Brush Stokes Magazine article on Shanghai Bodypainting Festival

This article appeared in Brush Strokes Magazine and was written by Cat Finlayson who was one of my fellow bodypainters in Shanghai, China. The article includes several of my bodypaintings from the event and gives her perspective of the bodypainting festival. The original article is on the Brush Strokes Magazine website at .

Report - Shanghai Body Painting Competition

Written by Cat Finlayson   


Put the cat out, send the kids to bed, get a cup of coffee - this is a FULL report from the Shanghai Body Painting Competition and it's going to take you quite a while to read!


Shanghai Bodypainting Festival Diary
1-8 October 2009
by Catriona Finlayson

A few months back I was checking out Fantasy Worldwide's website looking for tips on using their creams, which I wanted to try out when up popped a sign announcing the first ever body-paint fest in Shanghai, China.  I emailed asking what was happening, seeing as I'd lived in Hong Kong and been flown out to body paint in Shanghai once.  The event was to coincide with 2009 AEMI Vogue Life Festival - featuring top international balloon sculptors and street theatre artists.  I'd heard of that before as I'd tried to meet up with the clown leading the face paint teams the first year it happened in 2007.


Michael replied saying he wanted 20 bodypainters of 10 nationalities, together with an international panel of judges, and if I was interested, to send him a presentation.  on me, my past body paints, and what I would do if I was invited.  I dithered for a few days, then before I'd finished, I got an email thanking the hundreds of artists who'd applied and saying the Chinese government was making its decision.  Well, amazingly they picked me as one of the two UK reps; all expenses except paint & our time would be paid for.  I then had to explain to my hubby that I would need to desert him and the baby for a couple of weeks.  By sheer coincidence he then got asked to move back to Hong Kong to take up his old job (we'd been off for a year to have the baby and travel), and my mum volunteered to come and babysit!

Planning & Arrival

I've never had to paint 8+ competition standard bodies one after another and I have to say, the themes given did not inspire me.  Also, having to pack for a small luggage allowance when I hadn't finalised my designs, didn't know the sex, shape, or race of the bodies I'd be painting, or if my designs would be OK'd by the officials, was daunting.  How to make and take head gear to match was also a problem.  Plus UK postal strikes meant all the props & paints I'd ordered didn't arrive – no pressure at all, then!  With all that in mind, I deserted my baby, leaving him with my poor jet-lagged mum to catch a late night flight to Shanghai.

I was met at the airport after midnight, survived a scary taxi ride (and avoided the three hour jam an earlier busload of artists got stuck in) and was up again a few hours later to meet some of the artists at the breakfast buffet, looking as tired as I did after their flights.  We then had the joy of non-communication with the hotel staff.  One person kept asking for bananas and being given huge platters of watermelon.  After the third platter arrived and our banana mimes were blatantly not working and, eventually, an English-speaking waiter told us there were no bananas that day!  

We had a brief meeting in the hotel lobby.  I knew several of the artists from other festivals or had seen them instructing, or I’d met them online, like Sabine Vogel, Bella Volen, Olivier Zegers, Yolanda Bartram and Karen Mills.   But many, like Carrie Hoyle, the other UK painter, were new to me.  We ventured out en masse and were amazed to find Tesco (UK chain) supermarket nearby!  But it wasn’t like in the UK - as in selling live frogs in its meat section, and it’s really hard to tell conditioner from shampoo when every bottle in the aisle has brand names you recognise but only Chinese characters on it.  There was not much else in our area, which was mainly high-rise housing.  By dinner-time, more artists were arriving and we also had the clowns and balloonists at tables around us.  Basically every westerner in the hotel was involved with the festivals, easy to spot us!  

Great weather!

Painting Day One

The next morning, Wednesday, we artists gathered for a briefing, which had some surprises.  The main one being we had to coat the bodies in paint from neck to thigh, including the bras and pants they had to wear, in the first HOUR, before public were allowed into the park.  Models HAD to wear the full pants & bras we would be provided with; any G-strings or pasties meant instant arrest.  Also we were being watched as people, not just as artists; the hotel was a government hotel (which judging by the photos on its walls, hosted any and all events/teams that came to Shanghai) and we were counted regularly and not supposed to switch rooms, etc.  

