October 20th, 2015
Paintopia is one of our favourite industry events of the year – a gathering of bodypainting talent in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, helmed by the fantastic duo of Catriona Finlayson and Jennie Roberts. Hugely talented, experienced and utterly delightful people to boot, they’re also the judges for our Professional Beauty bodypainting category. We caught up with Cat and Jennie after the Professional Beauty North competitions to talk collaborations, Paintopia and bodypainting product picks.
WP: How did you first discover your interest in bodypainting?
JR: I first encountered facepainting whilst working in entertainments for a well-known British holiday company but it wasn’t until years later I took it up seriously. After a couple of years of developing my skills and getting more and more creative it just naturally branched into bodypainting as well.
CF: I used to work at London’s Natural History Museum as a science interpreter and guide, and often worked during evening events when bodypainted statues decorated the place. I had an art degree as well, and I was fascinated by them. Years later, after a PGCE, I was a Zoo Education officer which introduced me to facepainting. I started my own business and was invited to assist then-UK Champ Bibi Freeman at the World Body Painting Festival in 2007. We came 14th, and I placed 5th in their Face Painting comp. I then won the UK Professional Face Painting title and it went from there.
WP: When did you decide you wanted to turn this into a career?
JR: I’m not sure it was ever that much of a conscious decision for bodypainting to become my career! The facepainting side of things meant I got work from children’s parties, corporate events etc., and I guess that got just gradually got busier and busier. The Paintopia festival was pretty time consuming but it was only last year when I started as the UK distributor for Cameleon bodypaint that I took the plunge and quit my day job. Oddly enough, between running the festival and distributing Cameleon it now leaves me with limited time for actual painting!
CF: My hubby got a job in Hong Kong, so it was either re-train to teach science in schools abroad or try something new. I’d been debating going full-time as a face painter anyway, so tried it for the last two months before I emigrated and it went well. In Hong Kong especially I got a lot of bodypaint and body glitter work, and I was extremely popular at shows and events. It’s like London squished into a vertical space, and because it’s so multi-cultural there was always a holiday being celebrated so I was busy!
WP: How did the two of you meet?
JR: I sent an email to Cat whilst she was living out in Hong Kong, as I knew her UK home was close to mine, and when she came back I booked a lesson with her; she was – and still is! – one of the best facepainters in the UK and I was pretty much self-taught, so I was looking to expand my skills.
CF: I’d come back to look after my gran and visit relations, attend any paint festivals. Jennie booked me on one of my trips to teach her some new things (mainly rainbow butterflies I recall!) and we really hit it off.
WP: How did the concept of Paintopia come about?
JR: I’m not 100% sure, it seems so long ago! I had held a little get-together of painters in Norfolk and enjoyed doing it, and thought I wouldn’t mind doing it again but bigger and better, and that perhaps we could add competitions to showcase how great bodyart in the UK is. I’m a dreadful over-thinker, so once I started having some thoughts about how I wanted it to be I just couldn’t stop myself. From the start it was always ambitious and far outside of my comfort zone, but somehow it worked and was a success. My friend Kerry helped me get it off the ground and although she’s no longer involved with the event she really helped to shape it.
CF: I think Jennie had heard me talk about all the industry competitions and conferences I was lucky enough to take part in or demo at, and she decided to put on her own. I do recall she hosted a ‘jam’ first, a gathering of painters in a local village hall which was fun. And I also remember that the bottle of cosmetic glue I used for my glitter demo exploded and glued the models’ clothes to her… I now use a different type!
I can remember her then talking about something bigger, longer and smarter, discussing different names and ideas. I was pretty much the practical advisor on anything paint-y and on what was already being done, and she had lots of new ideas such as the Professor’s Apprentice category. I think, in a way, it helped that she hadn’t been to any of the other events running at that point; she went her own way and many times that has worked better.
WP: What sets Paintopia apart from other bodypainting festivals/competitions?
