How to make your own gelli monoprinting plate and save money

How to make your own gelli monoprinting plate and save money

I have always loved art printing ever since I tried lino printing in high school. Now my new favourite way to print is using gelli monoprinting plates. The results are lovely and sharp and there are lots of cool effects that can be achieved by painting onto the gel. Gelli monoprinting plates can be pricey if you buy them in an art store but here I will take you through the steps of creating your own at home for a fraction of the cost.

Last week at the mixed media group that Michelle Stratton runs at the Henley and Grange Arts Society we tried out gelli printing. It was the first time that I had used one and I fell in love. The gel was so easy to paint on and make all sorts of patterns. I liked using baking paper to mask a silhouette and the way that many prints can be made very quickly. So I got to experiment with a lot of different colours and patterns for the same image.

One of the other participants at the group had made her own gelli monoprinting plate for printing. I thought that was such a great idea and immediately wanted to give it a try.

Side by side comparison of ‘Flying Mermaid’ and the reference image (photographer Casey Grimley)

Making the gelli monoprinting plate

Ingredients:

1 cup boiling water

1 cup glycerine

6 tablespoons gelatine

flat bottomed dish

Note: The dish needs to have no pattern in the bottom as the bottom surface is the one that will be used for painting on and printing. The size of the dish will be the finished size of your gel printing plate.

Instructions to creat the gelli monoprinting plate:
  1. Dissolve gelatine into boiling water so that there are no lumps
  2. Add glycerine and combine quickly
  3. Place the mixture into the dish, try to remove the bubbles if you can but don’t worry too much if there are a few left there. The bubbles end up at the top edge of the plate which is not the surface that you use for printing
  4. Cover with plastic wrap
  5. Put the dish containing the mixture into the fridge at least overnight
  6. Check that the middle of the gel plate has set completely by pressing the gel
  7. Peel the gel plate out of the dish
  8. You can now print with your plate or store it in plastic wrap

Progress photos of creating my own gelli monoprinting plate

The finished gelli monoprinting plate

Reference Image

I was sent this lovely photograph from Tracie Eberle on Instagram who commissioned me to create an artwork from it. This image made the perfect silhouette to use on the gelli monoprinting plate.

photographer Casey Grimley

Instructions on using your home made gelli monoprinting plate

These are just instructions on how I have used the gelli monoprinting plate, but you should experiment and find out how you want to use yours. I thought that I would provide these instructions just to get you started.

First I put several blobs of acrylic paint onto the gel and used a roller to distribute the paint. I then added a swirly pattern  into the paint using a toothed plastic card. To mask off a portion of the plate, I put a baking paper cutout of the mermaid on lyra design on top of the paint. The paper was then pressed onto the painted gel surface to transfer the print.

This process can be altered to give your piece an interesting background

Progress photos of using the gelli monoprinting plate to create ‘Flying Mermaid’ prints

Showing some of my prints in progress and one already done

 

Showing all the prints that I made in the mixed media session

 

Prints of ‘Flying Mermaid’ available in my online store

 

If you find this post useful I would love to hear from you and see your creations.

 

 

Aerial silks from a gymnast’s perspective

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

Inspiration

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

 

If you would like a print of this piece you can find them here. To see all of my artwork you can check out my online store.

 

How to create a beautiful watercolour nude in 3 easy steps

How to create a beautiful watercolour nude in 3 easy steps

I love artistic nudes! When I created this one I was so surprised by how quick and easy it was that I thought I would share the technique. It was my first time using masking fluid with watercolours and I love the free effect it gave the artwork. Give these 3 easy steps a go and see what you think of the results.

‘Inverse Nude’: Masking fluid and watercolour on A3 watercolour paper

Masking Fluid

I created this piece while at the Mixed Media group at the Henley and Grange Art Society with Michelle Stratton. Michelle introduced me to masking fluid  and allowed me to use some of hers for the session. It is going to become one of my favourite mediums to use I am sure.

Masking fluid is a white glue-like liquid that you paint onto dry paper. When the masking fluid is dry it looks a little bit yellow. You can then paint over it with your desired paint effect. Once the paint is dry, the masking fluid can be peeled off to reveal an unpainted area underneath. So if you use white paper, there will be white space revealed when the masking fluid is peeled off.

I like this tool, as I have difficulty leaving enough white space when using watercolours.

 

‘Inverse Nude’: Finished artwork framed and hung on the wall

Step 1: Paint on masking fluid

First you need to choose a figure and paint it on with the masking fluid.

I chose this simple nude figure in a front facing orientation. I found the masking fluid fairly easy to paint on using a regular paint brush, but you can also use other tools like tooth picks to get finer marks than what I applied.

One recommendation that I have, is not to use any of your favourite brushes. It would be easy to ruin a paint brush with masking fluid if you did not clean it properly.

Step 1: Masking fluid drying on A3 watercolour paper

Step 2: Apply watercolour

The second step is to apply a background. There are many different background techniques that you could use with watercolour. Choose your favourite that you think will go well with your figure.

I used purple, blue, red and yellow watercolour paints that I applied to cling wrap in a haphazard way with plenty of water. Then I pressed the watercolour paper face down onto the cling wrap. This technique allowed the colours to mix together and also gave me the desired irregular edges. I really like the uneven paint distribution it created.

