Roller derby is sweeping the country by storm and derby counterculture is in turn ballooning, creating an entire empire centered upon strong, sexy women. Armed with clever names and flashy outfits, these tough all-girl squads are kicking some serious butt.
Culture Vixen’s Gayle Wheatley tracked down Sandra Frame, storyboard and animation artist by day, who moonlights as the mighty Tara Armov of the LA Derby Dolls by night. In an exclusive in-depth interview, Tara shares insight into her two passions: skating and art.
Gayle Wheatley (GW): Which came first, art or roller derby, and how did you get your start in each? Which of these two passions is closer to your heart?
Tara Armov (TA): The art definitely came first! I’ve drawn for the majority of my life. Derby came along about seven years ago.
It’s hard to say which is closer to my heart as both have had a profound effect on me in different ways but sometimes over the same issues. Being insecure yet able to express myself through either art or derby are reoccurring thoughts and feelings in my life.
GW: What inspires you as an artist? How has roller derby played a part in your art?
TA: I think both art and derby let me express emotions and feelings that I can’t do any other way. I find inspiration in vibrant colors and dynamic compositions in art, usually figurative in one form or another. Derby just boosts what I already get inspired by to begin with.
GW: What is a typical day like for you? How do you balance skating with life, and being an artist (both professionally and personally)?
TA: A typical day starts with me cursing the early morning, then getting up to do some pushups and crunches. I hate those. Then depending on whether I have derby practice in the evening, I’ll either go out for an hour of bicycling or jogging, or I’ll get ready for work. Go to work. Draw like crazy. Then either go to the track for derby practice after nine hours or go home after ten hours at work. Collapse. Go to bed. Do it again the next day. At least I stay off the streets this way.
Balancing derby and art has been quite the challenge for me, because I find getting inspired by and through art is a process where I really have to slow down and take a slow, concentrated look around me. Derby is constantly go-go-go, and I find that I get caught up in the whirl and get blinded by the speed in which my life is going by me. I actually have to schedule time for myself to percolate on my art.
GW: What is your artistic process like? How does it differ when you’re working on a project for work versus a personal project?
TA: I work in quick spurts. I draw like mad for an hour or two, then I do nothing for another hour to three hours. When it comes to art, I have to cram in more work in a shorter period of time, so I probably work 15-20 minutes for every hour. Which on the surface sounds ridiculous and time-wasting, but sometimes one just has to noodle around ideas in their head instead of going full-bore into a project.
Personal projects take FOREVER for me to do because my free time is so limited. My output on personal art primarily consists of a ridiculous amount of doodles. Which isn’t necessarily bad, since I’ll post them on my blog and such, but I hardly ever take that next step and use those doodles as finished pieces of one sort or another.
GW: What are you working on right now art-wise and derby-wise?
TA: Right now I’m primarily working on some roller derby merchandise to sell through a local derby clothing line, Wicked Skatewear. A lot of t-shirt designs, both slogans and actual artwork. I have a lot of ideas for that, and am trying to get them organized in my head so that they get done and into production.
GW: You tend to draw a lot of girls…any particular reason behind it? Do you consider yourself a feminist?
TA: I like drawing girls because they’re simply fun to draw. I’m a feminist in that I believe women should have equal opportunities to succeed and fail at life the same as men do, and to be compensated equally for equal accomplishments. I draw pinups because I think they’re fun, mischievous, sexy without being just about sex, and there’s a lot of variety one can do with that subject matter. I don’t think it’s backwards for a woman to draw sexy women; it doesn’t make her a mouthpiece (or drawing hand?) for patriarchy to draw sexy women. Some people think that if a woman does draw a pinup, then that pinup HAS to be very different from what most folk consider “attractive” in women. Apparently lesbians don’t think a cute ass and nice breasts are attractive?! I’m baffled by that type of thinking anyway. In the end, if men have the freedom to draw women in a way they find fun/attractive/appealing/whathaveyou, why can’t women do the same?
