How Body Painting Works

By: Melanie Radzicki McManus

How Can I Become A Body Painter?

An artist uses an airbrush pistol to paint a model at the World Bodypainting Festival.
An artist uses an airbrush pistol to paint a model at the World Bodypainting Festival.
Mathias Kniepeiss/Getty Images

The good news is there are no extensive educational requirements for body painters. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 95 percent of body paint artists haven't gone to college, although 45 percent of those people do have a certificate from completing some type of training program. Many also receive on-the-job experience [source: Inside Jobs].

While there are no set requirements for who can or can't become a body painter, clearly you'll need to have a certain level of artistic ability. This level can vary quite a bit, however. If you plan on marketing yourself as a kiddie face painter for small festivals and birthday parties, you'll only need a basic level of competence; i.e., an ability to paint hearts, stars and suns. But if you're planning to paint entire bodies, which generally means you'll be painting complex patterns and designs, you'll need true artistic savvy. It also helps to be creative, as some clients will count on you to come up with ideas.


You don't need expensive equipment to do body painting. Here are some basic supplies [source: Mason].

  • Brushes; get them at an art store, not a make-up counter
  • Make-up sponges. Select different shapes and sizes. You can even use a car washing sponge to cover bigger areas.
  • Body paint
  • Rubbing alcohol for cleaning brushes and work surfaces
  • Palette; a food storage lid or paper plate will work fine
  • Squeeze bottle with water, for diluting and mixing paints

There are many types of body paint, each with their pros and cons. Water-based paints are easier to rinse off but lack staying power. Alcohol-based paints last longer but are a pain to clean off. Latex paint sets quickly but some models are allergic to it. Popular brands of body paint include Ben Nye and Kryolan. You can also use markers or regular cosmetics (like lipstick) for details [sources: Bradford, Cain].

As far as technique, some painters use airbrushing which is similar to spray painting. This can cover a large area quickly but is expensive. Others will apply the paint only using sponges and brushes. Obviously you'll want to experiment with different techniques before finding what works for you. Apply the light colors first and then move to the dark ones. Keep the design simple initially and give yourself lots of time. It can take three hours to do just a face [source: Cain].

So who hires body painters? Some publications and advertising agencies commission them for photo shoots, and movie studios often hire them to transform actors into, say, neon-green aliens. Body painters may also demonstrate their art at parties or nightclubs, and of course, do private sessions for customers.

Author's Note: How Body Painting Works

I'm quite intrigued by the body painting images I've seen while preparing this article. Many are quite masterfully done and/or very clever. Now I'd like to see a live example.

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  • Agostino, Christopher. "Is A Painted Body Naked? - Pt. 2: Painting Clothing On vs. Painting On Clothing - Demi Moore Vanity Fair." April 18, 2011. (Feb. 2, 2015)
  • Bella Volen. "Body Painting & Body Art History. (Feb. 2, 2015)
  • Cain, Robyn Hagan, "A MAC Master Spills the Secrets of Halloween Body Paint." San Francisco Racked. Oct. 8, 201 (Feb. 12, 2015).
  • Campbell, Andy. "Can You Believe This Is Body Paint?" Huffington Post. July 11, 2014. (Feb. 2, 2015)
  • Design Your Way. "The art of body painting and best 63 examples." (Feb. 2, 2015)
  • Face-Painting-Fun. "Cultural Face Painting." (Feb. 2, 2015)
  • History of Cosmetics. "Body Painting History." (Feb. 2, 2015)
  • Inside Jobs. "Body Paint Artist." (Feb. 2, 2015)
  • Mason, Kevin. "Beginners Guide to Body Painting." The Painted Body. Dec. 18, 2012. (Feb. 2, 2015)
  • Model Mayhem. "A model's guide to bodypainting." (Feb. 2, 2015)
  • Skin City. "Skin City Body Painting & Events." (Feb. 2, 2015)
  • The Pitt Rivers Museum. "Body Painting." (Feb. 2, 2015)
  • World Bodypainting Festival. "Artist Information." (Feb. 2, 2015)