I get numerous emails from students looking for advice and enquiring about my background in the make-up and body painting industry. It’s really flattering and I do try to reply to as many requests as I can, but there are times when I’m incredibly busy and some emails do slip through the net. I always feel guilty if I haven’t managed to reply to someone, so I’ve decided to publish my experiences in my blog so that in future anyone wondering about how to get into body art or make-up might find the answers to their questions and also find it helpful and informative.
So one of the questions that I’m asked on a regular basis has to be ‘How did you get into body painting?’
Early days in College
I started my make-up and body painting career back in 2002 at West Thames College in London. I had previously studied at Suffolk College and after a foundation course in Art & Design I moved on to Beauty Therapy before deciding on a career in the make-up industry.
There weren’t too many make-up courses available back then. I applied to The London College of Fashion, Manchester and West Thames. The next step was to put together a portfolio. I forced my very patient fellow Beauty Therapy friends to model for me in their lunch hour. I stripped them of their beautiful make up and then made them up with various ‘looks’ and took ‘before and after’ photos on my father’s old Olympus SLR camera and had the photos enlarged.
We also had an end of term show/competition with the theme ‘Showgirls’. I decided to enter and based my design on ‘The Moulin Rouge’ and in particular Christina Aguilera’s make-up. My friend modelled for me and we made a great outfit complete with sequinned basque and large feathered head dress. On the day of the competition we only had around 30 minutes to do the full make-up before the show. When the results were announced I was very pleased and incredibly surprised to have won first place! It was a real boost for my CV and my portfolio.
After my interviews I was offered a place at Manchester and also West Thames where it was a brand new course for the college. I was very impressed with the tutors and facilities, so I was delighted to be offered a place on the HND for ‘Specialist Hair & Make-up’ and in 2002 I left home in Suffolk and moved to London.
My interest in body painting began
I suppose it was my love of art in general that sparked an interest in body painting. I had seen the very popular photo of Demi Moore in the body painted suit and was keen to try my hand at some body art. I was pleased that there was a body painting module on the course and once I picked up a brush I loved it! Something clicked and I just knew that this was something that I wanted to pursue.
Taking part in body painting competitions
In 2003 and whilst still a student I went to what was then ‘The European Bodypainting Festival’ now the massive ‘World Bodypainting Festival’ in Austria. I finished in 17th place out of 84 competitors with my first ever body paint. I’ll be covering this amazing experience in more detail in a later blog.
In 2004 I entered the student make-up and body painting competition at Olympia representing West Thames College. The theme for the body painting category was ‘The Wizard of Oz’ so I decided to base my design on ‘The Scarecrow’ and persuaded a fellow make-up student Philip to model for me. We were allowed props, so I made a short denim skirt/tunic with a rope belt, which protected his modesty wonderfully. Philip also had a very fetching scarecrow hat and some straw stuffed cuffs and boots.
We only had 3 hours to complete the painting and as Philip was over 6 feet tall it was quite literally a tall order to get him finished in time. I do remember we were also being judged on how tidily we worked and I was a bit worried that I would be marked down as I kept getting straw everywhere from Philip’s ‘stuffing’. Plus the painting area was quite small and every time I moved I got hit on the head by the wings of the ‘Flying Monkey’ who was being painted and constructed next to me! When the time was up I was reasonably happy with my efforts and sent a slightly reluctant Philip out to dance around in front of the judges waving a bunch of silk poppies!
When the results were announced I could hardly believe my ears. I won first prize in the body painting category. Then I won the prize for the most points awarded in any category in the whole competition, and finally I won the college trophy for West Thames. I was rewarded with a cheque for £250 and also a weekend in Paris for two.
Coupled with my experience in Austria in 2003 I think Olympia was a defining moment in my life. It was when I knew that body painting was going to feature heavily in my career.
I was also given some good advice from an industry expert to try and get as much work experience as I could whilst I was in college. As well as giving me an idea of what my future career would entail, it would also improve my CV, and show that I had used my time in college wisely.
So whilst still a student I searched sites like UK Screen and Talent Circle for experience in the make-up world. I chased anything that moved – short films, music videos etc. I did quite a few low pay and no pay jobs which helped to build up contacts and give me some experience in the different sections of the industry.
One of the best opportunities I had during this time was having the chance to do some work experience with the late, great, Storm Thorgerson, who was responsible for so many iconic album covers, including Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. I was the make-up artist on Storm’s photo-shoot for an album cover for band ‘Jane’s Addiction’. We kept in touch and as Storm enjoyed using body art in his work, I was lucky enough to paint for him on numerous occasions over the following years. I will be covering my experiences with Storm in a separate blog in the next few weeks.
So not quite in a nutshell, but that is how I got into body painting. A lot of hard work combined with a few strokes of luck has led to a really interesting career. If you want to be successful you have to put the effort in to succeed. You have to be pro-active. Search out the make-up and body painting competitions and enter. Look for work experience. It’s a very competitive industry, so don’t expect anything to drop into your lap!