I Want To Paint A Picture, But Where Do I Buy The Paint?

Helpful Hints for Designing Artistic Groups
by Dale White

Whether designing from inspiration, from imagination, or from plain air, all of us are faced with the same dilemma when approaching artistic groups: “how do I create something that fully represents my interpretation of the event, and carries the emotions that I’m trying to deliver?”

When it comes to the creative process one thing is certain: there are no fixed rules, and there isn’t one perfect way to approach the art of design. Each season presents us with a blank canvas, which can be both fascinating and terrifying.

The following items are being presented in an effort to assist in your personal design process.

Things to DECIDE Before Starting

Before any foot touches the gym floor, or any twirl is taught, you need to make some decisions that will be your guidance throughout the design process.

Your creative progression will be smoother if you plan in advance, deciding the wanted outcomes before you get started.

These decisions answer the following questions:

What is it? (Can I express my intent in one simple statement which may be understood by the audience and judges?)

Is this a fully-imagined theatrical concept, or merely the visual interpretation of a musical line? (Both have merit and value in isolation, but weaving in and out of both can provide challenges to judges and audience alike…for even the most sophisticated designer.)

What mood and feelings am I going to convey?

What kind of shapes and lines will I use in my design composition? (This includes staging, costuming, choreography motif, style, personality, etc.)

What music will I use to best convey my chosen theme, or what theme will I present to best convey my chosen music? (A direct quote from Shirlee Whitcomb, Director of Colorguard Development for WGI: “I cannot stress enough the importance of your choice of music. Know as you pursue options that the sound track will serve as your blueprint for the entirety of your show. It will help you to create the personality and characteristics of the performers and it will strike a chord with your audience and the judges. It will guide you in the expressive dynamics that will bring life to the show.”)

Things to KNOW Before Forging Ahead

Know your audience (Who is the audience? Are you designing for the judging sheets, are you designing for the crowd, or are you designing with both in mind? And, does it matter?)

Know the sport (What has been done recently, what has been “done to death”, what, if anything, has historically worked for your competitors that you can pull insight from? And, again, does it matter?)

Know your athletes (Design for the program that you have NOW, in this current moment; not the program that you hope to have in the future. Be realistic about growth potential based on current athletes’ mental and physical abilities, staff ability, and time frame. And yes, this does matter!)

Know your time (Starting the design and programming process early is always best. If this is not a luxury you can afford: be realistic about your time frame by taking into account rehearsal hours, the amount of time before that dreaded “first contest”, etc. versus how much time is actually needed to fully conceive your concept to its highest potential. And yes, this also matters!)

Know your strengths/limitations (Be honest about your abilities, and the abilities of those around you. Know what you excel at, and place those items of strength in your top priorities – be it in the design process, or the educational process. If you have limitations – begin to analyze how to effectively counterbalance those, and understand how obvious limitations or challenges could ultimately affect the program.)


Entertainment comes in a variety of adjectives. Be it silly, serious, thoughtful, happy, provocative, aggressive, adventurous, sentimental, etc. Many times these adjectives overlap to provide a heightened sense of entertainment… some food for thought! Entertainment is ultimately a bit subjective, but as a rule of thumb: the audience’s reaction rarely lies.

Does the design have a clear point, even if the point is abstraction?

You’re telling a story here. Take yourself out of your head for a moment – which can be incredibly difficult to do as a designer! – and flip through the pages of your program. Are you able to see your story (again, even if the story is presenting a visual interpretation of a musical line) clearly? Are your performers able to articulate your story? Could an outsider walk into rehearsal and form a visceral opinion of the subject based on what you’re presenting? If not, you must work. Clarity is key.

Do you trust your vision?

Visualize the working program in an arena. Can you “see it”? If things are going awry, or have gone awry, don’t ever be afraid to change your mind.

Good design does not occur suddenly, or without hard work. It is an evolution of successes and failures. Don’t ever be so attached to a design or a design element that you can’t throw it out and start again. Your style will develop over time. It grows from experience, from practice, from trial and error, and from observation. The way you solve problems is your style. Believe in your style, trust your vision, but be receptive to what may or may not work in the moment.

