Kite Building, Kite Flying, Kiter, Kiting

‘KitesUp!’ with George Peters

Renowned artist and sculptor George Peters made his way into kiting at a young age and flourished, becoming known the world over for his iconic designs. Here’s a look at how it all came together, with some insight to inspire the imagination!

George Peters and some of his eye-catching designs, 1985

How did you get into kiting?

George Peters, 1956

I would say kiting got to me first. I was maybe 6 years old, and my family had moved to Phoenix, Arizona from Richmond, Virginia back in 1955. My dad would either make or buy a cheap paper kite he’d take out to the desert and fly. He would hold the line, as he didn’t yet trust me to hold on tight. It started to be a thing we’d do together when I got my grip on the spool right. I liked flying kites and would launch them from the front of our house and try to avoid the very tall palm tree in the grapefruit orchard across the street. 

After a while, I got more interested in making model boats. I loved gluing paper sails to the yardarms so that they looked like they were being blown in the winds.

George Peters designs, including upper left: Sky Birds, lower left: Wind Wasp and right: Trilobite

Later, in my early 20s, I boarded a plane for my first time and made my way to a summer international art school program in the Greek Isles. When I advised the people who ran the school that I could only afford to take one six-week semester, they offered to hire me as a teacher for the second semester. I think they liked me!

My first challenger project I offered my students was to design and make a kite in four days and then we would fly them in the large field by the art school. Nobody had made a kite before. We used a large roll of butcher paper and some stiff reeds I found in a grove in a marsh just outside of town. 

The kites they made were astounding and fun. One large red tetrahedron kite wouldn’t fit out the door so, instead, we hung it inside as a decoration. Everyone ran around in circles on our fly day with their kites bouncing behind them and tearing into pieces on the hot dusty field. We all ended up laughing on the ground and finished up with a trip to a taverna for a glass of retsina. 

George defined his color palette by the available rip-stop colors of the late 70s. He spent hours experimenting with color combinations, and became a better “seamster” by cutting, piecing, and sewing his ‘Feather Flags’ .

In my mid-20s I found myself working as a portrait artist right next to a kite store in a marketplace in Waikiki, Hawaii. I loved all the colors and varieties of kites there and made quick friends with the owner. In the shop, I picked up the book, The Art of the Japanese Kite, by Tal Streeter, an artist, art professor, and kite maker. Upon reading it, I instantly wanted to be a Japanese kite master! 

I made several of my own designs just from the photos – first with plastic, then with sewn rip-stop nylon and bamboo spars. It took me two years before one actually flew. The experience of watching it climb to the perfect high angle apex and just stay there glued me to kite making. I’ve been making kites ever since.

When was your first kite festival?

My first kite festival was in Ahmedabad, India in 1989. I learned the hard way that flying with fighter kites can cause some unexpected string breaks on my favorite big kites. A huge applause and laughter spread through the mostly local crowd that came to the flying arena to watch the International kite flyers. The fighter kite suddenly appeared from behind the arena and cut my kite line and Matsutani San’s Japanese Edo. Both flew over trees and into a field where child kite runners ran away with our kites. We chased after them and retrieved our kites. We learned our lesson… Watch out for Manja line.

Where is your favorite place to fly? 

Flying Man Kites – Photo by Ralf Dietrich

My favorite place to fly is downwind…. Sorry! Well, actually on a beach with a light onshore breeze and preferably in Italy… anywhere in Italy. Other favorite places, include festivals or just convenient places where I have some kites in hand. I love traveling to many great flying spots in Europe and enjoying the company of many kite/artist friends… places like Cervia, Italy; Dieppe, France; and Fano, Denmark. Other international favorites include flying in the traditional Hamamatsu kite festival in Japan (no western style kites permitted!), in addition to Bali, India, Indonesia, and southeast Asian countries. I love the cultures and histories of kites in those countries more than flying my kites there, obviously.

Airworks Kites – Cervia, Italy, 2011

The joys of travel with kites have taken me all over the world the last 40-plus years. Still, I love to fly kites right here in Colorado as well, especially when we have an upslope wind and we’re able to fly next to the Flatiron rock formations here surrounding our town of Boulder. Oh, and also deserts… I still love flying kites in the desert. The panorama can often take your breath away. Hawks will fly over to see what the strange creature on the string is all about. The sunsets are spectacular, the quiet winds are gentle and smooth. And it’s peaceful, as no one walks over for fear of stepping on a snake. 

George at work on his Wrap Man Kite in the studio

What advice would you give to anyone interested in kite making, but doesn’t know how to get started? 

Just start making kites! It’s like climbing the ladder to the high-dive platform. Don’t look down! …Just jump! Don’t worry about whether they fly or not, just start making them. Hang them from your ceiling so you can see them each day. You’ll realize you can make a better one next time. If you’re uncomfortable designing kites, start with simple ones first and gradually challenge yourself once you get used to working with the materials.

Start with basic materials first like a good light weight paper, preferably handmade papers – they have more fibers and strength – bamboo, string, and glue. Modern materials like rip-stop nylon and fiberglass rods and tubes take a bit more planning and sewing machine skills. Those can wait until you’ve mastered paper and bamboo. One thing I’ve learned from kites is that any shape can be made to fly… even asymmetric.

Once you learn the basic principles of the simple aerodynamics of kite flight, the world is yours. Stretch your imagination. Use ‘play’ as your guide and, if it doesn’t fly, put a longer tail on it! But, be forewarned, many a Japanese kite master will say a kite that needs a tail to fly is a bad kite.

What’s the best way for someone to buy one of your handmade originals? 

Well, after 40 years making kites for so many, admittedly, I keep all of my handmade originals these days. I ended up with all the first-off test models, which I still have. Everyone else got the good ones. I kept making kites because I knew, each time, that I could make one better than the previous. That kept me going through my whole kite-making career.

Two of a Kind
From Left: Twin Tail Dragon from Into the Wind and George Peters hand-made original

Now my kites are available through Into The Wind here in Boulder. They are hand made in China, of excellent quality, and I’m once again free to enjoy designing and making kites for my personal pleasure.

Anyone who asks me to make them a kite, I say, “I’ll do something better. I’ll teach you how to make kites.” I love doing workshops for novice beginners or experienced flyers and the smiles that happen when their first workshop kite takes to the sky.

Making is the key. Buying is just so temporary. Buy a kite and you might fly it once and then put it in the closet. Make your own kite and you’ll fly it the rest of your life! 

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