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Body Painting

by Philip Greenspun, 1997

The Steps

  1. Buy paints from Mehron, Inc., 45 E. Route 303, Valley Cottage, NY 10989, (914) 268-4106. They have a semi-reasonable brochure and provide some technical support. They can also direct you to dealers.
  2. Mehron's "liquid makeup" is water-based and comes off easily, although red stains skin a bit. Plan on using three 4oz. bottles to completely cover a 5'7" tall, 120 lb woman. This stuff tends to be streaky and cracks a bit when it dries. It is also not good if your model sweats. However, if you want a "non-slick" look, it can be pretty effective. Best of all, you can shower it off.
  3. The most convenient grease-based makeup from Mehron comes in 0.75oz sticks in dozens of colors (mostly slightly varied flesh tones unfortunately, but also plenty of colors). To use this you first apply it, smooth with a damp sponge, then put on translucent powder with a powder puff, then brush the excess powder off with a powder brush. Mehron sells sponges, powder, and powder puffs. Also, many women use grease-based makeup on their faces and understand this procedure.

    Although the powder is supposed to "set" the makeup, I've found that the stuff still tends to rub off. So be careful if the model touches bare skin with painted skin -- you'll get a smudge.

    You can take off grease-based makeup with baby oil rubbed into the skin then paper-toweled off (plan on using 1/2 bottle of cheap baby oil plus a whole roll of towels to do an entire body). This is the cheapest method. Also, Mehron sells makeup remover lotion that works a little more easily (use this if you just want to wipe off a smudge or work on the model's face). Finally, you can use some cold cream-type cleanser then regular soap and water. Once again, red stains just a bit. The stain should fade in time, however.

    Allegedly, a person will die if his skin is completedly unable to breathe. However, a spot the size of a quarter left unpainted in the small of his back is allegedly enough to prevent this undesirable event in the photo studio. Caveat paintor.

  4. If there is a lot of unpainted Caucasian flesh in the picture, stay away from Fujichrome Velvia. I've had good results with EPX (Ektachrome 64X "warmer"). As far as negative film goes, Reala is pretty nice, although Gold 100 and Ektar 25 are probably better (punchier). I've had bad luck scanning Reala onto PhotoCD.

Happy painting.



Republican Platform, a photo I took during the 1992 presidential campaign when women's rights groups were upset by the Republicans' rhetoric Republican Platform. Rather badly scanned from a Fuji Reala negative. This was a test for a poster that would have sold big if Bill Clinton hadn't won the election.
Date Rape. This would have have been a great TIME cover if the public's appetite for date rape stories hadn't faded.


  • Steven Bradford has a lot more patience than I do when it comes to this. You should check out his elaborate creations.

Miscellaneous net.wisdom

gathered by Goldlover@aol.com

Q. Can anyone suggest a makeup to use to give the skin a metallic gold or silver look? Any lighting tips would be appreciated as well.

Well, I haven't specifically covered a lot of the skin with metalic paint, but I've been experimenting with body paint a bit. It doesn't seem to be something many people do, as I received little help or suggestions.

The first thing I discovered was: Use grease paint, not water based, if you want a smooth surface, the water based makup dries quickly, which is nice, but cracks up, and doesn't appear even. The grease paint, oth goes on smoothly, needs much smaller quantities, etc...

The grease paint (at least where I live) is readily available in large jars of white, and in pencils, crayons, and small pats in almost every colour you could want. There's a number of blues, a brilliant yellow, several shades of red, and of browns. There is alos a silver, gold, and bronze. The Bronze looks quite metalic, although I've just used it on lips. I think you need to put a fairly substantial layer on with some good contrast (black?) to have it stand out.

The ony thing you want to watch for, though, is that metalics and yellow and red (I think thats it) are often toxic. At least, you shouldn't get them near someones eyes or inside there nose.

As chance would have it I just got back My first Photo CD with body painting. I have three main projects, two of of them very succesful. In the latest we painted up a guy like stone for a gargoyle effect. In the other one we did "robot" imagery on a woman. I have to figure out how to do GIF uploads and file transfers so I can send some of these along. I've also discovered a new paint that works much better than makeup, is cheap and completely safe. It is airbrush fabric paint. It dries to the touch, is not messy, and scrubs off with soap and water. It goes on very fast with either brush or airbrush. It can be worn for hours very comfortably.

Read your post some time ago concerning metallic gold body painting and photography. How did it turn out? Any recommendations for others?

They turned out very well, thanks. I don't know which post you might have read, but the safety information I got was basically "if it's a makeup, then it should be passed by the FDA and have a contents list." Since what I used was, in fact, makeup, it was considered safe.

I used Zauder's brand bodypaint. It is a water based liquid, not an oil based cream. It cleans up much, much easier than the creams. It didn't have quite as smooth a quality as I was looking for, but it was interesting nonetheless.

