By LEAH ASTORE
The works of Carolyn Woods do not appear in galleries, hang on walls, or sit upon heavy marble bases. Her art is alive and breathing. Literally.
As a professional body painter, Woods views art as communication and a medium that allows her to express herself while connecting with and touching other people’s lives. Although she didn’t get her professional break until 2007, she recalls that while growing up as a self-professed “hippie child” in San Diego, art was always a part of her life. It might have begun with finger painting, she said, thoughtfully applying a ray of yellow along the model’s neck.
“I look back and I think I have been body painting long before I realized it,” she said.
Woods found her first calling in caregiving. Her compassion and desire to help people led her to pursue a career in Special Education. Her career was both rewarding and allowed her to spend time with her daughter. Through her work, she eventually learned sign language, which oddly enough led her to her first body-painting job.
After her first job as a face painter for a fundraiser for deaf children, she decided to limit any body painting work to fundraisers and benefits. It wasn’t until sometime later that she eventually began doing parties.
In 2007 at the U.S. Body Painting Festival, Woods’ career as a body painter received a life-changing boost. Unprepared and somewhat by accident, Woods won first place at the festival for her airbrushing. Up until that point she hadn’t realized she had the potential to pursue body painting professionally.
With this new found confidence she began taking even more classes in body art and hasn’t stopped learning since.
“For me it’s an ever-evolving kind of thing,” she said. “I think if we stop learning that’s a problem.”
Since then her dedication and her heart have brought her many opportunities to share her art and connect with many different people. Even though her art is temporary, Woods has helped people to transform and realize a part of themselves that they hadn’t seen before. In some cases, her craft can help childhood dreams come true.
“It’s more than just parties,” she said. “It means something to somebody and you don’t always know what that is.”
From painting on pregnant women, to face painting at children’s parties, to Breast Cancer survivors, Woods has used her art to touch the lives of people all over the country.
Just this year she had the opportunity to paint for the Body Worlds traveling exhibit, as well as at Fantasy Fest in Key West, Florida. Her favorite thing about Fantasy Fest is their attention to promoting breast cancer awareness.
For women who have had reconstructive surgery – and for those anticipating the need for it – experiencing body painting can be a therapeutic and healing experience, she said.
One of the most memorable moments for her was painting a breast cancer survivor at Fantasy Fest. As Woods painted an intricate floral design upon her front torso, a man passing by, stopped, and asked for the woman’s photograph.
“He told her ‘You look so beautiful,’” Woods said, and the woman burst into tears.
Then the woman said, “I haven’t had anybody say I looked beautiful without my clothes on in so long.”
Woods said the moment was incredibly touching. Sometimes body painting can be therapeutic and can help in the healing process, from cancer survivors to people undergoing chemotherapy. It is here, she believes, her calling may lie.
She also enjoys the fun aspects of painting on bare skin, and relishes opportunities to facilitate transformations. Some come to Woods at festivals asking to be “turned into” into specific characters that they idolize. At last year’s Fantasy Fest, she said, one man in particular who had just returned from Iraq wanted to become Superman, since the Man of Steel was his childhood hero.
“It’s like playing dress-up,” she said. “A lot of people live-out fantasies.”
Body art even helps people commemorate special moments in their lives. Pregnant belly painting and henna are two ways that she has been a part of these special moments.
“Some people have worked really hard to get pregnant, so for them to make it to a certain point is quite a milestone,” Woods said.
People even come to her to test tattoo ideas, which she happily paints on their bodies. Some have even made her paintings permanent.
Yet permanent tattoo art isn’t really for her, she said. While she wouldn’t completely rule it out, it’s a lot more responsibility than body paint, she added. With temporary body paint you have to be less attached to your work at the end of the day.
“You have to express yourself and let it go ‘cause it’s going to wash down the drain,” she said. “It’s good for the perfectionist in me to just let it go.”
Most recently Woods has been active painting at local events like the Buzz-Off For Kids cancer benefit at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. She hopes also to do more with sign language in the future by combining body art and sign language into a theater performance – an idea that’s still in the works.
The ebullient and charismatic Californian has been based in Plainville, Mass., for two years, and continues to travel around the US, bringing her signature style of color and change to the bodies and souls of women and men of all ages, needs, and dreams. Her emotion is ever in motion.
“I’ll paint just about anything that stands still long enough,” she said.
To schedule a body painting session, Woods can be reached by e-mail at IBodyPaintYou@yahoo.com.
(This story was taken from the summer 2013 issue of Limelight Magazine.)