Do you hear the term face painting and what comes to mind? Pictures of tiger stripes slapped on schoolchildren’s faces? Small flowers delicately hung on little girls at princess parties? Well think again.
A group of dedicated body artists have now taken the term to a whole new level – painting head-to-toe models like psychedelic snakes, mystical mermaids, and super spooky skeletons.
Welcome to the UK Face and Body Art Convention, where rock stars from a booming global industry have descended on the Midlands to showcase their stunning creations. It is the biggest event of its kind in the UK.
Artists and enthusiasts traveled from faraway destinations like America, Norway and Italy to participate. From colorful paint palettes to prosthetic fins and seashells, an array of designs came to life in live demonstrations.
The event is the brainchild of Rosemary Watson, who started her own Rainbow Faces makeup business in Newport about 20 years ago.
âI started out as an individual team throwing parties and it grew from there,â Rosemary said. “We do event management and this convention is something we started about 12 years ago. It’s so big we thought we were bringing it here.”
People are in awe from the moment they arrive at the convention in Dudley, with models already posing for artists like a human canvas. Each convention is thematic and this year the artists have been tasked with diving under the sea for inspiration.
Rainbow Faces’ Heather Shuker said she was happy with the turnout.
âIt’s inspiring for me because I love to come and admire the artwork. It’s like a big makeup family,â she said.
Many models sit still for up to eight hours during a session while artists work on creating their masterpieces.
The industry has been bolstered by the explosion of organized competitions where artists test their skills against others to present their work to judges.
Artist Yvonne Zonnenberg, originally from South Africa but now living in Holland, regularly attends exhibitions and makeup shows in the UK.
The 49-year-old regularly receives orders from advertising agencies and attends various competitive shows, including the World Body Painting Festival.
âI’ve been painting for about five years. I was a makeup artist and hairdresser, but also a canvas artist before I got into body art,â she said.
“It’s basically an incorporation of the two art forms that I was previously in and I love it.”
Model Laura Draycon posed for Yvonne who created a mermaid design with starfish and seaweed
Yvonne added: “I think of the body as a canvas and I’m interested in how you use the shape of the body to create your piece. Your art comes to life. My canvas really moves.”
Laura, 31, from Cambridge, has just completed a course in 3D crafts and design at the University of Essex creating ceramic artwork.
âI’ve been a model for about a year and fell into it after researching my degree,â she said.
âI went to a show and I thought wow. I love the modeling side. It’s a transformation. It’s fascinating to watch artists work and then portray him as a model.
“You can be a different person. I am painted in a different character.”
Meanwhile, there was a long line of dedicated fans lining up for one of the biggest names in the business to comb them with his signature style.
Dutch American Bihary from Seattle rose to fame on the American reality show Skin Wars and is a household name in the industry.
But the 41-year-old is keen to mentor and nurture emerging talents by traveling the world to lead seminars and conferences.
âI used to illustrate comics. But I found myself unemployed one day and my wife offered to do makeup at an event and I just left from there.
âIt can be very lucrative. I went online and realized how massive an industry it was and it was just for me with the styles and designs I wanted to paint.
“I find it fun and fulfilling and all of it naturally led me to teach.”
Among her fans is Debra Mills who bought tickets to the show and traveled from London just to catch a glimpse of Dutch – and ended up having an android’s arm painted for good measure.
âIt’s great. Dutch is like a rock star in the industry. I’m a great Dutch fan and when I knew he was heard I had to come. I came to the show ago two years as a novice artist and then I ‘got hooked,’ she said.
Simon Phillips, 25 from Donnington, Telford, was persuaded to come to the show by Rosemary’s daughter, Simon’s girlfriend Nichola Jones.
He had had fun having a fish painted on his chest. âIt’s a little weird at first, but I love it now and I like coming back to the events,â he said.
And in every conference room, there were bigger, brighter designs to check out.
Cat Finlayson is a schoolteacher turned makeup artist and now teaches body art lessons, while representing the UK at the world championships this year.
Her model Denise Vivienne Denis, of Yardley, Birmingham, has been transformed with almost coral features and colors ranging from aqua blues to fiery reds.
A lot of the designs aren’t for the faint of heart with almost completely nude models.
But Denise says she had no qualms because the designs were tastefully created.
âAs a model anyway, I was already used to a certain level of undressing,â she said.
“The illusion is that we are wearing clothes and as soon as you put the paint on, it is like we are dressed. It’s beautiful to see the end result.”
She posed with her fellow body art model Liesl Despy from Selly Oak. Artist Matteo Arfanotti, originally from Tuscany, had transformed her into an underwater monster.
Another of Redditch’s artists based in Helen Elvins, who runs her Faces Unlimited business while working the day as a clinical hypnotherapist.
Her career has seen her land impressive commissions, including creating Golden Girls and painting a Daniel Craig lookalike for the James Bond movie premiere Skyfall.
She was named Elite Body Painter of the Year in 2012 and transformed model Claire Hindle, from Bristol, into a mermaid-like creature for the show.
âFortunately, I was familiar with the concept for this year’s show two years ago, so we had some time to figure out what to do. It usually takes about a month from conception. I went to places like a rag market to find additional items for the designs. are shells in the waistband and around the hip. I created the skirt myself.
“I also like working with glitter. This design took about eight hours. It’s also physically demanding on the artist.”