The city, here in particular, is a mass of chaos and change, with a mishmash of cultures and experiences, and a strange level of anonymity despite the small-town style run-ins and friend of friends. It’s twisty and has all sorts of secrets and grime and dark corners. One thing that I really love about the city is its signage, lettering, and graffiti. Always something classic, but different. I find myself taking pictures of old laundromats and hardware store signs all the time.
Comic book illustration, motorcycles and Brooklyn: a trifecta Lydia Robotica – or Lydia Roberts as she is known in this mortal coil – has blazed her path through over the past five years.
With work that draws on sci-fi, horror / fantasy and moto themes, the 31-year-old School of Visual Arts graduate (BFA Cartooning and Illustration) says at the most basic level she just hopes to inspire people in the same way artists and people in general have inspired her.
We are honored to share with you a recent interview with Roberts, where she talks about her work (illustration, painting, design and hand lettering), her passion for motorcycles – on road and off road, and how her life’s journey has influenced her as an artist.
1) Welcome Lydia. Tell us a bit about yourself … your love of motorcycles, your art background, and how you’ve managed to meld the two.
I had always wanted to ride a motorcycle since I was a kid. But no one in my family rides, so I had to wait until I was older and could afford it on my own. Sometime in high school, though, I got super into classic cars and motorcycles … machinery in general, and my artwork definitely started showing it. Over the years I’ve done different projects and series focusing on motorcycles and cars. But since learning to ride I realize I end up doing even more drawings of bikes now. Besides my comic work or other illustrations, I’ve been enjoying doing flyers and t-shirts for moto events like Over and Out, and portraits of riders stunting around. Honestly, I just like making things in general, (but) motorcycles are particularly satisfying things to draw and depict.
Over and Out dirt bike event poster, 2018 — Lydia Roberts
2) Your life has taken you many places in the US. What brought you to Brooklyn, NY and what do you find inspiring about the area as an artist?
I was born in Coatesville, Pa, but grew up mainly in Atlanta, GA and Albuquerque, NM. I came out to New York when I was getting my undergrad at the School of Visual Arts for comic books (technically Cartooning and Illustration). After I graduated, I ended up sticking around the city, although by that point I was living here in Brooklyn.
When I lived in the desert, I definitely got influenced by all the crazy terrain and rock formations that cover New Mexico, as well as the classic Route 66 auto culture out there. New Mexico is a strange awesome place with its own weird vibe. But it lacks the stack up of buildings and industrialization of New York. The city, here in particular, is a mass of chaos and change, with a mishmash of cultures and experiences, and a strange level of anonymity despite the small-town style run-ins and friend of friends. It’s twisty and has all sorts of secrets and grime and dark corners. One thing that I really love about the city is its signage, lettering, and graffiti. Always something classic, but different. I find myself taking pictures of old laundromats and hardware store signs all the time.
3) You ride both on and off road … do you have a preference between the two or any favorite rides? How long have you been riding? Describe a perfect day of riding for you.
I’ve been riding dirt since 2014, and street since 2016 when I got my moto license. My dirt bike is a 2009 Kawasaki KLX140L and my street bike is a 2003 Suzuki SV650S. Although my SV has a gas line issue I need to fix, so I’ve been riding my boyfriend’s 2007 Ducati Monster S2R recently. I love them both for their different perks. With dirt you can rampage through so much terrain and situations and decide where you feel like going wherever and whenever, property and land situations permitting. I also like the confidence and ragged riding that dirt taught me – there were a million times on my dirt bike that I wasn’t sure I was gonna make it through some obstacle, but sure enough, I rode through. That same experience carries over to squirrelly street situations, which really helps when you ride in a city like New York, with our potholes and pedestrians. Not sure if I really have a favorite ride, I just like riding on a bike that works!
As far as a perfect day of riding … it would be sweet to do both dirt and street, both in empty places, (by) myself with no traffic and nice fall weather. With dirt I like a sprinkling of single track with nice scenery and fields I can choose my own trail on. Plus, just doing hot laps through grass is so easy and fun. With street, some nice fast twisty roads all to myself and no cops or shite drivers. And just not dying or getting broke off too bad, or my bike failing.
