The Time I Painted a Person: DIY Body Painting

Recipes and Tutorials

Anatomy and Physiology final project: adventure style. I used Walmart face paints to create a life-sized muscle diagram.

I took Human Anatomy and Physiology my senior year of high school. After struggling through Biology and AP Chemistry, I was so ready for a science that actually made sense to me. Body systems, muscles, nerves. I could understand that stuff. Plus, the functioning of the human body has always fascinated me. I was a dancer for 12 years, so I was always very aware of how my body exists and moves. This class was right up my alley. The final project? Even more so.

All year, even before I’d found out the parameters of the final project, I had a solid idea in mind. When it came time to execute it, I was ready. The finished product was so vivid in my mind that I barely stopped to consider that I may have overestimated my artistic abilities. Instead, I gathered up makeup wipes, paper towels, paintbrushes, and box of face paint, and met up with my model.

I planned to create a real-life version of those body system diagrams. The ones that have a photograph of a person or animal but a section of the skin is missing so you can see an illustration of the veins/muscles/digestive system. Like this:

Related image

The sort of thing you’d see hanging up in a science classroom, only way, way cooler because I was going to put it in the context of one of the coolest sports/art forms known to mankind: dance.

Enter my beautiful friend Sarah. Not only is Sarah a terrific dancer and a lovely person who never laughed at me in ballet class even when I completed combinations like a rhythmless rag doll, but she’s also always willing to take part in my, uh, interesting projects. So brave. When I told her I wanted to paint muscles on her body which would maybe stain her skin red for several days, she didn’t hesitate and sacrificed an entire spring break afternoon for it. Thankyouthankyouthankyou Sarah.

When we met up at a local park, I’d already practiced my paintings on my dad and my sister. I planned to paint the muscles of the upper arm, calf, upper back, and quadriceps. I knew I could do it, but that it would a)take time and patience, b) look better from afar. Sarah wore a leotard with an open back to make painting easier and minimize any damage to her clothing. While painting her back, I made sure to tuck paper towels into the band at the top to make sure no paint got on her favorite leotard.

Using these face paints, which I got at Walmart for $9.99, I started with a base coat of a reddish color, leaving some areas mostly clean, and then layered on white highlights and darker red and black shadows loosely based off of these diagrams:

Image result for calf muscle diagram      Image result for back muscle diagramRelated image

Once, I applied too much dark paint and had to completely start over, but for the most part, the paint is very forgiving and can be manipulated even when many layers have been applied.

When all the painting was done, we found a nice spot for picture taking. There were a few specific poses I wanted to see, but for the most part, I encourages Sarah to improvise, and I’m very happy with the results:

I had so much fun doing this, and I think there’s so many possibilities when it comes to body painting, so I hope to create a more detailed tutorial soon!

For now…

The Takeaway:

This project requires 2 very patient people: the artist (I use this word loosely- this requires little artistic skill) , because she’ll have to trust that the pink mess she’s painted will eventually (after much layering, highlighting, and contouring) look like vivid human muscles, and the model, because she’ll need to stay still first for the long painting process, and then for the photos, and because the paint (red especially) requires quite a bit of scrubbing to take off. But if these individuals are willing, the results are stunning, even for someone with very little painting experience. If you can loosely replicate light-and-dark patterns, you can paint muscles.



Warn your model that he/she will be waiting around for a while: She/he may want to make sure to have a full phone battery, a book, or a willingness for conversation during those long stretches of painting.

You’ll need close to an entire pack of makeup wipes: You could use baby oil or regular liquid makeup remover, but that gets messy, especially when you’re trying to get the paint off of someone else. I used makeup wipes, then some wet paper towels, but Sarah was still left with a tint that looked like sicked sunburn.

Bring a towel to protect your/your model’s car seat: Especially if you paint his/her back. Flip flops might also be a good idea. The makeup wipes and water get most of the paint off, but since it doesn’t really dry,  staining is still a potential problem until serious scrubbing occurs.

Paint works best in areas of little to no hair: This probably wouldn’t be a problem for most female models; The little bit of hair on the back and arms isn’t a problem, and she’d shaved her legs. I practiced the calf painting on my dad though, and it was much more difficult and much less vibrant.

Practice first: Whether on yourself or another willing soul, try out your painting before you make a rookie mistake on your model and cost him/her lots of extra time.

My Experience with DIY Body Painting Art


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