When I look at this picture, I first see a work of art, but I also see myself. It’s weird. I’m not used to wearing much make up, and here I am completely covered in colorful body paint. And it’s not just make up for the sake of beauty, but a full body multi-hued canvas with a honey bee theme running through. How did I get this lucky to have such an experience?
I first met the artist Cheryl Ann Lipstreu at an art event in Winston-Salem, NC. She was enamored with my honeybee necklaces and told me how she has beekeeper friends and that her grandfather used to be a beekeeper. She was excited about honeybees as I was! We got to talking and I learned about her artisan story. Her personal artist’s journey started with oil painting at young age, with many years of classical training. However, when she was introduced to the art of body painting, her creative soul was ignited in new ways. She went on to become a multi-award winning body paint artist, including winning the North American Championship. She is also featured on the reality TV show “Skin Wars.” She invited me to do a body painting in her studio, a process she calls painting one’s “soul portrait.” It sounded exciting and fun. It was definitely nothing like anything I’d ever done before and was curious about the experience. I agreed. And it was transformational in a way I never expected.
I figured I’d need to document this experience appropriately, so I asked my photographer friend, Allison Hutchins if she would be available for a photo shoot like this, not sure if it was too much to ask (apparently the painting can take several hours to complete). She was totally down for hanging out all day and agreed to take some shots.
She captured a few candid shots of the process, which was fairly long and tedious but such a novelty, I hadn’t really noticed that several hours had passed as I stood there watching the color and designs unfold.
My wardrobe consisted of a thong bikini and stick on pasties, which made me think of some weird type of nude colored swimsuit. I guess it helped me feel like I wasn’t totally naked for the process, but it was certainly the least amount of clothing I’d ever had on in my life. I haven’t even worn a bikini swimsuit since I was 11 years old.
The process of standing and being painted was interesting. The “paint” was actually theatrical make-up, so it wasn’t sticky or crackly or uncomfortable at all. The most uncomfortable part was standing in one position for such a long time. Although I consider myself relatively fit and strong, I started to get back aches and sore feet a few hours into it. Combine that with the fact that I wasn’t really allowed to sit down or bend over much to keep the paint from smudging. I’m used to being constantly in motion and am normally quite a fidgeter. My hands and feet got cold, but Cheryl kept a space heater going so the studio stayed warm.
I thought the semi-nudity would be the biggest challenge, but after I had a base coat of color applied, every time I looked in the mirror, it looked like I had some type of colorful skin suit on, some type of leotard or spandex outfit. I “felt” more naked than I looked. In my mind I was thinking “it’s just a body and this is art” in a way that you think “this is just medical” when you are at the doctor’s office.
The process seemed to be going at a good rate and I thought were going to finish up in 6 hours, but we were really just warming up. Many more levels of detail went into the painting including highlights, shadowing, outlining, glitter and gem application and the wig adornment. The wig design was actually constructed by my step daughter, Katherine, who came with me to the studio. She did an amazing job of arranging the up-do and adding flower and butterfly details. It was a couple of hours later when we finally said “this is it!” We are ready for the photo shoot. I was pretty exhausted, but it was time for me to put on 6 inch platform heels to finish the look. Um? Really? I haven’t worn anything over 1 inch in 5 years.
What I Learned from Body Art Painting
As a dietitian, I often try to help others achieve a body transformation, usually in the form of weight loss, but also in terms of health improvements. So many of us are constantly looking in the mirror to see improvements in body shape, texture, even color. It’s a difficult process to look at what you have and be totally okay with it. During my painting I spent 8 hours looking at myself in a mirror. Normally in front of the mirror, I’m looking at flaws, fixing skin problems, deciding when I need a hair appointment and if my workouts are getting rid of cellulite. But this time, I was looking at the beauty that unfolded in front of my eyes. I watched my body transform into a canvas of expression of my favorite colors and designs. Suddenly my body in the mirror became my friend instead of my mortal enemy with all of it’s imperfections. I noticed “hmm, I’ve been working out, look how strong my shoulders are…” and “wow, I’ve never noticed I have a flat stomach from this angle, it always seems to pooch out when I look down.”
The icing on the cake of the experience was getting the photos back from Allison, who had fun editing the pictures she took. I saw myself is a completely new way. The artwork and the photography had transformed me into some type of ageless deity. I saw no pores, no wrinkles, no blemishes, no fading hair color, no cellulite or spider veins, or any other visible “flaw.” I didn’t see aging. I didn’t see diet non-compliance. I didn’t see my “bad side” or all those other unfavorable things that we normally see when we catch a glimpse of ourselves in a picture.
I think my favorite part was seeing the confidence that showed up in some of these pictures. When I look at each picture, I don’t even remember taking it or looking that way. Even though I was exhausted by the end of the process, I somehow had enough energy to strike a pose or two and capture this experience forever.
I would recommend an experience like this to anyone who is looking for a complete mind-shift in body acceptance or for a completely liberating experience in transforming into art. By the end, I didn’t even feel like myself. It was like I was walking around as a painting, egoless and normal personality on vacation. It was totally awesome!
So would you do it? Do you think you’d ever try a body painting transformation?
You can find more information about the artist Cheryl Ann Lipstreau and photographer Allison Hutchins on their websites. http://www.cherylannlipstreu.com and http://www.allisonhutchinsart.com.