Jun 10

So you want to be a model?

body painting model melbourne

I’ve been in the face and body painting industry for over 13 years. In that time, I have met (and painted) a lot of fabulous people from all walks of life. Some have been modelling for body painters forever, while others are eager first-timers.

Because of this big range of experience levels, I’ve also seen a lot of mishaps backstage that could have been prevented with a little forethought. Here are some tips and truths for body painting models to preserve your safety, well-being, and sanity.

It’s really, really hard work

Being body painted, you often have to stand very still. People who have never witnessed the process in its entirety will sometimes say “How hard can it be? You’re just standing still for a few hours!”. Au contraire! Ever heard of how many soldiers faint from standing still for too long? Yeah, even trained soldiers find it really rough. Standing still for long periods is taxing not just on your body but also your mind. Be prepared to be really bored, and sometimes a bit uncomfortable. Your body painter will try to manoeuvre with you to take some of the strain, but even then it’s tough work.

Be prepared, and think of ways to keep yourself in a comfortable state of mind. Meditate. Bring some earbuds and some audiobooks or podcasts to keep your brain engaged. Watch a DVD. If it’s a long body paint, watch the director’s cut of the Lord of the Rings trilogy! Anything to keep your body still and your mind active.

You need to WORK IT!

Body painting models need to be a robust and energetic breed. It’s not like catwalk modelling where you keep a neutral face and walk up and down. You become a character and tell the story with your body. You need fire and sparks behind your eyes to really bring a body paint to life! You need to be a very expressive person, and know how to work a stage. For this reason, body painters love painting dancers, circus performers, and variety performers. A body paint will fall flat without the right model to make it pop. Look in a mirror when you’re finished, work out the best bits of the body paint, and think of ways to show them off to the crowd. You are the puppeteer of your body paint – work out how to work it, then work it!


Even though you need to be still, you need to try to keep your body relaxed. Letting tension creep up your body will exhaust you over time and you’ll start flagging pretty quickly. Sit whenever it’s possible. If your artist is painting your front, this may not be possible so rest your bottom on a table or use a chair to steady yourself to take the strain off your body. If your artist is painting an arm or leg, rest limbs on a chair or on another person instead of holding them out to be painted. Stop regularly for stretch breaks, even if you don’t think you need them.

Eat, drink, breathe.

Giving the body the basics it needs to function is so important. If you are tense, starving, and dehydrated, you are on a fast road to fainting. Many models refuse to eat before or during a body paint as they’re worried they’ll look a little bloated. Please, please eat! You don’t have to down a massive curry, but bring along some healthy light snacks and graze throughout the day to give your body the energy it needs to get through a physically taxing day. I have seen models at big events requiring ambulance assistance because their blood sugar dropped to dangerous levels, they became hypoglycemic, and were dehydrated. They had to be put on an IV and taken to hospital. I am dead serious – you need to eat and drink. My models might get a little annoyed with me playing mum all the time and telling them they need to eat something, but they always feel so much better when they do.

On the same note, please drink water! Same reasons. Don’t avoid it because you’re worried that you’ll have to pee. You are human – you’re allowed to pee! So don’t hold back on drinking plenty of water.

Don’t fall into the trap of holding your breath to keep still. Just breathe slowly and predictably at your regular rate, and take deep relaxing breaths when your body painter reloads their brush. We want that oxygen pumping around your body!

Even if you don’t think so, you WILL get cold

I always brief my models to bring a light robe, socks, hot water bottle, and a beanie just in case they get cold, even indoors in summer. Every time a model has ignored that advice, they’ve regretted it about 30 minutes into a body paint and we’ve had to MacGuyver a solution together to get their core temperature back up to normal.

This all comes from standing still for long periods – you’re not very physically active during this time, so the blood doesn’t flow as much as normal. And sometimes you’re in an air conditioned environment that you can’t control. So make like Scar in the Lion King, and Be Prepared!