Nosferatu from F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic — Lydia Roberts
I just love stories, be they fact or fiction, technological or ancient, written or cartoons or film. Book wise I’ve been really sucked into sci-fi short stories for the last ten years or so, but that’s partly because those stories truly span subject matter from the mundane and ordinary to the fantastic.
4) Your artwork is an interesting mix of themes … motorcycles figure prominently, strong female characters … and a huge element of sci/fi, horror and fantasy imagery. What and who are your influences … movies, comics, fellow artists? Do you have a personal favorite in terms of subject matter? As I mentioned earlier, I definitely love your Nosferatu illustration in ICONS … was that taken from Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot?
That Nosferatu was actually inspired by Max Schreck in F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic, but I’m sure Stephen King felt similarly inspired by that movie. I was gonna riff on it a bit, but Count Orlok in that is so spot on, I just ended up doing a portrait of him. But don’t get me wrong, I love Stephen King’s work, and I do find myself thinking of aspects of his writing quite a lot while I’m working on art projects.
My influences span a wide range of genres, I just love stories, be they fact or fiction, technological or ancient, written or cartoons or film. Book wise I’ve been really sucked into sci-fi short stories for the last ten years or so, but that’s partly because those stories truly span subject matter from the mundane and ordinary to the fantastic. Good stories of any kind boil down to a human-interest angle, no matter how strange or out there they are. A lot of comics sort of follow that idea, I like reading a good comic, regardless if it’s superhero or not. Although I’ve come to realize I would rather read a comic with good writing and bad art than the reverse. Otherwise I can’t really get into it, no matter how impressive the art is.
As far as favorites go it’s tough. I suppose I love all the different genres, though there’s a slight tendency towards a lot of action and horror. For me books, comics, film and animation are all related and co-influence me. Artists of the various sorts that have had a large influence on me are: Terry Gillian, Katsuhiro Otomo, Shirley Jackson, David Lapham, Ray Bradbury, Bong Joon Ho, Miyazaki, Anne McCaffrey, Frank Miller, Jodowrosky, Ursula K. Le Guin, Wes Anderson, Harlan Ellison, Lovecraft, Takashi Miike, Guy Ritchie, Alfred Bester, Escher, Remedios Varo, Geoff Darrow, José Muñoz,Taiyō Matsumoto, Mikhail Bulgakov, Becky Cloonan, James Jean, … I should probably stop, ha ha.
5) What is your creative process … do you draw, sketch from mind, or do you rely on photos/other artwork to start. Is everything hand drawn and converted to a digital medium or do you work directly on a computer/tablet? What sort of equipment and software do you use?
It varies on what the project is. Commissions and/or collaborations will often have inspiration or a set of parameters to work within or from; whereas my personal work is sometimes an idea I already have somewhat visualized rather than something I want to sketch or work out first. No matter what, I like to research because sometimes I find nuggets of info on the subject that affect the iconography of the artwork and you need photos/ reference every time.
For the most part though I sketch and brainstorm first in my sketchbook or other paper before going on to the final image. If it’s for a client often I go through check-in/edit stages to make sure the final product has minimal changes going on. I prefer to do as much hand drawn as possible, though coloring I will do digitally fairly often. It all depends on the effect I’m going for. I have a Wacom Cintiq 22UX that at this point is fairly ancient in the computer world but drawing on the screen makes my life easier. Regardless of the art, I like to scan things to have a record, but as far as construction goes, it’s whatever the project necessitates. Drafting is drafting. I use old-school methods like compasses, protractors, rulers, lightboxes, proportion wheels, ames lettering guide – but I also love my 11”x17” scanner and printer and use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator just as regularly. For base mediums though my tendency is ink (of all colors) with nibs and brushes. I also use oils, acrylics, gouache, enamels, sculptural materials … they all sort of act as a different outlet for what sort of rendering/details I want to achieve.
Odd Ends and Icons || collaborative projects: The Good Fight, Trish Trash Rollergirl of Mars — Lydia Roberts
6) In terms of your comics … you have self-published a few and collaborated with other artists on several projects. Tell us about the experience with both.
