‘Reaching Higher’: Portrait of Thai Lam on aerial silks, hessian canvas

Thai Lam taught me in aerial silks level 2 at Aerial Artique, at least when I was able to get into his very popular classes. His classes were so much fun and the most challenging that I have done so far. I wanted my Reaching Higher portrait of Thai to reflect his strength and precision of movement and inspirational attitude.

Reaching Higher: acrylic on hessian canvas (portrait of Thai Lam on aerial silks)

Thai as Inspiration

Thai is an extremely strong and graceful aerialist. I think it is a great challenge for anyone to display both those qualities at the same time, but Thai is able to do it. He exudes a sense of fun and also has a dramatic performance style.

Getting Started

Thai decided to try aerial when his old roommate was training professionally at the Circus Center. He was looking for something different that would constantly challenge him.

Although he started aerial as a challenge to himself, his goals have evolved now to challenging his students too. Thai told me that he particularly enjoys being part of someone else’s growth.


His classes challenge his students to safely explore the upper limits of their abilities. I think that this is one of the reasons his classes are so popular. I have never been able to get into one of his classes without first being on the waitlist because of this popularity.

Students often excel quickly in Thai’s class. I have always thought that the warm up in Thai’s class is like a whole other class packed into the first 10 mins. He also works on developing stamina and musicality by getting us to stay in the air for a full song at the end of class. This also allows us to try to string together the moves that we have learned and try to move with the music. The song at the end was always one of my favourite parts of class.

In addition to being physically demanding, Thai’s classes are so much fun! He works hard to teach students a variety of tricks that will capture their imagination and stretch their skills. Several times during classes, Thai has included a twerking interlude which is thoroughly entertaining and keeps the atmosphere light and playful 🙂

One of Thai’s teaching mottos is to ‘make it pretty’. I can remember one time in class when just a look from Thai was able to convey to me”point your toes on your descent”. He likes his students to make every movement beautiful even if it is just coming down after finishing a movement.

He hopes that his students learn to be confident along with continuing to push themselves. It’s a mantra that he lives by. This sense of striving to continue improving for both himself and his students is something that I wanted to reflect in my painting of Thai.


I saw Thai perform at the Arial Artique teacher showcase. His costume was all white with a white face covering. This created a very dramatic effect for the performance. I wanted to capture some of this sense of melodrama in my portrait of Thai.

Thai describes the feeling of performing as a mixture of excitement, nervousness and accomplishment. He hopes that his audience will feel engaged when he performs and be left with a sense of inspiration.

 Reference Image

Thai provided me with several images that I could use as a reference. I chose the one below because I thought that I could use it to capture a lot of the aspects of his personality that makes him a unique aerialist. This photo shows Thai stretching up of his hand towards the sky. It reminded me of the way he teaches his students to strive to do their best and keep getting better.

I also thought that this photo would look effective if done in black and white. Black and white are used here to symbolise Thai’s dramatic performance style. I also especially love the beautifully graceful position of Thai’s left hand catching the light and shadows.

Thai Lam on aerial silks, Photographer: Scott R Kline, Feb 12 2017 at Aerial Artique as part of the True Calling photo series


Progress photos of reaching higher: Showing development from a stick figure to near completion

Painting on a Hessian Canvas

This was an extremely challenging piece. The hessian canvas was difficult to work with because it was both rough and fibrous. Little bits of fluff kept getting picked up by the brush. Additionally, it was very arduous to get good paint coverage. However I am pleased with the raw quality of the results. I think that in the future I would try using oil paints with the hessian instead of acrylics.

The process from start to finish was also quite different from what is normal for me. My usual style is to layer each colour one at a time for the whole piece. Instead I worked from the top of the composition to the bottom for this piece. I think this was necessary because of the way the silk flows down the centre of Thai’s body with such contrasting texture.

Thai appears in black and white in this piece. This was done in an attempt to capture his dramatic flair in performance. I was also hoping that the acrylic on hessian would give it a more raw quality than most of my previous work.

Different angles: This is the first time that I have had to take pictures of a painting from multiple angles to capture the whole thing


Both the toes of Thai’s left leg and his right arm wrapped around the canvas. I did not originally intend to do this. Rather, I needed to enlarge the painting from the size I started off with because I wanted to capture the dramatic lighting on his face and hands. I was unable to get the detail I wanted on the hessian in a smaller size painting.

The resulting effect of the wrapping of the limbs around the edge of the canvas is quite interesting. It gives the piece a 3D quality. So even though it was not intentional, I really like it.

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2 Replies to “‘Reaching Higher’: Portrait of Thai Lam on aerial silks, hessian canvas”

  1. I love this so much! Feeling so inspired…perhaps he would take me on as a pupil. This hand reminds me of a hand I made in a similar fashion feeling bountiful in the aerial hoop ♡◇♡◇♡ Many blessings for me and you from me to all of you.

    1. Thank you so much Michelle. It makes me so happy to know that you feel inspired reading this post. I would highly recommend learning from Thai, he is a great teacher!

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