Aerial silks from a gymnast’s perspective

Alexa Leporati was one of my aerial silks and aerial hammock teachers at AcroSports in San Francisco. I really liked the classes there because they were so small and personal. Alexa was an excellent teacher to learn from, as she made her classes fun and challenging whilst tailoring them to the skill level of the participants. I think that Alexa’s background in gymnastics also helped her teaching style to be quite technical. I wanted my portrait of her to reflect these qualities.

‘Subtle Splits Triangle’: Portrait of Alexa, black gesso and chalk pastel pencils on mixed media paper


AcroSports is one of the first places I took aerial classes and is the only place that I have ever learned aerial hammock. I took the beginner aerial silks and aerial hammock class with Alexa several times. In Alexa’s class I learned my first drop on aerial hammock. It was extremely exciting and I loved how I could experience some of the thrill of aerial silks drops when I hadn’t yet developed the strength required to perform them safely. You can probably tell how happy I am from the look on my face 🙂


Side by side comparison of  ‘Subtle Splits Triangle‘ and the reference image (Photographer Louis Montaño)

Q&A with Alexa:

What made you decide to try aerial?

An old co worker of mine was taking Aerial classes and suggested I try it since he knew I had been a gymnast for so long. I tried it once and was immediately obsessed!

What were the best qualities about some of your teachers when you were getting started?

When I first started I was hungry for Aerial – I was brand new and had such little experience with it, but I had an instructor who recognised my drive and fed my hunger. She challenged me in all the appropriate ways without making me feel like an outsider to the Aerial world.

What is your favourite aspect of aerial?

Versatility. You can do so many things with it and utilize it in so many different ways.

What is your favourite type of performance?

I love performing to my favorite music. Performing to a song you love makes it so much more fun!

Has the things that you like about aerial changed from the time you started to now?

I don’t think so. I like it in different ways now that I’m an instructor.

How did you get into teaching aerial?

I started teaching classes at AcroSports after I had been taking class there for a while. I was hired as a gymnastics coach but have since broadened my coaching spectrum and teach a variety of different things now as well as Aerial.

what do you hope your students get out of your classes?

I know Aerial is really challenging and can be discouraging at times but I hope that my students have fun more than anything. I’m glad to see people step out of their comfort zones. I grew up in a gymnastics gym doing scary tricks all day long so becoming an instructor has helped me recognize that these things are hard and they’re scary and people should feel good about themselves for trying something they never thought they would before!

Reference Image

Alexa provided me with several beautiful images to choose from with several stunning shapes. I especially loved this neck hang in belay with splits in double footlocks. Alexa’s split is gorgeous and I love how the light is catching her to emphasise the shape. I especially like the front hand in the photo and wanted to try to capture that detail.

Photographer Louis Montaño

Progress photos of ‘Subtle Splits Triangle

Creative Process

I have recently enjoyed using black gesso scraped onto toothy paper as a background. The uneven paint distribution gives the background interest and the spread of the paint on the texture of paper creates a nice pattern. This technique works particularly well for artwork where the reference image is from a show with a very dark background. It makes the light catching the figure and the silks so much brighter and provides the desired contrast.

The framed finished artwork of ‘Subtle Splits Triangle


I loved the pink and peach colouring that the show lighting created in the reference image. So I wanted to capture that. So I blended warm tones of chalk pastel pencils including a little bit of red, orange, brown and yellow.

To make sure that I didn’t loose too much of the detail from the reference image, particularly in the hands, I then worked back into the chalk pastel with black charcoal and ink.

 ‘Subtle Splits Triangle‘ prints available in my online store