Okay, so you want to hear about the shower now, right? How I finally discovered the secret of getting hot water in Bangkok? No? Sheesh. Silly people. If you ever come to Thailand, you’ll regret not listening…but OK, fine. Have it your way…
Coming in from Chiang Mai: I arrived on the overnight train, second-class sleeper compartment. This consists of two spacious benches facing each other, each easily wide enough for two people (three if they’re friendly 😉 ). During the day, you sit on those benches. At night, the benches convert into a bottom bunk, and an overhead compartment (similar to an airplane’s overhead luggage bins) drops down to form a top bunk. (They put two straps on the top bunk to serve as railings, so you don’t accidentally fall out during the night.) This looks like a very civilized way of traveling, and is certainly better than a bus–but there’s a lot of bumping and quite a bit of light from the aisles, so it’s hard to sleep. I think next time I may shell out the extra $ and fly.
Anyway, I arrived in Bangkok, napped for a bit, then collected my fish spear, bow, big bag of assorted props, and headed out for body painting. (You would not *believe* the looks I got from the taxi driver. Apparently a 5′ rusty fish spear is not exactly standard equipment for a nice Japanese tourist lady. sheesh. what *are* these people thinking?? 😉 )
At the photographer’s studio, I unpacked my bags while waiting for Richard (the artist) to arrive. I’d done some shopping at Chatuchak Market (Bangkok’s Weekend Market, where almost anything can be purchased) and also in Chiang Mai, so the full set of props included:
1 rusty fish spear
1 four-foot bow
1 18″ jade/serpentine dagger
various small seashells
1 tribal-looking necklace ($7.50 in Chatuchak)
1 feather duster
misc. wood and silver beads
1 silver tiara
Once Richard arrived, we added an ivory opium pipe, a rusty sword, and a chunky red coral necklace to the collection.
The tiara deserves special mention, as I’m quite smug about it. It’s a jade cabochon set in sterling silver, and surrounded by sterling silver leaves. It’s my work–at least the tiara part–I made it on the way to Chiang Mai, using my Leatherman and some wire from my repair kit. It’s quite beautiful, and I’ve already decided to bring it home with me.
Anyway, Richard arrived after an hour or so, and after an hour of initial setup (which I spent wiring spiky seashells to the coral necklace, putting together test strings of feathers for my hair, and so forth) we got started on the body painting.
Richard paints with a variety of tools: airbrush, brushes, sponge, and (sometimes) fingers. The brushes put on heavy lines, with a precise edge and heavy lines; the sponge produces nice opaque coverage sans brush marks (good for large areas); the airbrush gives highlights and soft edges. Fingers are mostly good as very small-scale erasers, although for removing smudges he uses clean wedges of makeup sponge.
We argued a bit about the initial design. He convinced me that metal claws (a la Witchblade) over the breasts would be better than cobras–we could use a cobra as a figleaf over the groin. (Later, we discarded it entirely.) He wanted to do a single armored piece off the shoulder (from a book he had)–which was fine with me. We both agreed that metal spiky bits along the body would be great.
Richard didn’t like the bone necklace, saying it looked “too feminine–like a shrimp shoot”. (A “shrimp shoot” is apparently trade slang for the topless Asian girl in a sarong–think “hawaii”.)) But we left it in, since it matched the tiara.
Anyway, he roughed in the design with a pencil, then put on an initial layer of gray paint with brush and sponge. (I’ve put a number of design-in-progress photos on the page–although unfortunately there aren’t many of them; Richard was busy painting, and of course I was busy being painted. I have better work-in-progress frontal photos, but you’ll excuse me if I don’t post them. 😉 ) This was plain, flat gray; but since he mixed each small batch of color individually, there was still enough variation to make it texturally noticeable.
I have to apologize here. I know almost nothing about painting, so while it was fascinating to watch, there’s no way I can write a description of the painting process. I did think it was really neat the way the paint built up: first a flat background, then dark shadows, then highlights, then medium shadows, then more highlights, and so on. it seemed like a process of overcorrection: the highlights made it too garish, then the shadows made it too dark, and finally the last lines threw everything into sharp focus. (The jagged lines on my back, for example, are actually four or five layers of paint: base gray, white highlight, dark brushed-on shadow, airbrushed shadow, more white highlight, dark lines.)
The cobra-esque brown bits around the breasts, for example, started as very dull brown blobs, then he added scale-pattern lines in black (which moderated to dark brown as the paints mixed on the body). At this point it was still quite dull; then he added highlights in bright yellow and suddenly it popped out with real three-dimensional color. At some point he decided that the metallic “claws” over the breasts were too sharp, so blurred it with the airbrush. That kind of thing.
