Body of art

“My theory is that in your natural nude state you are more connected to your senses”

Bodypainter Sofia Bue discusses her huge win at the World Bodypainting Festival and the nuances of her art-form


Sofia Bue is not your traditional makeup artist. Forget lipstick, eye-shadow and mascara. She uses paint and the human body as her canvas to create surreal images. When Bue takes paint to the human body, the results are sensational.

Last weekend, Bue traveled to Pörtschach am Woerthersee, a small lakeside town in southern Austria, to compete the World Bodypainting Festival. The festival launched in 1998 and has essentially become the world championships of bodypainting. According to its website, some 30,000 people descended on the festival this year to view an open air art park dubbed “BodyPaint City,” featuring the work of some 47 bodypainting artists from around the world.

Bue, 27, originally hails from Hejnsvig, a small town in Denmark. She’s been painting bodies for 12 years, and for the last six years, she’s been living in Wellington, New Zealand. This year was Bue’s second time competing in the festival and she snagged the top prize at the event — the World SFX Body Painting Award. Her winning design is featured above, along with some of the other wild bodypainting looks on display at the festival. Women in the World caught up with Bue over email as she made her way back to New Zealand. For more of Bue’s captivating work, visit her Facebook page.

Women in the World: Congrats on the big win at the World Body Painting Festival. How did it feel to capture the top prize and what’s reaction from your family and friends been like?

Sofia Bue: Thank you! It feels great of course to have won, but I honestly don​’​t think it has quite sunken in yet. The response, messages and kind words following the competition has been absolutely overwhelming and heartwarming. I feel very blessed to have such a supportive network of family, friends and fans.

WITW: Talk about the significance of winning the top prize at the World Body Painting Festival?

SB: I don​’​t know quite yet what significance it will have, but I​’​m excited to see what new opportunities it might bring along. Right now I​’​m still just trying to take it all in.

WITW: How long have you been been practicing the body painting art-­form and how did you get into it?

SB: I started face painting when I was 15, so 12 years ago. For a long time it was just a hobby and a seasonal job, but as I started working alongside other artists, I started experimenting more and that slowly led into body painting and later on, special effects.

WITW: You’re also a professional makeup artist –­­ is the body painting more of a hobby, or is that how you make your living?

SB: I call myself a makeup artist, but I don​’​t mean it in the traditional meaning of the word. I don​’​t find any satisfaction in traditional beauty makeup. For me makeup artistry can mean many things, and body painting and prosthetics is certainly my main focus. As a freelance artist I do many different things, and enjoy working from project to project not always knowing what will come next. A big part of my time I contract to Weta Workshop in Wellington, New Zealand, ­ the physical manufacturing company behind movies such as Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Avatar and more.

WITW: What sort of work do you do for Weta?

SB: The work changes a lot depending on which project are going on at the time. I’m very fortunate that I get to change back and forth between different departments and constantly learn new skills. My favorite department is sculpting which is also where I spend the majority of my time.

WITW: Talk about the application process. Do you apply the paint to the model’s body? Or does a team work on it? It looks like it would be a major production.

SB: Most of the time I work by myself for photoshoots, etc. But for big events like this it is great to have an assistant. You need to always be respectful of the model, and too many people working around each other is not good. But having one great assistant who knows you and your style well can be a fantastic help. Just having another pair of eyes can make a huge difference. Lara Hawker was my assistant for the competition and we work well together because she knows my style, and she almost reads my mind as to when I need help and when I need space. When I paint I go into my own little bubble and in that moment nothing else in the world exists — ​only me and my team. So choosing the right model and the right assistant is hugely important.

WITW: How long does applying the paint take?

SB: It depends on what it​’​s for. For a photoshoot I would spend 4­-5 hours on average. But for competition and live events where the model will be seen from 360 degrees, of course it takes longer. At the World Champs we had seven hours. It might sound like a lot, but in the moment I always wish I had more time!

WITW: And how do you ensure that the paint doesn’t smear once it’s on the model’s body?

SB: I often use alcohol-based paint underneath in certain areas, such as armpits, elbows and hands, where the paint is more likely to smear. I also try to paint those areas towards the end, for the comfort of the model.

WITW: It seems like the majority of models in body painting competitions are women­. Why is that?

SB: This is a hard question to answer. I can only speak my own opinion and thoughts. Personally, I prefer painting women as I think the female form often gives a better representation of my art work. Also you often form a close bond with your model while working together, and perhaps I find that part easier when I​’​m painting women. For an artist the most important thing when it comes to models is to choose someone who can make your creation come to life. You want your model to enhance your art work, not distract from it. There is no right shape, size or gender; it all depends on the character you are creating.

WITW: It seems like it can be an extremely intimate experience. How well do you know a model after working with them?

SB: Yes, it’s a very intimate experience for both artist and model. Often you spend up to 10 hours very close together. It’s important for me that my model doesn’t just fit the part, but also that you get along on a personal level as it always makes the experience much more pleasant for everyone involved. Many of my models have become close friends after working together.


WITW: Have you ever worn body paint?

SB: When I first ventured into body painting I used to practice a bit on myself. But no, I​’​ve never been fully painted. It’s something I would like to try, though. And I think it​’​s something all body paint artists should try at some point so they know what it feels like.

WITW: What’s next in terms of competitive body painting and long-­term career goals?

SB: I​’​m currently working on a fine art collection which crosses boundaries between body art and photography. The collection is called Bodies of Art and showcases body painting as a fine art, where the body becomes the canvas, as part of the artistic material. My theory is that in your natural nude state you are more connected to your senses, and perhaps because we are exposed and vulnerable, this can offer a window into the soul. In the images you will find beauty and pain, hope and fear, love and sorrow, as these are all part of life. In the long term, I would love to one day have my own little open­-workshop­ gallery, where I can exhibit both my own and other artists​’ ​work, and where people can interact directly with the artists and watch them work.

WITW: What’s the secret to your success?

That​’​s a hard question to answer. I think part of it is because I​’​m not afraid to think out of the box. I don​’​t limit myself in my brainstorming process, and I enjoy taking risks. If I did what people expected then it would just be boring. And then I work my ass off! I never do anything half, when I decide I​’​m going to do something, I always give 110 percent. I might sometimes be tired or frustrated, but I never allow myself to give up once I​’​ve started something.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


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