Who needs clothes when you can get painted
// Claire Vulliamy

As long as people have had bodies, they’ve been decorating them. The oldest tattoos ever discovered were found on the preserved body of Ötzi the iceman, made with soot instead of ink. While his lasted 5,300 years, long enough to be discovered by mountain climbers in 1991, some people prefer a slightly less permanent option.

Body painting is, quite simply, the act of painting a human body. Most often, but not always, the paint replaces clothing. Not everyone is fooled, though: in August, model Zoe West was arrested for modeling body paint naked in New York’s Times Square, as recently reported in the Daily Mail.

Nina Corrie is the owner of Tattoos for Now, a company that does temporary tattoos and airbrush art in Vancouver. Corrie decided that she wanted to start a temporary tattoo company after travelling in Europe and noticing the popularity of henna in large, tourist-frequented areas. Corrie returned to Canada and looked in to airbrushing, which wasn’t such a mainstream practice in the first few years of the millennium. There were exceptions: “In the movie industry, it had been used for quite a while, I think about 15 years,” she says.

Their first location was at a kiosk in Metrotown mall, which offered basic airbrush tattoos in designs similar to that of a tattoo shop. The tattoos themselves are sprayed on with a stencil and dry within minutes. On the first day, Corrie explains that “basically the mall doors opened and we had a line up … we didn’t even have the float in the till.” From there, Corrie went on to open 11 studio locations before finally paring it down to three. The transition to full body painting was simple enough: “It’s just a larger piece of work,” Corrie says.

Corrie explains that around Halloween, often people will get airbrush tattoos to authenticate their character. “We have a girl coming in who wants to be the girl with the dragon tattoo,” says Corrie, “definitely an easy character, clothingwise, and then she needs her tattoo; I mean, that’s what’s going to make the costume.”

Many of Corrie’s customers are companies who want to use body painting for promotional events. Tattoos for Now’s first foray into body painting was a request from Warner Bros. to have a topless model painted with the RocknRolla movie poster. A later demand from Warner Bros. resulted in another innovation: they wanted a model to be painted to look like she was wearing leather pants. “You can’t do that with airbrushing because it’s flat,” Corrie explains. “We tried talking them out of it first,” but finally Corrie turned to liquid latex paint. “As it dries it becomes like a second skin … then you can embellish, add special effects.” Since then, she has even done a project that included a built-in zipper.

Alecia Repp, a freelance makeup artist, takes body painting one step further. She often works events where she’ll do by-donation painting for those in attendance, as well as live showcases of her work. “I’ll paint the body in front of everyone and everyone watches the transformation,” Repp says. She is especially interested in black light painting: paint that glows in ultraviolet light. “It changes the whole dynamic of painting because usually you’re in a darker atmosphere and you get to bring out all the features,” she says.

Repp, who studied at Blanche McDonald, and who operates under the name Fearless Makeup, says that in her career the demand is constant: “Every couple days I’m doing some sort of body painting.”

The usual body paints used by Repp are composed mostly of chemicals, but she has considered alternatives. “I want to get into creating my own body paint. I met this girl who makes her own body paint and it’s all natural.” She explains that as the paint contains natural ingredients that are possibly even nutrients, “the body kind of absorbs it.” Most of the time it is necessary to make the art last; movement, sweat, and contact can quickly undo a piece. While the body paints on the market might not be the very best option, as Repp says, they’re made specifically for skin and aren’t the biggest culprit. “I just don’t use acrylic paint,” she says, as some people will.

In Halloween weekends past, Repp has kept very busy. “I go into the salon and do Halloween makeup all day from nine ‘til ten, like 12 hours a day.” The requests are varied. Repp has done everything from KISS makeup to Medusa. Clients will tell Repp their idea, and she will suggest an approach. Most people are keen to try full-body makeup, Repp says. Face paint starts at $60, whereas full-body goes by an hourly rate of $60 to $80. One of Repp’s most memorable experiences was when she did a photo shoot with the son of a photographer friend. Thirteen-year-old Ethan wanted to be transformed into a clown to scare his older brother. “He grew his hair for like six months or something … and I had free range to cut and colour it any way I wanted.” They shot it in Ethan’s school yard at night, under the light of the full moon. In the photos there are flames that Repp explains are “actually a huge teddy bear that we lit on fire.” The result is truly terrifying: “He scared the hell out of his brother, it was so funny,” she says.

Although Halloween seems like the most appropriate time for getting body painted, it actually goes far beyond just a weekend in October. Cosplay and the Zombie Walk are two other reasons why people get professionally painted, but some people don’t need an excuse at all. Repp considers body painting to be very liberating, remarking, “It is good to do once a year, but it’s also fun to do all the time.”

// Claire Vulliamy, Arts Editor
// Illustration by Alexandra Gordeyeva

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com