Many internet sites were blocked by the government, including Facebook which meant withdrawal symptoms for a couple of us!  Big Brother or what?!  But, we were the first event like this ever in China, and were trying to prove it was an art form, so we were being as flexible as possible, even if painting over bras ruined some designs (and although Yolanda Bartram's 3D pasties covered decently AND added to the details, they were not yet accepted), and painting the torso completely in the first hour would totally wreck other’s designs.  

A pile of problems had to be sorted out before we could do any painting.  Two of the artists, Einat Dan and Lital Nave, went off with an interpreter to buy underwear for all the models.  Thank goodness they were there as it seems the first bras they were told to buy covered the whole torso, and would have left even less skin bare to paint than the tube bras they compromised on. And it was thought by the non-painter organisers that 1 set per model would be sufficient – it hadn’t occurred to them that the undies get stained, or covered in glued on accessories, etc.  Mario Speleman and his guide went off to see if it was possible to buy decent airbrush compressors as all the ones shipped to Shanghai had been confiscated as bombs!  Jodi Carr was trying to track down the crate of her magazines she had shipped weeks earlier to give to us, and Michael was still battling to get his box of paint prizes released from customs, as well as doing promo paints at assorted malls.   It wasn't just us.  The balloon people were surviving on leftover kit from the year before as all their balloons were stuck in either Holland or Japan.  It was a day of torrential rain.  

L: by Bella Volen and R: by Craig Tracy

We hadn't known people had to buy tickets to see us.  I'd thought we would paint in public and that the show every night in the main park was ticketed, but we were in a sort of boarded up enclosure in the park guarded by a lot of police!  Unlike Seeboden, where you share, each artist had their own tent, but most of us drew back the dividing walls so we could see each other and hopefully have the few models who spoke some English translate for the others!  The first team - one painted for the judges whilst the others painted for the public for “fun” so that 11 days of painting wouldn't kill us! - started despite the rain and lack of electricity.

The jury were Olivier Zegers (Belgium), Jodi Carr (USA), Karen Mills (UK), Yolanda Bartram (NZ), Clelia Marsadie (Canada) and Michael.  Between checking on the artists, problem solving things like missing chairs, lack of water to paint with/drink, etc, they also did some amazing stuff on the faces available, as did the 'off duty' second team.  They also handed out lovely wee bags of goodies from the sponsors - Fantasy Worldwide, Body FX (a cool pair of breast covers, yay), DFX, Jodi (ooh glitter!), etc.

L: monster by Sabine & R: flowers by Karen Mills

We were warned that due to concerns over nudity, no advertising had been allowed for us, apart from a little to those in the 'professional industry', whatever that meant. Hmmm. So it was a private festival just for us, with more artists than viewers (if you didn't count the police!).  I did find attitudes to us very different from in Hong Kong - obviously, foreigners here were more unusual, and hardly anyone spoke our languages.  But at home if they don't understand you, they try to help and will often call an English speaking friend on their phones to translate. Here they just stared like we were idiots and waved us off or ignored us - though some of us did have nice experiences with speaking-speaking locals who went out of their way to act as guides.  Even the hotel staff, when I wanted to use their email as I had the day before just looked at me blankly…

Yolanda’s fire swan

Three Dutch (including our only male, Pieter) and one American model had been flown over for the event but the rest were provided by the government from a model agency.  Many seemed very tall to me, compared to the Chinese girls I have often painted, and all were very pretty and great at posing but had never seen body painting before.  Choosing models is something I hate to do when I don't need a specific look, so that first day I asked the interpreter to ask which of the girls fancied being a fish, and the tallest stuck up her hand to tell us her English name was Octopus!  Sold!  Often, Chinese people choose an English name - I'm unclear why, maybe for when English speakers can't cope with their Chinese names?

One interpreter said she chose Daisy as hers after watching a movie from the USA.   In Hong Kong, I have met a Boot, a Shoe, a Human and even an Alien!  One problem we had was communication, as their politeness (whether ordered, misunderstood or their’s naturally) meant I was never sure if they really WERE warm enough, not needing a break, food, etc, or just nodding “no”!  And the rules on bras - the first day my girl refused to take off the black underwear she had on which was much bigger than the white items we were provided with to paint on, so she put ours on over the top.