Step 2: Masking fluid with drying watercolour on A3 watercolour paper

Step 3: Peel off masking medium

Once the paint is completely dry, the fun part begins! You can then peel off the masking fluid to reveal your beautiful inverse artwork. Where the outline that you originally painted on is now white space surrounded by your amazing and creative background.

I really enjoyed peeling off the masking fluid. There was something satisfying about revealing the artwork piece by stringy, stretchy piece. It was a bit like peeling clear glue off your fingers.

How to create a beautiful watercolour nude in 3 easy steps

Step 3: Watercolour paint on A3 watercolour paper after the masking fluid was peeled off

 

If you decide to try this technique I would love to hear what you think and see the beautiful artwork that you come up with!

An amazing aerial silks duo from the flier perspective

An amazing aerial silks duo from the flier perspective

Alex Charman makes up one half of an amazing aerial silks duo along with Sam Matthewman with Vertical Insanity Circus. She is also one of my current aerial teachers at Circobats Community Circus. I wanted to create a portrait of Alex and Sam’s duo performance and thought that since there are two of them, that I would create two pieces of artwork. I also decided to interview both Alex and Sam. So for this post I will focus on Alex and the first portrait of their duo. Coming soon will be the second portrait and a post focused on Sam.

‘Wrapped with each other’: Duo aerial silks portrait of Alex Charman and Sam Matthewman

Inspiration

I love taking class with Alex and trying all sorts of aerial apparatus including silks, lyra, trapeze and cloud swing. Alex does an excellent job catering for the varied skill levels in the class and keeping it fun. Currently, Alex is performing in Edinburgh with Sam in their show Hoopla International.

Hoopla International 2017 Edinburgh Promo Video

Only 24 hours until Shaz and Baz jet overseas to Edinburgh Fringe Festival to spread the benefits of the patented "Hoopla International Aerobic Workout". Massive thanks to Chantelle from the costumes to filming us you are the best! Here is our amazing promo video PLEASE SHARE it with all your friends to help support us on our biggest adventure yet! Vertical Insanity Circus CircoBats Community Circus

Posted by Hoopla International on Thursday, July 27, 2017

Videographer Chantelle Smeda

 

Side by side comparison of the reference image with the ‘Wrapped with each other’ artwork

 

Q&A with Alex:

What made you decide to try aerial?

I loved the idea of being up high and my mum encouraged me to try it!

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

I had some wonderful teachers who where very experienced which made their teaching methods so precise and technical. They were also extremely encouraging. Which is by far the best quality I have connected to in a teacher.

What is your favourite aspect of aerial?

Feeling like you are flying and doing things normal people can’t.

What is your favourite type of performance?

Silks or trapeze on a stage as a part of a full show. Something that will make the audience feel in awe

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

I can appreciate the strength and skill behind each skill a lot better

How did you get into teaching aerial?

Train, practice, write down small aspects that make the tricks work for you which could help others, do workshops to keep learning and improving

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

That they learn that no matter what there ability is if they keep trying they can achieve anything they put there mind to

what is your favourite aspect of teaching aerial?

The sense of accomplishment that arises when a trick or skill is achieved

how is working in a duo different from performing a solo aerial act?

There is a lot more trust involved and team work to make sure the skills are safe and perfected

Reference Image

I chose the reference image of Sam supporting Alex in a back balance because I love the beautiful elongated shape that their bodies create. The contrast between the red silk and their predominantly black costumes adds to the drama of the performance shot. I also love their beautiful elegant hands and pointed toes in the pose. I only wish that Sam’s left foot was also in the shot to complete the composition, but this would have been an extremely difficult move to capture because of the length.

Photographer Nicholas Warn

 

Progress photos of ‘Wrapped with each other’

Artistic process

I created this piece at the Henley and Grange Art Society mixed media group. I used an easel and large white paper to allow for large free flowing application of marks. Michelle Stratton teaches the mixed media group and suggested that we try for a free and abstract style using Charcoal mixed with either ink or watercolour.

I wanted to focus on the general shapes of the figures rather than the intricate detail with charcoal. The red and black colour scheme was maintained from the reference image. I did this using red and black ink and red chalk pastels in addition to the charcoal.

Close up of ‘Wrapped with each other’ techniques

 

The background was created by dampening the paper with a spray bottle and then dripping black ink down the page. I avoided the area within the figures so that they would still stand out, but did not stop the drips if they naturally came into contact with the figure.

I like the effect of the black and red and white to create this dramatic abstract portrait.

If you would like a print of this piece click on the link below:

prints available

 

Alex and Sam will be performing next in the Perth world Fringe in Jan/Feb 2018

How to make sure you never get stuck in your comfort zone

How to make sure you never get stuck in your comfort zone

A favourite exercises for me is creating multiple pieces of artwork from one reference image. I do this to force myself to try new techniques and mediums. In this blog post I will describe how I created 3 different pieces of artwork using 3 approaches. Feeling like you have been stuck in an artistic rut? You might want to try this exercise to get out of your comfort zone.