I got it from Pearl Paint, an art supply store based in New York.

If you have a material you are considering using as a paint, and aren't sure as to the safety, I suggest calling the Arts Crafts and Theater Safety (ACTS) people at (212) 777-0062. They are dedicated to the use of safe materials in the arts, and they are lead by Monona Rosso, who is possibly the world's leading authority on such matters. (She often answers the phone herself, so you might get advice direct from the source.)

As for other technical considerations when photographing a painted subject: I used strobes (tungsten lights just get too hot for modeling work). I would avoid the use of colored gels on the lights. I tried using a red gel for a paritcular effect, and it washed out the gold of the paint. Also consider the fact that the paint will rub off onto just about everything, so put down drop cloths if neccesary, and keep an eye on what your model touches. the last thing I can think of is to make sure your model shaves a few days beforehand.

The paint doesn't work too well in hair, and freshly (even one day old) shaved skin is still sensitive, and caused my model to itch furiously (not fun).

[this answer is from Kevin Graeme, ( kgraeme@facstaff.wisc.edu)]

Article created 1997

Readers' Comments

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Mike Woolson , March 10, 1997; 08:26 P.M.

If you're in the Bay Area, Kryolan Cosmetics, a theatrical makeup company, has a store in their headquarters on 9th St. south of Market. Kryolan sells a massive range of water-based colors, most in cake and some bottled, which go on and come off easily. Like most water bases, it tends to dry and flake easily (especially some of the metallics). Also, when doing whole bodies, applying it with too much water can cause water spots to appear.

I've also had excellent luck with Zauder's Gold. However, their bottled colors go on very poorly, and the bottle of silver I got burned like rubbing alcohol-- I don't know if it was a bad batch or it's always like that.

Malcolm Mellon , September 28, 1997; 12:38 P.M.

I've found a metalic effect appears by magic if you coat skin with oil (mineral or organic) and then sprinkle on powdered watercolor (in the UK, Rowneys sell big boxes for school use. As the oil soaks into the powder a liquid gold (or silver) appears.

Roy Zuckerman , December 19, 1997; 03:13 P.M.

Temptu, a New York-based makeup specialty manufacturer, offers alcohol-based airbrush and paint-on body paints to which fine metallic glitter can be added. Either a "sparkly" or snakeskin effect can be achieved. We can be e-mailed or called at 212 675-4000

Michael Davy , May 06, 1998; 10:47 A.M.

At Michael Davy Film & T.V. Make Up we manufacture two types of airbrush make up. The first, called Fashion Aire is like a "powder through the airbrush". It's great for straight, fashion and glamour make ups. Our second is called Airbrush Grade Prosthetic Cosmetic. It is like a PAX through the airbrush and is meant for durable (waterproof) body make ups or prosthetics. It removes with SOAP and water and was used in the movie "Powder". We also make an additive that will make your brand of airbrush make up waterproof. E-Mail us at mdftv@bitstorm.com or call 1-888-2245-7026 for more info and a catalog. You can also visit our website at www.classichippie.com/davy

Michael Davy , May 06, 1998; 10:48 A.M.

At Michael Davy Film & T.V. Make Up we manufacture two types of airbrush make up. The first, called Fashion Aire is like a "powder through the airbrush". It's great for straight, fashion and glamour make ups. Our second is called Airbrush Grade Prosthetic Cosmetic. It is like a PAX through the airbrush and is meant for durable (waterproof) body make ups or prosthetics. It removes with SOAP and water and was used in the movie "Powder". We also make an additive that will make your brand of airbrush make up waterproof. E-Mail us at mdftv@bitstorm.com or call 1-888-245-7026 for more info and a catalog. You can also visit our website at www.classichippie.com/davy

Les -- , November 24, 1998; 08:50 A.M.

Mettalic Effect... Have you tried Kryolan Liquid Brighness. This is highly effective and water based. Not cheap but will do the job , requires several layers to build color depth. Finish with Gold or Silver kryolan Glitter Spray.

enrique vasquez , December 25, 1998; 11:56 P.M.

try simple opaque water colors. If you get lucky on the brand their vibrance will surprise you and, as far as I can tell from my limited bit of experience, do not agrivate the models and cause only a slight bit of itching. Incidentally, metalic paint can kill a model because of it's capacity to smuther the skin. So take care.

Andrea Garland , May 14, 2000; 12:28 P.M.