Top: my East meets West fish
Below: Brigitte and Anita’s offerings on the theme

Ah well! That first day it just didn't stop pouring; I ended up giving Octopus my sandals as she only had posh shoes to wear which were not comfy for standing in all day, and the carpet on the raised tent floor was so saturated it was making her cold quickly.  The theme for the first round was 'Welcome to the Future, East Meets West'.  I decided, global warming = rising seas, waters meeting round the world, and a future where we'll all be relying on fish a lot more.  Hence a funky vaguely eastern art style goldfish on the front, and a Nemo on the back to represent western cartoon styles/ habitats.  Luckily I found an amazing cloth & bamboo fish kite (low weight!!!) in the local market before I left Hong Kong, so that was pinned on Octopus' head. I did glimpse others’ work but didn't always hear the reasoning behind them!  

Anita Rorije's (Netherlands) was the 2 styles of food - coke vs tea, MacDonalds vs rice; Mark Greenawalt (USA) did a great cyborg and Craig Tracy painted a striking tribal pattern; Emma Edworthy (ex-Brit now in New Zealand) a gorgeous rainbow.

Emma’s rainbow model and the model’s legs back at the hotel!

We finished a bit early due to everyone being cold, wet, and the stage show we were due to take part in each night at the main park being cancelled because of the stage being a giant waterfall.  So, some quick snapshots under the shelter of the mini temple, and the special bus arrived to take us back to the hotel.

Some of the models and the balloon show

It wasn't until this night that we realised the loooong waits for food were because the staff wouldn't start bringing out the platters for a table until every seat at it was full! This encouraged a lot more mixing between the clown/ painter/ twister groups as whoever arrived next was grabbed to fill chairs!  I then had a fabulous foot massage across the road from the hotel, with Birgit & Melanie Rodel (Swiss lady who had amused the staff by falling asleep 3 minutes into her body massage the night before and may have snored…).

Painting Day Two

The next day was beautiful; sunny and not too hot!   We opened up the tents to try to dry out the carpets and Team 2 competed. Airbrush power all came from 1 plug so was a little awkward but I think they had it working by the start.  Team 1 had a later model arrival time, so Birgit and I did a short walking tour of the area around the park. The traffic was insane; bikes and cars seemed to go whenever and wherever they wanted, despite traffic lights.  Apart from a three-storey 'Barbie' merchandise shop, we seemed to be in the zone selling incredibly OTT wedding dresses.  Wow - no wonder so many of the local models could say 'Bling Bling'!   

My art angel model on the event publicity
(she’s the blue girl on the right!)

We managed to find the small stage where the rest of the festival performed taster shows, and I realised the others were right and my “Art Angel” body that I painted on my mate Pat last year, was being used on all the huge backdrops and smaller lamp-post posters! How cool!

The “canvases” waiting for us; Anita painting one of the dancers
and Michael painted by Jodi Carr.

The mini stage was at the end of a special market mainly selling dried fish, scarves and toys, not the local 'stuff' we hoped to see, so we went back to our park to pick a model from the available people left.  Because the stage show was on that night, body models were reserved for Team 2 who were competing, and we of Team 1 were only allowed to do faces on the dancers so they could clean off quickly.  After seeing Mark's robotic bod the day before, I fancied my first go at a cyborgy thing and grabbed the lovely Leroy, one of the break dancing team.  It sort of worked - he liked it - but right at the end I realised I'd forgotten his eyebrows so it wasn't quite what I'd meant to paint!  Sabine did a gorgeous colourful half monster and Yo was creating stunning stuff all the time.

Above: Yolanda’s cyborg with prosthetics and my Leroid
Below: eye design by Yolanda and “eye” design by Mark Greenawalt!

I loved Clelias style too.  I hadn't heard of her before but she was an old school friend of Olivier's and together they had raised the art of face painting in Montreal. They did beautiful flowing blended abstracts, mainly.  After a quick photoshoot; (amongst those I liked best were Craig Tracey's tribal, Mario's kid walking on a metal grid and the collage of futuristic plants Bella did) we all piled into the special bus again (it had standing spaces unlike the normal coach we got morning & evening) and were ferried to the other park.