Boat pose 3 ways: 3  portraits of Tessa Overall

Upper to lower, left to right:

‘Uplifted Yogi’: Charcoal and chalk pastels on large brown paper

‘Rise From the Shadows’: Chalk pastel pencils on black gesso on cream pastel paper A3 size

‘Stained Glass Boat Pose’: Watercolour and Tombow dual brush pens on A3 mixed media paper

Motivation

I often find myself getting stuck in an artistic comfort zone. It usually happens when I have been practicing a new technique and finally feel like I am getting the hang of it. The only problem is then my artwork starts looking really similar piece after piece. I also become reluctant to try new and unfamiliar things.
 
When I get stuck in a rut like this, I have an exercise I like to use to get out of my comfort zone. I force myself to try something new by approaching one reference image in multiple ways. So for this post I decided to show some recent results of this exercise.
 
If you decide to give this exercise a try too I would love to see your results! Feel free to post in the comments, email or post to my facebook group.

Reference Image

The reference image is of Tessa Overall in boat pose. Tessa’s mum, Noeline Overall commissioned me to create a piece from this photo. Both Tessa and Noeline are accomplished yogis. Noeline is even a yoga instructor at Pure Unity Yoga.
 
I thought that this image would be perfect for my exercise to get myself out of my comfort zone. It is simple in its shape, but has strong highlights and interesting colours. There are a lot of elements ideal for experimentation using different mediums and techniques.

Reference photograph of Tessa Overall Photographer unknown

Approach 1:

Background

I started working on the first piece using black gesso scraped onto cream pastel paper. This was done using a small credit card sized piece of plastic or cardboard. The technique creates a thin layer of paint which shows through some of the tooth of the paper. I like the texture that the uneven cover and edges give to the piece.

Figure

I worked on the figure using chalk pastel pencils. They go well over the black background and still show vibrant colours. Additionally, I prefer chalk pastel pencils to regular chalk pastels for small pieces. I feel like I have more control and can include more detail. I also wanted to leave a lot of the torso and legs without much pastel. This let the gesso show through for the shadows.

highlights

The highlights in the reference photograph are such an integral part of this piece. I wanted to make sure that I accentuated them. I blended red, yellow, orange and purple chalk pastel pencils with the bright white. This technique against the black gesso allowed for strong contrast.

‘Rise From the Shadows’: Chalk pastel pencils on black gesso on cream pastel paper A3 size

Progress photos of ‘Rise From the Shadows’

Approach 2:

I created the second piece at a Mixed Media group at the Henley and Grange Arts Society.

Background
I used large brown paper for the second piece that I created from the photo of Tessa. The background was left blank except for the yoga mat beneath the figure. Thus, the mid-tone showed through.
 
I wanted to be more free-form and expressive in this piece, less worried about capturing the proportions exactly. That is why I chose to use the big brown paper on a large easel. Sometimes I find that using an easel allows for less restrained movement. My elbow is not leaning against the table while I paint or draw.
Figure
In keeping with my plan to be more expressive, I decided to use mainly charcoal for this version of Tessa’s portrait. I find that I make larger and darker marks using charcoal than I do with many other mediums.
 
I applied the charcoal in a manner that suggested contour lines. This was to give the figure more dimension, particularly along the legs. This left an interesting pattern that I did not try to blend in because I liked it as it was.
 
In contrast to the previous piece above, for this one I had to draw in the shadows using the charcoal. So there was a lot less blank space within the figure in this version compared to the last one.
Highlights

The mid-tone paper meant that I could use white chalk pastels to create the bright highlights. This is a similar technique that I used on the previous piece, but with less contrast against the background.

‘Uplifted Yogi’: Charcoal and chalk pastels on large brown paper

Progress photos of ‘Uplifted Yogi’

Approach 3:

Background
For the third version of Tessa’s portrait I wanted to try my hand at watercolours. This is far outside my comfort zone. I tend to over-work watercolours and not leave enough white spaces. Also, I have trouble waiting for the paint to dry so have plenty of unintentional runs. Just call me over-enthusiastic I guess 😉
 
Having little experience with watercolours, this piece was way outside my comfort zone. In the future I would like to get better. I love the way watercolours can look. So this is a good opportunity to conquer my watercolour fear.
 
I used a blotchy colourful wash for the background of this piece. This effect was created by tapping a paint loaded brush onto wet areas of paper in multiple layers.
Figure

I used deep blues and purples for the shadows in this piece. In the future I should be more subtle with the application of watercolour paints. I need to work the shadows up more gradually. Even though I was a bit heavy handed, I really enjoy the resulting effect of moody blue shadows on the muscles.

highlights

The highlights in this piece were created by leaving white space. As usual, I probably should have left more white areas, but I think I did better than I have in the past. I also tried to capture the orange and yellow colours on the edge of the highlights in the reference photo. This was done by letting the blue of the shadows bleed into them a little. I probably shouldn’t have let it bleed quite as much in the face and hair area. So I then worked back into the light areas with white chalk pastel.

Definition

I added more definition to this piece using Tombow dual brush pens. This created a stained glass effect, particularly on the arms. I also tried to get the line-work to pick out the shapes of the muscles. This was to enhance the variation in shadows around them.

‘Stained Glass Boat Pose’: Watercolour and Tombow dual brush pens on A3 mixed media paper

Progress photos of ‘Stained Glass Boat Pose’

 

I hope you enjoyed my walk through creating these pieces. If you decide to try a similar exercise to get yourself out of your comfort zone, I would love to see the results. You can show me your work using the comments section, email (contact@the-art-of-flying.com), social media or by posting in The Art of Flying facebook group. Happy experimenting and I can’t wait to see what you create!

