Why I Get Outside with Illustrator Brian Rau

Outside With Pride illustrator Brian Rau shares why (and how) he loves cycling through his home base of Chicago.

Brian Rau is an illustrator and graphic designer who lives, works and cycles in Chicago. He does commercial work for brands and agencies in addition to producing original work that he sells in his web shop at brianrau.com. Rau’s work combines myriad textures, geometric shapes and a minimalist color palette to tell stories of strength, motion, tension, harmony, love, nature and humanity. He’s the artist behind the 2023 REI Co-op Outside With Pride collection, a line of gear and apparel that uplifts and celebrate the ways that LGBTQ+ communities exist in and enjoy the outdoors.

We recently caught up with Rau to ask why he gets outside.

Illustrator Brian Rau rests during a bike ride in Chicago
Illustrator and cyclist Brian Rau takes a break on a ride.

Cycling in Chicago

I’ve always loved exploring the outdoors. Currently, one of my biggest passions is cycling. Living in a big city can make experiencing the outdoors feel difficult at times.

So, one of my favorite outdoor activities is riding my bike for miles and miles along Chicago’s Lakefront Trail. I can escape the city, let my mind wander and reset. I love the view over Lake Michigan and the endless opportunities to stop along the water and relax. A few stops along Lakeshore Drive include Kathy Osterman Beach, Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary and Promontory Point.

Another great cycling spot is The 606 path in Chicago. The 606 was an abandoned elevated railway that runs east-west in the Logan Square neighborhood. The railway was converted into a walking and biking path, creating a green space and a safe route for cyclists.

Also, I’ll go out on a ride and unexpectedly spend the evening with friends I bumped into along the lake.

Getting outside is essential, but not always accommodating in the Chicago winters. When the weather is nice, I always make getting outside a priority. I enjoy packing up my saddle bags with a beach towel, Frisbee™, speaker, food and drinks and having a day at the lakefront with my friends. Chicago is the best city—three months out of the year.

Outside With Pride

To me, Outside With Pride means existing in nature as you are. Nature doesn’t abide by “societal norms” and doesn’t give preferences based on your sexuality. Outside with Pride gives me a sense of peace in this wild world.

A bear represents the strength and courage it takes to reject societal norms and embrace your uniqueness. The birds symbolize the spectrum of identity, expression and sexuality. Harmony is achieved through love and acceptance for all diverse creatures.

Some of Brian Rau’s designs for the 2023 Outside With Pride line. Clockwise from left: Small Pride Tote Bag, Pride Bear Camp Mug and Pride Trucker Hat.

Inspiration Everywhere

The most beautiful place I’ve experienced would probably be Yosemite National Park. When I visited, I had so many unique experiences just in that one place. One of my fondest memories was coming across a massive monarch butterfly colony. There were so many butterflies everywhere, fluttering around the forest. As you walked through the forest, they would be flying all around you like fairies. It felt like I was engulfed in wildlife, some magical wonderland. You could reach out and touch them. It was an experience that you only get a few times in your life, and it was very inspiring. It felt like a fantasy cartoon scenario brought to life.

I’m a big nerd—a fan of the card game Magic: The Gathering, love Lord of the Rings, Adventure Time, etc. Things that are an escape from professional life and the “concrete jungle.”

Inspiration comes in many forms. I find new experiences are the best—getting out of your normal routine. Traveling is a huge inspiration to me. When I get to explore new places in nature, it can be very inspiring. I love seeing different geography and animals in nature. I enjoy working with textures so when I look at rocks, I think, how can I translate this in a brush stroke? And the same goes for an animal’s fur or the beautiful colors of a crustacean.

I’m constantly inspired by my friends and family within the queer community.

Another example would be looking at something as simple as trees. They’re a common element when drawing landscapes. Trees come in so many shapes and forms, so getting out and exploring new terrain can help you find new ways to express a common element.

Get Outside Like Brian Rau

Brian Rau's bike—including his Ortlieb Sport-Roller High Visibility Panniers—on a trail in the Chicago area.

Saddle Bags

In addition to fitting all your essentials, the safety-neon Sport-Roller High Visibility Panniers from Ortlieb can help you be seen. High visibility is very important in the city,” Rau says. “I’ve been doored before, so it’s important to have reflectors and lights.” Buy here.

Bike Helmet

You’re never fully dressed without a helmet—at least when you’re biking in Chicago. The lightweight Session Mips Bike Helmet from Smith provides the necessary protection while offering plenty of ventilation. “I’m not so worried about my driving, but more [about] other people’s driving and awareness,” Rau says. Buy here.

Beach Towel

The right towel can make or break a day at the lake. The colorful, lightweight and absorbent Original Towel from Nomadix is made from super soft, Global Recycle Standard (GRS) postconsumer recycled plastic. It works just as well for drying as for lounging around in style. Buy here.

Flying Disc

Let your Pride flag soar in disc form this year with the special-edition Pride Flying Disc, which Rau designed for the 2023 REI Co-op Outside With Pride collection. Buy here.

Portable Speaker

Charge up and rock out with a portable Bluetooth speaker like this waterproof and dustproof Charge 5 Portable Speaker from JBL. It can provide up to 20 hours of playtime and has a built-in power bank for your phone or GPS device. Buy here.

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