It was huge and far busier, with locals holding mass open air cha-cha lessons outside the gates to the boarded off area where the main festival was. Inside the large grassy space was a massive stage (with my blue angel again as a backdrop, woohoo), surrounded by stalls displaying Manga art and trinkets, and the face painting volunteers led by two American artists, Gina and Elanie. I must say, that after a look round all the art displays I was slightly confused as to why provocative poses, kinky outfits and obvious nipples were OK in a blatantly sexual manner in that art-form but even covered breasts were a problem in ours!

Face by Clelia; Emma Edworthy painting a tiger
Carrie and Filippo working on their East Meets West bodies

Team 2 were judged in the chaos behind the stage (dancers and models for the balloon dresses getting ready), then we watched as the amazing break dance boys opened the first evening show. Anita had used a prosthetic breast flower and the split cakes to do a lovely rose design on the lead flamenco dancer and she was allowed to keep it on for the performance!

Another face by Clelia; Craig Tracy photographing his model;
The models posing together

The models of Team 2 were displayed fairly early on, then tried to relax and stay warm until the end when they were back on with their artists.   In between were clowns, juggling, giant balloon sculptures and the amazing balloon dress fashion shows.  At the end we all piled on the coach home, knackered but impressed.  Pieter, painted by Filippo Ioco took his ride as usual standing at the front of the bus and really freaked out some locals, but on the whole people were fascinated.

The models onstage

I went to clean kit, and then to bed early to think of my next design (and catch up on the last year’s worth of sleep lost to the baby) but some people went out in our group, or with the other entertainers - every night!

Painting Day Three

On Saturday morning, the notice board in the hotel reception had warnings that from today, any clown makeup on towels would be charged to you, as the hotel laundry couldn't remove it.  Phew, not us with our water-based stuff then!  Though our poor models did say they were having a hard time keeping the baths clean each night after they soaked off the paints.

We went back to our wee park and found the schedule had been changed and that day would be a 'free' theme paint day.  As I'd never done full length painted jeans, and neither had Anita who was next to me, we decided we'd paint them as a matching pair as its always something photographers like to see as well as the public.  (I should maybe mention at this point that we were not exactly swamped by the public; it was just policemen, officials, and the occasional person in a suit or with a huge camera.  Checking us out, we later realised.)  

Anita’s model with Yo’s monster; me painting;
The 3 models together

So I did a pink T-shirt with my carefully researched 'Shanghai' stencil. A friend in Hong Kong had sorted through all the translations for this telling me all were wrong except one, so I cut it to make sure I got it right and didn't offend the locals by painting the symbol's strokes in the wrong order.  My lovely model, Jelly, was looking at her tummy in the mirror as I stencilled it.  When we finished, and she proudly showed it to her friend (whom Anita was painting), there was a shocked cry and much covering of mouths - of course as she'd Ok'd it in the mirror and I'd not checked with my sketches, I'd put the symbols on backwards!!!   Noooo…. DFX black needed to be removed from my nice pink & white base!  It kind of looked OK when re-done and I started on the jeans, which were fairly boring to paint I must say, and I totally didn't get the bum pockets right.  Anita’s typically Dutch pedal pusher jeans with big cuffs looked great!  Meanwhile Yolanda had put the amazing ear and muzzle prosthetics she makes onto Pieter and was transforming him into a blue-green monster - he attracted a preying mantis which happily sat on him for the rest of the afternoon, even when Yo painted it too!   The models were not so happy later when they realised he was still wearing the bug and scattered squealing whenever it moved.

Lital Nave’s face design and Yo’s monster complete with bug!

I loved Melanie's Geiger inspired body on Crystal too, that day.  By then a couple of us had asked to use Yo's breast prosthetics on western models in designs, or even the circular cups cut out of the official bras, and no comments were made by the watching police - who had made Jodi wipe off a portrait of a Chinese leader she'd started, and stopped Yo using the stunning gold Buddha hat she made.  Again, I wished I spoke Chinese - I never had a clue if the police or onlookers were being rude to my model, or about me (I'm sure they did neither!) or were checking up on me when they came to talk to our models periodically.

