The Story of... World Champion Body Painters
Identical twins Brian and Nick Wolfe, 41, of Orlando, say they have the best job on the planet, painting faces and bodies.
Brian (left) and Nick Wolfe
Photo By Mark Losh Photography
Brian calls body painting the second-oldest profession, but as a custom it’s been around since the early tribal times of man. A 1992 Vanity Fair cover showing Demi Moore in a painted-on three-piece suit raised awareness of body painting as a sophisticated art form. But it was Sports Illustrated that brought body painting into the mainstream when it published in its 1999 swimsuit issue a photo of supermodel Heidi Klum wearing a swimsuit made of body paint.
“Brian and I didn’t apply for this job. We made it up out of thin air,” Nick says of turning what they have always loved doing since they were kids—painting images of monsters, dinosaurs and superheroes—into a peripatetic profession.
“We travel about 40 percent of the year,” says Brian. They get teaching gigs that take them away from home for weeks at a time, to such faraway places as Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Brian is married and has an 8-year-old daughter. Nick is single. The brothers are best friends and business partners.
“To do body painting, the hard part is getting the girl to take her shirt off,” Nick jokes. “Once you’ve got that done, you can splatter paint in there like a chimpanzee and because your canvas is beautiful it’s going to turn out great no matter what.”
“When you’re actually doing the painting, it’s definitely intimate because you’re in such close proximity, but it’s not sexual,” he adds. “You have to concentrate on the paintbrush and focus on what you’re doing, and not what you’re doing it on.”
In July, the brothers placed first in brush and sponge body painting at the World Bodypainting Festival, in Seeboden, Austria. They were judged in two heats, each with a different theme – poetry and spirituality.
“Not only did we paint on the body, we painted inside the images,” says Brian of their first entry, based on the 17th century poem Paradise Lost by John Milton, depicting hell.
“The front of her looked like a giant demon skull, with eyes above her breasts,” Nick explains. “Her stomach was a big gaping maw, but as you got closer you saw that it was actually a giant cave and the bottom teeth of the bottom jaw were actually the city, with all the buildings in hell . . . and demons flying around them.”
The detail of the painting along with the prosthetic features they incorporate into their work (horns, for example) can easily fool you into thinking that a painted-on monster face is a movie studio-quality mask or that painted-on lingerie is real fabric. They have worked, together and separately, on four occasions at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, painting models and Playboy Bunnies for leather and lace- and pajama-themed parties. Nick also painted characters in a haunted house that was erected on the mansion grounds last Halloween. The brothers stay as guests at the parties.
“You don’t get to meet Hugh Hefner,” Nick Says, referring to the 83-year-old founder of Playboy magazine. “He basically hangs out talking to girls, and he is having a ball. He is laughing all the time.”
When the ’80s metal band Twisted Sister played at Orlando’s Hard Rock Hotel in October, Nick got a call to paint the faces of the group members, including lead singer Dee Snider.
The brothers don’t make a lot of money when they win body painting and face painting contests. The world championship paid them 1,000 euros (about $1,500), which they split. The Playboy Mansion gigs pay each brother $1,000, plus travel expenses. Teaching workshops pay the bills. They are coming out with an instructional book, titled Extreme Face Painting, 50 Friendly and Fiendly Demos (Impact Books), in September.
The brothers say they are constantly asked why aren’t working in Hollywood as makeup artists. “What’s your favorite movie makeup artist?” is Brian’s response. It’s a question that always draws a blank. “Exactly,” he says. “They don’t get any press. They are stuck in a lab in L.A. They’re not going to New Zealand or South Korea or Amsterdam every other week. They’re not flying out to do something like we are.
“The mere fact that we are champion naked-women painters – that’s proof that life is a dream. There is no bad part.’’
“The bad part is we have to go to sleep at night,” says Nick.