“Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words.” – Plautus

If it is wine (or perhaps beer – that’s fine too) and words you want in order to commemorate a running achievement, then Harkiran Kalsi is certainly worth talking to. She is an illustrator with a bright, bold style, a dislike of white space and a deep passion for running.

But before she became a runner, Harky was an artist. Brought up by her fine-artist mother, Harky was drawing from the very beginning. She describes how she would copy her favourite characters from children’s television programmes. Perhaps it is these early influences that inspired her to create such fun artworks.

It was unsurprising then, when Harky decided to follow a creative career path. After initially considering animation (but rejecting it because of the cost of the course) Harky opted for graphic design and illustration – although an administrative mistake meant she ended up on a pure graphic design course.

Still, the illustrator in Harky never died. It would create friction with her graphic design tutors, but Harky knew that illustration would remain one of her loves.

Harky’s introduction to running came through her then boyfriend, a semi-professional football player. Sadly their relationship ended, but heartbroken Harky was encouraged by her mother to keep running. And thankfully she did. It might have only been three or four miles at a time, but through the tears and sadness, running helped Harky get over the breakup.

Each illustration is hand-drawn, so it is possible to personalise almost every element

Eventually, Harky decided to join her local Leamington Spa running club – the Spa Striders. That is where she met the man who Harky credits with having the biggest impact on her life: Richard Bicknell. Bicknell, a legendary gure at the club and in the wider running community, would lead long runs and training sessions and was famous for his approximate distance measurements. He even managed to convince Harky to fall in love with hill sessions. Sadly Richard passed away suddenly in 2017, after collapsing while leading a hill session.

After starting work as a graphic designer, Harky started creating illustrations. Her style of bold, colourful and busy “wordles” lent themselves to a kind of map. After creating maps for London and New York, one of Harky’s friends asked if she could adapt her style to create a “map” of the London Marathon as a gift for the friend’s husband who had just completed the 26.2 mile race. This was the idea that sparked Harky’s imagination and now she produces illustrations for dozens of races.

Because each illustration is hand-drawn, it is possible to personalise almost every element. Harky will talk to her customers in order to understand the unique aspects of their race – landmarks, times, emotions and so on, creating a completely personal memento.

So what is the future for Harky and her race illustrations?

In many cases, Harky’s customers are friends and family of the runners whose events she illustrates. They are purchased for other people. And this is a trend that Harky sees continuing. Harky also thinks that collaborating with race organisers and starting to illustrate races further afield are great ways to develop what she does.

Perhaps eventually the whole world will be “wordled”…

Harkiran Kalsi is a lover of running and cycling – but most of all art. Living life through gratitude, love and bold colourful lettering. www.notonthehighstreet.com/harkirankalsi – @harkirankkalsi

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