March 25th, 2015
Back in 2005 we met with a young, up-and-coming artist called Carolyn Roper, who has gone on to become one of the best bodypainters in the business. When the uninitiated think of bodypainting, many of them think of the camouflage bodyart which has become hugely popular for brands to use as part of marketing or advert campaigns over the last few years. We, of course, see these creations as more than just the spectacle they are created for – appreciating the art and the craft that goes into them. Carolyn is a pro at illusionary art, so we couldn’t wait to find out how she’s been doing and how she has developed her magic touch.
WP: Were you an artistic child? Do you enjoy other mediums of art?
CR: Yes, I’ve always loved drawing, painting and anything craft related. My mother has always painted, so there were lots of canvasses and paints to play with when I was growing up!
WP: Why bodypainting? What attracted you to try it?
CR: Like many other people I was amazed by the image of Demi Moore in her bodypainted suit; that was what sparked my interest in body art and I was keen to try it. When I enrolled at West Thames College to start my HND in Specialist Hair and Make-up, body painting was one of the modules and I really enjoyed the classes. Then I saw an advert for what was then the “European Bodypainting Festival” in Austria. I had never done a full body paint before, but I persuaded my sister to model for me and so I turned up in Austria with a few paints, a few ideas in my head, and just hoped that I would manage to finish in the six hours! I had no assistant and literally made the design up as I went along. When the results were announced I finished in 17th place out of more than 50 competitors, which was amazing. The people that I met – the other artists, photographers, organisers – were all brilliant and so supportive, and I came home completely hooked.
The following year I competed at Olympia representing West Thames College with only my third body paint. The theme was The Wizard of Oz and my scarecrow design finished in first place. I also won the college trophy for West Thames, as the entry with the highest overall points in the competition. I just felt that this was something that I had a natural talent for and decided to pursue it as a career, along with my make-up work.
WP: What was your first solo project?
CR: My first big solo project was in June 2004, working with the late great Storm Thorgerson. I painted a model for the CD cover for the band Deepest Blue. We were on location, and I had to paint the model in the back of a van on a beach!
WP: You’re very skilled in camouflage bodypainting; what first drew you to this? Do you have any advice on how to hone these particular skills?
CR: I didn’t actively look for camouflage projects and am self- taught in this aspect of body art. A client approached me with an idea for a publicity shoot, so I had to work out how to achieve the illusion that was required. The biggest problem with camouflage work, as it is with most commercial body paint projects, is time – or lack of it. Depending on the background the painting can take several hours to achieve a perfect result, but I often arrive at the location to find that I’ve only got two or three hours to complete the painting. I’m a perfectionist and it’s always a race against the clock to achieve the finish that I’m happy with.
Working in situ is the easiest way to get a model to successfully blend in to a background. Clients often ask if I can paint the model in a separate location using photos as a reference, but I always insist on using the actual location. I would recommend that you to try and get the maximum amount of time to complete the painting. Camouflage work can be very tricky depending on the complexity of the background.
WP: Imagine you’re helping a new artist curate their kit – what are their essentials? Which brands/products should they look out for?
CR: Paints and brushes can be very personal to an artist. What one person loves, another might find difficult to work with. Personally, I prefer to use Paradise Make-up AQ by Mehron and also MistFX by Mistair. I also like Amerikan Body Art’s Liquid Bling and Kryolan’s Polyester Glimmer. My advice would be to try as many different products as possible so that you can find the ones that suit your style.
WP: Models are obviously key for bodypainting – what makes a good one, from an artist’s point of view?
CR: A good model is one who is friendly and has the ability to stand very still for long periods of time without moving. Some models don’t eat before the shoot and this can lead to problems with nausea, dizziness and even fainting. So I always have glucose tablets, drinks and snacks in my kit. Look after your model!
WP: Favourite projects you’ve worked on?
CR: Every project that I worked on with Storm Thorgerson was marvellous. His imagination and unique way of working pushed me further than anyone to do my best. I really miss his friendship and off-the-wall sense of humour. Obviously working on the Hollywood movie Dumb and Dumber To was incredible and a real highlight of my career, not only because it gave me the experience of working on a major film set, but everyone involved with the film was extremely nice, which made my job even more enjoyable. I painted the American actor Rob Riggle and he was an absolute delight to work with. It was really nice to meet up with him again at the premiere of the film in Hollywood last November.
WP: Tell us about the World Bodypainting Festival. How does it feel to compete, and win?
CR: The World Bodypainting Festival is an amazing event, and if you’re a body artist and you’ve never been, it should definitely be on your wish list. I’ve been nine times since 2003. I’ve competed, judged and also taught at the Academy. I won for the first time in 2007 in the Brush and Sponge category with my great friend and fellow artist Carly Utting. In 2009 I also won when I entered the Special Effects category with my assistant Paula Southern.
Competing is an incredibly stressful experience. The six hours that you’re allowed for the painting are the fastest of your life. Time just flies by. Then you have to line up for the judge’s tent, and then there’s the anxious wait for the results. But hearing your name announced as the winner is just unbelievable.
I was a judge myself for the first time in 2008 and then again in 2014. You see the festival from a very different perspective; you really feel for the artists, particularly the ones that you can tell have put their heart and soul into their designs. It can be very emotional. The festival has grown beyond all recognition since I first went in 2003. There are numerous different categories now and a wide range of classes held at the World Bodypainting Academy. It’s an amazing, vivid, colourful experience and a wonderful chance to meet up with other artists from all around the world.
WP: You’ve worked on a huge range on projects and media – is there anything you’d still like to do?
CR: In the future I want to be able to spend more time working on fine art prints and also developing my work in other media, such as pencil work and painting on canvas.
WP: What advice do you have for freelancers and newbies to the industry?
CR: Know your own worth and recognise that you have a skill – don’t work for free for clients you know should be paying. And don’t give away yourself for peanuts. It’s the only way this industry is going to survive and people can continue to earn a living from it. Use the many festivals around the country, and around the globe, to build up your skills, portfolio and to get to know the other artists out there.