Your body painter will do what they can to keep you comfortable, but it’s not their responsibility alone. It’s a shared responsibility, so help your artist help you by being prepared. Just bring the warm things, OK? You will never regret having them on hand just in case. You will most certainly regret it if you don’t.

Communicate with your artist at every stage of the process

There’s nothing worse than differing expectations between the artist and model. Maybe in your mind’s eye you imagined being transformed into a shimmering vision of beauty, but your artist wants to turn you into a foul old hag? Maybe you expected your artist to supply underwear and they thought you would bring it? Or maybe you had an epic hula-hoop routine planned for your performance, but your artist has given you an enormous headpiece that you can’t fit your hoop over? All could be avoided with open communication from the outset.

Before you even agree to model, do your research on your artist. See if you like their work. Would you be comfortable modelling the creations they’ve done before? How much skin are you comfortable baring? If you have certain requirements to preserve your modesty and comfort such as nipple covers, fuller underwear, or extra coverage over anything you are uncomfortable with showing off, you must tell your artist before agreeing to model. Some designs won’t work with certain underwear choices, for example, so your artist needs to know this beforehand. If they haven’t got a design yet they may be able to incorporate your needs into the design. If they’ve already got a set idea for a design, and your needs for coverage don’t match up, this may not be your project together. That’s OK – as long as everyone’s aware up front.

Likewise, tell your body artist in advance if you have allergies to anything! Especially materials that are often in use by body painters products and appliances, such as latex. This is a vital one to get out in the open well before painting.

During the painting process on the day, remember to tell your artist if you need to rest, stretch, pee, eat, have a wriggle, fart – anything you need to do to make yourself more comfortable! Speak up. You’re a human with human needs, but sometimes your artist is so focussed on making you look amazing they’ll lose track of time and not be in tune with your body’s own schedule. So tell them what you need.

Likewise, speak up if your artist is doing something that makes you uncomfortable. Maybe they’re poking you really hard with a rough brush by accident and it’s hurting. Maybe they ate garlic naan at lunch and they need a mint! They may not realise there’s a problem, so just politely let them know!

Be flexible

When you’re doing a body paint, you only have one shot at it. Sometimes plans change. Sometimes a design has to be reworked for some unforeseen reason. Sometimes the model gets sick half way through the paint. Sometimes an airbrush carks it and you have to wing it with brushes. Sometimes there’s a blackout in the venue and you have to finish by torch light. Sometimes photographers’ hard drives crash and you lose all the photos. Crazy stuff can happen, and you don’t always get exactly what you were expecting. Be flexible and go with the flow – in body painting there are no guarantees.

You will be wearing next to nothing

I know this sounds obvious, but consider it for a moment. Sometimes you’ll only be wearing a stick-on g-string. Are you comfortable with that? No? What are you comfortable with? You’ll need to think this through and communicate it to your artist.

An integral part of most body paintings is photography. Photos will be taken. Of you. Wearing nothing much more than paint. Your semi naked bod will be immortalised in print. If you’re going to be a body painting model you have to be OK with the images being out there in the world forever. This is a serious decision that requires some thought. Consider using a modelling pseudonym if you don’t want your name connected to the photos and communicate this clearly to everyone involved so that your real name doesn’t pop up in the credits.

Expect to be treated with respect

Your artist will probably go to great pains to make you feel like a rockstar. While they do genuinely think you are awesome, this is in their best interests too, because if you feel happy and confident you will rock that body paint twice as hard! But sometimes when the pressure is on, or you don’t know your artist very well, awkward situations can arise.

Body painting, especially on a tight timeline, can be really stressful for everyone involved. They’re often long emotional days and everyone’s tired. It can bring out the worst in people some times. But at no time should your body painter waiver in their professionalism or behave inappropriately. If they say or do something inappropriate, speak up! They may not realise that their behaviour is affecting you. And if they continue to behave that way even though you’ve spoken up, you need to get yourself away from them! It’s not cool.

