Cover stories: Issue 20.2 by Tom Jay

Rouleur’s Editor Andy [McGrath] emailed me to see if I would be interested in illustrating the cover of Rouleur 20.2. It was to be a Belgium special, celebrating all things Belgian. There was quite a lot to include: a Patrick Lefevere interview; heart problems with Johan Vansummeren; cyclo-cross; Tour of Flanders. Of course, I said yes.

My initial ideas were to go with an iconic Belgian landscape, or a lay down of different illustrated elements pulled from all the individual stories. This could’ve been quite straight forward, but I felt it lacked a cohesive element that would pull it all together. As an illustrator you’re always looking for the most effective way to communicate the brief. Is it intriguing? Is it entertaining? Does it bring something else to the table? And does it work with the text?

Tom Jay

I thought that as Belgium has a long tradition of brewing, and as some of its beers are often an an accompaniment to Belgian races, it could be fun to use the bottle labels to illustrate the different stories to be featured. I sent some really rough sketches over to Rouleur, and they went for it. Andy and I chatted through how it could work, using the the text on the labels to write the sub-headlines. It would mean the whole cover would be illustrated, apart from the main headline, which I think is a first for the retail cover.

Tom Jay

With this all in place I could start the final illustration. I draw all elements by hand using pencil, ink, chinagraph pencils and acrylic paint. I then put them together in layers on the computer, where I can control the colours. The colour pallet was obvious here: red yellow and black to really ramp up the Belgian-ness!

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As always the team at Rouleur were great with their feedback and comments, making sure I was drawing the right things the right way and spelling things correctly. (I managed to spell Belgium wrong on one of the first edits!) It’s also a credit to the magazine that they are so open to doing something different. It was a pleasure to work on, and I’m looking forward to seeing it on the shelves.

Tom Jay is an illustrator whose work, as well as Rouleur, has been seen in the New York Times, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph and The Financial Times, and many others. See more of it at

Rouleur 20.2 is on sale in the Rouleur Emporium now


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