Melanie’s Geiger-inspired body on model, Crystal

At the end of the day we were due to have a meal with the government at our hotel, and I had thought this was odd as that night was the Mid-Autumn Lantern Festival, sort of like Christmas, where everyone eats with their families and does lantern walks.  Queue a strike by the Chinese models when they realised they had to be on stage at the dinner, not back home with their relations….. (they also insisted on wearing their robes to the bus, despite organisers asking them not to try and preserve the paint.) Michael had to hold them to their contract as they were part of the dinner show, and finally an agreement was reached where they would be on first and could then leave.

So, we all changed (except Einat who was painted in latex as a biker punk chick with a Bruce Lee portrait on her back, by Mark) and arrived to find the twisters had transformed the dining room with a tunnel of balloons and amazing lantern-dragons. I painted myself as  a butterfly to match my top (in case the models had gone and there was no paint on show!) but to our embarrassment we were all called up, with our models, and introduced to the watching entertains and officials.

Yo’s gorgeous mask with prosthetic; my spider on a clown
Jodi painting her butterfly body

Later a twister did some clever magic with balloons, and a clown made a funny but cheeky speech which I hope wasn't as rude in translation.  Finally the dancing girls, in beautiful balloon dresses, did a fashion show and presented balloon sculptures to the officials.  At the end of the meal we were informed that we were no longer considered to be 'porn', and had proved ourselves artists, therefore we would be allowed to join the main show.  Apparently, our tents were being moved there that night.  And maybe some bodies by non-competitors each day could be walked round public areas as advertising.  Huge cheers from us!  Myself and a few others took paint kits down to the lobby and painted anyone who wanted it - mixed groups were going out clubbing, and by the time we finished (even decorating a French local guy and one of the bar staff) It was 1.00 am!  Not to be forgotten are the GORGEOUS zebra-fabric boots the lovely Jodi wore out - we all wanted them (or to paint them on someone).

Artists ready for clubbing: eye design by me, Jodi’s fab boots,
Karen painted by Yo and Mark by Clelia

Day 4

Of course there was no sign of our tents when we arrived with the rest of the entertainers at the main showground the next day.   Not unexpected, considering how long it took to get them up in the small park.  But at least we now had electricity from a reliable source for the airbrushes, and music (from the clown shows) and something to watch if we had time to look up from our work!  It turned out the entertainers were delighted to have us there and were watching us from the stage, coming over to see closer when they were off duty. We were given a few hours off, whilst spaces were sorted for us.  

Wall sized posters at the new park with my angel (top right)

I'd been over chatting to Gina and Elanie, the Americans in charge of the face painting booths, and Gina said she'd always wanted to be painted.  Ok….well, they weren't exactly busy  (Elanie admitted the day before she'd noticed 4 of her staff asleep at their booths) so we sneaked off and got her into the 'official underwear' as she wanted to surprise her son, 10 year old Hunter who was part of the clown show, and her hubby.  Typically Hunter found her within 20 mins, and the entire clown cast spotted her when they were onstage! She asked for a sexy green cat, then said she'd adored my painted jeans the night before, so she got a short pair of 'daisy dukes' too.

Gina painted by me and Melanie by Craig

At the end of the afternoon, it was decided that now we were 'OK'd'  by the watchdogs, we should actually try to get some advertising done.  Nothing official had been arranged so we gathered up the models, I handed out a load of festival posters for the artists to hold, and we went walkabout, past surprised police on the gates of the showground, into the crowded park and markets.  Reactions were great (though I hear someone grabbed at Melanie's chest…) and several painted people, including my lovely Gina, really played up to the crowds. Sabines pink & black Hello Kitty really attracted the kids!  We noticed our 'tails' came along too, though, looking a bit worried.  At the end of the market was the mini stage, and the compere there invited the models on after the balloon act finished.  Definitely drew a big crowd - we had to prise our artworks away from all the locals snapping shots with them - and I couldn't see to get my own photos on stage despite being taller than most locals there!

Models on the mini stage

Coming back several posed on the bikes many people use, and we blocked foot traffic round all the stalls. Gina's husband had her keep her paint on over dinner which was a laugh. By now most of us had made friends in the other 'camps' so the tables were more mixed, and respect was flowing in all directions at each 'camps' art. We were also learning a few of the tricks of the other's trades, e.g. balloon dresses are stored in freezers overnight to slow down their shrinkage!

