February marks the anniversary of my @ballettoons Instagram account. If you'd told me two years ago that I'd be drawing dancing animals, or that I'd have over 900 lovely followers on this account, I would not have believed you. Yet here I am – with heartfelt thanks to everyone who has encouraged me along the way.
As a young artist, I never considered cartoons my forté. With a bit of encouragement and getting started tips from a cousin, I did try my hand at them in my 20s and managed a few toon-style self-portraits. But I figured I didn't have a knack for cartoon illustration (beware of limiting beliefs ruling the day). Apart from the occasional cartoon-style doodle or birthday card that I did for people I know and love well, I never really got into it. I even tried a few ballerinas but didn't like the results and thought cartoon illustration was just not for me.
Brick-laying – the foundations
In early 2020, I started participating in the #inktober52 drawing challenge on Insta. I wanted to improve my drawing skills and decided to do ballet-themed interpretations of the prompts. One of the prompts was brick. Thinking to pay tribute to the iconic Lego brick, I attempted to create some cartoony Lego-rinas. These didn't work well! My characters didn't have the right proportions to make them reminiscent of Lego characters at all. The mismatch works both ways too – Lego characters do not have balletic hands, limbs, necklines or feet. But I do like a challenge and mucking around with this idea, I learnt that simple details can convey a character. I had some fun imagining some of my favourite ballerina and danseur roles, including Albrecht (pictured).
The more I wrestled with exploring the idea, the more playful my approach became. My frustration with the Lego proportions and style helped me clarify what it was I wanted to be able to convey in my dancers and I began to develop a bit of confidence in my own style. Instead of trying to end up with drawings that I deemed good enough to share on social media, I began to just have fun creating ballet characters in different costumes and an increasing variety of poses.
With a demanding academic job filling my days, doodling and colouring in ballet dancers in the evenings was excellent stress relief. I enjoyed reliving all my fantastic childhood balletomane memories of discovering new ballets and falling in love with them. Inspired and feeling connected to these memories, I gained momentum and started putting my characters on mini greetings cards. I photographed my doodles to share with my sister but soon realised at the rate I was creating, it might be better to share them on an Instagram account rather than constantly spam her.
Ballettoons – the first two years
In the first year, I didn't attempt many animal characters other than Panda who doubled as an my alter ego for my childhood self and represented the physical awkwardness I was feeling as an adult.
But following a series of festive hedgehog-inspired Christmas trees, I began to draw more hedgehog ballet characters. One of my Insta followers mentioned Hedgie in a comment and the name stuck.
Soon I received requests online for other animal characters. I became braver about experimenting and over the course of 2021 lots of new creatures joined the Ballettoons stage. Dan Seur the lion is my favourite, although I'm not yet as confident drawing him as I am Hedgie and Hedgio.
The Ballettoons have become an integral part of my creative practice. They are a wonderful way to try out new ideas, explore characters and poses and definitely inform my painting practice. Some toons even grow up to become paintings.
Thank you to my sister for sharing ballet memories with me!
Thank you to everyone who has bought or commissioned a Ballettoons illustration or greetings card. Honoured that you love them and I adore seeing them in your lovely homes and studios.
Thank you to everyone who is part of my @ballettoons community! You have made this journey what it is. I'm constantly amazed at all the wonderful creations you share online and grateful for your kindness and encouragement.
I never believed I could until I did! And I hope this post in turn inspires someone else who might just need to play a little because you never know what might happen. Creative play really is the secret to surprising yourself.
P.S. There's new adventures ahead for the Ballettoons. I've been invited to contribute an illustration to a book – more about that exciting new project soon.