I highly recommend Caran d'Ache water color sticks for body painting (someone previously suggested water colors, but wasn't sure of a brand) - I've been using them for face and body painting for 7 years - you can either melt down in the oven in tins and make a palette or use the sticks straight (use a fine brush for highly detailed areas). They are hypo-allergenic, non-toxic, dry quickly but don't crack and create a very vibrant color. They wash off easily with soap and water. They don't work as metallics (I use zauder's liquid makeup for metallics and have never experienced any burning, etc. - but you generally need to put it on very thickly or use several applications to achieve good solid cover). You can achieve a nice metallic/glitter effect, though, by using iridescent glitter (always use the superfine glitter, chunky glitter can cut eyes) over the water colors - it's a really nice effect! Liquid latex is also fun to play with - try black latex (I find three coats optimum) with irridescent glitter sprinkled all over the top coat while it's still slightly wet - looks like snake skin, really really cool! But make sure to leave breathing room if you're totally covering the body with latex, and make sure any areas covered have been shaved first (unless the model is into pain . . . .)

Jeffrey Goggin , November 13, 2000; 07:41 A.M.

I'm puzzled by the frequent comments about always leaving some skin uncovered so it can breathe ... is this somehow for real or just another urban legend? I mean, scuba divers don't suffocate because they're underwater -- presumably, their skin isn't breathing there -- yet I continue to hear about "The Goldfinger Effect," as a friend of mine refers to it. What gives?

Jean-Francois Amadei , January 11, 2001; 02:02 P.M.

We are getting further from photography here... In fact the skin does not really "breathe". Oxygen is brought to the blood via diffusion through a thin membrane. It supposes huge thin surfaces, as well as large volume of blood pumped around this surface. This is basically what is going on in your lungs for the air, in your intestins for the food. Lungs area is the same order of magnitude as a soccer game field area, and there is only a very thin barrier between numerous blood vessels and air. Problem about "skin breathing" is a problem of heat. Indeed some substances can clog heat elimination and block sweat glands. In this case body temperature can increase quickly. And then will breathing rythm increase, making the victim look like suffocating.

Neil Taylor , May 19, 2001; 07:20 P.M.

Re: "Does the Skin really Breathe"

Not really, but it is not an urban myth either. If the body is unable to sweat enough to keep cool it can very rapidly lead to dangerous overheating, even unto death.

It is this effect that that is being referred to and this is why you have to be careful what type of "paint" you use if you're going to be painting large areas of body.

ashley mortenson , July 26, 2001; 12:19 A.M.

Another good place to find all kinds of theater-quality makeup (oil based and otherwise) is Alcone in NYC. They also have liquid latex, theatrical "blood," and how-to manuals on transforming your model into anything or anybody you want. (It's quite a toy store for people who love looking like anything but themselves.) It's also not all that expensive- it fits a student budget rather well. It's on W.19th St. in between 7th & 8th. (I'm pretty sure.) No, I don't have the phone number. Call information. It's worth it.

Emma-Jane Cammack , February 11, 2002; 05:11 A.M.

I have read through the comments here and am concerned at some of the content. As a Make-up Artist and Bodypainter I feel it is important that you think of the Health and Safety Aspect of what you are doing. Some of the comments are recommending non-cosmetic art supplies and products for use on the skin. This is an extremely unadvisable thing to do. I have approached many art supplies manufacturers and been told in no uncertain terms that the products are NOT safe for use on human skin! Cosmetic products (such as Mehron, Kryolan, Fardel and Grimas Body and Facepaints) have conformed to US and EC regulations for cosmetic products.

Using art products on a model which have not been tested and OK'd could result in a hefty law suit landing on your lap if the model develops contact dermatitis as a result or misses a modelling assignment due to an allergic reaction. More importantly you could do real damage to someone by simply not thinking. There are hundreds of fantastic safe products available on the net and from Theatrical and Professional Make-Up retailers. So please think before you paint!

Oh and the thing about not covering the whole body is not true. It is perfectly safe to do so... someone has been watching too much James Bond (Goldfinger!) In the world of fetish some people clad themselves entirely in rubber with nothing but a small straw sticking out of their mouths to breathe, all that happens is they sweat a lot. Most make-up is breathable to a certain extent, although if it is very thick a model may sweat. Dri Clor or a really powerful anti-perspirant applied first will do the trick, follwed by a good dose of spray sealant once you are finished.

If anyone needs any advice about products give me a shout. Emma

Elvis Omercehajic , September 13, 2007; 03:21 P.M.

You can check my examples on my site http://eophoto.blogspot.com

Ken Smith , March 25, 2011; 03:32 P.M.

It's a myth that a person will die if his skin is completely covered with paint because the skin is unable to breathe, although the person might overheat due to his pores being blocked and therefore being unable to perspire. There is a girl on my Bodypaint TV website who is completely covered in Mehron silver powder mixed with baby oil and she was fine, see Roxy on http://bodypaint.tv

Natalie Tran , May 08, 2011; 02:59 A.M.

Check out this artist, I find his works refreshing:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/yesthisismyday/sets/72157626654292406/with/5464052461/



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