Touchpoints for creating a visual language
When I was a little girl, my parents put me in ballet class. I think I was five. I loved the black scoop-neck leotard, the pale pink tights, the leather ballet slippers. I couldn’t wait to be old enough for pointe shoes.
The accoutrements of dance became the first words in my visual language.
I tend to design in three dimensions, manipulating materials with my fingers rather than drawing with a pencil. The physicality of my ballet background may be one reason I work like this.
As a very young student, watching the talented older dancers leap, whirl and spin across the ballet studio electrified me. Their moves defied gravity. Their bodies made shapes in space, etching patterns in my mind: round on top, where their bunned heads revolved; wide in the middle, where their sheer chiffon skirts billowed out; sharp and pointed at the bottom, where their pink satin toe-tips touched the floor. When they finally stopped whirling, their bodies landed with precision into grounded poses from which their arms continued to vibrate, almost like jellyfish tendrils under ocean waves. I was captivated by every gesture.
Dance movements, shapes and costumes show up frequently in my jewelry work. My Pearl-in-a-Nest series, for example, shows an obvious link to my watching the dancers en pointe with admiration. The elegant, balanced turns show up in the swirls of metal I use as a focal point on these designs.
The garb of dance shows up in my work as well. Dancewear uses varying weights of material to address function as well as beauty. Dancers wear knitted sweater layers to keep their muscles warm in class. They also wear floaty chiffon or tulle skirts, not so much for warmth but for style, to inhabit the role of dancer. Their clothing creates layers, folds of transparency and opacity as the dancers move. The layers create changing silhouettes on the body, morphing mysteriously from one shape to another.
Artistically, I’ve always had a love for materials, the effects of transparency versus opacity, and clearly defined shapes. My Bamboo group is one that illustrates these affinities well. I use heavy gauge metal to create a defined outline, then cover it with fine wire that references layers and changes when seen from different viewpoints. This was never a deliberate part of the design process. I only notice it when reviewing the work from several years out.
I see the influence of Ballet class in how I regard my own studio workspace, too. Ballet studios tend to be wide open spaces defined by scuffed blond wood floors, simple white walls, and a long row of mirrors doubling the size of the room. A dance studio is the architectural embodiment of possibility, a room where creativity and order can combine to produce art. When I begin a new series of designs, or even sit down to fill an order, my first task is always to wipe down my worktable and sweep my studio floors. As if on autopilot, I clean to create the sense of possibility and order I first experienced in ballet class. I trust that the organized space will support my work, and it usually does.
We artists don’t always see the connection between the seemingly unrelated parts of our lives. I’m fortunate to recognize the profound effect ballet class had on me as a designer, and on the rest of my life. I still find lots of black and pink in my wardrobe. 😊
Ballet class has become part of my visual language. As I don my black leggings almost every morning to prepare for a day in the studio, I realize my ballet-school outfit offers me the comfort and structure I need to maximize my workday effort. With gratitude for a sense of artistic direction, and open to possibility, I begin.