In this installment, we’ll take another look at some advanced body painting techniques enhanced with jewelry and rhinestones. This was a bit of an unusual session; due to scheduling constraints we didn’t get started until around 9 pm.
Because body painting always takes a very long time, I knew we were in for a long slog of a night. I was not wrong. From start to finish, the entire process took about ten hours. By the time we rolled into the studio around 8 am the next morning, we were all pretty well exhausted. Fortunately, action in the studio seemed to give us all a second wind.
Preparation: A Critical Success Factor
My stylist Heather and I had many prior conversations about what we wanted to achieve. For her, it was about creating a mood based on design and color selection. I wanted to show how designs painted on the human form can morph into different shapes, depending on the body geometry of our model in different poses. Heather came up with the idea to project an image on our model Brittnie’s body that she could use as an outline. She had a specific image in mind, so we hooked her iPad to a computer projector.
I did not realize until I started shooting behind-the-scenes material for this article that some sort of diffraction interference would be visible to the camera, but not us humans. The phenomenon made for some very odd video footage as we saw not only an RGB rainbow, but it was constantly moving like the rolling shutter effect sometimes seen in DSLR video.
With the basic outline complete, we switched off the projector so Heather could start filling in the details of her design. This time, she chose to use a regular brush instead of her airbrush.
By the time 3 am rolled around, we were all starting to feel the effects of being nightowls when we’re not used to it.
Model Preparation: Exfoliate, Exfoliate, Exfoliate
The front design was now essentially complete. Brittnie is blessed with naturally beautiful smooth skin with few blemishes (aside from the occasional bruise she gets from being an active young lady). But even models who have wonderful skin as Brittnie does are well-advised to take extraordinarily good care of it, especially if body paint is involved. For the model, exfoliating her skin the night before is a critical success factor; body paint tends to make even the finest hair stiffen and reflect light so that it becomes quite visible.
For Every Obverse, There’s Gotta Be a Reverse, Right?
Now it was time to turn our attention to Brittnie’s back. Heather decided to only partially continue the painted design, just around the periphery. She left the majority of Brittnie’s backside a blank canvas, so she could turn her into a bejeweled beauty. Naturally, Heather’s cat had to photobomb the BTS material and supervise the process.
It took quite a long time, but Heather created a brilliant design comprised of individually-applied rhinestones. These can be found at most crafts stores in a variety of sizes for a very reasonable price. There are many ways to glue them onto skin, some more successful than others. Heather has found that spirit gum adhesive (also found at crafts stores) works best for this purpose. Non-toxic and generally non-allergenic, spirit gum usually provides enough holding power to last through a photo session. When putting your model back together again, Heather recommends special spirit gum remover to get most of the adhesive residue off. After that, soaking in a nice hot tub with Epsom salts seems to do the trick for getting both the adhesive and paint off. Even with this regimen, you should caution your model that it will take quite a bit of scrubbing to get everything off.
A note about working with rhinestones, especially the very small ones: rather than use your fingers to hold the stone, use a pair of tweezers. Your fingers will inevitably get sticky, making application of the stones quite a chore.
The Finishing Touches
When all the paint, rhinestones, glitter, metallic leaf and all other body decorations are in place, it is time for the finishing touches. Whenever there is a lot of skin exposed, as with nudes, fashion nude, swimwear or lingerie, I like to use full-body makeup consisting of an evenly-applied foundation topped with setting powder or setting spray. Applied to legs, feet, arms, and hands, full-body makeup drastically reduces the post-processing time needed to achieve smooth skin tones. I don’t worry about contouring on the limbs and extremities; the only place I’ll use contouring on the body is on the torso and especially around the breasts. Given Heather’s body paint design, this was a non-issue.
A quick note about body makeup and toning: elbows and knees tend to photograph darker than surrounding skin; I have found it helpful to use a foundation that is one or two shades lighter on these areas. It looks weird on set but trust me – you’ll find your post-processing time reduced.
By this time, Heather was in sore need of a break, so Brittnie pitched in and did her own facial makeup.
Rubber, Meet Road
And we’re off to the studio! We started with a series of full-length action poses – dance poses, really. It was in this series that we could see how the body paint designs reconfigured themselves according to how Brittnie positioned herself.
Time for a wardrobe “change” (actually nothing more than the addition of a silver and jewel body chain and a headband). A thing to remember when introducing jewelry and other accessories like chains into your compositions, cheap costume stuff photographs just as well as expensive stuff – you really can’t tell the difference, so there’s no need to break the bank when accessorizing your model.
At this point I switched to a nominal three-quarter view in order to focus attention on the wardrobe additions.
From the Sublime to the Surreal
At this point we wanted to venture into the realm of surrealism. Since Heather’s main design on Brittnie’s torso was a skull, we dipped into the Bone Box – and rather odd assortment of skulls, bones, and antlers from a variety of species that Heather has collected over the years. For this series, we reconfigured the set so that Brittnie could use the bones in different ways while seated.
Rest at Last – No, Not Quite Yet
For our final series we wanted to mix it up with a few horizontal poses. Reclining poses, whether horizontal or vertical introduces a different dynamic in the way body paint designs flow. These gave Brittnie an opportunity to move her body in ways she could not do whilst standing or seated.
After a bit of touch-up from Heather, I asked Brittnie to induce tension into her body whilst prone on the floor.
The idea was to afford Brittnie an opportunity to present herself and her painted body from a position of strength. Brittnie, being the forthright young woman that she is, took this opening to convey a specific message: “I am a strong woman and my body is mine to do with as I see fit.” In this respect, I think she nailed it.
A Few Technical Notes
As I mentioned earlier, body painting can be a long, drawn-out affair. For this reason, I wanted both Heather and Brittnie to be as comfortable as possible during the painting process. So all the painting work was done in Heather’s home studio rather than the Spartan environment that is my commercial studio. Once the painting was done, we wrapped Brittnie in plastic (really!) for the short car ride.
I had previously set up the studio with a simple black muslin backdrop with pre-positioned lights, so we were able to get right to shooting. None too soon, I would say, because by this time we had pulled an all-nighter (I hadn’t done that since my university days, too many years ago to count) and all of us were running on depleted energy reserves. As tired as she was, Brittnie came through with a stellar stage performance, as is readily seen in these photos.
For the standing and three-quarter view poses, I used a large 4’ x 6’ (120 cm x 180 cm) conventional soft box positioned camera left at about 75 degrees from camera axis. This created a highly directional light which was augmented by a 1’ x 3’ (30 cm x 90 cm) strip soft box with grid positioned camera right at about 90 degrees from camera axis. The ratio of main light to the kicker (used to provide separation from the background) was 2:1.
For the surrealistic (seated) poses and the prone poses, I turned the kicker off and moved the key light to 45 degrees from camera axis, still to camera left. This yielded a broad, soft light that modeled Brittnie’s figure quite nicely.
- Brittnie Stull, model
- Heather Filipski, artist and stylist