Day 5

The next day - a lovely sunny Monday - we all had to compete, as the schedule had changed (again).   It was the 'Street Performers, the Art of Surprise' round.  At the briefing we were told Chinese models had to wear the full bras but western could wear the sculpted prosthetics.  I'd gone for a front based on the metallic living statues you always see  mixed with a colourful acrobat costume (as I think those plain metal bodies are so boring), and graffiti art for the 'surprise', in UV, on the back. Luckily as there was no stage show that night, we were able to paint some of the dancers.  That was handy as I wanted to try using the sculpted breast covers, which fitted my design and left the model’s back free for the detailed wall art.  Then there was another about face by the authorities a few hours AFTER we started painting, who decided to zip us into the tents so no-one would see any unpainted skin at all.  

My graffiti “surprise”

Cue hot painters and the audience just walking round the back to peak in.  We kept going and it all worked out in the end - and Michael came back with his foot still attached.  I loved Mario's Charlie Chaplin portraits, Craig's Balloon Body; Anita's Clown/Street signs and the amazing dragon head Emma had created for Pieters Chinese dancer look.  Sabine's tall blonde devil was whipping up temperatures too. Mark recreated the bronze 'Little Mermaid' statue, now being moved to Shanghai for the Expo, and Bella did an amazing portrait of a giraffe on her model's chest. Not sure how it fitted the theme but it was stunning!  

Day 6

Tuesday was finals day.  We were informed all models had to wear full bras again. Sigh...  But after I had gathered and sewn in the front of the bras our jeans models wore on Sat, without objection, and someone else cut the back of her bra and latexed the front onto the model, a lot of customisation went on!   But we were told the back had to look like a bra too, so some straps must show. The best seemed to be cutting the wide back out, to leave the top & bottom elasticated edges as 2 thin horizontal straps. More models turned up today but unfortunately, they hadn't expected or seen body-painting before, and for assorted understandable reasons, several left. Kimberley Buyssens (Belgium) and I hung around until one more turned up for her, whilst staff and models rang round for me.  

A friend of Jelly's who was a fashion student arrived an hour or so later and I really lucked out.  She was so sweet (kept telling me it was 'her honour' to be painted) and spoke the best English yet!  Also, she emerged with her cut-back bra worn with one strap round her back and 1 as a halter neck, which really looked good.   Anyway, we had been given an extra long paint day - 7 hours instead of the usual 5 or less but to be honest, even though I started an hour or so later, I still finished early at a reasonable point as I wanted a few snaps in daylight and to see what was going on.

The finals theme was 'Shanghai Expo', and most artists seemed to have begun either the painting expo buildings and local scenes; or painted something from their own nation.  I didn't even think of that - will another time!  I'd planned a traditional cheongsam shape with fireworks over the Bund's buildings (Shanghai's high-rise modern waterfront) on the front, and a mix of east & west flowers on the back. The fireworks went well, my first go at them, wasn't so happy with the buildings but the pictures I was copying from were not great. And the flowers were OK except the orchids which Monique says locals call butterfly flowers.

My Shanghai body

Again it was so hot in the morning a model fainted; but mid afternoon we had the opposite problem as it got so chilly I was asking for hot drinks for the models (which never arrived, so Sabina, Anita & I trekked off on a cafe run for everyone when we finished painting and only just made it back for the show in time).  Marks' waist-up body had a similar theme to mine but with an opera mask face and amazing strip of flashing LED lights along the waterline - which to his models delight gave off a tiny amount of heat! Mario did the red inverted pyramid expo building (1 of the few nearly built already), Birgit's pollution eating plant showed up well and all of them sparkled in the dark queues to go onstage.

Day 7

By Wednesday we were all exhausted, whether we had been partying or not. Especially the poor models who often had to stand all day and then spend hours getting clean and cleaning their baths.  It was also sunny but cold and windy, not ideal bodypainting conditions.  So, we were allowed a more 'relaxed' day to 'free' paint as long as we were doing something that people could look at.  

