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Body painting is more cover-up than exposure

By Joel De La Rosa, CNN
  • Artists compete in 2011 North American Body Painting Championship in Texas
  • They turn human bodies into colorful canvases for prize money
  • Say their art is misunderstood and is not about nudity
  • Artists say body curves and movement are challenging

Dallas, Texas (CNN) -- Some people see body painting as semi-nudity and therefore taboo. Others see it as a form of artistic self-expression. A talented few see it as a challenge.

Artists from around the world raised their paint brushes in Dallas, Texas, recently with hopes of turning a human body into a prize-winning work of art at the 2011 North American Body Painting Championship.

A lot of brightly colored paint was sprayed or brushed on cheeks, lips, chests, backs, arm pits, legs and feet -- and even inside ears.

Each team of up to three artists -- all required to be at least 21 years of age -- worked on a human volunteer who would be turned into what looked like a fantasy creature.

Because each human body is unique, that can also influence the end product, according to veteran Canadian artist Yvonne Boyd of British Columbia. "Each person has their own unique energy and shapes. Skin textures pull out different colors in the paint," she said.

Some of the contestants have years of experience. Others like Dallas resident Brenda Brewer, a face painter on cruise ships, was body painting for the first time. "Its a form of expression but instead of using a canvas you are using a body as a canvas" Brewer says.

With a curvy and moving body, artists say it can be tough to keep the paint in place for long. "The most difficult part to paint are the crease like under the arms and neck which have a lot of movement and rubs off," said Lymari Mittot, an artist from Mexico.

Paul Malachi, a carpenter who occasionally body paints, learned a love for the art from his stepmother who is a face painter. He said body painting is growing in popularity because "its such an attractive median for the audience, artist and models that it beckons people to look and be curious."

Casey Crowell, a baker in her unpainted life, volunteered to be a model for the first time at the competition, despite the near-nudity required.

"This the best of any form of creativity you can think of," Crowell said, explaining how it also gave her body a new freedom.

"The most exposed I've ever been (before) was giving birth to my son," she said. "But yesterday I walked around Dallas in pasties and a thong."

Competition rules bar total nudity, but some artists feel that uninformed public perception of body painting gives their artwork a negative connotation.

"The misconception of body painting is that the models pose nude," said artist Amber Downs. "They wear pasties and thongs and those get painted," she explained.

Lisa Richardson, executive producer of the North American Body Painting Championship, said body painting is not something that should be kept hidden behind closed doors. "It's not taboo, it's not based on sexuality. It's art that just happens to be alive" Richardson said.

She said having your own body painted can boost your confidence. "No matter what your flaws are, paint can cover that and make you feel incredibly beautiful and make you feel strong."

At least one model agreed. "I've become more comfortable with myself. I know myself a little bit better," Crowell said.

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