At the request of several of my artistic colleagues, I've decided to post my working notes for the summer body painting series here as we proceed through the series. With that in mind, I'll update the page each time I add new notes to it. Please feel free to comment or place questions at the bottom of the page.
For those who have not either participated or seen photos of previous sessions, I'll give you a bit of background.
When a body painter works, their focus is traditionally only on the painting in front of them. Some painters create abstract body art, others create elaborate creatures, or designs upon the human form.
For me the process is a lot more complex. The painting of the body is only one step in a long process.
I can break down that process into four stages.
Preparations include a whole host of things. First is the idea or concept for the session. This is where I decide whether to make a single concept or idea for the session, or a concept connected to all the other sessions I'll do through the summer. Is the session a single idea? Or is it connected to the other sessions by an overarching concept?
As I am considering ideas, I am beginning a search for models that may fit that concept or other concepts on the drawing board. This involves putting the word out there through various social media that I am looking for models. Potential models goes through a pretty extensive vetting process. I am not looking for just a pretty face or body. I am looking for personality, I am looking for professionalism, I am looking for a particular intimate relationship with the model (See Tantric Portraiture).
Once the model comes for their initial interview, I make a determination of whether they are suited to what I am creating and they are given a concise explanation of the whole process and their involvement in it.
Once the model is chosen, the detail work for the original idea begins. What is involved in it? What supplies are needed? Are additional props needed? Do those props need to be built? What accessory pieces are needed? All this must be laid out ahead of time to ensure that as little as possible is missed later on.
Lastly, is making determinations on whether I need a support crew or not. An admin is almost always needed for simple things like moving lights and helping to keep the model calm and relaxed and hydrated. Consider that the model may be painted from head to toe and cannot do something simple like take a drink. The admin has to hold it up to their lips so they can use a straw. There may be other support crew also. I may ask other artists to observe. I may ask a second photographer to take technical photos of the process.
Before the body painting ever even begins, there may be hours or days worth of planning involved which includes all of the above and more.
2) The Painting
Finally we get to the actual body painting. This usually takes 2-3 hours depending on the complexity of the design. The model is asked to use the restroom first, as once the real work begins its difficult to break the momentum. Supplies are ready to go, lighting is in place. Lighting has two stages. We'll flood the studio with daybrite light to get the cleanest whitest light possible for the painting. We'll change this off later for atmospheric lighting for stage 3.
There will be music playing to keep everything upbeat and the ideas prepared in stage 1 will begin to take place as the body is painted.
Short breaks are timed into the process so that the model doesn't get tired. They are encouraged to stretch muscles carefully so that the paint doesn't come off, and to walk a little. The worst thing a model can do is to stand locked in one position for too long because the blood rushes to their head and they can pass out. This isn't a myth. I've had it happen before in front of a crowd.
All these things are going on while the artist (me) is trying to focus on the art. Like a good band conductor, the pace is set by the artist.
3) The Photography
Now we enter the photography shoot. The model is painted, the lighting has been changed, the paints have been moved out of the way and we are ready to pose the model and extensively photograph them. Props are brought out at this time to be used with the model. This part of the process is very much like creating a still life image. Objects are displayed around the model to accentuate the paint. The model is now posed in dozens of different ways while photos are taken in varying types of light and different directions until I am satisfied I've captured the best angles. A typical photography shoot usually involves 500-1,000 photos sometimes a lot more.
There may be stops and starts while I take time to look at the images and make sure I am getting what I want from them.
Once the shoot is complete, the models participation in the process is finished. The admin can hose them down and get them cleaned up while and the set can be torn down and materials put away.
If we are efficient, the whole process of the shoot should take about 90 minutes.
4) The Digital Studio
So here is where everything comes together. This is where the final art is actually created. Up to this point everything that's been done has been to get me into the digital studio with the images.
Now every image is gone over and every angle is considered. From a thousand photos I may only choose ten images that will be made into the final art.
Now I can't explain the digital process easily, but here are a couple articles that talk about the process a bit more specifically:
Merging Still Life with Digital Art
Its Not Just Digital Art
This is the most time consuming part of the process. I want the final art to be as perfect as I can, and when possible I want it to tell a story that revolves around the chosen concept.
Ending but Never Ending
You would think the process stops there. What else is there? You've painted, you've photographed and you've labored to turn that into great art. But it doesn't stop there.
Periodically I return to the portfolio and go back through the photographs. My eye picks out new details and looks at each photo with a fresh perspective. A model who might have done a photo shoot with me ten years ago, may find themselves in a new piece of art. As my own artistic skills improve, those skills will reveal new potential in the photos taken. It truly is an unending process where I can always find new inspiration.
So there you have the basics for how I do a body painting.
We are now at the beginning of the process. I am currently in the second week of planning for the summer series. So here we go!
Planning Notes 07-09-19
I've hit the ground running even at this early stage. In the past two weeks I've had 8 interviews with potential models. I've also had an additional 3 no shows. This is a constant problem and one that I take very serious. If you waste my time, you do not get a second chance to interview.
Out of the present group of interviews I've chosen and confirmed two models for the series.
Jarrett and Matthew will be the first models to be painted. At this early stage its important to know whether the models chosen can be adapted to the style that I work with. These are a couple of images based on their test shots. These are done to see if anything particular stands out and gives me the opportunity to understand the shapes and contours of their bodies better.
I can't stress how important these test images are to the overall process. There are always things that will come up while in this stage. For example in the case of Jarrett, I'd not taken into consideration how the paint might react to his dreadlocks. In the case of Matthew, decisions must be made whether to paint over the tattoo work or incorporate it into the theme.
It took a lot of consideration to narrow down to the theme for the series. It wasn't from lack of ideas, but too many ideas. The theme has to encompass the whole series of work though. So for a theme to be sound and viable, it must have the flexibility to create multiples pieces of art under on theme.
So the final theme for this series will be:
The theme will focus on turning the various bodies into works of abstract art. Its a simple theme, but there are some very specific concepts within it that I would like to explore. More on this later as the individual concepts for each piece are brought together.
Since all of these will take place in the outside art space, I've already begun preparation of the area. I've restrung the overhead lights. Organized the outlet points so that I can light any part of the area that I need to light. I've placed blinders up in two areas of the fencing where it was possible to see through into the area. Now there is complete privacy to the space.
There are a number of crucial items I need. Large flat piece of styrofoam have to be present in order to create the set for several of concepts. I also need canvas drop cloths.
Its pretty obvious that I am going to need at least a couple of interns to help me. I'll be putting up ads for volunteer staff this week to assist. Usually other artists get the most from the process.
As of today, there is now a weather alert for a possible tropical storm. This may delay and push back the first body painting scheduled for July 21st. We'll have to monitor the weather for each shoot as we always have unexpected problems in the summer months.
So this is where the planning stands as of today. I'll add more notes and working photos as we go along.
As it sometimes happens, the weather has placed everything on hold through at least the 15th. With the imminent threat of massive flooding throughout the city, I've been forced to put everything on hold a few days. We'll see what the beginning of the week brings. More later.