Most of us were bored of the similar meals every day so went out to grab a change of diet; I discovered 'fruit pizza' and had to try it. Not a great idea - pizza base with tomato sauce; then pineapple  - Ok - but on top was tinned fruit salad, glace cherries, cheese and than mayo!  Weird!  Then I had a go at a pink web body, and to our delight, despite their busy stage show schedule AND having to prepare dresses for the night shows (the dresses only last a day or two as they deflate and wrinkle up so they look bad), the balloon artists kept racing over to make wee sculptures to complement our art.  I was given a beautiful fly headdress and the pièce-de-resistance from Graham Lee - a dog poo balloon for the fly!  Which sadly popped.   Kimberley did an amazing portrait of Yoda on Evies back, and was presented with larger than life Darth Vader to wear as a hat, complete with light sabre.  Clelia's gorgeous angel had some cute inflatable wings, and Marks' stunning Led Zeppelin pointillism of the Hindenberg disaster had a realistic zeppelin accessory. Hideous but fascinating was Oliviers blood filled buboes head on Pieter - he nearly sprayed the guy in a white suit who was snapping shots when they burst one.  Mario did the Chucky/ Freddy horror portraits on his torso.  We were called up onstage to stand by our models and the winners from the bodypaint over the last few days were announced.

My web body and Mario’s horror theme

Einat & Mario shared 3rd place - very different but striking styles, his airbrush and her intricate collage. Mark Greenawalt was 2nd, and Bella Volen 1st. They received paint from the sponsors and unusual trophies of things like dragons and bulls. We all celebrated with an evening off!

Dinner at the hotel had been moved to the main restaurant downstairs. I was annoyed when I heard later that was because one of us complained to the hosts the food upstairs was awful and we all hated it - we didn't all hate it, or hate it all, and there was usually at least one dish each of us liked - and food was easily available outside the hotel.  Rude!  But there were posher plush seats, a bewildering packet of 'hygiene' products each - a single plastic glove, two alcohol soaked cotton swabs, a wet facecloth, and a straw!  There was also live piano rather than the Celine Dion/ Soft Rock power ballad CD that was beginning to make us all twitch a bit.  

Some of the dishes got more interesting- a huge tureen of soup arrived, and was poked at, and announced to be tomato with squid.  Yum…I scooped some out and realised it was a deformed squid with 2 eyestalks, a lump of body in the middle and a long foot/ tail ending in an operculum to shut its shell door behind it.  Yep, a snail.  I have eaten and enjoyed many weird foods - rat, snake, guinea pig, frogs, escargot, duck neck, goose feet…but that just threw me.  Especially when I saw wee eyestalks sticking up through the soup surface like periscopes!

Most nights I ended up with a group in the coffee shop across the road for a late hot chocolate. Best was when Mario entertained us with an amazing story about the dodgiest 'body' paint day he ever had, shooting a series of adverts for an alternative magazine. Sadly I'm sure the watching cameras (they are everywhere) knew EXACTLY what we were talking about, by the gestures. Often we returned to the smoky lobby to look at each others portfolios and mix with the other performers.

Last day of painting!

Next day, all still aching from prolonged painting, we had a late start and then the face paint competition.  The organisers had kindly offered cash prizes to encourage participation, and I noticed officials counting us again to make sure we did.  Not everyone painted; I was surprised to hear that several body artists don't do faces. Hiring a make-up artist to complete the head of your work had never occurred to me. Anyway, some of us modelled for those who were going to enter as the dancers/ models were rehearsing.  I had had no clue what to do; it was a free theme, with one  hour to complete it.  Bella did amazing beetles; Mark tried SFX tree bark on Pieter as he knew he' had to be a tree in the final gala show that night; and there were several stunning dragons and scary designs including a 1-stroke on Craig by Anita and a pretty mask by Emma.

The face painting comp entries

Lital came 3rd with an intricate almost swan like design, I was lucky enough to be second with my Yin-Yang life-death idea (even after wiping half off as I didn't like it AND wobbled lines), and Sabine was first with a bird mask to match the amazing feathery eyelashes and cockades she had on her model.  We then had the afternoon free but were expected back at the final gala show.  So I squeezed into a taxi (no seat belts of course, but he did let 5 of us in!) with Birgit, Mark, Carrie and Daisy. We passed the art museum shaped like a traditional cooking pot but due to huge queues and the others wanting to go elsewhere I didn't go.  We ended up beneath the striking Pearl Tower, which looked nothing like the way I had imagined from the photos I was using in the finals!  

