Grace Russell: inviting questions to be asked

My introduction to Grace was her evocative ‘We love Paris Roubaix’ illustration in Rouleur magazine way back in March. Since then I’ve become a major fan, drawn in by her ability to surprise and connect with me at the same time. In each of her pieces she communicates everything that sport is; exciting, emotional, joyful, grueling, rewarding and above all, full of passion.

Over time Grace has worked with Rouleur on many briefs. She loves working for the magazine, inspired by the stories she finds.

After becoming a little obsessed with what Grace does….

and adorning my wall with her work….

…I thought it was about time I got to know her better. ..

When did you first start drawing? 

I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. My grandad was wildly creative, always drawing, painting, turning wood…he even made us a little jeep once that we could ride around the garden. I thought he was the cleverest man ever so anything he was doing I wanted to do as well.

When I was younger I used to write my own stories and poems and then draw the pictures to go with them. There was also a lot of horses! And then I would also paint a lot of landscapes with my grandad.

What’s your favourite cycling illustration? 

Matthew Ball

It has to be a cover for Boots & Spurs magazine by Matthew Ball (designer not singer!!)

And your favourite non-cycling illustration?


It has to be J M W Turner’s ‘Fisherman at sea’ but I also love Cy Twombly too. 


What does a typical day look like for you?

I wake up around 5.30 am when the dogs (Grace has a huge, lazy Rhodesian Ridgeback and an equally large-and in my cynophobic mind, intimidating, Hungarian Vizla) are asking for their breakfast and then take them out for an hour or so. When I get back I’ll make myself a coffee and my own breakfast and write down my tasks for the day, answering any important emails and then doing any jobs or cleaning around the house so I can then settle into my desk. 

Each day is a little different depending on what I’m working on and also the stage that the project is at but I’ll work to about 4 pm, whether that’s working on ideas, roughs or final illustrations, and then head to the gym. Then I’ll cook and eat dinner with my boyfriend and (if possible) bring my work downstairs so I can continue working with him for the rest of the evening. 

How long does a piece normally take?

It really depends. Generally it’s dictated by the deadline, but also how complex the brief is.

Your drawings are often emotionally and politically charged, how do you choose what you draw? Is the process cathartic, enjoyable or does it just feel like work? I ask this with no judgment, one of my favourite artists says he doesn’t enjoy painting at all. I found that out after I’d commissioned something from him!

If I’m working for a client, I will be given a brief, so the subject matter will always come from that, but I think my brain just works in stories. I always look to bring out the underlying narratives and create those images that make you think about them a little more. I love to read between the lines and I think that an image should do that same, inviting questions to be asked. My personal work tends to come from things that I’ve read and that have really resonated with me too. 

At least some of each project is enjoyable, but I completely get where your artist friend is coming from! If you’re stuck with a brief that just really doesn’t connect with you or the client has chosen your least favourite rough and its 1 am on the day of your deadline, then its quite easy to run out of steam a little. For the most part though, I love being an illustrator. 

The ideas phase is definitely my favourite. It can be incredibly exciting when a concept comes into your head and you have to rush to spill it all out onto paper (which would probably look like nothing more than a scribble to anyone else!).

Happy accidents are also one of my favourite things, where a mistake turns into something you just really didn’t expect. 

How did you get into illustrating cycling? 

I’d always try to marry up my passion for sport with illustrating (Grace is super competitive, a personal trainer, and really into Olympic weightlifting), but there constantly felt that something was lacking in the image, the emotion wasn’t there. But with cycling, there are so many stories, so many experiences and so much raw passion that people carry from it, that it’s the perfect sport to illustrate. 

Can you tell me more about the work you’ve done for Rouleur?

My first commission with Rouleur was for an article/interview with Lizzie Deignan (then Armitstead). She spoke about being portrayed as a bit of an ice queen so I illustrated her in this winning stance in front of a big icy mountain.

She also spoke about trying to find a balance with her personal life, spending a lot of time on the bus daydreaming about her upcoming wedding and places she’d love to visit. This formed a double exposure type illustration filled with her daydreams. It’s still one of my favourite illustrations today and Lizzie actually asked for a print of it for herself.

Consumer Champions was the next commission, taking a slightly humorous look at a racing cyclists diet. It was a super fun project, I created this helmet with voluminous amounts of pasta spilling out of it and then a cyclist starting a climb with these melting brie wheels. 

I then worked with Rouleur to create three illustrations on the growing use of social media among road cyclists and a look at the impact on the sport.

I think this was the first commission I worked on after changing my process and approach to illustrating. I like to think that the commission definitely vindicated this change as the ‘twitter storm’ image is still one of my most successful illustrations.

The image shows a cyclist engulfed in this swarm of twitter birds, unable to see, but continuing forward seemingly unfazed. 

Most recently I worked with the magazine to create the cover for their Paris-Roubaix edition.

It was a dream project. They are brilliant to work with. Andy, Ian and the rest of the team just know what makes a good magazine so I trust their feedback and direction implicitly. The illustration was also born from a rough for another commission for Rouleur that will come out sometime next year. 

I can’t wait to see what’s coming next for Grace, in Rouleur and whatever else that comes her way. I have no doubt it will continue to inspire me, encourage me to think outside the box by triggering questions I didn’t know I had, about a sport I thought I knew so well.

Check out Grace’s website to see her full collection of inspirational work…

…her Etsy for purchases…

…and her Instagram for all things illustration, fitness and pet related.

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