In the paintbooth with Lucia Bru-Alva
I’m not ashamed to admit I have a positive bias towards women when I’m writing about cycling. I like to feature women in the bike industry whenever I can because I frequently open bike magazines, read them all the way through and don’t spot anyone of my gender. It’s not only annoying, but also stupid. It’s not just women that enjoy reading about women; their stories have universal appeal.
When I walked into WyndyMilla’s bespoke bicycle painting studio in leafy Surrey I was so delighted to see a woman wielding a can that I actually squealed with delight. While I would prefer it that a woman working in a custom bike painting studio wasn’t anything unusual, let’s face it, it still is, and I was intrigued.
I’ve written before about the impact of seeing other woman doing something you’re considering (if you can see it, you can be it!), so I knew I had to talk to Lucia Bru-Alva about her involvement in the company. She turns out to be a woman of many talents and passions.
After graduating with a degree in architecture, Lucia moved to Madrid to work as an architect and designer, re-designing a café/bar in the centre of the city and re-branding small companies. Though that sounds like many people’s dream scenario, Madrid wasn’t enough to keep the keen cyclist and skier in one place. Several ski seasons followed before Lucia came full circle and found that she was missing design. Seeking an outlet for her creativity and a way to continue developing as a designer she landed on the idea of painting bikes.
“In order to be the best designer, I believe you need to have an understanding of your materials and the processes involved, so it seemed a good fit. I realised I wanted to incorporate my passions and therefore decided to learn how to paint.”
An apprenticeship with well-known local painter, Stu of Ooey Custom, followed, where Lucia immersed herself in learning about paint application putting in long hours to gain the experience necessary to deliver finishes of the highest quality.
“Paint can be unpredictable; a frame will seldom go to plan. It is experience that teaches you how to deal with it,” confirms Lucia, adding, “even now there is still so much for me to learn.”
After a year with Ooey, Lucia transitioned to WyndyMilla, working as both a designer and consultant, assisting in the creation of the brand’s stand-alone custom bicycle painting studio, WM Paintworks. Built from the ground up, everything was designed to be the absolute best of the best, from the custom made to measure bicycle specific spray booth to the paint storage and mixing room. The environmental impact was considered too – the spray booth is far more economical than a standard off-the-peg set up and a huge number of extra filters were added to the extraction system to minimise emissions.
Now it’s up and running Lucia is enjoying the opportunity to indulge her experimental side and draw on influences from outside the bike industry.
“One of my favourite artists is Klimt, his detail is simply beautiful and full of emotion. And in terms of designers, I really like Heatherwick's work, which ranges from architectural design to furniture design and perfume bottles. Nothing is off limits when I’m looking for inspiration,” she says.
Lucia’s favourite part of the job is seeing the project through from start to finish, something missing in architectural design where you don’t get to actually hand build what you’ve dreamt up.
“Completing the project from start to end feels incredibly rewarding. It begins with talking to the client and building a relationship, then I can design something that speaks to them, prepare the frame, paint and finish it.” Her favourite designs to paint? “I really enjoy experimenting with marbling and geometric patterns on bicycles. Basically I like a challenge.”
The job certainly sounds rewarding and challenging in equal measure, but what’s the most laborious or long-winded part, I ask?
“The painting itself could take a few days, or a few weeks. The most important thing is to not rush. Also, I don't like using 'stickers' and prefer to paint logos, which naturally takes longer,” says Lucia.
“By far the most laborious task is removing previous paint off of carbon frames by hand. Flattening and preparing the frame is probably the most important process, which again I do by hand so as to not damage the carbon. It takes many hours and even days!”
Many of us dream of beautiful custom bicycles, but for Lucia those dreams become an exciting reality, not just for customers but also for herself – she turned up to race the Elite women’s crit at the London Nocturne on a custom WyndyMilla of her own design.
“There was a brief discussion of perhaps choosing one of the standard colours, however I was soon given free reign,” she reveals. “It is actually one of the hardest things to work on your own frame, with so many options running through your head. But after a lot of thought I decided on my 'Unicorn' bike, a design that would complement the pink WyndyMilla Kit, that is 'out there' and obviously custom, a real conversation starter and a design that shows off my skill.”
So now that she’s in high demand for her designing and painting skills, what’s next for Lucia?
“I would like to one day be able to show my work at the Bristol Bespoke Cycle show. And I guess everyone dreams of seeing their frame at the Giro or one of the Grand Tours.” But as her previous departure from Madrid made it clear, work for Lucia is not just about high standards but also fulfilment.“I think, more than anything, I just look forward to those fun jobs where you are given free rein and can go completely wild.”
I can’t wait to see what she dreams up next.