Henna body art. For hundreds of years, face painting has been used across cultures, from the Picts of Scotland to the Lakota Tribes of North America, the Zulu in Africa, the Maori in New Zealand, and the Aborigines in Australia, India and other areas of Asia and South America. Wherever early peoples formed tribal groups, they would adorn themselves with symbols or color, communicating to others their religious and spiritual beliefs.

Face painting has evolved over the centuries from being largely symbolic with special meanings to being used as camouflage by the military or as theatrical makeup. The opera was the first theatrical venue for face painting to enhance the character. Later clowns became a specialty in the circus. Nowadays women will not leave the house without putting on “their face.”

Face and body artist Nancy Miner makes a study of face and body painting. She appreciates the ancient art form and has been creating wearable art for 20 years.

“Face painting, sometimes called body art, is a profession, not a hobby. In addition to artistic ability, it requires time, patience, dedication and practice, practice, practice,” said Miner. “There are always new designs, new techniques and new products, so it’s important to get ongoing training in order to stay current.”

Miner paints with the same intensity and precision as any artist would on paper or canvas. Miner is also a decorative painter and is used to odd surfaces. The human body fits that category with its unique and varying peaks and valleys.

To learn her craft, Miner attended a number of seminars in Virginia, New Orleans, Washington, D.C, and elsewhere. But she continues her studies by taking online classes and studying books and magazines devoted to face painting.

There is no set formula or a pattern to follow and her subjects are living canvases, which makes this art form even more difficult to master.

“You are only limited by your imagination,” she said. She is passionate about the wearable art form because of its challenge, since that makes its creation so worthwhile.

“Each painting is unique to the individual wearing it – even when it’s the same basic design, each one is different,” Miner said. “Artwork can be tailored to match any theme or event and can range from a small design on the cheek, arm, leg or back to a full tromp l’oeil body painting. I offer completely different sets of designs for different age groups. You don’t have to be painted like a puppy – unless, of course, you want to.”

Because she is painting on human skin, she uses special hypoallergenic, FDA-compliant cosmetic grade paints made specifically for face and body painting. Unlike some painters, she said, these are only the products she uses and there are no exceptions. She does not use craft paints. The paint is temporary and can easily wash off with soap and water.

“When they are being painted, the models often feel as though they are getting a massage or facial. I have had a few who almost fell asleep,” Miner said.
She also creates henna tattoos. Henna is the ancient dye that comes from trees native to Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula, and had been used in those areas in producing wearable art. Intricate designs native to the cultures of those areas are, to those people, a testament of symbolism. But to the rest of us, they are beautiful works of art. This is one reason Miner loves this unique and ancient form of wearable art. It has become her current passion.

“Henna is a flowering plant,” she said. “The word ‘henna’ also refers to both the brown dye prepared from the plant and the temporary body art created with those dyes. Henna designs usually last one to three weeks with proper care. The henna I use is handmade by one of the leading henna artists in the U.S.” Miner said she is all about doing things naturally.

For the fun of it, Miner does glitter tattoos. These are tattoos created with self-adhesive stencils, a cosmetic-grade, skin-safe glue, and cosmetic, polyester glitter.

“With proper care, they usually last about a week,” she said. “The stencils can be generic or they can be special-ordered to match the theme of an event.”

Miner immersed herself in her art and, as time went by, built up a business while writing for a newspaper. After leaving the paper, she made face and body painting her second career. But sometimes the downside of artistic careers is making money. Artists create not only for exposure but to sell their work, and Miner is no exception.

“One problem that professional face painters, musicians, artists, actors, and others have in common and frequently have to deal with is being asked to entertain for the ‘exposure,’ meaning for free,” she said. “I get numerous requests every year to donate my services. Professional face painters invest a great deal of time and money in supplies, equipment, travel, and continuing education. Face painting is not a hobby, it’s a career like any other.”