JR: Perhaps the fact that I had never been to any other face/bodypainting event prior to setting Paintopia up means that I had a fresh approach to running the festival. I had no pre-conceived ideas of how things were expected to be – I just did what I wanted. Five years on and looking back I was clearly off my rocker!
I’m not great at taking compliments, but I do hear a lot that the atmosphere at Paintopia is what keeps a lot of people returning year on year. All the artists paint together in the marquee and everyone is really friendly. Paintopia also has a unique competition called the Professor’s Apprentice. This is where a novice painter can pair up with a pro painter and create a bodypaint together. This gives the novice painter a fun introduction to bodypainting as well as some great tips and tuition too. It sells out every single year, so early registration for those wanting an apprentice place is highly recommended.
CF: Definitely the friendliness – Jennie is fantastic and made sure she knew all the artists and models by name and face. Everyone shares and swaps and passes along forgotten things or new products to try. I think that, despite the huge mix of nationalities which attend, it is quite ‘British’. AND everyone goes nuts at the catwalks – lots of cheering, clapping to show appreciation for the models, which has not been the case at some competitions! At one event Jennie and I were at the front of a massive crowd, whooping at all of the models and getting glared at by the photographers, but the models appreciated it.
Unlike many events I have been to it is also meant to be fun – as relaxed as possible with music and food; this year there were 150+ people singing to ‘Let It Go’ on a requested Disney CD, led by bearded muscly model Dave! You don’t have to enter any of the competitions, or even paint, but if you do paint then your model can go on the catwalk at the end of the day. Many try new ideas or collaborations, and I think it’s the highest concentration of world champions and gurus that any paint-y gathering has aside from the World Championships. And the standards; every year they get higher in skills at all levels.
We also insist on proper care being taken of the model, proper underwear requirements etc. Finally, the venue – a proper permanent marquee with (hopefully) good heat and light, in a stunning hotel. It is so fab to be able to see daylight, to be able to get outside shots and not be shivering in wet tents or stuck in a windowless room.
WP: What are your kit must-haves for bodypainting?
JR: There are so many products in my kit and lots of them I think I can’t live without – things like Mouldlife AquaFix, which I use for attaching nipple covers and small prosthetic pieces. I love Royal and Langnickel kabuki brushes – both myself and Cat are not airbrush artists so we use kabuki to put on our design bases. R&L kabuki are gorgeous and soft, so the models like the feel of them as well as the fact they hold plenty of paint meaning we can cover large areas quickly. Mehron metallic powders are just fabulous; if you want something to look amazingly metallic they are my go-to.
Wolfe White and Black paints are rarer than hens teeth these days (I still have half a pot of each left) but if you can get your hands on them they are one of the best for clean, crisp linework. Cameleon Pure White and Strong Black or Black Velvet are almost as good and much easier to get. Cameleon bodypaint tends to be mostly what I use these days colour-wise for bodypainting – not just because I sell it, but because it truly is a fabulous bodypaint product. It’s water-based so removes easily. They make a soap too which you can clean your brushes with, but also your model can use it in the shower too! My favourite colours are Bollywood, Inkheart, Magic Stars, Purple Heart and Victorious.
Kryolan Fixier Spray is essential for protecting your bodypaint design for long-lasting durability, and Kryolan Fresh Scratch is my favourite fake blood! You can do so much disgusting stuff with this. I always have some cans of Kryolan coloured hair sprays in my kit too. If you haven’t got loads of time to make elaborate headpieces then you can get creative with these to finish off your design. I’ve also used them to colour shoes and clothes a few times too!
CF: As Jennie said, Kabuki brushes (but not ones for powder, they shed when used in paint), stencils, cosmetic glitters (and the fine-tipped glue applicator bottles I sell) and pretty much all the Cameleon body paint range – especially Inkheart Blue just now. And the seam-free La Senza knickers which are becoming rare since the company closed!
WP: What advice would you give to artists who are interested in face or bodypainting, but don’t know where to start?
