Bill Harrison received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting from the University of Illinois
1977 and spent the next 20 years as an illustrator. Working almost exclusively in ‘stipple’,
constructing nearly photo-realistic drawings of food, people and products using only little tiny
black dots, most of the assignments were for companies like McDonalds and Burger King,
translating their color photographs into stipple drawings so they could be reproduced in
newspapers. “If you think it's hard creating the texture of leather using as versatile an instrument
as a pencil, try doing the skin of a roast turkey using only little dots” states the artist.
At his peak, Harrison had artists' reps in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Paris.
Unfortunately, in the mid-1990's newspapers all over the country switched over to computerized
scanning and printing techniques, the demand for stipple plummeted and his career as an
illustrator came to a sudden halt, like a concrete sidewalk at the end of a twelve-story fall. For a
while he tried to reinvent himself artistically, looking for other markets and eventually trying other
styles, but nothing worked. Gradually Bill moved away from art entirely.
About a year ago, Harrison decided to do a portrait of his now-grown sons for his wife for
Christmas. He had done one many years ago in pastel but this time he decided to work in charcoal
pencil. That portrait led to several others, and he then discovered the work of an English portrait
artist named Andrew Tift who inspired him to switch from the traditional charcoal pencil on
colored paper portraits, to these much more detailed drawings on high quality paper, like Tift was
doing. They began corresponding, and Tift has been wonderfully encouraging. He showed Bill
some portraits he'd done of a Hell's Angel, and Bill loved them.
Since then, Harrison has been going to motorcycle swap-meets and flea markets, charity rides,
etc., approaching the most hard-core bikers and asking permission to photograph them. Most of
them, to his surprise, have been very receptive and cooperative. He generally selects only the
older bikers, men whose years of exposure to the elements (and often to vast quantities of
alcohol and other substances) have given their faces tremendous character. They are usually
clad in well-worn leather, with deeply lined faces, and often with extravagant beards and
mustaches. They make terrific subjects.
“It seems to me that bikers today occupy much the same niche that cowboys used to. These are
generally fiercely independent men, non-conformists at the fringe of society who usually ask little
more than to be left alone. Like the cowboys, most of them are law-abiding, some live on the
fringes of the
law, and some are definitely outlaws. But even among the 1%er's, as the outlaw bikers often refer to
themselves, there is a strong current of patriotism, as evidenced by the pins and patches they display
“People ask me how many of these biker portraits I'm going to do. I tell them I'll quit when I run
bikers to draw.”