I seek quiet meditation after a day with high school students, which is also why I seek long solo rides. This is not to say that I don’t love teaching, I very much do, but the Drava project relates to my idea that artmaking must find a way to fit into my life or I would be forced to stop making art altogether,” which would never happen, he assures me.

Since he rides his bike often during the summers and other school breaks, he thought about how he might record the long hours spent doing one of his favorite activities, but in a 2D art form. When teaching drawing to students, he often stresses the beauty of variation, uniqueness, and relationships of different marks in a drawing, “I feel that a good drawing is not a facsimile of a photograph, but a frozen record of how an image was built line by line, mark by mark.” He says this is very much the same thought pattern with Drava, “bump by bump, acceleration by acceleration,” though.

Des Plaines River Trail Ride

Des Plaines River Trail Ride

Bowers refers to the ‘ride culture shock’ he experienced when moving from Michigan to Chicago as the beginnings of Drava. “Biking was an activity that usually took place in the woods with buddies and hairy legs and in the blink of an eye it turned into the ‘drop’ group road rides of Chicago.” These fast paced, often unsafe group rides were filled with new terms that he’d never heard of before; VO2 Max, watts, output, threshold and more. The frequency and sudden change in his cycling environment helped to illuminate the initial idea of Drava in his head.

Once the idea started to come to fruition, he did just like he would do with any of his other art projects and dove straight in. He says there were many details he learned through the initial trial and error phase when trying to find the best materials and tolerance to make a beautiful drawing with Drava, and ultimately settled on the following ten step process:

1.      Drill a hole in a coin
2.      Strip the wood off a selected colored pencil lead
3.      Heat the coin with a torch
4.      Push the pencil lead through the hot coin hole (Wax in colored pencil lead will melt creating a sturdy union when cooled)
5.      Cut the pencil lead to the proper length within the coin
6.      Double-side tape the illustration board (paper) to the bottom of the Drava case
7.      Place the coin under the thrust bearing
8.      Set bearing/coin onto paper
9.      Fasten the lid to the bottom Drava case
10.   Go on a sweet ride



He’s repeated this process dozens of times now and says his favorite piece is Around the Block, “A record of a ride I did with my then 3-year-old son while he was on a Strider bike. I followed him wherever he wanted to ride in our neighborhood. It’s a record of a great memory. And might be a true visual representation of a kid’s freedom while on a bike…no straight lines.” It’s these types of rides that he thinks we need more of in our world, complete spontaneity.

Around the Block

Around the Block

Bowers admits that he is a Strava virgin, and can only relate to the San Francisco based company’s technology by the segments of some of his favorite trails in Michigan that have been altered by riders making KOM attempts. Although the name Drava appears similar to Strava, he tells us, “I did not directly name Drava in context to Strava; ‘va’, in its literal Spanish to English translation means; he/she/it goes. Which equates to me as ‘moving drawing’ or Drava.”

At some point, there are limits to the levels of technology we can surround ourselves with and Bowers recognizes that everyone is different when it comes to this topic. His hope is, “That the best technology is used to help humans be more human, experience and improve the world around them in a positive way.”

What’s a ride anyway if your head is buried in a 2-inch computer screen on your stem or wrist? Not only is it unsafe, but in it’s way of quantifying and connecting the ride to segments and numbers, it’s actually disconnecting the rider from what Bowers believes is the true purpose of riding in the first place. “Technology, social media, data dependency, and the inability to recognize our reality is influencing our democracy and human experience like never before,” he says.

What he enjoys most about the ride resonates with many cyclists, “Getting lost…” he continues, “whether it be in my thoughts, exhaustion, ride flow or location. The best rides are when time looses its grip on the moment. The longer this lasts the more enjoyable the ride.”

As a self-proclaimed purest, he lets his body and senses tell him what he needs to know on any given ride, which have yet to fail in yielding that cheek-to-cheek ride ending grin that all cyclists are familiar with.



What’s next for Drava 3.0? Bowers is very interested in the idea of a “sharing economy” where he can post instructions, templates and list the accessories needed so others can create their own Drava devices and artwork from rides. “It’s simple to make with some modest bits,” he explains.

Another thought that pops into his head as we’re nearing the end of our conversation is to use two Drava cases stacked on top of each other to see how two drawings may differ from the same ride. Which, rather perfectly represent his take on every ride, even ones that follow the same route; they’re all different based on his level of openness and willing to experience whatever the world, nature and the open road has to throw his way.

“Maybe if we all just rode our bikes with our heads up more, and didn’t stare at our digital gadgets as much, we might even wave hello to one another as we pass?” Now that would be something refreshing in this technology driven day and age.

Grinduro stage map

Grinduro stage map

Check out more Mark Bowers’ work (cycling related and not) on his website and follow him on Instagram to keep up with his daily rides, art inspiration and Drava pieces.


NAHBS 2017: Squid Bikes

As I wandered the showroom floor on the first day of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, a line of uniquely-painted frames caught my eye. Yeah, there are a lot of bright, shiny, pretty, and unique bikes to see at NAHBS, but these frames were clearly different.

They ranged from clearly-defined designs such as pizza slices and sharks to organic, abstract ones that looked like they’d been created by just throwing paint at the frame. One of the founders of Squid Bikes, Emily Kachorek, gave me the lowdown. It turns out that Squid is all about inspiring your creativity. While they do offer a number of pre-painted frame designs, the main premise behind the operation is that they will sell you a raw aluminum frame, as well as bike-specific frame paint, and you can create your own design.


In front in these shots is the raw frame, ready to be painted.


Currently, they offer cyclocross-style frames called the $QUIDCROSS. They are built by Ventana and come in 6 different sizes, ranging from XS-XXL. They feature 12×142 rear thru-axle spacing, a PF30 bottom bracket shell that can be cut for t47, an oversize steerer tube, and external cup headset. The frames are designed for disc brakes and to run up to 42 mm tires. Raw frames sell for $1200, and they also offer three complete builds, starting at $3200.

Their second bike is also in the works, a BMX cruiser with 26″ wheels.


The frame paint that they sell is called Spray.Bike, a spray paint specifically designed for bicycles. It dries quickly, doesn’t run or drip, and can be used at very close spraying proximity for more intricate designs and paint jobs. It is available in an amazing array of colors and textures, from a wide range of matte coats to metallic and florescent hues.


The Squid team encourages everyone, not just people that buy their bikes, to get creative and have fun, because after all, that’s what riding is all about.



Stay tuned for more NAHBS content in the coming days, and follow us on Instagram for photos from the show all day long!

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