Draw Your Tour: The Adventure Artist

Tom Napper, a freelance animator & illustrator, spent a month cycling the Tour Aotearoa route in New Zealand, stopping to draw the view once a day to document his journey. On a route punctuated by ‘official’ photo stops, Tom wanted to create something more unique and subjective. Here, he tells us about combining endurance cycling with being a travel artist to become an ‘adventure artist’.

Reading time: 3 min
A cyclist standing next to his bike with bikepacking bags on it raising his arms in victory sign at Sterling Point


Having grown up in a small village in Oxfordshire, Tom has always ridden, but only discovered long-distance cycling five years ago, after years of mountain biking and commuting. New Zealand is somewhere he’d wanted to visit for as long as he could remember and having no driving license to hire a campervan, he figured cycling would be the best way to explore the full length of the country. He’d previously ridden London to Paris and across Tanzania, but this would be ten times the distance and completely self-supported, making it his biggest challenge yet.

The decision to draw his tour came from a desire to find ways to combine his creative skills with his love of adventure; “I wanted to test out combining an endurance event with being a travel artist. Perhaps there’s space in the world for an ‘adventure artist’!?”. With 30 official photo checkpoints along the route, it was the perfect opportunity to test the waters.

Personally, I feel like social media is swamped with photography. Especially with point and shoot smartphones making everyone an incredible photographer. I also don't make a lot of time to digest written content! Drawings stand out from the crowd and leave room for the viewers imagination.

Tom travelled with an A5 sketch book and pencil case in his frame bag, having pre-selected a colour palette of Promarkers that “kind of looked like New Zealand”. These were mostly greens, blues and a set of grey tones for shadows and Stabilo Point 88 pens for the line art. Tom tells us “I was acutely aware that everyone in the bikepacking world travels light and I was lugging around a stationery cupboard!”.

With a goal of covering the route in 30 days and 30 photo checkpoints to cover, Tom had hoped to sketch one per day. However, because of the distances involved, this didn’t always happen. “Some days I wouldn’t pass a checkpoint, so I’d do a bonus drawing. If I was trying to ride a ‘big day’ I’d often hit two, so cycling 140km+ and fitting them in before dark was a real challenge!”.

a person holding a bridge illustration in their hand

a person holding a trail sketch in their hand

Each drawing took Tom between 15 and 30 minutes depending on the weather or how much time he had left to chase the sunset, but Tom tells us that forcing himself to stop and focus on a particular moment helped him see things in a different way. “It was all too easy to get sucked in to chasing the kilometres, but I was there to see as much of this amazing country as possible. Being forced to sit still and take in my surroundings, process how I was feeling at the time and connect with other passing riders created its own unique set of memories. I’ve experienced this tour in a really special way and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”

Tom’s artwork stands out as a unique perspective on the Tour Aotearoa, capturing subjective moments and colouring the way he experienced the country. For those that can spare the space and time on their next tour, we can thoroughly recommend taking a leaf out of his book and trying out the ‘adventure artist’ lifestyle.

A person holding a Kiwi Statue Sketch on their hand

A person holding a Boat Sketch on their hand

All artwork copyright TomNapperDesign 2020