The following interview took place in August of 2002
Well I must admit that there are the obvious reasons. Who wouldn't want to paint beautiful nude models? But on a professional level there is a lot more to it than that. I had reached a point in my career where I felt like I had plateau'ed as an artist on canvas and paper and I had become very interested in photography. The body art field was an opportunity to take these two passions and combine them into one art form that isn't very saturated at the moment. The true turning point for me was when I saw the painted-on swimsuits in Sports Illustrated in 1998 and I knew that that was a field that I wanted to be a part of. It seemed very intriguing to me to have my evanescent artwork on display on a live model, but only for a brief period of time before being washed off. Of course, the pictures capture the moment, but the original painting has become extinct. The initial fascination with what it would be like to paint on a nude model's skin was a driving force to getting started, but the real glory seemed to be the reactions of people who couldn't believe that they were looking at a model wearing nothing but paint. That is the main reason that I was completely drawn into this field; people reacted very emotionally to my work, to a much greater degree than they had for my canvas works or photography.
The shock value of the final images is what I enjoy the most. I once heard an analogy about how graceful a swan looks as it glides over the mirror-like water, but underwater her legs are kicking at a feverish pace to keep her moving. Similarly the process of bodypainting is strenuous at times and completely
un-glamorous, but the final photographs make it all worthwhile when the model becomes art. The models sit, stand, lay, and crouch throughout this lengthy application of paint, then they are subjected to the full-fledged photoshoot. Try as they might, it's hard to keep their spirits from becoming dampened hours into the project, but their eyes light up when they see the fruits of their labor.
Another saying that I like is the one about a bad day fishing still beats a good day at work. I'd have to tell you that all the things that I have come up with what that I don't particularly like about body art, none of them are really that bad. There are some unforeseen things like a clogged up air-brush, latex paint that sticks to itself instead of the skin, and paint drips that come to mind. Coordinating a location, a model, a photographer, a make-up artist, an idea, and a timeframe is always challenging, but I mostly enjoy that too. I guess the thing I like least about doing body art is that it is always somewhat rushed. You have to finish what you start in the same setting unlike a canvas that you can come back to again and again.
I have a backlog of ideas so the frustration hasn't been from running out of ideas. My frustration lies more so in the fact that there are so many ideas and so little time to work on my craft. There are are sometimes long droughts where there just isn't time to do projects or the right models aren't available and it seems like there is little progress in my portfolio. That is frustrating. Ideas are not a problem at this point in my career.
Bodypainting is an unbridled genre and I don't feel any limitations to style in my works. Many painters on canvas are renown for the genre they work in whether it is southwestern, sci-fi, or flowers. I feel that my genre is mostly defined by the fact that I paint on living canvases. Some of my paintings are southwestern, some are sci-fi, and some are flowers, but they are all painted on gorgeous models. I also don't limit myself to one painting style. For some projects I use airbrushed bodypaints that give a smooth transition of colors and in other projects I use sponged-on liquid latex that gives the appearance of shiny rubber or leather. Even within a project I combine those techniques with hand painting with brushes, gluing on body jewelry, and even splattering paint from a tooth brush. I incorporate many of the techniques that I have learned in my formal art training and apply them to skin for very interesting results. Much of the process that I go through is rehearsed in my mind prior to the day of the project, but ironically many of the ideas and techniques are improvised and invented during the body painting session. I don't close my mind to experimenting and I therefore do not limit my style.
Yes, I feel very lucky to be able to work with some of the elite models in the industry. For my first couple of bodypaintings on friends of mine, I felt lucky to even have the opportunity to explore a new level of my artistic expression. With those images in hand, I was able to create a portfolio that was my ticket to working with models and celebrities that I most likely wouldn't have been able to capture the attention of otherwise. I have considered myself to be an artist since I was in middle school and to date, I only have a handful of drawings and paintings that I have completed. On the other hand, I have completed well over 100 bodypaintings in the past four years. I attribute a lot of my success to these beautiful women who are much more than two-dimensional canvases. Their curves help to "sell" the image. In fact, I honestly believe that although my art is getting a fair share of the attention of beholder, the more critical parts of the overall image are the model's photogenics and the photographer's ability to capture them. I feel very fortunate to have worked with some awesome talent in the modeling and photography world that have made my work shine more that it would have otherwise.
Typically a bodypainting is a 2 hour event. Some have gone as quickly as 30 minutes and the longest ones have taken 5 hours. It really depends on what I am painting, how prepared I am, how patient the model is, and how long I can keep Murphy's Law at bay. Some of the quickest bodypaintings are simply airbrushed tops to look like real clothing and my longest bodypaintings have been the playing card queens. All four (spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs) took 5 hours each to complete. The toughest thing is usually meeting a timeframe deadline when a model has to either go on-stage to perform or the shoot has a deadline of catching sunlight for outdoor photography. I reach a point where I have to "quit" whether I really feel like I am done or not.
