A few weeks ago, I found a guy on Google+ promoting his Kickstarter campaign. He is a body painter and was trying to raise money to purchase some new equipment. I looked up his work, and while some might consider it risqué, it is truly an fascinating form of art. I never knew body painting was so intense… and this guy has done some incredible work. His stuff doesn’t even look real, and during our interview I asked him about making mistakes and how long it takes him to paint the human body. I guess it makes sense he is also a professional photographer as this stuff washes off… can’t really hang a human body on a gallery wall! Oh, and he does live exhibitions. Fun! I was excited to interview him, and while he didn’t paint me, it was fun learning about his work and what goes into painting the human body. It is my absolute pleasure to introduce you to Paul Roustan.
You are an airbrush body painter. What exactly does that mean?
I paint on people. I use an airbrush to apply make up to the human body as a canvas.
You are also a photographer. Do you prefer one art to the other?
I’ve learned that I am a very impatient person in regards to art making. So, I practice achieving results in a very concise and efficient manner. With that said, the airbrush is an exceptional tool to achieve excellent results in high speed. But nothing is as fast as taking a photo. Combining both is part of my obsession to body painting. So one without the other feels somewhat incomplete.
How many different models have you painted over the years?
That is a tough question… for commissions, easily into the thousands. For my conceptual studio work, maybe around 250 or so. Not sure.
How did you get started in body painting?
In 2005, I was an editorial illustrator for an adult magazine. I was also airbrushing t-shirts on the side. I approached the founders of the magazine, offering my abilities to paint a model for one of their photo spreads. They said, let’s give it a shot, and I was hooked.
Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. I lived there until I was 24, when I moved to Rhode Island.
You studied at the Rhode Island School of Design. Do they teach body painting there?
They have one class demonstrating to photographers how to apply a body painting to photography. I am the instructor for that class. I don’t know if they had a body paint class before that.
Where do you find models to paint?
I find my models online. You can find pretty much anything online!
Do girls ever get nervous being naked in front of you?
Sometimes, yes. This is typically someone who does not have much experience with nude photo shoots. Models generally become very comfortable within a few minutes after I begin painting.
Tell me a little bit more about this Kickstarter campaign you got going.
In this day an age, people have a difficult time differentiating photographs that are real from photos that have been manipulated post process. This kind of thing is a regular question in regards to my work. And although, I don’t think it really should matter how an artwork was achieved, people really appreciate my work more knowing that it is real.
So, in addition to the photography, I started showing my work using video, live performance, and painted mannequins.
I used to teach holography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and it occurred to me one day that I should make a hologram of a body painting just to add to the clarity of the result.
These 3D movies that are out now kind of annoy me, because they require glasses, which usually give me a headache. Did you know that a real 3D holographic movie was made by the Soviet Union in 1976? A 3D movie that required no glasses, no form of stereoscopy? It’s true! It was just too expensive to continue.
While holography of many forms is starting to become affordable, there are avenues that still cost too much. Making a hologram of a human being is one of those mediums that weighs on the wallet.
I used Kickstarter to help fund that project. I met my goal and raised $6,268 with a total of 107 backers.
Can you elaborate on holographic body painting?
Holographic film and imagery will inevitably become the norm. I want to get my foot in the door by presenting my body painting as a hologram to help push the body paint industry into that direction, the future. This one hologram will potentially inspire other body painters to visualize ways to present their work in innovative ways.
I like the idea of having a documentation of a body painting in full 3D with out the use of stereoscopic eye wear. It is visible with the naked eye, and produced all by hand with traditional dark room techniques. Nothing about it is digital. Which is a complete throwback, the application of makeup with the airbrush, and the development and presentation process. The combination makes sense.
How often do you showcase your work?
I show my work as often as I possibly can. In 2010, I believe I showed at around fourteen galleries that year. My experience with that has left me more interested in doing shows where I can show an assortment of work, like solo shows, or shared shows with one other artist. Group shows often leave artworks overlooked. And I am usually limited to three pieces tops. My work tends to show better as a larger selection.
When you have a gallery exhibition, do you typically have live models or just the photography?
I usually have a live model, HD video, and painted mannequins alongside the photography. I treat it like an event that you shouldn’t miss!
How long does it take to paint a body?
On average, it takes me three hours to paint the body.
Have you ever made a mistake while painting someone?
Of course! The most important part of learning lies in the mistakes. But with that said, as a theme park caricature artist in the early 2000s, I learned how to work with mistakes and make them work. So, I never worry about mistakes. There is rarely anything that can’t be fixed in some way. Out of the over 250 models I’ve painted conceptually, I can think of three that I made wipe something off so I can repaint.
When I look back on my early body paintings, I see mistakes all over the place. I learned from those and increased my visual vocabulary by experimenting through them.
Is there a lot of competition in this industry?
The body paint industry is a small tight knit industry. I have never bid on gigs against other body painters, mainly because the competition in my area is small to non-existent.
When I travel, it is usually to team up with other body painters, or at the recommendation of another body painter. Most of my gigs have been through word of mouth. But, body painters generally support and challenge each other. Maybe that’s just me though. I never worry about competition. I only worry about myself and what I can offer to the industry.
