The Process of Process: It’s a Bike AND a Book!


There are two things I really like: illustrating kid’s books and restoring bicycles.  I’ve designed graphics for many custom bike frames. Here are a couple of examples of my original designs.


I’ve also illustrated stories about bugs riding bikes. This is a dummy for a book I presented at a children’s book conference sponsored by the Oregon branch of SCBWI in 2009.

But I never actually used the bicycle frame as a vehicle to tell a story. Until now.

Why not illustrate a children’s book on a bike?

First, you need a blank canvas. Years ago, I came upon an old, beat-up bicycle frame at a local secondhand bicycle shop. It was close to my size and cheap. Although rusty and badly scratched, it had some nice shapes and features that I liked. I later learned the frame is indeed of fine quality. It is a hand-built frame by Holdsworth, a famous English maker.

But back to the main point. I had an idea for a new way to tell a story. This was my process:

I sanded off the rust and primed the steel frame with gesso as I would a canvas.

Next step was to sand the gesso so it would accept a pencil line.

Once the gesso dried, I began to sketch very simple cartoon insects interacting with one another in a variety of vignettes: climbing, flying, crawling and basically scurrying over the bike surface, through grasses and vegetation and up into the sky and clouds within an environment I created. Stories naturally unfolded as I drew.

The plot thickens!

After the pencil work was done, I colored it with watercolor, just as I would an illustration on paper.


Once I finished the art, I paid a professional bicycle frame painter to spray a protective clear coat over the surface. I was assured the clear coat would provide some necessary UV protection, because exposure to sunlight will cause watercolor to fade. The surface of the bike feels and looks much like porcelain, with an incredibly smooth, glassy surface and clear, vivid colors.



The interactions of these bugs lays out a story. The loose organization of the characters enables the viewer to invent their own story line.

There are the love-crossed snails, busy ants, the co-dependent bees and the evil spider hanging below the headtube!

Most bikes bear a makers’ badge on the headtube underneath the handlebars. Since I discovered the bike was indeed a Holdsworth, I created a Holdsworth badge in keeping with the rest of the design.  It is held in position by a pair of hovering bees, hence combining the tangible, steel framed bicycle with my cartoon characters. Everything is mixed up, and yet integrated.





I sent photos of the project to my good friend and respected bicycle restorer, Bob Jameson. He apparently felt bike was somehow lacking. Not long after, an oblong box arrived in the mail containing a hand-fabricated fumigator pump to secure to the top tube. This unexpected gift adds another layer of whimsy and fun to the project.




Here are some of details of the story of love and intrigue, fear and suspense and whatever else you care to read into the narrative.









Finally, what to call it? The Insecticycle!

Here’s an example of functional, rideable art. The Insecticycle is a book on a bike. It is a book AND a bike. Just as mobile as a Kindle or an iPad, but perhaps a tad more functional! Can you ride your iPad around town? Bet not.

There’s nothing new under the sun. I recently came across this website about kamishibai, a form of Japanese street theatre that dates to the 9th century. The literal translation of kamishibai is “paper-theater”. In the 1920s, Japanese storytellers affixed story panels to bicycles and traveled from town to town. The stories were serials and the storyteller would ride his bicycle back to town each week bearing the latest installment.




29 Responses to “The Process of Process: It’s a Bike AND a Book!”

  1. Dale says:


  2. Nick Ozerov says:

    I’m enjoying these photos the second time I’ve seen them as much as the first time and look forward to enjoying them again in the future! Very cool job 🙂 Thanks for sharing your talents! Regards, Nick

  3. Bill Gibson says:

    Made me smile like few other bicycles!

  4. RobO says:

    Something about it bugs me – because its so GREAT! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Mark Stevens says:

    That has made my day! A wonderful idea and so beautifully realised. I love the bugs and your personal illustration style. I hope it inspires more ‘Storycycles’, ‘Narrabikes’ or ‘FixieFiction’.

  6. Jane F says:

    very cool!

  7. Wendelin says:

    This is WAY cool!

  8. Mikey P says:

    That is a thing of beauty and a wonder to behold–I just love it–plus the English frame just makes it for me!! How long did it take you to do?

  9. Courtney says:

    Beautiful, one of the coolest things I have seen since the Lorax. You can borrow one of my bikes, I will ship it to you for free, if you feel like illustrating another story.

  10. tim musial says:

    This is awesome. I have shared this with all my creative and artistic friends and colleagues. Super!

  11. One fellow illustrator and bike enthusiast to another: this is waaaaay too cool! I’ve pondered this very idea myself for a couple of years now and imagine my delight to stumble across this on Classic Rendezvous and find out someone had actually done it – and, it appears, has done it exceptionally well! Thanks for sharing.

  12. Faythe Mills says:

    I LOVE IT!! Too bad you don’t live in Minnesota!! This should be displayed in the Bike Art VI show at Altered Esthetics in Northeast Minneapolis. Here is their website:

  13. That’s fantastic! Thanks for sharing this Karl!
    Living Well With Epilepsy

  14. ediew says:

    Wonderful! I see a new sideline business in your future!

  15. Elisabeth says:

    Beautiful bike-book!

  16. Karl, Ohhhhhh, you’re a clever one, you are.
    I love people with crazy good skills and vision and know how to execute it!
    How fun is that!

  17. Susan says:

    Wicked cool — do you dare ride it? What are you doing to promote this project and your expertise? Since Portland is such bike-luvin’ town there must be some website or fun-ride (like Bridge Pedal) where you can show and tell. Of course that would bring in offers to do custom work…

  18. Wow,, I am in love with this bike and every bug in it.. so many stories… wonderful job…

  19. Alex Moll says:

    SO GREAT! Really fun. I hope you do ride it, as I’m curious how it’ll hold up to use and the elements. You may be on to something here. Keep creating!

  20. Neil says:


  21. Rebecca says:

    This is so lovely – thanks for sharing the process and the finished product!

  22. Oldspoke says:

    Wheelie Wheeelie Wheeeeelie Cool !
    Like , I’m “Buggin Out” !

  23. Suzie says:

    Thank you for sharing. How did you get the watercolor to stay on the frame? I’ve never seen this technique done before. Looks fantastic!! Love everything about it.


  1. […] !!!! jaw droppingly cool !!! The Process of Process: It’s a Bike AND a Book! | Karl Edwards Originally Posted by brendan this is the best comment in any thread ever. […]

  2. […] Children’s book illustrator Karl Edwards created “Insecticycle” — a a bike that tells a story. […]

  3. […] more about his process on Edwards’ blog. tags: bicycle, illustration, Karl […]

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