Bikers aren’t exactly known for their of love art but take a moment to appreciate the work of Newcastle based illustrator Ryan Quickfall and that old Scarface poster of yours might find itself in the bin and replaced by something much, much cooler. If it’s good enough for the walls of Kenny Roberts, it’s good enough for your man cave.
His signature style can be found gracing the pages of some of the trendiest bike magazines including Dice and Sideburn and King Kenny isn’t his only celebrity fan; both Guy Martin and Colin Edwards are clients and some guy called Snoop Dogg was snapped wearing one of his T Shirts. It doesn’t stop there either, as well as famous names and trendy magazines he’s worked on behalf of some of the coolest two wheel brands there is. Just last week he was at London’s Bike Shed for Harley Davidson and he’s currently in the middle of a project for Californian racer and builder Roland Sands. Luckily for me he’s squeezed me into his busy schedule and I’ve got him for the next hour so we head to Newcastle’s Dat Bar. Not for the tasty pizzas or many beers on tap but because when it’s bike mad owner wanted it decorated it was Ryan and friend Marc Ross that he turned to so the punk-meets-wall of death setting they created seems a fitting place.
First thing I want to know is how does a lad from Rowland’s Gill end up illustrating full time for some of the coolest brands and top racers? It’s not from Art College that’s for sure and if you were his tutor I suggest you look away now. “That was a total waste of time” Ryan recalls “You don’t need an education for what I do”. What you do need, I’m told, is determination and to be prepared to put in some serious graft and stick it out. “I’ve spent more time not making money than actually making it”. Thankfully, that would eventually change when Gary Inman from Sideburn spied his work on Instagram and the exposure the magazine brought saw Ryan’s workload snowball to the point where he found himself in a position many other artists can only dream of; earning a living from their work.
What caught the eye of Inman and countless others since was Ryan’s style; solid black line work and bold colours used to create pieces influenced by B-Movie posters, comic book art and retro skate graphics. If you didn’t follow all that don’t worry, I didn’t either. Admittedly I stole it from previous interviews done by people way more arty than myself. All you and I need to know is that the results are stunning and luckily for us will include a motorbike 99% of the time. “I’m inspired by Motorcycles. The riders, the culture, the people around them and the movement you can express in illustrating a motorcycle.” Needless to say Ryan is a biker.
His first bike was a Honda NC30 in HRC Colours and by the way he reminisces I’d say it was also his first love. “It was awesome. So mint. Had to be one of the cleanest NC30’s about”. Sadly, as with most first loves it ended in heart break and tragedy. Just a year into ownership a delivery driver reversed his truck over it and that was the end of the little V4. An R6 followed on which he put 23k miles and even now still talks fondly of, despite it throwing him down a wet and oily central motorway in a crash that almost cost the illustrator an arm. The bike fared better than the rider and was relatively unscathed but when Ryan committed to becoming a full time artist he needed to free up some cash so the Yamaha had to go.
He’s since returned to two wheels, not as a menace on public roads but as a flat tracker on a dirt oval. Knowing that I’m a road rider Ryan explains why, for the foreseeable future at least, he’ll only be riding on a track and his rhetoric is hard to argue with. “You can only go so fast on the road before you’re going far too fast and even then you’re still holding back or looking for hazards but on the track you can get so much aggression out which you can’t really do on the road”. As you’d expect when someone like Ryan decides to dirt track they don’t throw their leg over any old bike. There’s no lightly modified dirt bike here. Instead he’s called on friend and fellow racer Mike at Survivor Customs to put together a 560 Rotax for him. Apparently the Newcastle based fabricator is a dab hand at building flat trackers. “He knows what frames to use, the right geometry to have and what engine to use so I just let Mike do his thing.” Of course Ryan had some say on the aesthetics, putting the finishing touches to the bike by designing it’s fuel tank and number board but don’t expect no show bike. “It’s mechanically sound but it’s rough and ready. It looks best with a dusting of mud on it and dent’s in the tank. I didn’t want to spend too much money as I expect it to get fucked in it’s first season”. The season in which said bike is likely to “get fucked” is the rookie class of the DTRA, a series that let’s complete novices attempt to get sideways on dirt tracks for relatively little money. It’s known for it’s accessibility and Ryan’s keen to sing it’s praises. The only downside is that most of the tracks are down south.
Unlike the racing, when it comes to work it doesn’t matter where Ryan’s based. With 70% of his clients based in America and most of his briefs coming by email his 5th floor studio in the centre of Newcastle does just fine. Even work as bonkers as Guy Martin’s calendar will come in by email or phone which is astonishing when you consider the task at hand; putting into pictures the abstract thoughts of one of country’s most eccentric personalities. This year’s calendar is a prime example; December is a man having an eye gouged out by a fish, June his dog Nigel testing for Ducati, and May is Dracula looking at an Xray of Guy dressed as Optimus Prime. Thankfully Guy’s manager will listen to the ideas, sifting out the craziest and sending on the one’s they think will work. “As long as I draw exactly what Guy has asked for then they’re happy”. Even the man behind the drawings is shocked at how Ryan does it. “I can’t believe that he can put my words into those pictures. I can’t believe how he’s done it” said Guy at the launch of his calendar late last year. “I thought nothing would beat last years but this definitely beats last years, definitely.”
So what now for Mr. Quickfall then? Well, he’d like to do more shows where the emphasis is on the art and not the commercial side of things. By the time this hits our website he’ll have just opened a show at Brooklyn’s Union Garage shop where Ryan will be attending the opening night and signing limited edition prints of the ten pieces he’s created specially. There’s also another show in the pipeline, this time in London and if they both go well he’d love to do more. “I’d like to do a show in California. I was out there in September and met loads of really cool people. I just like the whole vibe of the place, I dunno what it is about it, I think it’s helped by the weather or something. I don’t know how or who I’ll do it with but I’m sure I can pull something together”. I’m sure of it too. Even with a packed diary and some nifty contacts in his phone book there’s no sign of the northern illustrator rolling off the throttle. “As soon as you become complacent or believing you’re the next big thing it’s over. I’ve got into this position, thank god, that touch wood, I will never let myself slip back from”. So the sacrifices continue, just last week he had to turn down the chance to go flat tracking with Colin Edwards at the MCN festival of speed because of a pressing deadline and the hard work continues too. After our drink I’m off home but Ryan’s back to the studio where he’ll stay as long as needed to finish an ad campaign. If that means staying there till the early hours then so be it but don’t go feeling sorry for him just yet. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in this hour it’s that he certainly doesn’t see all this as a burden, the opposite in fact. “When you do something you’re really passionate about it becomes your life and this work is my life. It would be intense if I HAD to do it but it’s my passion and I feel really fucking privileged to be able to make a living from it.”