I like to self-publish some of my own stuff from time to time, like Odd Ends and Icons, but some of my other comic work is published by other companies. This last year I did a short sci-fi comic, The Feed with Chris Antzoulis, which he wrote and I illustrated and colored, and was published in an anthology called The Good Fight. We're actually continuing to work on some more stories together, but those are still in the works. A longer novel I worked on that I did backgrounds, layouts and world design for, called Trish Trash Rollergirl of Mars, was written and partly drawn by Jessica Abel (She did the main figures and their clothing design). That was published in France and is now being released here in English, which the last volume is finally available now. And, there are a few other comic projects which I have in progress with writers but aren't quite ready yet.
I always enjoy self-publishing; you get to design every aspect. I usually get sucked into making end papers and having fun with cover designs and which lettering I'll do. I've been making ‘zines and mini-comics since I was in high school, ever since my first comic with my friend Evan Schultz. I'm actually working (with him) on new weird short story comics, and I'm stoked to see how they all come out when I knuckle down and finish more of them.
Every couple years the printing costs seem to get cheaper as more resources are available with new technology and the internet. Occasionally I'll do some homemade silkscreen covers for some of the comics, but that's rare I'll admit … part cost part effort. The huge benefit to self-publishing is you can print whatever you feel like, since you are the master editor after all.
7) In Odd Ends, there’s a section called Café Rescue … it mixes a sense of humor with a definite nod to female empowerment on a motorcycle. Where did this story come from?
If I remember right that story was half just an excuse to draw some classic cars, motorcycles, and rock formations. I wanted to do some action-y chase scenes without being constricted by the amount of comic pages. Sometimes I end up squishing too many panels in a page when it has to be a certain length. And also, good coffee is worth it. I think this time it just happened that the main character was female, but I honestly try to change it up because writing admirable male characters is just as important.
Café Rescue, Odd Ends — Lydia Roberts
I use old-school methods like compasses, protractors, rulers, lightboxes, proportion wheels, ames lettering guide – but I also love my 11”x17” scanner and printer and use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator just as regularly.
8) Do motorcycles personally give you that feeling of inner strength? And how do you find the motorcycling community here as a women rider … supportive, restrictive, getting better, getting worse.
I think almost anyone who gets on a motorcycle at least gets a little thrill. But I’m also very conscious of the fact that it is a risky love. It’s always funny to me, the whole female empowerment deal that people fixate on, especially with things like motorcycles. I know plenty of men who have never and will never touch a bike. As much as yeah, I get that there are more men than woman riders, I can’t wait for the day that it’s not seen as a novelty, that you’re a rider first and happen to be a woman. Women have always been just as capable of piloting bikes since they were made … what’s up Bessie Stringfield … or doing really any traditionally “extreme” thing (Bessie Coleman). Masculinity doesn’t have a copyright on adrenaline, and people should stop thinking of occupations and hobbies as gender based.
Although I’m pretty sure that the internet is sort of proving that to people time and time again with weird stories and strange videos. Guy or girl, I don’t think people need a motorcycle to bring inner strength though. They generally already have that on their own. In that regard, I feel that the moto community that I’ve met so far is very supportive of woman riders. Give motorcycling the respect it deserves, and people generally recognize that. I mean you either ride or you don’t … you can’t really fake it too much. Plus, I’m pretty sure the people who act extremely condescending are just like that in all aspects of their life.
9) Getting back to your artistry, what do you hope to convey with your artwork as an entire body of work?
Oh man, I don’t even know anymore myself. That the world and universe is a crazy place and anything and everything is possible. Exploring relationships like micro and macro, magic and science. That the human race needs more true speculative fiction. That people need to remember to get out there and live life a bit. That Bob Ross was right. I just hope to inspire people like I have been by other artists and people in general.
Ramona and Zelda: two dual sport bikes captured on canvas after they were stolen — Lydia Roberts
With dirt you can rampage through so much terrain and situations and decide where you feel like going wherever and whenever, property and land situations permitting. I also like the confidence and ragged riding that dirt taught me – there were a million times on my dirt bike that I wasn’t sure I was gonna make it through some obstacle, but sure enough, I rode through.
10) You sell artwork and take commissions through your store … what were some of your favorite commissions and what made them special for you?
