“I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.” -Vincent Van Gogh
I met Rebecca Rhodes years ago. We had met on a Facebook makeup group and became fast friends. Back then I hadn’t really done that many body paints and certainly would not have called myself a body painter but it was something that interested me. At the time I was doing a lot more fashion editorial and avant-garde looks. I don’t know that I would call myself a body painter now even, but I love challenging myself. Speaking of challenging myself around the time Rebecca and I met I was gearing up for a body paint competition so it became one of our topics of conversation. We talked about doing body paint together someday with her as my model. That led into, what would I paint. I stupidly asked what she would want to have painted on her body and without much hesitation she said “Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh.
“Van Gogh has been an inspiration to me since I was little. In the art room of my grade school we had a replica of starry night painted on one of our walls that was done by past students and art teachers. I used to stare at that mural all day.
Years later I got to see starry night in person and I remember sitting in the MOMA staring at the painting in complete awe. It was beautiful and precise yet so haphazardly painted it was amazing. So when I met Matt a few years ago and he told me that he was interested in body paint I told him I wanted to be painted like Van Gogh's masterpiece.” –Rebecca Rhodes
When I am asked who my favorite artist is I can never name just one. Even though I have so many I draw inspiration from I always say three names; Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell and Vincent Van Gogh. They are all very different artists but I like them all. When Rebecca mentioned “Starry Night”, on the outside I confidently said yes but inside it scared the hell out of me. “Starry Night” is one of the most famous and recognizable paintings in history, which is a master-work by one the greatest artists to ever hold a paintbrush. The idea of having to paint that on a curved body was scary enough. Then add in a heavy time constraint seeing as how you can’t have a model stand for days on end sounded daunting. I remained confident outwardly and put the idea on the back burner.
Since then Rebecca and I have become very close and have a great working relationship. We have also done quite a few body paints together since we talked about the Starry Night years ago. Not to say Starry Night hadn’t been brought up over the years, mainly by her but we never planned it out. This time of year I am working at the Devil’s Attic ( http://thedevilsattic.com ) as the Makeup SFX manager where Rebecca is also doing makeup with our two other amazing artists Mary Proctor and Phoebe Conrad. I love our team and we have become a family. I enjoy doing the makeups at the haunt and we all try to put as much of a personal signature on the characters as we can. Throughout the week I miss my creative outlet so I told Rebecca I wanted to do body paint but I didn’t really have any ideas. “Well, we never did do Starry Night” She said.
“It took three years of talking about it but we finally decided that it was time.” –Rebecca Rhodes
“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.” -Vincent Van Gogh
I knew Starry Night would come back around and I also knew I couldn’t back away from it any longer so I agreed. Rebecca is a great makeup artist herself so I suggested we collaborate. I would do the body paint and she would do the face makeup. Our mutual friend Danny Alexander also agreed to photograph the body paint. I knew he was the guy to capture this look. I have recently been doing a lot of super hero body paints which consist of very hard and graphic lines. With “super suits” there is not a lot of room for artistic interpretation. Everything has to be very tight and precise and lots of airbrushing details. With Van Gogh as scary as it was I thought it may be nice to do something a bit more loosely and free form. Me being the idiot I am I spouted off, “Why not do “Starry Night” on the front, “Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette” on the back, and the “Sunflowers” on the butt and back of legs?”
“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” -Vincent Van Gogh
As we got closer to the day I was seriously reconsidering my idea of doing three paintings on one body in one day. She said she could and was willing to stand that long but I did not want to do that to her. The Skull is one of my favorite Van Gogh Pieces but I was willing to sacrifice it for the sake of time. I merely suggested the sunflowers because I thought they would fit well. Starting painting at noon knowing our amazing photographer and friend Danny ( https://dannyalexanderphoto.com/ ) would be there at 4pm. That gave us 4 hours not only for the body paint, but for the beauty makeup as well. I really wanted to do the Smoking Skull but only if I had enough time.
Of Course Van Gogh never used an airbrush so I knew I wasn’t going to be using that. Not only that, but his paintings are known for their very heavy and chunky brush strokes. I wouldn’t be able to get my paint as thick as his because body paint has a tendency to crack if you get it too heavy. Using nothing but airbrush at the haunt (which I love) I knew using nothing but brush strokes would be a nice break.
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” -Vincent Van Gogh
I started by blocking out a light blue for the sky. It looks to me like he started with a darker color and layered on top. I had a feeling starting with black or something darker may cause the paint to mix and get muddy. I knew I would later be using different darker blues and black to build up depth so I knew the lighter base would give the look I wanted. I was going to go color by color. Starting with the lighter colors for the most part and working my way up to the darks. “Starry Night” is a horizontal painting, so I knew going in that I was going to have to change some things working on a slender vertical body. I decided to omit the houses and buildings in the village. When I think of “Starry Night” I can’t recall ever thinking about the buildings. I knew I couldn’t hit every detail so I decided to put my efforts into areas that would make it as recognizable as possible. Color by color it started to come together, and a lot faster than I expected.
“If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” -Vincent Van Gogh
I was very happy with the way that Starry Night turned out and given the time I thought I would give “Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette” a shot on Rebecca’s back. In Rebecca’s words, “We decided that we would also add a second painting done by Van Gogh in order to make the most of the experience. The Skull Smoking a Burning Cigarette was a painting I hadn’t been super familiar with but I saw it and knew it was perfect.” I didn’t have the correct color pallet but I thought I could get pretty close and if it looked terrible we just wouldn’t photograph it. Same as before I started with the lighter colors and worked my way up. I blobbed the basic shape of the Skull on first. I wanted it to take up most of her back. In doing so I didn’t leave myself a lot of room to do the sternum and ribs. Normally the last color I paint is black because it will cover anything but putting in the pops of white highlight at the end was the way to go with this piece. I tried to add in some of the paintings imperfections too because they are some of the things I love about it: Imperfections like the stray brush stroke on the back of the skull, and how the paint is a bit fuzzy on the top of the head. I spatter painted on some yellow to give the idea of some of the bare canvas showing through.
Danny as always was able to photograph the pieces and Rebecca’s makeup and makes us look good. My “Starry Night” is not perfect but I think when people see it they will know exactly what it is. Rebecca’s beauty makeup matches the painting and over all feel of the body paint perfectly while still staying within her own style.
My version of “Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette” is far From perfect. Luckily it’s not one of Van Gogh’s more famous pieces or the mistake would be more apparent. Looking at it now I wish I would have taken the sternum and rib cage down on her butt. One of my favorite things about the Van Gogh version though as I stated before are the imperfections and how it looks a little unfinished. It was one of his earlier pieces and just has an awesome raw feel to it. I hope I was able to capture that vibe. Van Gogh’s Original painting aside I really like my skull.
“While standing for hours isn’t my favorite thing it was so worth it. Matt did a beautiful job and I was so happy with it.
Danny also did a fantastic job when it came time to bringing these photos to life. The way he helped me to pose brought out the shape of the paint beautifully and I’m so happy he was willing to shoot this.
All in all I’m so happy I finally got to do this and I’m really happy I got to be a part of the creative process.” –Rebecca Rhodes
I am so happy we were finally able to do this painting. It’s always good working with Rebecca and the fact that we were able to collaborate made it that much better. I cannot thank Danny enough for always coming through and making me look good. I love the way this turned out and couldn’t be more proud. Until Next time!
“One must work and dare if one really wants to live.” -Vincent Van Gogh