How to have have the Most Amazing Aerial Photoshoot

How to have have the Most Amazing Aerial Photoshoot

Aerial photoshoots make my job, creating artwork inspired by aerialists much easier. This post outlines my top tips for a successful aerial photoshoot.

My First Aerial Photoshoot

At the Yoga and Aerial Arts Retreat I attend in Costa Rica, the students organised an aerial photoshoot. While none of us are photographers, I am very happy with the pictures that got taken! Not everyone has access to professional aerial photography. Reflecting on the experience, these are my tips for an amazing aerial photoshoot.
 
If you find my tips help stage your photoshoot I would love to see the results.
 

Gift-wrapped Globe‘: Self-portrait acrylic and Tombow dual brush pens on canvas from aerial silks photoshoot

 

Side by side comparison. Left: My favourite photo from the aerial silks photoshoot in Costa Rica (photo credit to Courtney Maimon). Right: The artwork I created from the picture

My Top Aerial Photoshoot Tips:

Do your photoshoot in paradise

If you can get yourself to Costa Rica or some other idyllic location, do it! Our perfect location came complete with a metal structure to rig from and a view over San Jose city. There were even palm trees in the background to complete the scene.

Have a handy friend

We were also very lucky that we had someone in our group who knew what they were doing when it came to rigging. I would not have had a clue of how to safely rig a silk outside. So if you don’t have that expertise make sure that you consult or bring along somebody who does.

Have some fancy cameras

For our photo shoot we used a range of cameras from an iPhone7+ to DSLR cameras. I use a Fuji XM1 mirrorless camera and I really like how the colours come out. I think it is nice to have more than one if you can manage it, as different cameras have different strengths.

Have multiple people with cameras

It is easy for one person to miss the perfect moment for a shot. Having several photographers taking pictures increases the chance of capturing that perfect photo. You can also get multiple angles. For example, I love this pic that is looking up from a lower angle!

keep snapping no matter what

This photo got caught during a transition and reminds me a little bit of a matrix move. If my mates had not kept on clicking, even when I was not doing a fancy move or pose, I never would have gotten this one. We wanted to maximise the shots to choose from. Our philosophy for this photoshoot was quantity over quality.

Have someone to spin you to the right angle

Whilst I don’t mind a good bum shot, it is nice to be facing the camera most of the time. You also need to be able to get the right angle for all your splits and back balances to show how flexible you are. I recommend having one person dedicated to manoeuvring you into position. Also it doesn’t hurt that you can take advantage of the power of optical illusions 🙂

Have bossy and honest friends

It is nice to have people around you who you trust to tell you when you are in a weird shape or if your face looks crazy. I started off the photoshoot with my hair up. While I was hanging upside down in a backbend, my friends said to take it down. I am so glad that I did because I think it adds a lot to the photographs.

Organize to have a convenient storm roll in

We were lucky to get some moody dark clouds in the background of our photoshoot. This also meant that the lighting was awesome and we didn’t have the problem of glare or backlighting. One of the perks of going to Costa Rica in the rainy season.

Pick your poses in advance

Plan, plan, plan! Don’t spend your photoshoot time wondering what you should do. Plan the moves that you feel most comfortable with and play to your strengths. We had even greater time pressure than most. Each day at about 2pm there was a deluge of rain in Costa Rica.

Make sure you can stay in each pose for awhile

It can take a little while to get the perfect angle for the perfect shot. Give the photographers time to get the shot by choosing poses that you can hold for awhile. Rest poses with pretty pointed toes are your friend!

Artistic Process

This was a really fun painting to create. I wanted to play with some different abstract techniques and lots of rainbow colours. Often I paint with a quite restricted colour palette so for this work I wanted to change it up and use all the colours!
 
I also wanted to try getting a more washy effect with the acrylics. Recently, I have been wanting to get into trying out watercolours. This one has been my gateway painting where I used acrylics but in a more watercolour style.

I have seen people use line work to enhance their watercolour paintings. The lines were done using Tombow dual brush pens in similar colours to the figure and the silks that I wanted to define. They were applied with the anatomy of the figure in mind, so that the musculature would be augmented. 

I then used a mottled wash of blue and bright pink to add some interest to the background. This was done by dabbing the brush loaded with water and paint over the wet surface of the canvas.
 

Do you have amazing photos from a shoot that you would be interested in getting made into a piece of art? You can contact me at contact@the-art-of-flying.com and I will get back to you with ideas and options

‘Bend Over Backwards’: Contortion portrait of Maia Adams in backbend

‘Bend Over Backwards’: Contortion portrait of Maia Adams in backbend

I spent the most time with Maia Adams when I attended the Yoga and Aerial Arts Retreat in Costa Rica. Maia taught the aerial sessions on the retreat, but I had already met her taking aerial silk classes at Aerial Artique, where she is the owner and fabulous boss lady! Maia is inspiring on so many levels. She is an excellent teacher, imaginative performer and amazing small business owner. I wanted her portrait to reflect these qualities. To do this, I drew this piece of Maia in a backbend contortion pose to show off her balance, strength and flexibility both in body and spirit.

