Jen Seidel never thought she’d make a living painting “clothes” on naked bodies. The mother of three began her career as a makeup artist and portrait painter, but since 2004 her promotional work for liquor marketing companies— everything from models painted in Coors Light T-shirts to green absinthe fairies— has been seen at nightclubs and bars from Miami to New York. Most recently, Seidel, 39, has painted blouses on breast cancer survivors and a “living” Plastinate from the Maryland Science Center’s “Body Worlds” exhibit. And yes, the models are nude— well, mostly. They do wear bottoms of some sort and pasties up top. “At least in Maryland,” Seidel says. “Out in public they have to.”
1. So how did you go from doing makeup to body painting?
I first painted myself as a cheetah for a Halloween costume contest at a nightclub in D.C. I didn’t think I’d get the attention I got. People were swarming around me. It was amazing. … I ended up on the [homepage] of D.C. Nights.com for a week. That set everything off. I thought if I could paint myself and get myself on a pretty well-known Web site, what else could I do?
2. How do your models react when you start painting them?
I think everybody in the very beginning is hesitant on how it’s going to look on them. They’ve seen it on others, but they think, ‘Wait, I’m going to be nude!’ But I try to make everybody feel as comfortable as I can. You should see the difference after they’ve done [an event]. They’re smiling and laughing and just ecstatic.
3. How long does it take for you to finish a ‘painting’?
I’ve gotten it down to about one to three hours per person— but it could be all the way up to eight to 10 hours for full bodies. Some artists air brush, but I don’t. I paint everything by hand; it’s a water-based paint that dries to a powder. Logos are difficult because the models have to stand still— but they can breathe. I’ve had models that didn’t breathe and they almost passed out. I thought for a while it was because they weren’t eating, but it was because they were holding their breath!
4. Your mother, Linda Seidel, is known around town as a makeup guru. How has her work influenced what you do?
My mother started out with a cosmetic line— Linda Seidel Cosmetics— doing [makeup for] scars and burn marks, so it was a very serious beginning for me. I learned a lot of deep lessons early on. I got really good with makeup watching her at an early age. [With that] being so serious, I’m more of a fantasy type person and I didn’t want to follow in my mother’s exact footsteps. I needed my own identity.
5. How do people tend to react to your work? Can they tell it’s paint?
A few months ago, I did a benefit ‘fashion show’ for a plastic surgeon in Pikesville. I painted a different shirt on seven different women; all had had plastic surgery of some sort. One of the ladies went to the Cheesecake Factory afterward and she took her shawl off and the waitress came over and said, ‘Wow, that’s a really cool shirt. Where did you get that?’ The woman told her it was painted and the waitress said, ‘No way!’ And she brought over all of the other waiters and waitresses. They couldn’t believe it. This was not a model, just a regular woman, a mother. … People have the biggest smiles on their faces when they realize [it’s paint], and that’s the best feeling to me.
For more of Seidel’s work, see jenseidel.com.