My models have run the gambit from being completely comfortable in their skin to being astoundingly inhibited. I have had models have their clothes torn off before I have even opened a bottle of paint and I have had models that have had to tape up their breasts when I am only painting their backs. In general though I would say that a majority of the models fall somewhere in the middle. It is interesting to note that even I am a little uncomfortable at the beginning of a session when I have to tell them that it is time for them to disrobe and I can sense that they are slightly apprehensive. Some twenty minutes into the process though, everyone has gotten over it and any feelings of embarrassment or self-consciousness have been replaced with fatigue, boredom, and anxiousness to get the painting done. It is my job to make the model feel comfortable at the beginning, but once I am working, they typically realize that it's not a sexual thing, it's not an erotic thing, and it's definitely not a glamorous thing. I do use humor (sometimes really bad humor) to lighten the mood most of the time and I am also very descriptive of what I am doing and what steps are coming up.
I have used many different types of paints and each has it's positives and negatives. The paints that I have used the most are the Totally Tattoo brand made by Badger Airbrush. Their original formula was water based, but required alcohol to remove. This paint will generally stay on for 8 hours if airbrushed and 4 hours if brushed on with a hand brush. The colors are awesome and the coverage is wonderful, but the drawbacks are that the original formula had a tendency to eventually crack where the paint was applied thick and the other major issue was that the paints were not intended to be used on faces. Another type of paint that I have been very pleased with is the alcohol based paints from Temptu and Reel Creations. These paints last even longer and also look great on skin, but I haven't had any luck painting them on with a hand brush. They are meant for airbrush application. I have used Ben-Nye and Mehron liquid make-ups for nearly all of my face painting projects. These liquid make-ups are about the only things that I trust to paint on faces with. I'm even a little more careful when I am painting on pregnant bellies and I will only use the children's face paints available at Wal-Mart for these projects. One last bodypaint that I keep in my arsenal is liquid latex. I think that it is absolutely horrible to work with compared to all other types of paints, but it sure does give a great look for certain projects, especially painted on leather.
Bodypainting is a whole other world than face make-up. I am enamored by the make-up artists that I work with on projects and wish that I could be good at what they do and conversely they see my work and wish they could be doing some bodypainting too. The blending of colors to match a models natural skin tones is essential in glamour make-up, but it is rarely even considered in bodypaintings. Although people like Kevin Accoin have taken face make-up to new levels, there is still a limitation to what you can do within the parameter of eyes, lips, and cheekbones. With bodypainting, the limits are endless.
I do a lot of brainstorming. Sometimes I am given a loose theme for a project then I let the wheels start spinning. Eventually the ideas miracle out of nowhere. There are genres that I enjoyed as an adolescent that I have incorporated into my portfolio such as science fiction characters and super heroes. There are ideas that are borrowed from other renown bodypainters such as the painted on swimsuits from Sports Illustrated and the painted on lingerie from the Playboy Mansion. Some of my ideas are inspired by the look of the model that I will be painting, some by the location of the photoshoot, and some are completely inspired by whatever the people paying me want to see painted. Even though I am drawing from a world of references, I'd like to think that many of my ideas come from my own creativity. Luckily most of these ideas have been well received by my audiences.
Most projects do require the model to stand for the entire process. Especially when painting with liquid latex and then they can't even let their limbs rest on their torso. Of course, there are a handful of back paintings that I have done where the model was able to straddle a chair while being painted. In addition there are examples of front torso paintings that I have done where the model was able to lean on a bar stool while I painted them. For the playing card paintings, the model was able to lay down for almost the entire project, which is a good thing since they lasted 5 hours. One model stated that the painting process was very stimulating, but also felt similar to getting a spa treatment. There were moments of her session where she felt like she could have easily dozed off for a spell.
I was involved with the preproduction work for a movie called the Villikon Chronicles which starred Cheyenne Silver. Cheyenne is an actress who got her start in the adult film industry, became a Penthouse Pet, and is now working on mainstream movies including the recently released film with James Woods. The bodypainting that I did with Cheyenne was part of her sci-fi warrior outfit that incorporated black armor. In other scenes, her face was painted with a red base and a black tribal design. I have also painted a Christmas lingerie motif on the professional wrestler Melina Perez, a devil's outfit on Playboy playmate Lucia Tovar, and a southwestern design on former Miss Arizona, Heather Keckler. I also painted the words "pride" and "lust" on Razor Magazine publisher Richard J. Botto for a promotional party. I've done two sessions with actress Myla Leigh Chenoa. I will be painting some people for Jenna Jamison's Club Jenna next month, so I may be adding a few more celebrities to the mix soon.