‘Bend Over Backwards’: Chalk pastel pencils and charcoal on mid-tone grey paper (portrait of Maia Adams in a backbend balance)

Inspiration

The first time I ever saw Maia perform was at the Aerial Artique Teacher Showcase where she did an exciting lyra routine in a fierce bodysuit. That was one of the first ever lyra performances that I had seen and I was amazed at the way that Maia was able to sinuously wrap herself around the hoop and transition seamlessly from one beautiful shape to another.

Aerial Artique – Teacher Showcase 2016  from Kaleb Wyman Videography

I was fortunate enough to get to learn from Maia whilst on Retreat with her in Costa Rica. I really enjoyed the way that each aerial silks session on the retreat had a different theme. We were put through our paces in conditioning, coordination, flexibility and performance skills. I liked the variety and the sense of dynamic fun that Maia brought to each of the sessions. She helped us to maintain our enthusiasm, even as we got more and more tired throughout the trip.

On the retreat Maia taught a sequence that I loved called the can-opener. This slightly unusual move is indicative of her unique aerial style. It is now one of my favourite moves, that is not particularly well known. Even some experienced aerialists I have come across had never seen it before.

Me showing off the can-opener pose wearing my ‘Look At Me Leggings’ at Circobats Community Circus, photo credit Alex Charman

 

Q&A with Maia:

What made you want to try aerial when you got started?

I have always been “embodied” wanting to emote with movement or when processing emotion I have found the deepest release and cathartic experience in any physical activity: yoga, volleyball, soccer, dance, acrobatics. When I was 23 I had hit a lull in my relationship with movement and was searching for something new. Aerial ignited my curiosity and excitement like nothing else, I was instantly hooked upon my first try at it.

Has that changed from what motivates you now?

Great question. Over the last 7 years of practicing aerial acrobatics/dance it has changed. It’s a grounding mechanism (haha, the irony) my meditation that helps me feel centred and now that i have the vocabulary down on a deeper level it is a brain challenge. I love geeking out on technique and breaking down new pathways and drops with other aerialists. Performance is the biggest motivator these days though. What can I find through character and refined movement that will connect with someone’s deeper emotions to move them in some way or inspire them.

What are your favourite aspects of teaching aerial?

I absolutely love to be the one to show someone aerial for the first time and what they are capable of that they didn’t fathom prior to. Its like doing a magic trick for someone but the only illusion is the that voice telling you you cant do something new. 

What are your favourite aspects of performing?

For me, performance is everything. It is a sacred experience between performer and audience as well as a celebration of all my blood, sweat and tears and endless hours of relentless practice to bring a piece together. Also, I absolutely love putting on ridiculous eyelashes and costumes!

What motivated you to have your own aerial studio?

I have envisioned myself with a studio almost from the first months of starting yoga at 19. Since then in one way or another through my personal practice through employment I have found myself spending most of my time inside a studio learning all aspects of how it runs, what it can do and how it helps community. 

What do think are some of the aspects of Aerial Artique that differentiates it from other studios?

We certainly have a tight community. I have witnesses very strong bonds created amongst our students through showcase, trainings, intensive and classes in general. I am always seeking new ways to keep strengthening those bonds as this is the most amazing aspect of being a studio owner is watching the love of community grow through a shared passion and art form. 

What do you hope students take away from your classes?

In my personal classes I want students to feel free to be themselves, safe from judgements and self judgement in particular. Learning to treat their practice/training like an exercise in self talk. Saying “I can” or “I am open to trying this” rather than “I suck”. It’s a hell of a lot more fun that way. 

What are your favourite types of aerial performances?

I love it all! Solo, duo, silk, rope, lyra, original appartus! There is so much for the eyes to feast upon. Full on circus shows that have inspired me are Lucent DossierAntic in a drain and and Troupe Vertigo!  

Reference Image

When I asked Maia if she would be a featured aerial artist on The Art of Flying, I intended to create a portrait of her in the air. When I saw the picture of her in the backbend balance, I couldn’t resist it! The lighting in the reference photograph highlighting Maia’s muscles looks so amazing that I had to use that shot. I also wanted to make sure that I could capture a lot of the fine details of the pose. So I decided to make this portrait a drawing.

Photographer: RJ Muna

Progress photos of ‘Bend Over Backwards

Artistic Process

I feel like I have more control in drawings than when I paint. This is why I chose to draw this piece with chalk pastel pencils and charcoal. I used a mid-tone grey paper to accentuate the highlights created by the lighting in the photo. This is a technique that I really love. My work is generally very high contrast so it lets me stick to using strong blacks and whites. I used the blue colour as a shadow to soften the transitions between dark and light. Together, these techniques allowed me to capture beautiful details from the reference photograph and accentuate the amazing highlights.

I hope that you enjoyed the variation in artwork this week having a more contortion yoga type pose instead of an aerial silks or lyra trick. I am hoping to include more variety of subjects and techniques as I go along and develop in my figurative style. If you have any suggestions of the different apparatus or disciplines that you would like to see, or if you would just like to see more of what I have done so far please let me know in the comments section. I am very open to feedback and I will do my best to make it happen 🙂

Prints of this piece (and all my featured pieces) are available in my online store.

