The Story of Zwift Art

I can’t believe we’ve actually done it! I’m looking at the finished ink drawing of ‘Watopia Alps’ and I feel like king of the mountains! This is Watopia as no one has ever seen it before. It’s hard to believe that this project has been part of our lives for more than a year. Like a race around the island we’ve had our ups and downs. There have been times when I’ve felt like giving up but when you set out on an epic journey like this you just have to keep going, the deeper you get into it, the more you have to loose by giving up.

Flash Back August 2018…

I received an email from Jamie Marsland ‘l love Zwift, I love it so much I want an artwork of Watopia to hang on the wall of my pain cave and I think other Zwift fans would want one as well. What do you think? Could you create one? Could it be ready by November?’ Yeh sure, no problem I replied…And so began a spiral into obsession. Hours turned into days, days to weeks, weeks to months….

Turning a virtual world into an actual reality.

Jamie has to be one of the biggest Zwift fans out there and he had a vision, he wanted to be able to see Watopia in its entirety in one massive drawing. The problem is it’s impossible to see the whole of this virtual world at once and even if you could how would you show it in a 2 dimensional drawing? I was completely flummoxed! Then inspiration struck, Katsushika Hokusai!

Hokusai is most famous for his series of prints which feature views of Mount Fuji in Japan, the most well known of which shows a great wave with Mount Fuji in the background. We didn’t need to show the whole of Watopia at once, we could do a series just like Hokusai.

Before we could get started on the drawing I needed some references, I couldn’t just make it up and this proved much harder than we first thought. The thing is, because Watopia is an immersive experience, the view of the landscape is from a riders perspective, you can only see a relatively narrow field of view. I asked Jamie if he could get a wider view of Watopia…

A couple of weeks later Jamie turned up with a huge sheet of paper covered in screen shots joined by sticky tape. Lines and hastily written notes crisscrossed back and forth across what looked like the chaotic ramblings of a mad genius. This crazy montage was the map that would guide us on our journey.

Jamie and I decided early on that making a digital artwork was not the way to go. Watopia is a digital world already and to replicate what was there seemed pointless. Instead we decided to employ traditional pen and India ink onto handmade paper. India ink was actually invented in China in the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. It was coined India ink by the British due to their trade with India. India ink is made of soot suspended in water with shellac added to make it durable. Because it is carbon based it will last forever provided it is on a suitable surface.

Before I could put ink to paper I had to make a master pencil drawing, in fact I made a lot of drawings over many weeks before arriving at the one that would form the basis of the finished artwork. This is a collaborative process and Jamie was the touchstone.

0’s and 1’s into black and white.

Black and white is binary, there are no tones in between, if you want to create a tonal range you have to do it with marks; dots, circles, dashes and lines. You could think of this as a visual language, a language that describes undulating snow, mountain peaks, trees, cyclists and the occasional yeti. It’s a kind of code just like in the digital worlds of Zwift.

Unlike digital illustration you can’t press the back button when you make a mistake and your Apple Pencil won’t unexpectedly drop a blob of black or white ink on your precious artwork. You can’t create layers that you can switch between or save copies that you can go back to if you make a mess.

Drawing with a dip pen and real ink on paper can be tricky but the beauty of it is that the accidents you make are often happy ones that send you in new directions. Every mark you make remains in the drawing, a permanent record of the twists and turns made over time. It’s not easy working in this way but easy is boring.

Back to the future

The making of Watopia Alps has been challenging but I hope you agree, worth while.

This is just the beginning of the Zwift Art Project, we are now planning the next drawing in the series. We would love to know what view of Watopia you would like us to create next. Message us Jamie@zwiftart.com