JR: Come to Paintopia of course! But as that’s still several months away, take your time, do research and practise lots. There are amazing resources out there now thanks to the explosion of social media at our fingertips. YouTube is brilliant for tutorials as there is such a variety of levels available on it from beginners through to mind blowing transformations. The Paintopia YouTube channel is starting to add more tutorials to its library on there and we also have some very exciting collabs with some big Youtubers planned too. Instagram or Pinterest is great for image inspiration, however beware of what is photoshopped as opposed to an actual achievable look. Editing is a wonderful tool that we all use but learn to tell the difference between enhancement and recreation.
The face and bodypainting product availability has exploded in the last three years; there are so many amazing products out there so take your pick, find a willing victim or use your own face and practice! Definitely take workshops with industry experts and learn from the best so you can be the best. My recommended UK Instructors would be Cat Finlayson, Naomi Gay, Juliet Eve, Carolyn Roper, Maria Malone. If you get the chance, my recommended International Instructors are Matteo Arfanotti, Nick Wolfe, Pashur, Alex Hansen, Wiser.
CF: Absolutely, choose who you follow carefully. Yes, there are a lot of people teaching or doing tutorials online, but some of them should not be. The number of rows I’ve had with idiots using unsafe products – from nail-varnish and non-cosmetic glitters on faces, to acrylics on bodies – is insane. If you can, get along to a jam where you can usually see a range of products used by a range of artists, and get a real idea of what you would like to try. Most of the books by Illusion Magazine or the Wolfe Brothers are worth getting too.
WP: What has been your favourite project you’ve worked on and why?
JR: There have been lots so that is a really tough question! One of the things I love about what I do is the diversity that comes with it. You never know what crazy opportunity is going to come up and I am extremely fortunate that I have met and got to work with some incredibly talented people. On a personal level I have painted at a couple of film premieres which was pretty amazing, and I once spent a whole week painting faces on a ferry which left me with sea legs for four days once back on land!
Paintopia-wise, having Kryolan UK host a pre-Paintopia event in their Covent Garden store last year was just amazing. To see bodypaint models as their window display for the evening was so surreal and I couldn’t stop looking at them! There was a lot of team work involved in that and I am hugely grateful to everyone involved.
CF: Oooooh, there really are so many. Each time it’s fun and it’s as much about the people involved as much as the end photos! From placing in the finals of the World Championships, with my dream team of Jennie as assistant & Laurence Caird as model, to winning Art Couture Painswick on Laurence, to seeing the creative blossomings in student work at college and events we demo or judge at like Professional Beauty…. I love them all!
WP: The theme for Paintopia 2016 is ‘Urban Jungle’ – what are you looking forward to seeing?
JR: Lots of colour and creativity! I wanted a theme a little more organic than we have had in previous years, but wasn’t comfortable with it being just ‘jungle’ as that is so dull! After some brainstorming with Cat she suggested the Urban prefix, and boom! We loved it especially after we created the UV promo paint for the theme launch. It’s a very broad theme so it’s exciting as we should get to see a very wide variety of interpretations of it.
CF: Everything! From one phrase you always get such a wide range of styles and ideas, it’s fascinating. Jennie is also introducing a UV Jam in 2016 and that is something I want to do more of – I get a lot of UV club bookings but they are fast and furious, and not full-body.
WP: What does the rest of 2015 hold for you? What are you working on?
JR: Cat and myself are always working on things, usually Paintopia-related like promos for the festival. We created a twisted fairytale version of Snow White (#snowfright) for our presentation on the Warpaint Magazine stage in Manchester and loved her so much that we decided to make a Death of Disney series. So far, besides Snow, we have created Tinkerbell (#drinkabell) and we have plans to create The Little Mermaid (#Scariel) live at Neill Gorton’s Prosthetics Event in November.
CF: I love darker but still colourful and pretty paints, and used to scare myself reading the real fairytales as a kid, so we are having fun with that. We recently painted a local TV presenter into a retro Norwich FC kit!
JR: We’re also working hard on the Paintopia YouTube channel, and following the success of our gold bodypaint tutorial we’ll be creating more tutorials soon. Besides all that there is of course the festival to get organise with my fantastic crew so I had better get back to it!