Face and body painting have been a means of expression for humans for thousands of years. However, it’s only in the past century that the popularity of the stage and screen has brought the art to mainstream attention.
Face and body painting publicly evolved from more basic on-screen looks, such as the characters in The Wizard of Oz to the flawless appearance of Mystique in the X-Men franchise. On stage, it has been showcased in performances as diverse as Wicked and The Lion King to Cirque du Soleil shows and Swan Lake. Today, international museums and galleries are increasingly recognising body painting as a form of fine art.
Mona Turnbull is a professional face and body artist who is considered to be one of the best in the business. She is highly sought-after to demonstrate her skills on behalf of big brands and events like ScreenFace, Kryolan UK and IMATS London.
In addition to working on the TV series Outlander, Mona’s work reached an audience of millions at the 2018 BAFTAs. She created the body art and make-up for Cirque du Soleil’s opening performance in a tribute to the three-time BAFTA award-winning film The Shape of Water. Mona’s work has been featured in industry magazines and on billboards. She also teaches her skills to the next generation of the face and body painters at her own studio workshops and as a tutor for body-painting course at the Iver Make-Up Academy.
Considering Mona’s abundance of experience and expertise, we felt that she’s the best person to tell us about face and body painting for stage, screen and events. We caught up with Mona to gain insight on face and body painting techniques, tips, and tricks.
Mona describes face and body painting as, “a form of art, where the design is painted using cosmetics grade make-up and removed at the end of the filming session.”
For something so temporary, body painting can prove time-consuming and requires a lot of planning: “It takes a lot of time to create, including designing, prepping, executing, filming and removing make-up afterward. A full body paint could take between 2.5 and 10 hours depending on how intricate the design is and whether or not prosthetic silicone pieces are needed. You will need to add more time for prosthetics application.”
The type of paint used can differ and “comes in different forms: solid cake (activate with water), lotion and airbrush.” Paints include water-based, alcohol-based, silicone and greasepaint. According to Mona, water-based is the most popular as it is the easiest to remove – “Just jump in the shower!”
Mona suggests besides a good selection of pigmented water-based makeup you need “Clean water to activate your body paint and a good selection of brushes. For a beginner, I would recommend various sizes of round, flat, filbert and tapered brushes.” Remember your preparation and removal products. For prep, Mona recommends “moisturiser, skin barriers, and nipple covers.”
Removal products include a “hot flannel, rich moisturiser, reusable makeup remover pads and micellar water (amazing for any stubborn pigment on skin).” Another essential tool of the trade is airbrush equipment, and “last but not least, snacks and drinks for myself and my artists.”
The amount of preparation for body painting depends on the brief, but Mona generally feels that the more research you can do, the better. “Sometimes it is a more general type of brief. Other times I come in prepared with everything at hand. I do lots of research and ask lots of questions about the show and what sort of things they are looking for. Preparation and research are the keys to everything!”
The process for a specific brief involves meetings and testing the design. “First of all, I would need to meet with the Designer/Producer to discuss their requirements. Then I would start sketching and create a mood board, sending the sketch over to the Designer for any adjustment or approval. I would then create a body paint test on a model. At this stage, you might have to go back and forth a few times to adjust the design. This test shoot could happen at my home studio or the production’s studio depending on their requirements.”
When it comes to painting male and female bodies for a public demonstration the female’s breasts must be covered. Trainee body paint artists should also be aware that, “body paint won’t last longer than around 12 hours, as water-based make-up does rub off. This requires touch-ups throughout the day when filming.”
Mona states that the “health, safety and comfort of the person you paint is the key. Keep it professional but light-hearted – good vibes only.” She recommends having everything set up and ready to paint while being aware of your surroundings: “I make sure the room I paint in is warm and comfortable for my artist. I would have a heater with me just in case my artist is cold. I would provide a pair of slippers and a satin dressing gown (it causes less friction so the paint won't rub off too easily).”
Of course, she uses strictly cosmetic grade products only. She also has a great practical tip: “Do the face and hands last, so the artist can eat and wash their hands with comfort and ease.”
Anyone can become a face and body painter if they have the creativity, skills and drive. Mona enjoys painting “various styles of artwork ranging from intricate, delicate and highly detailed designs to expressive artwork. I particularly enjoy creating an oil painting effect on human skin.”
Mona has a BA in Business & Advertising Management and a background in administration work at Oxford University. She was initially self-taught in face and body art, starting with face painting for children and progressed from there.
She later trained in hair and make-up for TV and films at the Iver Make-up Academy and has never looked back. “I love body paint because it allows me to express my artistic ability through body art. I get to meet wonderful, talented people and work with many creative production companies.”