Thursday, August 2, 2012

Body artist, Shannon Holt, on painting a living canvas

Posted By on Thu, Aug 2, 2012 at 10:33 AM
  • Ryder Gledhill
Body art is an intimate merger of flesh and paint, an overlapping of two-dimensional designs on three-dimensional surfaces, a unification of an artist’s vision with a model's body. And, like so many beautiful unions, body painting is fleeting, lasting for little more than a night.

Trained as a traditional painter, Shannon Holt of Bombshell Body Art, started bringing her paintings to life by applying them to human canvases. In doing so, she conceals, accents, ornaments, beautifies, camouflages, comments on, and above all, changes our perception of the human form. Holt's work will be showcased this weekend at The Art of Kink show, during Fetish Con.

How does one get into body painting?

There are tons of classes one can take, from reputable body painters. I do one-on-one instruction, where my student can paint right from my kit. If someone has a desire to try, I encourage them. True body painters use professional grade theatrical makeups, which are made for use on the skin. The products are expensive, but I respect my models. I would never paint them with acrylics, which contain multiple carcinogens, and can cause serious medical problems. The way that I got started body painting was through a conceptual art piece involving body painting and photography. I did a series of painted orchids on women’s bodies. After that, I proclaimed myself a body painter and set up my first hired gig at a high-end nudist resort.

What is the most challenging thing about using a human body as a canvas?

The most challenging thing about using the human form as a canvas for me is composition. The body has curves, and I have to consider the individual to create the most flattering paint job for that model’s shape. I rely largely on improvisation to create a fresh composition which also has balance.
What is the strangest thing you have painted on a pregnant woman’s stomach?

I painted a pregnant woman with a Red Riding Hood theme. I painted a very non-traditional belly painting, of a snarling wolf. I costumed her in a red velvet hood and she used a woodsman’s axe as a prop.

Have you ever done a piece that overlaps onto multiple bodies?

I painted a Dia de los Muertos themed body painting, on two models for an October calendar photo shoot. The models smooshed their bodies together and held each other, so I could paint an anatomical heart between them. The idea was “two lovers share one heart.” It was difficult, for everyone. The pose was challenging for the models, and I was shaking because I had to be super speedy. The photographer also had to shoot the angle just right to be able to “see” the image. I would like to do another multiple body paint job again. This time, I would have models lying horizontally in a stacked position for a landscape effect.

Describe your most challenging body painting experience? Were your models pouring sweat in Key West during Fantasy Fest?

My most challenging body paint experiences stem from troubles with other body painters. It is my experience that because body painting is so specialized; it is a super cut throat business. I have had to cut out painters I regarded as life friends to preserve my confidence in my own work and keep going on my own path. It's way worse dealing with the aftermath of industry gossip, than it is to deal with someone who is too sweaty, too forward, or too tipsy.

What is the difference between fine art and body art?

They are one and the same in terms of the age-old question, “what defines fine art?” In consciousness, though I find they are different. When I make my 2-D paintings, I am connecting that creative part of myself, and I lose myself in that artwork. It is purely instinctive, where I dive inward to create the work and use imagery that attracts me and make marks that feel right. I don’t necessarily have a goal that I am painting to, I only follow the path, unearthing truths and awakening myself as I paint. When I am body painting, I am connecting with my model. It is like a dance or a partnership. Every action has a reaction. I am constantly aware of my brush, which is an extension of my hand, touching this warm breathing, moving, vulnerable being, who is lending themselves so that I may share my artwork physically on top of their bare skin.
The chemistry between the artist and the model is supremely important. You have to ask them to twist, turn, and bend to body paint them. My paint job depends on the models’ compliance and open nature, as well as positive energy. I find that once my model has accumulated the bravery to be painted, it is very easy for both of us to accomplish the art together. But it is a joint effort, and I can only paint the willing.

What is your dream as a body painter? A coffee table book featuring your work? To paint models at the annual Midsummer Night’s dream party at the Playboy mansion?

I keep getting better and better at body painting. Each creative gig is a new challenge that I truly nail as hard as I can. I paint to win. I think it is totally possible to achieve my dreams as a body painter, which are to get more exclusive or work in international gigs, continue to have thrilled clients, to be respected and loved in the body art community, and put my sweet mother in a deluxe tropical condo which is purchased in full with this, “money of sin and abandonment.”

Have you noticed a difference in what you are requested to paint at an event like Fetish Con, which has a focus on erotica, versus an exhibit where art is the focus?

Everyone is an individual, and so should their paint jobs be. There is a large spectrum of events for which I paint. I paint for conservative black tie charity galas, where I paint performers; and their dance transforms my art into a spinning sea of color. I paint for White Cocktail parties, where high society ladies are adorned with rhinestones and white swirly pieces, which fit the cutouts of their dresses perfectly. I paint for high-end art events, in which the models’ body paint camouflages them within an installation environment of large scale original paintings. I paint for the alternative lifestyle community, and the biker community, where their art is flaunted with flirtation and humor. Lastly, I paint for advertising and art photography, and every detail of the makeup is a delicate matter, which needs to be executed with distinction and drama. I am always painting different subject matter. I just challenge myself to do my best on each event.
I don’t create erotic body art. To me, painted on lingerie or painted on bondage gear isn’t erotic. The festival or convention may have an erotic theme. How the person feels with their body art experience can be perceived as erotic. The confidence a person exudes after being painted can be erotic. What the painted person does with their body art privately may be erotic, but this happens to the client across the entire spectrum of my Bombshell Body Art events. What I do is professional art making.

See Shannon Holt's work live this weekend at The Art of Kink show during Fetish Con. Checkout more of her living art pieces at and like her on Facebook at

Follow Alfie on Twitter or Facebook and email him if interested in writing about Sex & Love

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