“Every person fails, nobody achieves everything that he or she set out to achieve. Nobody, regardless of how many personal triumphs they enjoy, no matter how rich or powerful they become, goes through life without encountering failure. You cannot fail unless a person valiantly tries to accomplish a task. The most audacious person readily attempts difficult projects, despite feeling uncertain if they can prevail. Successful people exhibit the character to respond positively to failure. Some failures prove instrumental in altering a person’s outlook, and their revised perspective leads to brilliant successes.”
― Kilroy J. Oldster, Dead Toad Scrolls

Final Perspectives to Help You FULFILL Your Design

Avoid setting yourself up for disappointment: choose a subject that you feel comfortable with, and one that you feel you can handle with professionalism and grace, but also a subject that is relevant and relatable to the type of athlete you teach, or the environment you’re teaching in. KNOW THE EXPECTATIONS OF THE EVENT……REFERENCE THE ROLE MODELS by being inspired by them……don’t copy them!


I have attached a link for you to watch. It’s a demonstration of the World Latin Formation Champions. They can serve as our inspiration and “mentors”…..what can we learn from them? As you watch the video take note of their many qualities that our sport regards so highly.

Look at:

  1. The FORMATIONS, how they are staged and how they move into other formations.
  2. Layered within the formations is CHOREOGRAPHY that does not interfere with the design of the formations. Their “steps” are inherent to THEIR activity as our baton skills are to ours!
  3. Notice that every note of music is filled in and relevant to the tempo. Never do you see random pedestrian “walking” from place to place. DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS!
  4. Take note of the importance of UNISON and PERFECTION. All levels of expression, energy, and technical display are common to EVERY MEMBER. This just didn’t happen. It was
  5. PLANNED with strategic “vocabulary” that was common to EVERY MEMBER. Think COMPATIBILITY!
  6. PERFECTION yields PRIDE and EFFECT. Look at their “esprit de corps”, their sense of pride as performers and pride for a program they obviously love to share.
  7. CLASS…….look at their CLASS as a professional group. The costume, the makeup, the grooming, the music, the STYLE……these are PLANNED and details that can happen on ANY level.

They have one moment of a SPECTACULAR effect utilizing formation movement. LOOK FOR IT! IT’S SENSATIONAL!

And so……..even if your production doesn’t come out exactly as you expected, even if you need to wipe off the canvas and start again, I assure you it was not in vain. Every brushstroke in the art of design teaches you something. Learn from mistakes and HAVE FUN doing this………remember, we all love everything BATON!
And finally – find your fun and gratification in the journey.


Dale White
Member, WBTF Executive Technical Committee

Dale White

His pageantry career began as a baton twirler under the tutelage of Fred Miller, director of the famed Miller’s Blackhawks. Mr. White won numerous State and National championships as a competitive baton twirler. His teaching career in the sport of baton twirling has spanned some 30 years, producing a multitude of National and World champions. In addition, his membership with the United States Twirling Association, as well as the World Baton Twirling Federation, has taken him to some 15 countries instructing and judging. Currently, he serves as USA Judges Rep for the World Baton Twirling Federation and is contributing to the development of the new judging system. As an adjudicator, Dale is currently on the roster of Winter Guard International as well as the Ohio Music Educators Association. His focused area of adjudication is General Effect, Color Guard, and Visual captions where he has over 20 years of experience. In the 2009 season of WGI, he served as Chief Judge Administrator. In addition, Mr. White mentors young judges.

One thought on “I Want To Paint A Picture, But Where Do I Buy The Paint?

  • November 4, 2018 at 11:00 pm

    Dale is wonderfully articulate, descriptive of the infinite approaches to artistic design, and inspiring to read. So many are intimidated by the prospect of the design process. This article challenges one to dive into designing, own and learn from missteps, and thrive on the successes regardless of the magnitude. He raises me upwards…
    Thanks, Dale
    Carrie Jerger, AK
    PS disappointed the video did not work.


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