When Michelle Nirumandrad first experienced skydiving in 2008, it was love at first jump. Thinking it would be a one-and-done deal, the Dallas-based artist and skydiver hadn’t expected to fall so hard for the sport, but she was enamored with the pure freedom she felt in freefall.
“It’s a breathtaking, phenomenal experience, and very unlike what a lot of people might anticipate going into it,” she says. “It’s a wonderful environment up there. I started going on one jump after another.”
Skydiving Artist Wanted to ‘Bottle the Clouds’
As a lifelong artist and crafter, Nirumandrad felt the itch to create something inspired by her experiences with skydiving from the beginning. She thought about finding a way to bottle the clouds, or somehow reconstruct the environment in the sky while on the ground.
“I think about my artwork as being an extension of me, so I thought, why don’t I do the same thing for the sky? What if I gave her the tools to create?” she says. “Captured Sky was born.”
Although the idea came to her in a flash, Nirumandrad allowed it to percolate for years before she brought it to fruition. By the time she made her first attempt to paint in the sky in 2013, she had already transitioned into a full-time career in skydiving and had been on over 2,000 jumps over four seasons, taking her time to research and find the proper materials to ensure her plans were safe.
Skydiving Painter Straps Canvases to Herself
She started small with two three-by-three square inch canvases strapped to her arm and an eyedropper to carry the paint.
“There were a couple of different hardships on that first jump,” Nirumandrad says. “It was challenging because not only were the canvases trying to move around on my arm, but the winds were also really intense with a terminal velocity of 120 to 130 miles per hour, so when the paint came out of the eyedroppers it would just instantly turn to a mist. I went up with two blank canvases and I came down with two blank canvases.”
However, she persisted, managing to get the paint onto the canvas during her second attempt. She discovered the ideal position was to fly with her back to the earth with the canvases strapped to her legs, which she uses as makeshift easels.
Artist Jumps From a Distance of 13,500 Feet to Paint
Today, Nirumandrad has the process down to a science. In the days leading up to the jump, she conceptualizes the piece she’ll be creating, selecting the canvas and the colors calling to her first. She also sets the choreography or dive flow plan for the jump before getting her gear ready, including all components of her parachute or the “rig” as they call it in the skydiving world, and potentially a weighted vest, which has pockets she uses to hold the paint.
After the plane climbs to a high altitude for about 15 minutes, Nirumandrad jumps from a distance of 13,500 feet or two and a half miles above the ground. She only has about 40 to 47 seconds of freefall and a three-to-six-minute-long canopy ride to craft her artwork, but the pieces are entirely composed above ground.
The Wind Is the ‘Driving Force’ Behind Her Artwork
Nirumandrad says she allows the sky to take the lead, referring to herself as the “facilitator” of the art, while the wind is the driving force behind each piece.
“The imagery is not directed by me but by the wind in freefall,” she says. “I like to keep it as much as possible an organic representation of the sky’s propensity to create.”
After the jump, Nirumandrad lets the canvas dry, adding the date and a title to the back of the frame, before beginning the long process of cleaning the rig. The result? An abstract artwork co-created by the sky.
Artist Says Skydiving Is ‘Safe and Accessible to Anyone’
Nirumandrad’s husband, another skydiver and videographer who she met through the sport, captures her jumps on film and acts as another set of eyes to ensure her safety. She says that although skydiving can be viewed as a dangerous, extreme sport, she wishes more people knew that when done properly, the experience is safe and accessible to anyone.
It’s exactly why 2 Miles of Smiles takes cancer patients and survivors skydiving in Dallas — it’s an extraordinary experience anyone can participate in.
“It’s an inclusive sport, people can enjoy it regardless of their age and ability,” Nirumandrad says. “Maybe not everyone can skydive competitively, but everyone can skydive.”