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Monday, January 18, 2016

Australian artist takes images of cyclists and turns them into art

Australian artist takes images of cyclists and turns them into art
By:  Michael Lander

Shirley Peters is an artist from Australia who has a
particular affinity for painting cyclists, especially
those who ride in one of the biggest stages in
competitive cycling - The Tour de France.

In many ways, cycling can almost seem as though it is like artwork in motion.

With the spinning of tires, the rotation of the pedals and chain rings, and the swaying and turning of a group of cyclists, who often move in unison with one another, undulating like waves in the ocean, it is almost as if you are watching art literally moving and unfolding before you.

Shirley Peters in an artist who attempts to capture this on canvas.  Her interest in painting cyclists began with one of the greatest of cycling events – the Tour de France.

“I’ve been following the Tour de France since the early nineties, when the first Australian started racing.  Our sports-crazy TV station, SBS, delivered it ‘live’ in the middle of the night.  In 2011, I tweeted about the lovely Lycra-clad backsides in Le Tour, and a twitter follower asked me if I ever painted them.  I didn’t, but I took that as a challenge and I started to sketch the racers,” Peters said.

After finding a way to freeze-frame the fast-paced action of the Tour de France on her TV set, Peters was able to get some good racing images from which to recreate it into an art form.

“Before long, I had many good racing images to choose from.  I looked for a ‘wow’ shot, one that shows a dramatic breakaway or a finishing line dash.  I then sketched it, and painted it with watercolour (watercolor), and it was up on eBay as soon as the paint was dry,” Peters said.

Shirley Peters work, in watercolor, entitled - Descending
the Alps, depicts cyclists in the Tour de France as they
descend the mountainous region known as the Alps.  It is one
of the most challenging stages of the 23-day, 3,500 kilometer

Through her paintings, Peters is interested in capturing these world class athletes on their bikes, but she also wanted to convey the drama and the stories that surround the Tour de France.

“I love the drama of the race and the fitness of the racers.  I want to catch the subtle shift of weight into a curve, the down-press on a steep incline, and the sheer mindless dash at the finish line.  Even a relaxing section where the cyclists pass a drink and have a chat – it’s a story that is so visual.  We are very lucky to have the cameras travelling with the race.  If we only saw it from the side lines, we’d miss all those details,” Peters said.

As much as Peters loves painting cyclists in the Tour de France, some of her work has also included other cyclists in more casual and non-competitive settings.

“I enjoy painting cyclists.  Bikes have a special appeal and my favourite (favorite) cities are Amsterdam and Beijing.  Both are full of bikes.  When I paint these cities, I inevitably include a bike or two.  But, with that said, I don’t do the other races, for example, the Tour Down Under.  For some reason, it’s my love of France that makes the French race so interesting,” Peters said.

Peters, who is from Australia, (the Land Down Under), began her pursuit of art early in life and she hasn’t looked back since then.

“I’ve been painting since high school.  I studied Fine Art in college, but changed to Graphic Design, as I thought that would make a better career.  I worked in commercial studios as a designer creating logos, advertising, brochure layouts, magazines and, later, websites.  I was still illustrating children’s books on the side, and painting with oils and watercolors as a hobby,” Peters said.

Shirley Peters work, in watercolor, entitled - The Rear,
depicts cyclists in a large peloton during the Tour de

“Like many others, I had a mid-life assessment.  I asked myself what I really wanted to do for the rest of my life.  The answer for me was to paint so I enrolled at a local art school and had fun for two years, refreshing my painting and printmaking knowledge,” she added.

Peters describes her style of art, which includes her paintings of cyclists, as being much less rigid and much more gestural in nature.

“Everyone starts out, for example, signing their name very neatly, but as the years go by, their signature loses its original shape, and sometimes becomes just a few weird dashes and crosses.  This is a ‘gesture’ – a loose mark.  My painting strokes are becoming like a gesture – less realism, and slightly more abstract.  And, I find that this is a one-way journey.  The more I paint, the looser my work becomes,” Peter said.

The influences which define much of her artwork today is very eclectic and it is derived from artists over a broad spectrum, both historically and geographically.

“My first influence was the Renaissance paintings, which I saw when I traveled to Italy.  They are moody, mysterious, and usually they tell a story.  I have often used the lights and darks of the Renaissance paintings in my works,” Peters said.

French impressionism has also had a considerable influence on Peters and the artwork that she creates.

“I studied the French Impressionists at art school, in my 20’s, and they have influenced my appreciation of “En Plein Air’ landscape, which means painting in the open air, and painting exactly what you see,” she said.

Shirley Peters work, in watercolor, entitled - The Red
Hat, depicts a street scene setting with cyclists riding
on a rainy late afternoon day.

The last of the greatest influences on her came from China.

“In China, I had the opportunity to watch traditional Chinese artists at work. One was painting bamboo branches with a few deft strokes and he let me use his brushes, inks, and rice paper,” Peters said.

When it comes to the types of paint, Peters has knowledge and experience with watercolors, acrylic, and oils, but she currently has a preference for watercolors and acrylic paint.

“I use both watercolor and acrylic.  Watercolor is very expressive, and easy to use, providing you don’t want to make a change.  Every brushstroke is visible.  Acrylics are easier and are the most versatile.  They are bright and splashy and can be used thinly, like watercolor, and thick, like oil paints,” Peters said.

Even though she lets the marketplace decide on the pricing range for her cyclist-related artwork, there are various factors that can determine what the final asking price might be.

Shirley Peters work, in watercolor, entitled -
The Call, depicts a street scene with cyclists,
one of who is taking a phone call.  Peters
likes to incorporate images of bicycles into
some of her paintings.

“I let the market decide on the Tour de France paintings.  I start at about $60 (U.S. $50) and the bids will determine the finish price.  The top price has been about $140.  My acrylic paintings, however, are a different matter.  They are much larger, painted on canvas, take more time to produce, and I have sometimes had a gallery commission to cover.  But, with that said, the size of the work makes the biggest difference in pricing.  Very large paintings are $1,600 and the $2,400 paintings are not only large, but are framed with a Perspex cover.  Also, if a painting wins a prize, it is going to be much more expensive,” Peters said.

For those interested in viewing any of Peters’ artwork that is available for sale, they can visit her website at:    Additional information about her and her artwork can also be found on Facebook at:

Behind her love for painting, Peters also has a love for cycling.

“My favourite (favorite) sport is cycling.  I have a great, little bike that I bought from a friend.  It is light and fast.  There have been so many distractions now that my husband and I have moved to a five acre property at the foot of the Blue Mountains, near Sydney and I’m lucky to ride once a month nowadays, but we also have a motorhome and we intend to strap my bike to the back for our future trips,” Peters said.

Shirley Peters is in her studio and she has her pallet ready
and is prepared to put the finishes touches on one of her

In this way, not only does Peters depict cyclists on canvas, but she, herself, becomes a part of the beauty and artwork of motion that many see in cycling.

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