‘Hanging by a Thread’: Portrait of Hannah Lawson in Belay

“‘Hanging by a Thread’: Portrait of Hannah Lawson in Belay” is locked ‘Hanging by a Thread’: Portrait of Hannah Lawson in Belay

Hannah Lawson was the teacher for aerial silks level 2 classes that I took at Aerial Artique. I was impressed by her fun and approachable teaching style which made students feel very comfortable to ask questions and created a community atmosphere. The reference image perfectly captures the way a simple pose done with intention and grace can be stunning. That clean femininity is what I wanted to express with my portrait of Hannah in belay.

‘Hanging by a Thread’: Acrylic on canvas (portrait of Hannah Lawson in belay)

Inspiration

I really loved taking Hannah’s classes because not only did I learn really fun sequences and improve my technique by learning from her, but she also made me feel like I was part of a community. During her classes, Hannah often asks the students about their weekend and if they have any recommendations of things to do in San Francisco. She also starts each lesson with 100 sit-ups as part of the conditioning warm-up, which she completes as part of the group.

I learned the Rebecca Split from Hannah which is one of my favourite moves. I love it because it is not very difficult but can have great impact and makes me feel great about myself. This is just one example of the way that I always came out of Hannah’s classes feeling confident and excited about the new things that I had learnt. These are the types of feelings I wanted to convey with the portrait of Hannah.

Photo of me doing the Rebecca Split that I learned from Hannah at Aerial Artique

 

Q&A with Hannah:

What led you to try aerial?

I always loved circus shows and was getting into fire poi at the time so I just searched all over to find a studio. I lived in the farthest south city in SoCal at the time and to my dismay there was only one studio I could find. I then moved to Santa Barbara for a year and when I returned I ended up living within 5 minutes of 2 studios. I just jumped in to training and was obsessed ever since.

What is your favourite apparatus and why?
Well that depends on the day for me. I’m constantly jumping around and changing my favorite. I would have to say hammock or tissu is my favorite right now, but I have had such awesome times making doubles routines on cube with my partners Amber Wang and Hillary Bassoff.
How do you feel when you perform?
NERVOUS….. at first. I really enjoy all the parts leading up to performing. I love to make routines and think of how I want to link movement to music. Performing used to be really nerve racking for me because I felt I couldn’t easily embody the style I wanted, but as I practice and let go of inhibition it has become much more fluid.
What do you think is unique about your performance style?
My aerial mentor was Ruby Karen in southern California and I really can’t begin to thank her enough for all the amazing things I have learned from her. I have continued to value her lessons and a lot of my styling comes from what I have learned from her and Luca. I also strive for my performance to have a lot of power but also be graceful.
What motivated you to start teaching aerial?
Ruby my mentor asked me to become a part of her studio. She trained me in the IATTP program to become a certified instructor. It took me about a year to complete. I also was a swim coach before and I guess I have a thing for explaining things and sharing my passion with others.
What is your teaching style?
Technique! There are so many tiny things that make a move so much easier and safer. I really want to see correct form and safety in the air. I also like to talk to my students… or should I say friends. I try to make my class into a community and have everyone leave happy.
What do you hope your students will take away from your classes?
Enjoy the ride and have some fun. It’s okay to not be good at something right away. Aerial is hard and takes a lot of time and dedication to progress. Create your own personality in the air, and then learn to embrace it. Think of why you wanted to try this so badly and then just go for it.

Reference Image

The reference image for this piece shows Hannah reclining in belay. Her torso is supported by a loop of bright red silk,  giving her back a lovely arch. I love how this image looks relaxed and elegant at the same time.

Photographer: Sari Blum

 

Progress photos of ‘Hanging by a Thread’

Artistic Process

This portrait was the most challenging one that I have ever done. There were several parts that I had to paint over several times until I was happy that they were just right. Even though I struggled through the process, this is my favourite painting that I have done so far. So all of the effort was worth it!

Challenges

Leg Angle

Firstly, I think that the shape of the pose in belay is deceptive in its simplicity. In the progress images you can see how I had to wipe off some of the paint after the initial layer of grey. At first I had the angle of Hannah’s legs wrong. This meant that they ended up being too short for her body. Additionally, this difficulty with the leg angle made her bottom the wrong shape and made the painting look bottom heavy. Thankfully I was able to re-paint this with the correct angle to make her body back into the correct proportions.

Hands

Secondly, I encountered another challenge when painting Hannah’s hands. I think that the beautiful shape of her hands in the reference image adds a lot of the interest to an otherwise fairly simple pose. I wanted to capture the delicacy and elegance that Hannah shows in her hand placement. This was another part of the painting that I had to paint over several times. Initially I had the hands too far apart from each other. This threw the angle of her upper body and the length of her arms out of proportion. After many attempts I was able to correct my mistakes.

Inverted Face

Thirdly, I have realized through working on this piece that I have a lot of trouble painting faces upside down. I think I painted Hannah’s face a full 5 times before I realized that was the problem. Her features were going all over the place and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get them to look right. Luckily, there is an easy way to remedy this issue. I just turned the painting and the reference image upside down. Thus, the face was up the way my mind obviously expected it to be. Thankfully this solved my issue. I was then able to paint Hannah’s face without making her look like a toy that had been savaged by a small child ;p

Background

I chose a dark background with vertical lines of blue and silver. This background reminded me of a stage with the curtains pulled back to reveal a performer. For this piece I really wanted to make the red silk belay pop. I think I achieved this by contrasting the bright cadmium scarlet agains the dark background of cool colours.