(He also did some minor body modifications through strategic applications of dark paint, but since I’m feeling chivalrous towards the model (i.e. me 😉 ), I’ll leave out those details. I am obviously a physically perfect goddess. Yeah, that’s the ticket. 😉 )
All in all, the painting took six hours. This was a bit of a challenge, physically speaking, because body painting is not like other kinds of painting, modeling, etc.–the model can’t take breaks. Once the paint starts going on, you can’t sit down, go to the bathroom, or anything else–because if you touch *anything* (including your own arm, underarm, etc.), the paint’s going to smudge. So as soon as you start, you’re on for the duration.
(One also has to commit to full-body Nair, as even peach-fuzz, nearly invisible body hair interferes with an airbrush. Having tried it, I will reiterate my opinion that whoever invented Nair (or its relatives) deserves a place in the same torturous hell as the inventor of high-heels. (My private opinion on how women’s fashion got started involves some gay Spanish Inquisitors undergoing career burnout–corsets are just WAY more fabulous (and just as uncomfortable) as traditional methods like thumbscrews, branding irons, and the rack. But I digress.)
Anyway, standing up for eight hours turns out to be no joke–walking for eight hours is bad enough, but for body painting you’re not walking, you’re standing there in one place without moving, so there’s no relief for your feet at all. The floor was bare hardwood, which made it even worse–fortunately, we did find a rug to put under my feet eventually (which helped some), and also some Advil (much more helpful).
We were also painting with a good bit of infrastructure. The photographer brought two helpers (they all sat around very bored for six hours while we painted) and Richard brought along his secretary/girlfriend (I wasn’t sure which and didn’t want to inquire), Mai. Richard’s assistant, Nung, was also supposed to be there, but he didn’t turn up. Apparently he’d been panicking completely over the prospect of painting me (“very gay” was Richard’s phrase) and so Richard wasn’t sure whether he really was trapped at his home studio, or had just decided to bail. (In Thai culture, if you’re late and turning up will create an embarrassing scene, you simply don’t show up at all; that way next time you see the person, everyone can pretend that nothing happened. Something about “saving face”.)
At any rate, it would have been nice to have an extra painter (we could have gotten more detail on the gauntlets, etc.) but it worked just fine without him. Mai was great–she put together the beaded feathers, the coral-and-shell necklace, and so on, while we were painting, which was really helpful.
Anyway, six hours after the painting was done, we finished, turned loose my hair, and got to the photo shoot. (The hair, by the way, is the end result of my braiding it and wrapping it in a bun for a day and a half, then undoing it and spritzing it with hairspray.) The overall effect was *amazing*. I looked in the mirror and a warrior princess looked back at me.
The photo shoot was more or less a standard photo shoot–which is to say, they set up a backdrop, stuck me in front of it, and then proceeded to do a lot of very boring things with light-meters, exposures, Polaroids, and so on before getting to the actual shoot. Tried a lot of different poses, props, etc.–swapped out the barbarian coral necklace for the jade tiara–and eventually, over 2 hours, managed to shoot 6 rolls of 120mm slide film. (We’d only paid for 5, but the photographer got caught up in the artistic spirit and threw in an extra roll free.) It was infinitely fun–imagine all your secret superhero fantasies suddenly gratified! which is to say, I got to try out all those wonderfully melodramatic poses usually sheepishly reserved for the bedroom mirror. 😉 And, it looked great…Richard did a *fantastic* job on the painting. I really hated to wash it off.
But, of course, you can’t go walking naked (even painted) through Bangkok, and clothes would have smeared it immediately, so I hopped into the shower and de-painted. Six hours on, ten minutes to swirl down the drain. (Cold shower.) *sigh* I wish I could have figured out a way to get it back to the hotel. It was amazing.
So, anyway, I’ve finally found a use for being 5’0″ and heavy-set; it’s the perfect build for a barbarian-warrior. (A useful skill in today’s society, you must agree. 😉 ) I’m also pleased that we got at least one good shot of my bulging post-AIDS-Lifecycle calves; I admit cheerfully that I’m quite vain about them (and the quads of steel, too). But then, if you’d ridden 2,000+ miles to get them, you would be too. 😉 I just hope I don’t lose them before this year’s Lifecycle; retraining is going to be a stone-cold bitch, especially coming in “cold” from Asia.
Well, that’s it so far. After the body painting I went home and crashed–between no sleep, standing up for eight hours, and way too much caffeine, I’ve pretty much been out of it the last day or so. Tonight I’m going off for dinner with Kaew (my Thai friend whom I met at the Barbican with Ben)–I’m trying to convince her to go see Calypso, the katoey (transvestite) revue with me–and then either Monday or Wednesday I’ll leave for Cambodia. The current plan is Angkor Wat, possibly followed by the Cambodian Holocaust museum in Phnom Penh, and then on to Vietnam, with a possible trip through Laos on the way back, or maybe straight to Bangkok. All of this is up in the air, though; the only thing I’m reasonably certain of is that I’m leaving for Cambodia, sometime next week. And that I’m going to try shipping the bow and fish spear home. Heaven only knows what DHL is going to make of the package. 😉