Over the years I’ve done a bunch of random commissions, but two right now are coming to mind. One was a set of three skulls I did for an old friend Mallory. She still lives in New Mexico and wanted three big ink wash drawings on paper done, one skull per, and desert themed. I did a Bighorn sheep skull, a white-tail deer skull, and a very scientific Jackalope skull. I just get very into all the details and crannies of skeleton drawings and she just let me go to town on them. I keep meaning to do a personal series similar to it and keep getting caught up in other work.
The second one I’m mentioning because it was just really cute. It was for a couple that I met at the Over and Out dirt bike event this summer. Their two dual-sport bikes had been stolen and they wanted a drawing/ portrait of the motorcycles to commemorate them. I worked off of a bunch of photos they had of them from all their rides and adventures together and did my best to draw them in all their glory. It was just nice to do something sweet that would do a bit to heal the loss of the bikes. Bike thieves are scum.
11) I’ve asked other artists this myself … are personal and commercial projects very different beasts for you … or do you manage to work your individual creativity into any work you do? Which is harder?
Projects and clients vary so much. Even within corporate gigs I’ve had extreme freedom and likewise been extremely confined by fringe jobs. There are times storyboard gigs are my favorite because they pay well and the deadline means it’s over with quickly. Sometimes it’s easier to work within constraints since some of the deciding is already figured out and it has a purpose, rather than just being a random image without direction.
Although even in the most ideal of situations with work that’s all done entirely by choice and not just money, some artworks are just plain stubborn. Not that it’s not worth it, it’s just some pieces click and it’s all smooth and easy and everything looks good at every stage. Then there are those pieces that it feels like you’re pulling teeth at any given moment and it’s only at the final moment it finally settles down and works. I always try, though, to make every project look good, regardless of what compensation I may or may not be getting from it. It’s hard for me to put something out there that’s slop style that will bug me every time I see it in the future. Most of the time though, any project can be interesting and rewarding if you research the subject matter and give it a proper chance.
12) You’ve done artwork for Motorgrrl events several times in the past … how did that relationship develop?
I did a few flyers for Val as well as some hand-lettered signs for her garage these last couple years. I think she first saw my work from a flyer I did for the first Over and Out dirt bike campout event that Kelly McCaughey organized in 2018. Motorgrrl actually ended up being a sponsor for that event as well as the one that happened this summer. But yeah, after she saw the first flyer she asked me if I wanted to be in her 2018 season opener group expo, where she had a bunch of photographers and other artists showing work in the shop. After that I did some of the signs around the shop as well as a couple flyers for (a few) of her events of the last year or so. One of the more memorable (ones) was when I drew a portrait of the Motofellas 2018 Distinguished Gentlemen's Ride project bike, the Daaper Braaper. That was a fun bike to do an illustration of … I like how it turned out.
13) Finally, living and working in Brooklyn you are surrounded by street art, a medium that has grown in stature, popularity and mainstream credibility in recent years. As an illustrator, how does that affect what you do … does it give you more freedom with clients and personally to take more risks?
I suppose that maybe things have changed a little as far as being an illustrator goes, but I feel like clients were always tapping into that whole culture. I think it’s more that everyone’s getting older and at this point there are so many murals and (so much) commissioned street art (that) people don’t view it as a nuisance … as long as they’ve been alive, it’s been a part of the city. Honestly, it’s hard to tell what’s illegal and what’s not on the street anymore. Ha, especially around my neighborhood in Brooklyn, there are some random graffiti tourist tours I run into all the time.
Thank you so much for your time.
PDB Hoshimi vs Nazi Werewolf Biker Cult — Lydia Roberts
It’s just some pieces click and it’s all smooth and easy and everything looks good at every stage. Then there are those pieces that it feels like you’re pulling teeth at any given moment and it’s only at the final moment it finally settles down and works.
To see more of Roberts’ work, view her gallery on NYC Motorcyclist, or visit her at: . For commissions and inquiries send her email at: Lydiarobotica@gmail.com.
Lydia Roberts was a speaker at the season opening Motos and Photos: NYC event at the Kickstarter HQ theatre in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. For more information on future events visit motosandphotosnyc.com.