I feel like things that I struggle with are sometimes the most rewarding. This was the case with Hannah’s portrait. I am so happy with how it has ended up and learned so much by overcoming the challenges. Hopefully I will continue to have challenging pieces to work on and will be able to grow in the process.

If you want to follow along as I tackle new challenges, enter your email address into the subscribe box. I will describe the process of trying to improve my figurative painting and drawing techniques.

If you would like to see Hannah perform, she will be in the teacher showcase at Aerial Artique on September 30th.

 

‘Aerial Quartet’: Four flying at yoga and aerial arts retreat in Costa Rica

‘Aerial Quartet’: Four flying at yoga and aerial arts retreat in Costa Rica

In May I attended a yoga and aerial arts retreat in Costa Rica at Pura Vida Retreat and Spa hosted by Go Well Beyond and Aerial Artique. Not only did I get to learn more aerial silks skills and take wonderful yoga classes in paradise, but I also got to meet some absolutely amazing people! This experience inspired me to paint a picture of four of us flying in an ‘Aerial Quartet’.

‘Aerial Quartet’: Acrylic and Tombow dual brush pens on paper

Inspiration

When I saw that Aerial Artique was putting on a Yoga and Aerial Arts retreat that lined up with my timing for moving back to Australia, I thought it must be fate 😉 So, I decided to treat myself to an amazing holiday at the conclusion of my time in the US.

The retreat exceeded my expectations on many levels…

Daily Routine

Each day of the 5 day retreat began with a 6:30am yoga session. I thought initially that this would be a challenge to get out of bed for. The sun was bright and shining by 5:00am, so 6.00am actually felt like a pretty normal time to get moving for yoga. There was also an evening restorative yoga class after dinner to conclude the day.

All meals were catered for by Pura Vida Retreat and Spa and were served buffet style. The whole group generally came together at meal times.

Mornings were free or spent touring, where we saw stunning waterfalls or zip-lined through the canopy of a cloud forest.

On occasion I sometimes even found time to do a little drawing. This was by far the best view I have ever had whilst sketching.

Each afternoon we had an aerial session focusing on a different aspect of aerial arts. Some were focused on building strength, learning a new technique, or developing flexibility. Our final session was focused on performance stage and presence.

In addition to the normal scheduled aerial sessions, we had a surprise bonus trapeze workshop. This session was taught by Maximus Z Barnaby, formerly a student of the Circus Centre in San Francisco, who lives in Costa Rica now. This session was a real treat and I will talk more about it in a future post.

Location

Pura Vida Retreat and Spa is situated on the side of a mountain in Costa Rica overlooking San Jose. The view was spectacular from both the aerial/yoga room that we used and also from our individual rooms. Sometimes from the dining area we could even see puffs of vapour coming from the adjacent active volcano.

I felt calm and more relaxed from the moment I arrived at the retreat. It was also a real treat to be able to do yoga and aerial silks in such beautiful surroundings. This is certainly a holiday that I will never forget!

Food and Water

Before I start raving about the deliciousness of the food at Pura Vida Retreat and Spa, I want to talk about the water! It was such a pleasure not to have to worry about getting ill on the retreat, because all of the water on the premises was micron filtered and UV sterilised. This put me totally at ease, being a neuroscientist, because we use the same sterilisation processes in lab work.

So I could open my mouth in the shower and avoid any horrific reenactments of the Sex and the City Movie (I think you all know the scene I am thinking of). I could clean my teeth with tap water and eat as much salad as my heart desired without worrying about potential consequences.

Most of the vegetables at the retreat were grown on site and were so flavourful! All meals had vegetarian and gluten free options and no red meat served. The food seemed very healthy while still being tasty and abundant.

Some of the highlights for me were all of the fresh fruit at breakfast, soups with each lunch and dinner and so many different types of salads. Much entertainment, discussion and guessing ensued when we discovered a bowl of exotic fruits complete with instruction booklet.

Teachers

Both Nadine, who led the yoga sessions and Maia, who led the aerial sessions are excellent humans to spend time with, in addition to being experts in their respective fields. I hope to feature each of them more thoroughly in future blog posts.

Nadine seemed very in tune with our needs as the retreat progressed. In the first couple of days she commenced with more challenging sequences in our morning flow. As we fatigued throughout the trip, she focused more on recovery. Some mornings, I thought that I would be too tired and sore to participate in yoga. On those mornings Nadine had tailored a flow to suit our physical state.

I had never taken part in restorative yoga before and thoroughly enjoyed it. I certainly think I would have felt less energetic if Nadine was not taking such good care of us. The room where we took part in restorative yoga had a stunning view, with all the twinkling city lights below us.

Maia did a great job of catering to the varying aerial abilities of each student at the retreat. For example, I was by far the weakest student, so when we were working on inversions or beats I often had to have a modified task. In contrast, the following day we worked on several different splits based movements. I was much better able to perform these flexibility based skills. This made me feel like although I did not excel at every session, I was able to work to my strengths some of the time.

 

Reference Image

One of my favourite moments at the retreat was when four of us got up on the silks at the same time. I managed to capture it using my Samsung Gear360 camera.

Video taken with my Samsung Gear360 camera , make sure you pan around so that you can see all 4 people 🙂

 

photograph taken by Maia

 

progress photos of ‘Aerial Quartet’

Artistic Process

The approach I too to this piece was very different to the style of most of my artwork. I aimed to be more free-flowing with my brushwork and attempt a more washy style.