A luxurious boat trip around the waterfront gave us a seat whilst watching the unusual architecture pass. Then Birgit (an architect) led us up into a very posh hotel (with an interior at one point reminding me of the Imperial Galactic court scenes n the newer Star Wars films) where we finally emerged into their exclusive sky-scraping bar opposite the pearl tower. On the 80-somethingth floor, the lift just whooshed up – a very odd sensation. We had to buy the most expensive cups of tea ever to stay in the luxurious, Blade-Runer-ish  surroundings but watching Shanghai light up below us was amazing. Typically the Pearl Tower didn't - until we left and got into taxis!

Anita’s dragon on Craig Tracy and my yin-yang which came 2nd

Back at the showground we found our judges and a few others still painting the dancers, etc. We created a cheering squad behind the fairly quiet audience and watched as it unfolded   Each had their own colours, theme, introductory acts - things like a really cool balloon 'sea' with the Dutch girl dancers doing a sort of synchronised 'swim' and leg kick for Water;  our models Pieter and Evie body painted as trees with big branches for Earth; the break dancers bodypainted as tribal skeletons with balloon 'tribal' gear doing a stampy dance for fire, etc.   Then a couple of balloon dressed girls would come in before the 'big' dress on the muse.  The finale included all the dancers mixing flamenco and street style (in balloon costume!) and an absolutely amazing dress, with 3D glowing butterfly wings, as the final balloon fashion piece.

Everyone then arranged to go out clubbing. Sabine & I and a few others were in the first taxi to the club and arrived to find it fairly quiet.  The second taxi dropped off more and a bouncer appeared to watch us. I twigged that as there was no door charge we had to buy drinks…and luckily an English speaking 'waitress' explained the Chinese menu and I bought a beer after finding a glass of wine was about 20 pounds UK!!  Poor Sabine found that cans of soft drink were about the same price.  More taxis containing a mix of painters, dancers, twisters and clowns kept coming and by about 1.00 am everyone was there.  So were three policeman and three bouncers, at least. The local punters occasionally got on a tiny round podium to strut their stuff, and of course our dancers (And Sabine and Yolanda) were egged on to try that. It was all really good natured, and they were making sure locals had a turn too, but the security was still very tense whenever a westerner got up.

Then a manager rushed out with handfuls of huge glow sticks which he handed out to us all and everyone was off dancing, limbo-ing under them, etc.  I was also dying to take a pic of the glowing glass column decor, but as for a while there was a policeman between every one, I didn't.  Sabine and I headed home fairly early, as we were knackered.  Some stayed out all night which may have led to the collapse of a couple the next day, I wasn't sure!

My final day I spent in the Shanghia Bazaar with a few others which was amazing - the whole area is in preserved (or reproduced?) old-style Chinese streets.  All dark, carved, up-curved dragon roofs and ornate doors.  Cheesy, touristy, but fab!  And lots of them - a big warren of streets and alleys, with some eateries tucked in that tourists like!  

So, it was too long for a bodypaint festival as far as I was concerned - too long away from my baby for me at any rate.  It was very hard to keep up the concentration/ enthusiasm/ creativity/ energy….etc!   Due to the stress we did see quite a lot of extreme behaviour amongst ourselves and I must say some did not give the best impression to the local models, but mostly everyone was lovely, if exhausted!   Too many rule changes, restrictions and so on but that was to be expected and we survived.  I learnt some new tricks, saw some new ideas and kit and I made some good friends in the industry whom I may never have met for longer than a 'hi' otherwise.  

Bum print on a chair!

I saw Mark Greenawalt settle himself at a piano and serenade the entire restaurant….tried my first ever 'Karaoke TV' night enhanced by Craig & Filippo's shopping trolley ballet; never want to paint for the alternative magazine adverts Mario had to do, and now know to store balloon dresses in fridges.  Hopefully the few people who saw us now understand a wee bit more about body art.  It was a fantastic experience but, oww…10 days solid competition painting?!  Would I do it again? Maybe.  Depends if Michael has the strength to organise it all again - he did a fabulous job!  

So, China - we came, we ate, we painted…and we left bum prints.

All pics © Catriona Finlayson

Bodyssey 2009 in Toronto


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