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Amazing art brought to life on human canvas

Birmingham | | Published:

You hear the term face painting and your thoughts go back to someone painting faces at the school fete.

Not models painted head-to-toe as serpents and mermaids while others strut around with skulls on their faces and special effects on their arms.

Welcome to the UK Face and Body Art Convention where the 'rock stars' of a booming global industry descended on the Black Country to showcase their stunning designs.

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It is the largest event of its kind in the UK attracting hundreds of people over the course of a weekend.

Artists and enthusiasts travelled from far-flung destinations including America, Norway and Italy to take part.

Liesl Despy from Selly Oak and artist Matteo Arfanotti from Tuscany

From paint pallets full of colour to prosthetic fins and sea-shells – an array of designs were brought to life during live demonstrations.

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The event is the brainchild of Rosemary Watson who established her own face painting company Rainbow Faces in Newport, Shropshire, around 20 years ago.

"I started out as a one-man outfit really doing parties etc and it has just grown from there," said Rosemary who is originally from Lichfield.

"We do event management and this convention is something that we started around 12 years ago but it is so big we thought we would bring it here."

Simon Phillips from Telford and artist Juliet Eve

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People stand in awe as soon as they arrive at the convention with models already posing up for artists as a human canvas.

Each convention is themed and this year artists were tasked with delving under the sea for inspiration.

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Many models stand still for up to eight hours during a session as artists work to create their masterpieces.

The industry has been buoyed by the explosion of the competitive contests set up where artists test their skills against others to showcase their work to the judges.

Model Laura Draycon from Cambridgeshire was painted by Yvonne Zonnenberg from Holland

Artist Yvonne Zonnenberg, who is originally from South Africa but now lives in Holland, regularly attends shows and face painting expos in the UK.

The 49-year-old receives regular commissions from advertising agencies and attends various competitive shows including at the World Body Painting Festival

"I have been painting for about five years. I was a make-up artist and hair stylist but also an artist on canvas before I started body art," she said.

"This is basically an incorporation of both art forms that I was in before and I love it."

Model Laura Draycon posed up for Yvonne who created a mermaid design complete with starfish and seaweed

Yvonne added: "I do think of the body as a canvas and I'm interested in how you use the shape of the body to create your piece. Your art becomes life. My canvas actually moves."

Laura, aged 31, from Cambridge, has just finished a 3D craft and design degree course at the University of Essex creating ceramic artwork.

"I have been modelling for about year and kind of fell into it after researching for my degree," she said.

"I went to a show and I just thought wow. I love the modelling side of it. It is a transformation. It is fascinating watching the artists working and then to portray it as a model.

"You can be a different person. I get painted into a different character."

Matteo Arfanottii shows off his attention to detail
Claire Hindle with artists Helen Eyre Helen Elvins

Meanwhile there was a long line of devoted fans queuing to have one of the industry's biggest names paint them with his signature style.

American Dutch Bihary, who hails from Seattle, has rise to fame on US reality talent show Skin Wars and is a household name in the industry.

But the 41-year-old is keen to tutor and nurture fledging talent by jetting around the world to host seminars and lectures.

"I used to illustrate comics. But I wound up out of a job one day and my wife volunteered me to do some face painting at an event and is just went from there.

"It can be very lucrative. I went online and realised what a massive industry it was and it was just right up my alley with the styles and the designs that I wanted to paint.

"I find it fun and fulfilling and this all naturally led me to teaching."

Among his fans is Debra Mills who bought tickets for the show and travelled up from London just to catch sight of Dutch – and ended up having an android's arm painted for good measure.

"It is brilliant. Dutch is like a rock star in the industry. I'm a super Dutch fan and when I knew he was hear I had to come. I came to the show two years ago as a novice artist and then I've got hooked on it," she said.

Simon Phillips, aged 25 from Donnington, Telford, has been persuaded to come to the show by Rosemary's daughter, Simon's girlfriend Nichola Jones.

He had got in on the fun by having fish painted on his chest. "It is a bit strange initially but I love it now and like coming down to the events," he said.

And in every room at the conference there were bigger and brighter designs for people to discover.

Cat Finlayson is a school teacher turned face painter and now teaches classes in body art – all while representing the UK at the world championships this year.

Her model Denise Vivienne Denis, from Yardley, in Birmingham, was transformed with almost coral like features and colours ranging from aqua blues to fiery reds.

Many of the creations are not for the faint hearted with the models almost fully nude.

But Denise says she had no qualms as the designs were tastefully created.

"Being a model anyway I was already used to a level of undress," she said.

"The illusion is that we are wearing clothes and as soon as you have the paint put on it is like are dressed. It is lovely to see the end result."

She posed with with fellow body art model Liesl Despy from Selly Oak. Artist Matteo Arfanotti, from Tuscany, had turned her into an underwater monster.

Claire Hindle chats to organiser Rosemary Watson from Muxton, Telford

Another of the artists in Redditch based Helen Elvins, who runs her business Faces Unlimited while working in the day as a clinical hypnotherapist.

Her career has already seen her scoop some impressive commissions including creating golden girls and painting a Daniel Craig lookalike for the premiere of James Bond film Skyfall.

She was named Elite Body Painter of the year in 2012 and transformed model Claire Hindle, from Bristol, into a mermaid-like creature for the show.

"Luckily I knew the concept for this year's show two years ago so we had a while to know what to do. It usually takes about a month from conception. I got to places like a rag market to find extra items for the designs. There are shells in the belt and around the hip. I created the skirt myself.

"I love to work with glitter too. This design took about eight hours. It is physically demanding for the artist too."

Rainbow Faces representative Heather Shuker said they were pleased with the turnout for the convention which ran from Thursday to Sunday with post-convention classes this week.

She added: "It is my first convention. I'm loving it. It is inspiring for me as I love to come and admire the artwork. It is like a big face painting family."

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