GW: In what ways do you feel roller derby most empowers women? How do you view your own role in this?
TA: Roller derby in its current incarnation is a frontier for women. One doesn’t have to be a certain “type” to do it whether it’s in regard to age, weight, physicality, or sports knowledge. I think because of the Do-It-Yourself nature of the overwhelming majority of leagues out there, women are finding that they’re pushed farther than they ever expected.
For myself, I feel that derby has given me permission to be myself. Which sounds ridiculous, but I find many aspects of our society to be stifling, especially in the way women are allowed or not allowed to be themselves. More than ever we’re expected to conform to constantly restricting standards in motherhood, career choices, and of course beauty standards. When it gets to the point where women are ridiculed for having pubic hair, I see that as a symptom of the insanity of our situation. Derby is one of the few public displays of individuality out there. I can be my naturally loud self, not worry about how pretty I need to be to impress anyone else (though ironically I’ve become a little more “girly” in every day wear since joining derby), and as long as my body holds out, it doesn’t matter how old I get; there’s still a vibrant place for me to function within.
GW: Having recently attended my first roller derby game, I was impressed by the overwhelming rush of energy present in the stadium. Can you put into words the feeling you experience out on the rink during a match?
TA: It’s pure adrenaline. To get that going, I have our bench coach slap my face HARD right before I go up on the line to get that adrenaline kick-started. One thing about banked track is because it’s so FAST, that added adrenaline helps me react to ever-changing situations in the pack. I’d like to think I’m a warrior out on the track. The overall speed of the game keeps my brain firing at a rapid pace throughout the entire game…it’s almost an overload on my system.
GW: Where do you see the future of roller derby going?
TA: I think that will depend on where the leagues themselves go. Right now the overwhelming majority of modern leagues are “by the skaters, for the skaters” in terms of ownership and decision-making, which isn’t bad for what’s going on right now. However, for things such as television and sponsorship deals, that model probably won’t work, because it’s very difficult to come to reasonable decisions in a timely manner. I think league ownership will shift to something more akin to what the Derby Dolls have to help break through into deals like that.
I also think there will be a split amongst philosophical lines. A large part of the appeal of modern derby is that it’s not a mainstream sport. Heck, it never truly was. Yet there’s a growing number of participants who say they want to be “taken seriously as a sport”, which includes even Olympic competition. So away go the team themes, the skate names, the in-your-face attitudes, and other similar trappings of alternative living. That version will be a mainstream sport, which I myself don’t have an interest in. I like the current manifestation of derby names, silly themes, but serious skating. I see it as a bait-and-switch, as people come in thinking this is a silly slapfest, but they come out realizing this is real despite the silly trappings.
I also think there will always be some sort of audience for the stereotype of derby; the fighting and crazy antics that overshadow the skating. There are some leagues out there on the fringe that still do those things, and they will always exist.
GW: Do you have any advice for aspiring artists hoping to get into animation, storyboarding, or illustration? How about advice for aspiring skaters?
TA: I say for an artist, keep drawing and don’t stop. Be like an artistic shark. Keep moving, keep motivated, keep meeting other artists, and keep up with any websites, portfolio stuff, etc.. Be resilient, have a good friend or two you can count on to pick you up when you get artistically knocked down. I think the advice to aspiring skaters isn’t much different! Keep moving, go watch other leagues and skaters, talk to people to see what different philosophies are out there in regards to training, etc. Push your body both physically and mentally to the breaking point without breaking down.
GW: Lastly, what was the inspiration behind your derby name, Tara Armov?
TA: I originally was leaning towards “Tara Rantula” since I like spiders. When I told my husband that, his first response was, “You should be Tara Armov. With a ‘v’, not two ‘f’s. ” Very sound advice, in my opinion! I never looked back since.
To see more of Tara’s artwork, visit her website at: reddiabla.blogspot.com