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Changing Lanes: From Pharmaceuticals to Body Painting

Working on naked bodies

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In the video above, learn more about Diane Spadola’s second career: body painting. Photos by Robin Berghaus, Jim Kapinos and Diane Spadola

How many careers does the average American worker have in a lifetime? The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t keep track, but we know that millions change careers at least twice. From what to what? You’d be surprised. This week, in “Changing Lanes,” BU Today takes a five-part look at BU alums who studied for one career, but are now doing something radically different.

Diane Spadola calls it the “she does what?” conversation. When new acquaintances try to guess what she does for a living since she left a successful career at the pharmaceutical company Merck, their questions can take a strange turn.

They ask if the job is legal, if it involves sales or requires a uniform. Spadola tells them that she runs her own business and that she does, indeed, have something to sell. She’ll hint that she’s in entertainment and that she works mostly weekends, in malls, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, and private homes. Mulling this information, they ask if she’s a musician or a dancer. No? A stripper? A madam? Ah, no, and definitely not. But the work does involve naked bodies, she’ll say, mostly women’s. A mud wrestler?

“At that point, they usually give up,” says Spadola (GSM’86), “or I am laughing so hard, I blurt out, ‘I am a professional face painter, body painter, and party entertainer.’”
Her work is not to be confused with the simple flowers or butterflies that vendors paint on children’s cheeks at street fairs. Rather, she can transform a child’s face into a tiger’s or a princess’, and her body art can turn an adult into a race car driver, or as she did one day last November, a Rockette.Spadola (right) is principal artist and owner of Bella Faccia Painting, whose services include face painting, makeup artistry, and professional entertainment for events like children’s parties, bar and bat mitzvahs, and fundraisers. Its sister division, Living Canvas Creations, is a body art company whose artists paint clothing, logos, or other designs on models and private clients.

“My ultimate goal is to make people look at my work and say, ‘Is that real or is that clothing?’” she says. “I want to use it as a way of attracting attention—not in an erotic or objectionable fashion, but in an ‘is it real or not?’ way.”

Spadola works out of a studio in the basement of her Randolph, N.J., home, where tables are covered with glitter- and paint-splattered clothes. On this November day, she has laid out an orderly array of sponges, brushes, and small round cakes of water-based theatrical makeup in aqua, red, brown, blue, lilac, and neon pink, green, and orange. She is painting the Rockettes Christmas costume on freelance model Cassandra Londono; afterwards, they’ll head to the studio of photographer James Kapinos, who will shoot pictures that all three will use in their portfolios.

As Spadola finishes mixing up some ivory paint, the model removes her top. Spadola begins with her back, using a large soft makeup brush to cover Londono’s entire torso. Then she paints the details that give the illusion of clothing: a thin green “strap” at the top of the “dress” and a brown line above that to suggest a shadow, then the thick, diagonal red stripes, a green ribbon above Londono’s left breast, and decorative cuffs around her wrists. Later, she’ll fasten a real skirt of gold ruffles and sequins and red ribbon trim around the model’s hips.

Londono says the work poses challenges that other types of modeling do not. “You have to be able to hold yourself still while standing up,” she says. “Most people don’t even realize that when they’re trying to stand still, they’re still swaying or even shaking a little bit. When you’re moving too much, it can disrupt the lines, especially the tiny lines and shadows.”

But she enjoys working with Spadola and with body paint. “It’s very unique,” she says. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Turning a hobby into a career
There isn’t much in Spadola’s life that would hint at the sharp turn her career took in 2002, when she stepped off the corporate ladder.

A business major in college, she graduated with the goal of becoming a professional fundraiser. She worked for the American Cancer Society and later earned an MBA at BU’s Graduate School of Management. After graduating, she immediately joined Merck, where she worked her way up from drug representative to a succession of marketing and sales positions.
She began taking classes and attending conventions and workshops. She practiced on her kids and their friends and Brownie troops. She struggled a bit, too. “My two biggest challenges for several years were making a pony or a unicorn on somebody’s face and a dolphin, which people ask for all the time,” she recalls. “I could do an entire Caribbean beach landscape on someone’s face, with a sunset, moon, palm trees, and waves, but if they asked for a dolphin, I couldn’t do it. They looked like manatees.”Her career required a lot of travel, and Spadola began looking for a hobby that would allow her to spend time with her two young daughters. The girls had always enjoyed having their faces painted, so she did some research and started practicing. She had no fine arts training—and no particular artistic talent. “I truly am the person who can’t make a stick figure,” she says. But she drew on her experience applying theatrical makeup in high school productions and quickly became adept. “I understood the concept of making somebody look old, putting on a beard, changing their facial structure.”

