Wednesday, 27 February 2019 14:31

Human Canvas: The story of a West Michigan bodypainter

Written by  John Kissane
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A pregnant woman looks down at her belly, on which a cresting wave curls around a low sun. The blue of the water is beautiful, dark and deep, and tipped with white; from the sun a peaceful orange radiates into the sky. Her breasts, too, are water and sky. One wave rises to cover nearly half her face. The rest of her is a light purple: face, arms, and hands, both of which cradle her life-nurturing belly.

Liz Snyder needed money. A single mother, newly divorced, she cast around for options. She came across body painting at an Art Hop event. "You could do this," a friend nudged.

Snyder disagreed. ¨Who am I going to say, ‘Hey, come get naked so I can paint you’ to?¨

But in the end, she decided to give it a shot. There was no formal training; she watched YouTube videos, learning what to buy and how to apply it. Soon afterward, a good friend (and one of only two men she’s body painted) gamely shaved his legs and let her give him the illusion of jeans. The illusion wasn’t perfect; she was still learning. The paint flaked in spots. Still, looking at her handiwork in her friend’s apartment, she knew she had done pretty well.

“I looked back and said, ‘I can make money doing this,’” Snyder said.

She took a desk job during the week and did body painting on the weekend in a tiny Kalamazoo studio, learning her craft. Photographers, mostly men, would choose the models, mostly women. Snyder would set up and get ready, waiting for the models to arrive. Some would disrobe, modestly, in the bathroom; others would undrape their canvases there in the open. Either way, she was ready to paint.

Artist, photographer, model: each offers something unique, and, at times, each is most valuable. At times, the photographers are so good that models pay to be shot by them. At other times, the models are good enough to command the fee themselves. Some have gone on to national recognition. At other times, the artist is the dominant partner, the one the others are thrilled to work with. At times, that artist was Liz Snyder.

Still, a few years ago, she found herself getting burned out. ¨As much as I love bodypainting, I knew I couldn’t make it my full-time career,” she said.
And there was the reality of painting real bodies. (“I’ve had so many girls start their periods while I was painting them,’ she said, more amused than anything). More than anything else, she had stopped finding the joy in it; too many requests forced her hand instead of freeing it.

She put it aside for a while. There were other artists; bodypainting was becoming more and more mainstream (see for example, the TV show Skin Wars). She could concentrate on other things (even now, her studio, Seamless Artistry, offers more than just body painting: henna, tattooing, wall murals and more).

But in time she found she missed body painting. Taking it up again, she found it to be once again creatively and artistically satisfying. She can see the gulf in confidence and technique between where she started and where she is now. Bodypainting is not her world, not her career, and not her only hobby. But it is work she enjoys again, and work that she is proud of.


A woman looks to her right. There is something of the superhero about her: her blown-back hair, perhaps, or her hands on her hips. Clad in paint and earrings, she looks utterly dressed; her suit is sleek, form-fitting, and modern: armor for the boardroom. See the lines of her pockets, or what could be pockets, what counterfeits them. This is power.

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