Be respectful of your artist

I’ve witnessed models telling their artists what to do and when to do it. Or pointing out tiny flaws that don’t really matter in the context of the whole piece. Or casting negative judgement on the art work when the artist is not even an hour into it. Or telling the artist they’re painting wrong, or that they just don’t like what they’re painting. I’ve heard a model tell their artist that they aren’t a very good artist. Wow. This is really not nice, guys. Don’t be that person!

If you’ve done your research on your artist, you’ll have seen where their skill level is at and what their style is. If you like their work and like their style, then trust that they’ll do their best to make you look awesome.

By the time a model enters the picture, they haven’t seen the hours of research, planning, preparation and fabrication that the body artist has already done to get to this point in the process. Some creations are so complex they take months of work. Hundreds of hours. Your artist will have a whole process planned out that they’re desperately trying to achieve in time, and if they don’t – they’re probably desperately trying to problem-solve on the fly. Suggestions from someone else at this final step of the process are really not helpful. At best, they’ll be annoyed at you and keep going. At worst, they’ll totally breakdown and the piece will be a failure. Then everyone loses. Just trust that your artist will do their best, be nice and supportive, and let them do what they came to do.

As an extension to this, do take into account how much time and money your artist has put into this creation. All body art is a collaboration between the artist, model and photographer. Everyone is vital in this mix. Because of this, everyone deserves to be credited. Everyone involved should make the effort to list all credits wherever any images are shared. But please bear in mind that the body artist is usually the person who has created the concept, done all the research and planning, and coordinated the entire shoot for mutual benefit. It’s their vision that you are bringing to life with your mad modelling skills. You are an important part of that, but it is still their vision. So be respectful of their artistic choices, and don’t be upset if they get a higher level of credit than you in certain situations. For example, if the art work gets published in a magazine, don’t expect your name to be in the headline. If you add up all the hours each person has worked on the project and worked out the ratios, you might give your artist that small concession.

Be respectful of your environment

You are covered in highly pigmented makeup from head to toe. Yep – it can stain some surfaces! Please don’t lean against walls, or sit on a chair without laying down a barrier first. And if you make a mess, please wipe up after yourself. This particularly applies after you use a shower, or the toilet. Nobody wants to sit on your bright blue bum-prints!

Make a body art modelling kit

Your artist will try to bring as much for you as they can, but they’re usually dragging so much equipment around (not to mention props, costuming, etc.) that they just physically can’t bring it all. A model who can look after themselves and is well prepared is an absolute life saver! Here are some things you may wish to include in your own kit that you bring to body painting sessions:

  • A light robe – for warmth and to walk through public areas if necessary
  • Thongs – to wear while being painted. This takes the pressure off your legs on hard floors.
  • Microfibre underwear – that are OK t o be painted over
  • Hot water bottle – to hug when you get cold
  • Socks and a beanie – to help keep you warmer even if the rest of you is exposed
  • Emergency blanket – the silver mylar kind. To wrap around you when you’re too cold, or to lay on seats before sitting.
  • Snacks – to keep your energy up.
  • Water – to stay hydrated
  • Entertainment – podcasts, audiobooks, DVDs – anything to stop boredom and save your brain
  • Liquid soap – and lots of it, to wash away even hybrid paints
  • Moisturiser – your skin will need it after a thorough wash
  • Baby oil – helps remove any sticky residue from adhesives
  • Emergency bits – tampons, hair pins, emery board
  • Old comfy clothes to wear home if there’s no shower onsite
  • An old towel – to protect surfaces from your body paint, and to dry yourself after a shower. Every hoopy frood needs one.
Keep the stuff your artist gives you

If your artist provides you with certain reusable items like microfibre underwear, eyelashes, or contact lenses, keep them! You’ll be able to reuse them later (within expiry dates and hygiene requirements for some items like lenses), and your artist may expect you to have them at a later date for another project. It reduces the cost if you have some of these items already, so do put them in your kit.

I hope this helps you better prepare for your next body paint! Can you think of anything to add? Tell me in the comments!

With love,
Suedy xo

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