Soon Spadola was enjoying her new hobby so much that she longed to spend more time at it than her full-time job allowed. She resigned from Merck in 2002.

It wasn’t an easy decision, particularly since leaving Merck meant a big pay cut and a change in lifestyle for her family. “I had been with the company for a long time,” she says. “I had been promoted 15 times. I loved Merck.” But she had no regrets. “My kids understood what I was doing, when they never had at Merck. They could be involved. They helped me create new faces. I was painting their friends.”

She also liked the positive reinforcement that came with her new job. “When a child looks into a mirror and starts growling like a tiger,” she says, “it makes you feel good inside. I liked that feeling, and unfortunately, I wasn’t getting that feeling from my position at Merck.”

Spadola worked at birthday parties, and as she got busier, hired artists and broadened her range of services. Curious about body art, she set her sights on another part of the anatomy: pregnant bellies. “I started painting, mostly landscapes and floral designs, on expectant women,” she says. “It was very fun and very relaxing for the mom. We started marketing that as a baby shower service.”

Painting a living canvas
It was only a matter of time before Spadola was eyeing a bigger canvas. But first, she had to overcome her unease at the thought of painting on a naked body. “I’m the proverbial soccer mom,” she says. “I’ve got two girls who were entering their preteen years. I have a husband. I have a relatively conservative lifestyle. And I drive a van.”

She knew she had to undergo the process herself. At a 2008 convention, in a room with about 50 models, Spadola got herself painted in a black bustier decorated with a blue and pink hibiscus.

It was a turning point. “I got that huge feeling of having people tell you how beautiful you look and how the painting suits you, and having your photo taken,” she says. “Professional models feel that way all the time, but the soccer mom doesn’t. And that’s what I try to transmit to the people who come to me.”
Painting can take two to six hours or more, depending on the detail of the design, how much area needs to be covered, and whether costuming, hair styling, and makeup are involved. The average charge for body art is $150 for a private client and $500 per person for corporate events. Spadola works with seven independent contractors, whom she trained to paint. Her 15-year-old daughter has become a talented face painter, and her 13-year-old does tattoos. She also has a group of freelancers, who do balloon sculpting, hair braiding, clowning and magic, juggling, and photography.These days, Spadola’s clients are mostly party hosts who want to hold a memorable and talked-about event; they might request paint-on costumes for a masquerade party or tuxedos for New Year’s Eve. For a recent 30th birthday party, the organizers wanted models “wearing” basketball jerseys with the number 30. “We had 16 models and 5 body painters on site, and we did 5 girls every hour,” Spadola recalls. She also has individual clients who want to be painted and photographed for personal use. “The most common request for body painting is something like a bustier or a corset,” she says. “Sporting ideas—football and basketball jerseys, baseball uniforms—are also very common.”

Often, Spadola says, models are greeted with a look of disbelief. Although at some events, the models are wearing the equivalent of a two-piece swimsuit, many times they are only wearing a thong or a G-string. “They look like they’re clothed,” she says. “People have to look twice, and then they discover that it’s paint. It’s a compliment to my work and the work of the other artists I bring along with me.”

Spadola believes that body painting is coming into its own. It’s de rigueur at trade shows, marketing events, even the Grammys. She points to a recent commercial for Delta faucets, showing models washing off painted-on uniforms, jeans, and sneakers.

“I love what I do,” she says. “It’s fun, it’s very unusual, and I’m a naturally gregarious person, so it gets me out there. Every day is different.”

Cynthia K. Buccini can be reached at cbuccini@bu.edu. Robin Berghaus can be reached at berghaus@bu.edu.

2 Comments

2 Comments on Changing Lanes: From Pharmaceuticals to Body Painting

  • Anonymous on 03.02.2011 at 10:11 am

    How refreshing to see someone who has ducked out of the cut throat, corporate world and found her niche in this unusual and creative sphere.

  • ramona rung on 08.30.2012 at 11:21 am

    Outstanding!! Beautiful!! Eye on detail amazing!

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