In the Phoenix area, most of my work has been for promotional events where nightclubs or beverage distributors are having models painted to dance. I have recently worked for Cutty Black and Bombay Sapphire. My work has appeared in print ads in ARTnews Magazine, Razor Magazine, and Playtime magazine. Another area that is strong is the art gallery districts in Phoenix and Scottsdale that play host to my live bodypainting demonstrations and I have been very active in the science-fiction and fantasy conventions that make their way through town. Unfortunately there is not the strong movie industry here in town, but I am a one-hour flight from LA. In addition to these paid gigs, I am also trying to carve out a niche as an artist in my own right. I set up bodypainting sessions and collaborate with some of the local talent to produce art for art's sake. Of course, we always take pictures in case art for art's sake pays off one fine day.
There is a fair amount of controversy related to being a bodypainter. It can border on being edgy and erotic, which is good for one segment of the population and completely unacceptable to another segment. A magazine like Playboy celebrates the work of a bodypainter whereas 95% of the rest of the magazines out there may find it too risqué to include for their readers. Because of this issue, one of the cons of being a bodypainter is that I have to be somewhat secretive about my artwork in certain circles. There is a blurred line between art and pornography and unfortunately this line is drawn differently for everyone. One of the pros of being a bodypainter would have to be that it is a very unsaturated market and I have been able to become to rise out of annominity much quicker than I would have in other mediums. I realize that bodypainting has been around much longer than I've been alive, but I sometimes feel like I am part of a pioneering effort in a new form of expression. To the average person on the street, they are aware of bodypainting and have seen some of the images in magazines and e-mails, but they could not name a single "famous" bodypainter, nor could they tell you where to go to get this done. It's a fledgling profession and I feel fortunate to be at the forefront of what I hope will become a worldwide craze.
Anyone who has an interest in trying bodypainting I would surely recommend giving it a whirl. Is it easy task job? No. The difficulty of the actual painting isn't significantly different, but all of the factors surrounding it make it very challenging to keep producing. Scheduling times, booking models, finding locations, and brainstorming ideas are all very critical elements that need to be worked out prior to putting paint to flesh. I have found that once a painting is complete, the process is not. The photoshoot, the photo finishing, the scanning/printing/uploading/e-mailing of images are also critical elements for my marketing efforts. I do enjoy all of the steps in taking a project from conception, through the bodypainting session, and then sharing the images on my world-wide website. Is it easy? No, but if it were, I think that I would have a lot more competitors out there. If it were as easy as opening a jar of paint and telling a supermodel to disrobe while you painted her naked body, I think the line of single men volunteering would extend for miles on end. On the other hand, for someone with an artistic flair and a well-rounded desire and ability to create and market, I highly recommend bodypainting as a rewarding and popular craft.
Patience is a virtue, so they say. It is no different in the world of bodypainting. It takes time to build up a portfolio. It takes time to contact the right models. It takes time to complete the painting and it takes time to get your work viewed by the minions. It's easy to get frustrated and feel like it's not progressing as quickly as it should. Patience has helped me realize that I am making progress every step of the way and patience has landed some very cool corporate projects. Getting my work featured in a magazine was an early goal of mine and I eventually made some contacts and was interviewed for an article. I was amazed at how long of a process that is to go from knowing that your going to be in an upcoming issue and then finally seeing the magazine in print. The patience pays off thought and another goal is achieved. The next goal was a more renown magazine and then a magazine cover. Patience still has me hanging in there to one day have Mark Greenawalt be a household name that is known as "that guy that does the bodypainting". I would say that without patience, a prospective body artist will give up after one of their long term goals isn't realized early.
I'm surprised at the phrasing of this question. I'm more often answering the question, "Is body painting as easy as it looks?" Bodypainting can be a little more physically taxing than it may appear since I am sitting, standing, crouching, stretching, and holding strange stances for extensive time periods. The next day I am nearly always stiff and feel like I started working out at a gym for the first time. Besides the physical aspects, there are some specific items that probably look easy to most people, but are instead very challenging. Drawing a strait line on a canvas is easy and no matter how you angle the canvas, your eye perceives a strait line. Drawing a strait line on a curvy body on the other hand will only look like a strait line from one angle. Inevitably the angle that the photographer has chosen to shoot the model will not be the angle that you were standing when you drew the strait line and it is now clearly a curve. I was also taught a lesson on a project where I drew perfectly symmetric circles on a model's back and then when I asked her to raise her arms, all of my circles became ovals. It's a tricky canvas to work on and I've learned a lot of things by trial and error. I personally don't consider bodypainting difficult, but some of that is because there is no required out come when you are creating art. Even my asymmetric ovals were acceptable in the long run since the viewer's mind has a way of interpreting the images as they wrap around a model. I welcome competition and challenge anyone who thinks it looks easy to give it a go. Anyone who thinks it looks difficult, conversely is probably better prepared to face the challenges and trudge forward as a bodypainter.