In addition to the different style, I also wanted the focus to be more on the fabric than the four figures. To achieve this, I added line work to the silks using Tombow dual brush pens. 

Overall I had a wonderful experience at the retreat and I hope that this artwork reflects that 🙂

I did not receive any remuneration to write this post, these are all my own opinions. If you like what you see please share with your friends and subscribe to my mailing list!

 

‘Keep Them Crossed’: Portrait of Astra Beck on Lyra

‘Keep Them Crossed’: Portrait of Astra Beck on Lyra

I took a few classes at Skylab Studio with Astra Beck when I was in London over the holiday period last year. Astra taught me Bendy Wendy which is one of my favourite moves on the aerial silk. She made the classes fun and approachable and the main thing that stuck with me was her bright personality that matched her neon pink tights. I wanted my portrait of her to reflect that brightness and fun.

 ‘Keep Them Crossed’: Acrylic on black canvas board (Portrait of Astra Beck on lyra)

Inspiration

Last year when I had to do my visa run, I decided to go to London from San Francisco for a bit of a change from my normal trip back home to Australia. While I was in London I used ClassPass to keep learning aerial while I was travelling. I took a couple of aerial silk and lyra classes at Skylab Studio with Astra.

Incidentally, I found it was excellent taking classes over the Christmas and New Year period because often there was only a couple of other people in the classes. So my classes with Astra had a large impact because they ended up being semi-private.

When I approached the studio I saw some beautiful street art, including the amazing painting below. Skylab Studio seems to be surrounded by creativity!

Street art on the way to Skylab Studio by Bofkin Paul

 

While I was at the class with Astra, I learned my favourite aerial move the bendy wendy, which I featured in my self-portrait in my first blog post. It was particularly great because it was the perfect move to learn, given my fairly beginner skill level at the time, but was still exciting.

Astra’s fun and bright look seemed like a reflection of the excitement I had about learning a new move. I drew inspiration for her portrait from her short spiky blonde hair and the neon outfit that she was wearing while teaching the class.

Q&A with Astra:

What led you to start learning aerial?
I had been dancing a lot so was very in my body and liked to be physical. I was also making crazy club wear outfits. I then met a circus who saw my portfolio and asked me to design and make all their costumes. When I saw their show and in particular this act where a girl did cloud swing it was love at first sight. I just knew I wanted to do that act. So I gave up my place at Fashion School and instead went and trained at Circus School. The following year I ended up performing with the circus and from then on I never looked back. 
What was your favourite thing about Aerial when you started learning?
I just love the playfulness of training and seeing what you can push your body to do. It’s a real buzz to train aerial because of the adrenaline, but it’s also just like being a kid and messing about with your mates all day, teaching each other tricks and stuff. I think it’s the childhood I never had as a kid — learning circus.
What is your favourite thing about aerial now that you run your own studio?
I love seeing how the students progress and how much joy they get from it. I also love the showcases we do where the student perform. I am always amazed at how well they do! Especially knowing that they came to Skylab Studio with no aerial skills whatsoever and to see them now performing is always a really special moment for me.
What are some of the challenges of running your own business in the aerial arts space?
I started running the studio because I wanted to develop my aerial and choreographical skills and I thought that by teaching more this would happen naturally. However I’ve ended up spending more time sat behind a computer than actually training more! It has sort of killed my enthusiasm for training rather than develop it. 
What do you hope that your students take away from their classes with you?
Overall I love it when a student falls in love with doing aerial as much as I did. But otherwise if they go home having discovered that their body can do something they never thought it could, then that makes me really happy as well.

Reference Image

 Of the images that Astra sent me as options to work from I chose one of her in an inverted position on the lyra. Her brightly coloured outfit in the image reminded me of the exuberant image that Astra portrays in real life.
I love the shape of Astra’s body in the reference image with all of her limbs crossed over each other. It reminds me of an intricate and elegant lattice pattern. I also like how the sharp angles of Astra’s body contrast with the round smooth shape of the lyra.
I also like the fact that Astra is hanging upside down by one hand, showing her strength. This is also an angle that I have not painted an aerialist from before. Given the importance of inverting in aerial practice, I think that it is a valuable addition to my repertoire.

 

Photographer: Ester Keate

 

Progress photos of ‘Keep Them Crossed’

Artistic process

 I wanted to approach this portrait of Astra to reflect the animated and effervescent aspects of her personality that I saw in her classes. For the background, I used black canvas boart. I wanted the stark, plain base to allow her portrait to really stand out more brightly.
I chose hues of blue, purple and red because these vivid colours contrast with the black without looking out of place. For the darkest shadows on the skin, I used a very dark purple. This colour scheme makes it difficult to see where the body starts and the background ends. I think this effect adds a sense of drama. However, the highlights still stand out brightly.

Finished ‘Keep Them Crossed’ sitting on my sister’s piano next to ‘Wings’, ‘Reaching Higher’ and a beautiful framed tea-towel

 

I only met Astra a couple of times, but I think I was successful in capturing Astra’s vibrant personality with this portrait. I would love to take classes with her again the next time I am in London.
If you are interested in learning more about Astra or Skylab Studio, there is a student showcase on July 22nd.