Today a friend on Facebook sent me an article about the Naked Bike Race in Philly, or was it San Francisco, or St Louis? I forget, I’ve seen them all!
For 15 years I received every clip from every naked bike race that appears on the Internet. Why? I am a face and body painter, and for most people, body painting is defined by the images from naked bike races, or the patriotically decorated “desnudas” in Time Square, panhandling for tips from tourists who find their perfect photo op with a naked lady.
Some acquaintances who are less familiar with my day to day work, have even asked: “Is this what you do?” (Short answer…heck no.)
Then there is is NYC Bodypainting Day where legitimate artists and not so legitimate models try to convince everyone that as long as bodies are painted, nudity is lawful art. This is more of a political statement than one of artistic freedom, since it began as a thumb-your-nose response to the founder’s arrest in 2011. He has reinforced that public nudity is permitted in New York City, if it is part of an artistic display. BUT, slapping on body paint, then riding a bike, or appearing on the streets of NYC with a few stars and stripes of color over your birthday suit, does not automatically make your private parts artistic. (In my humble opinion.)
As a body painter, I run the risk of being lumped into the same category of voyeur, exhibitionist, or even public protestor, as those involved in these activities. But this is not the case. I understand that there is a time and place for nudity, and a time and place for a message to appear on a nude figure, and NOT everyone should be exposed to EVERYTHING when they are out and about. Especially if they are on a family vacation (ie: traveling with kids).
So read on to see what body painting is like in MY world. You might be surprised at the professionalism, the good taste, the lack of controversy and the wonderfully unique artistry you may find to make your special event more memorable.
The most frequently asked questions:
Do I paint nude models? Yes. Are they completely naked? No, they may have pasties, and they all have a thong, g-string, or panties, or or some other genitalia-covering garment.
Do I paint men and women? Yes, although I have not been asked to paint as many men, as women in my 9 year career, adding the larger canvas to my face painting skills. When my company does its work, the male genitalia is also covered (yes they make thongs for men also!!!). I believe a little bit of modesty goes a long way, and since I specialize in “painted on clothing” the additional body parts showing would be a distraction to my otherwise realistic piece.
Why would anyone buy body painting services? My background is in sales and marketing and nothing sells a product/service/concept as well as painting the message on a (mostly) naked human. A living canvas who can interact with your prospects, your guests at a special event, or the camera, for a more lasting impression. “We make your customers look twice,” is the tagline for my company Living Canvas Creations. The same way as ESPN looks for the face painted fan in the stadium to televise them on the big screen; body painting attracts attention.
But it should be the artwork that attracts the attention, not the body (or body parts). Now, I am not so naive to think that the people that buy the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated are only interested in the bathing suits contained within. After all, it was Joanne Gair with her body painted swimsuits (since 1999!) that gave body painting its first commercial mainstream success. Her art, which took hours and hours of detailed work by multiple people, showed us that we really can’t tell the difference between makeup and a real swimsuit– if we take care to disguise some of the more intimate details that would interfere with the illusion.
How long does it take? Depends, could be two hours for a fancy lace corset, or 8 hours for a full body masterpiece with hair and costume accents. I once did 16 girls in basketball jerseys with a four other artists and each model got less than one hour of our time. (The girls were hostesses for a NBA fan’s 30th birthday party, just in case you were wondering what it was all about).
How long does it last? Until you wash. Same as face paint…which is great, as long as the models don’t go out in the rain without a coverup. My makeup is water-activated, so it will smear or run if hydrated. Also, for photo shoots that include water, I use a more resilient alcohol-based makeup that is trickier to remove….but much longer-lasting.
What types of events are good for body painting? Well, those that are geared for adults, where “memorability” is an important parameter of the event’s success. Those that involve lots of photo opportunities and content creation, especially for the press and social media. Those events where an illusion may be included in the theme, (think “magic” or “reveal” of a new product) or events that involve fashion, costumes, or artwork. Lastly (my personal favorite) an event where you want to attract attention of a crowd to convey a promotional message: launch of a new beer, liquor, motorcycle, car, boat, restaurant, nightclub.
Is nudity a must? No, we have done press events where models wore bikini tops and full skirts on the bottom. Living statues will often include draping, and make for a great photo opportunities for guests entering a large banquet space. Body painting and minimalist costumes go well together for Halloween, especially if entering a contest.
Now that body painting in Sports Illustrated is an annual thing; television shows have appeared about body painting companies like “Naked Vegas;” competition shows like “Skin Wars” and “Face Off” have joined the ranks of reality TV, the profession is gaining more positive public awareness. Don’t let the Times Square panhandlers, or righteous nudists make you shy away from the real potential that beautiful artwork can bring to your event.