Bella Vollen Body painting workshop


This is a post I’ve been meaning to put together for a while, Back in October we had a virtual talk and workshop from world renowned body painter Bella Vollen. Bella has a wealth of experience in commercial and fine art body painting, travelling all over the world for her work and competing in major world body painting competitions.

The Talk was really split into 2 halves, the first half Bella took us around the world, explaining many examples of traditional body painting, some I had a small amount of knowledge and others were completely new to me. Throughout the 2 hours spent talking about the history of body painting, Bella literally went through each continent and spoke of the traditions she knew about from her extensive research over the years. To talk you through all the information relayed by Bella would take a lot of time and probably would be a splurge of unorganised information. Instead I’m going to fumble my way through the notes I made and things that stayed with me from the talk.

White horned Lady or the Running horned woman of Tassil N’ajjer Algeria

Above is one of the first recorded examples of body painting found in a cave in Algeria, the rock painting was discovered in the 1930’s and is thought to date from around 6000-4000 BCE. Humans have been adorning and painting their bodies for centuries, Bella discussed with us some of the reasons in which tribal cultures have and still do paint their bodies. She shared this quote – ‘A man without tattoos is invisible to the gods’, a lot of tribal cultures past and present paint, tattoo and scar their bodies for spiritual reasons. Some cultures adorn themselves as tribute to the specific God they are honouring at that time, the colours and design directly related to a specific spiritual icon.

Theyyam traditional performance to honour vishnu – Kerala, India
Kathakali – a dance attributed to ancient religious text the Puranas and famous sages. – Similar to Theyyam but the dances are specific to region and tell different stories, with varied meanings.

As well as talking us through lots of different ancient traditions Bella talked about her professional experience operating as an artist and body painter and the worlds of commercial and fine art body painting. One thing that Bella spoke of when describing the design process, you make a conscious decision when designing and applying body paint to the body to either follow the natural shapes of the body, which can accentuate the figure or go against them to create a different form or silhouette. That led Bella into talking about camouflage body painting, and showed some examples of commercial body painting by herself and others – it’s become popular for companies to use camouflage.

Bella talked about a big influence on body painting as a form of fine art 1960’s/70’s artist Veruskha – who really propelled body painting as a form of art – and really was the first to experiment with camouflage body painting which ever since has been used in fashion photography and commercial advertising.

Bella also went through techniques and the paints and brushes she uses and how organised she has to be before a shoot/paint day – including what to communicate with models – e.g how its important to be on top form and have many fizzy drinks and high protein snacks as it’s a long process an the model needs physical and mental strength to still have energy at the end when the artwork is ready and it’s time to shoot. Then we all had a go at painting and she went through a few quick and easy techniques she uses.

here’s some images of the workshop in progress and our attempts at a few of Bella’s techniques on our own arms –

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