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How I Got The Shot: Living Painting

How I Got the Shot: Living Painting

For awhile I have wanted to try some sort of shot where the model WAS the work of art… where the model WAS the painting. I had seen some images of body paint art where the subject was used as the canvas, but I thought it would be visually compelling to have the subject look as though she were part of and emerging from a canvas.

The goal was to try this concept in a couple of different ways, perhaps experimenting with some different ‘art movements’ for each canvas.

This shoot wasn’t for a client or magazine, but instead a creative “play day” where I could experiment and try something new!

The Creative Team

I reached out to my friends and insanely talented makeup artists Yvonne Macinnis and Lijha Stewart to help me with this shoot. Not only do these ladies work with some of the biggest and most prestigious brands out there, but both also treat makeup as art. I knew their vision and artistic approach to makeup as an art form would be perfect for this project.

My preparation for the shoot began with a trip to an art supply store to pick up four white canvases which were then mounted on C-stands and arms for the artists to paint on.

For this shoot I asked my friend, muse and model Jillian Jaymes to be the subject. Sometimes it can be hard to find a model who is willing to be painted on, but Jillian has always been an enthusiastic subject and I see her as a creative collaborator as well!

Yvonne and Lijha invited their friend and lovely model Nikki Rose to be our second subject. Each model would get their own ‘painting’ and then a shot with the two together!

The Shoot Day

For this particular shoot, I didn’t really direct Yvonne or Lijha, instead, I shared some inspiration but invited them to connect with their creatives selves, let go, and experiment! They decided that for each model they would do one abstract impressionism concept, one Pollock-esq splatter painting, and then a final ‘cubist’ project inspired by the Picasso painting “Girl Before the Mirror”.


Picasso - Girl Before a Mirror art

Picasso – Girl Before a Mirror


We began by doing basic makeup, to sculpt the models’ faces and give us a strong base to work upon. Once the basic makeup was completed, we brought Jillian over to the canvas and we had her press up on the back of the canvas. We then drew a pencil outline of where we thought the opening in the canvas would need to be, then (once she moved) we used an xacto knife to remove some of the canvas for her to press through.

This was one of the harder parts of the process because we needed enough space for the model to press through, but if we cut too much there would be large gaps between the model and the canvas, which would break the illusion and goal of the shoot!


Model cut out in canvas


Once Jillian was in place, then Yvonne started painting! Yvonne, who used to paint a lot more before becoming a makeup artist, decided she wanted to be inspired more by abstract line paintings. She brought the paint (actual body paint makeup), and then started to create. She didn’t have the exact lines or concept sketched out, but instead went more with her instinct. She build the painting bit by bit, creating additional splashes and lines of color to help balance out the visual weight and composition.


Makeup artist Yvonne Macinnis and photographer Lindsay Adler body paint a model on canvas

The Lighting

For this particular shoot I decided that keeping the lighting simple, which was actually the best way to let the artwork shine!

For each of the three different paintings I did a slightly different lighting effect. For the first one of Jillian and Nikki, I used a single Profoto D1 500Watt strobe with a Profoto Deep White Umbrella with Diffusion (large). This large and soft light source was important for a couple of reasons…

First, this particular modifier allowed me to get even illumination across the canvas so that the lighting was mostly ‘invisible’. I didn’t want hard or crisp shadows to be cast by the arm or the canvas onto the subject because I felt that this would not only create a visual distraction but somewhat take away from the concept of the model emerging from the artwork.

That being said, I didn’t want the light to be completely flat. I wanted a bit of sculpting and shadow to create SOME dimensionality to the shot. For this reason, I placed the light slightly higher and to the right of the frame. This gave me some shadow, yet the large and diffused light source gave very subtle and soft shadow transitions.

The Profoto Deep White Umbrella is one of my go-to modifiers whenever I want soft light. It is easy to setup, the depth allows me to control directionality of the light, plus it creates an extremely soft, beautiful, and even light. When I use large umbrellas I almost always add diffusion on the front. This makes the light even softer, and makes the modifier behave more like a softbox. Furthermore the diffusion cuts down on specularity (and I didn’t want the paint to look too shiny).

Finally, I add a white reflector opposite the umbrella to bounce a little light back into the shadows and make them even more subtle. Since the shot is brighter and more upbeat, lighter shadows would also be appropriate for the concept.

Then, for these shots I also tried a variation of the first lighting setup. I added a 5 degree grid onto the model’s face in addition to the large umbrella. This would serve to add a bit of POP to the face and direct the eye, while giving a bit more drama to the photos. I found that in these images the photographic element was a bit more obvious, instead of being ‘invisible’.



Lindsay Adler Living Painting Photography Lighting Diagram


Models Jillian Gallagher and Nikki Rose pose in a Picasso Inspired body painted canvas print


Lindsay Adler Living Painting Photography Lighting Diagram

For the shot of the two girls together, I used a large umbrella and then a 5 degree grid on each girl’s face, again to direct the eye. While the lighting didn’t dominate the frame, I felt it served to emphasize that the faces in the paintings were actually two women, not just paintings! I wanted to be sure this fact wasn’t missed, and more dramatic, sculptural light assisted in emphasizing this point!


For the retouching, I wanted the skin to be perfect, and then added a canvas texture to make the model appear more unified with the canvas. Furthermore, it was important to bring the edges of the canvas up more snugly against the skin to reduce distractions and reinforce the concept of the image.


Most of my images are very serious and dramatic. I loved that on this creative play day I could experiment with something a bit more playful for the eye and upbeat. Even though it is very different than my usual work, it also has the bold compositions and punchy colors that you often see in my style. So it fits me, but is a bit outside my comfort zone in tone and concept!


Creative team:
Mode1 1: Jillian Gallagher IG: Jillian_Jaymes
Model 2: Nikki Rose IG: Nik_Lovins
MUA 1: Yvonne IG: Yvonnetheartist
MUA 2: Lijha Stewart IG: LijhaJade
Photographer: Lindsay Adler IG: Lindsayadler_photo

Gear used:



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