What are you doing when you are not painting?
I spend most of my time taking care of my two daughters, marketing my work, and surfing at the beach whenever I possibly can.
Do you ever paint males?
What is your favorite color?
I like color combinations. My favorite combination is sky blue and brown. If I had to pick one absolute color, I’d say blue.
Tell me more about a Diary of a Body Painter.
Being a body painter is a very unique occupation. I often prefer not to be asked what I do when I’m on a plane or at a party because then curiosity makes me a focus of attention. And if you know me well, you know I prefer to not be the focus of attention. So, I always try and redirect the conversation off of me.
But when I reveal what I do, I am regularly bombarded with a series of questions drilling me on all my experiences.
The Diary of a Body Painter eBook gives all the answers and then some. It is what it’s called; a diary of many of my candid experiences and philosophies as a body painter. And alongside the entries, it is packed with a variety of high quality imagery, all packaged into an under $5 price.
Next time I’m asked on a plane, I’ll just say, “Here, buy my eBook!”
Have you ever showcased your work outside of the United States?
Yes, I have. I wish I could remember all the details, but they are easily forgotten when I don’t have the opportunity to attend and experience it. I’ve shown in Italy and Europe for certain. I am featured in some European photo books and magazines as well.
Where do you come up with your ideas for a new scene?
I usually just wait for inspiration to hit. Sometimes I find a great idea that just asks for a body paint photo shoot, sometimes I have an idea that looks for a specific model or location. I try not to think too hard over these things because then they become too labored, which usually ends up in a less successful result.
Most importantly, I try to do things I’ve never seen done, or try to exceed what I’ve seen. And I definitely prefer not to repeat myself.
Where do you buy your supplies?
On the Internet. You can get just about everything on the Internet!
I currently use the Badger Air-Brush Company, and a variety of makeups, mostly European Body Art Vibe, Temptu Dura Air and Mehron Liquid Makeup.
I get equipment from:
I get paint from:
The Chicago Sun-Times was an interview; no pay. Spike TV, I was assisting body painter, Pashur. I was a paid assistant for that. The Playboy image was a photo taken by someone at a Playboy gig I had in New York City. I was paid for the gig, but not for placement in the magazine.
You are all over Google+. Tell me how you are using sites like Google+ to help promote your work and your Kickstarter project.
Google+ is currently the finest social network for building relationships. Marketing relies heavily on relationships and word of mouth. Google+ right off the bat has generated the most backers as a result of the relationships I’ve built in the past year.
Hangouts On Air have given me the opportunity to put my studio and experiences right in everyone’s view. I’ve been able to do live body paintings for anyone to see using YouTube, and invite people into the hangout who are curious about it. It’s a pretty tremendous, innovative feature. You can see a list of all my past hangouts here.
When taking photos, how important is light?
In regards to photography, light is more important than everything else. Without light, you have darkness. With darkness, you have little to nothing.
Do you ever use Photoshop to make your photos look more professional?
I try very hard to get the final result in camera, keeping the photos as pure as possible. Usually, I still need to bump the contrast a little, add a vignette, or clean up skin irregularities, but all my post processing is often limited to dark room techniques.
There have been occasions where I’ve just taken such a bad photo it required heavy editing, but I most definitely avoid manipulating the body painting itself. Any post processing is done with Photoshop, but I’ve been playing a little bit with Lightroom here and there.
Do you pay your models?
I pay models when there is a clear commercial use of the body painting. For events and commissions, I either pay out of pocket, or ask the client to pay the model. For my conceptual work, I do it in trade. I give my images to the model and he/she has shared usage of the images.
I’ve occasionally paid top tier models for my conceptual work, because that is usually a solid investment when it comes to gallery sales. But, that doesn’t happen very often. Adding money to the mix can sometimes screw up the creative energy of the result. It all depends on who is getting painted, and what their motivations are, the money or the creative outlet. I think I’ve paid maybe 4 models out of the 250+ that I’ve painted conceptually.
I am going to be covering Life In Color, formerly known as DAYGLOW. Have you ever been to a paint party?
I’ve heard about it, but I’ve never been to one.
If someone wants to get started with body painting, where can he or she begin? Where did you begin?
I began on my own, just exploring. With anything, it all comes down to how you face your fears. You have to consistently confront fears of failure. Otherwise you are working from a comfort zone, not learning anything at all.
Get someone to be a model, pay him/her if you must. Try to do three or four body paintings, and put the work in a portfolio online. Become active in their forums, put out casting calls and message various models you’d be interested in painting. Work out the terms beforehand, and agree to a result. Make sure you use makeup that is approved for use on skin, not just “non-toxic”.
From there it’s all about exploration.
What’s next for Paul Roustan?
I was thinking about becoming an accountant. Either that, or continue getting my work out there. I want to make this holographic body painting. I want to paint a celebrity at least once. I want to have more solo shows in solid galleries all over the world. And, I will be living closer to the beach soon.
Thank you so much for doing this. I know you are busy. Good luck on reaching your goal with Kickstarter. In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.
Believe in your dreams! Go for it despite the odds! Failure is not an option. Go Bears! Oh, and Hi Mom!