Interview by Oscar Valdez. Models: Lil Iturria and Alexander Esquenazi.
Michelle “Michi” Chedraui hails from the flavorful and vibrant Ecuador; yet, she more closely resembles a Russian nesting doll. Her petite appearance might fool you at first, but as she opens up, you’ll be sure to discover doll upon doll of vigorous passion. While focused in obtaining her Masters in Architecture, Michi is also well versed in photography and the art of body painting. After our collaboration photoshoot, I interviewed her about how this hidden talent came to be.
Featured on Volume 3
Oscar: Tell me how you started, what was your inspiration and what was it that made you start?
Michi: Since I was little, I liked art and painting and doing stuff. Even as a kid I usually bought paint and I used it to paint on my dad’s face. I started doing more face paint and even practiced using my own body. I fell in love with the process, so I went to McFatter and obtained a technical degree.
Oscar: What did you do there?
Michi: I put 2 things together: makeup and photography. After that, I decided that I had to do it because it was my dream. I loved it. I loved it more than anything. My mom made a huge effort to pay for me to attend so I was able to finish, and I also graduated with a degree in makeup artistry from the Cosmix School of Art in Oakland, Florida.
Oscar: That’s awesome! So tell me about Cosmix? I first learned about it when you showed me examples from an event you attended. What was it exactly, and what was your role during the event?
Michi: They do it every year and it’s free, but you have to put in your own paint and your own materials. And then you bring your model and people bring friends and you just do whatever you want.
Oscar: Its like an artwalk, but for body painting.
Michi: Yeah, and we’re in a room or situated outside in the park. We just meet anywhere and bring food and have a good time while learning about other artists, what they’ve been doing. Some artists, like myself, are also into different things like fashion or architecture. Some aren’t generally doing makeup anymore, they’re busy doing other creative endeavors. Or live in other places and come just for the event.
Oscar: So you can build a strong network with other people.
Michi: Yes, even for people starting this for the first time. Or have second opinions about makeup.
Oscar: So, its good that you bring that up. What made you switch, and why didn’t you continue to pursue makeup?
Michi: Because, first of all, the career is very expensive and materials are extremely expensive. A little bottle for airbrushing is like $10 and you can only do an arm for that. So its nothing! People can’t seem to afford it, or don’t think it’s worth it. And plus, its hard to find a job, unless you rely on freelance jobs, which means you have to find jobs on your own and accept smaller pay. You wind up loosing a lot. But that’s the only way you can build up your portfolio, and theres a time frame when you might realize, “I’m not gaining anything. I’m losing.”
Oscar: Is working at the body paint industry mostly freelance? Because the only place I’ve seen it mainstream is on the “Face Off” Show. I actually really like it. They come up with really creative stuff but that’s really special effects makeup and more intense. So, does Cosmix help you out in getting a career or is it more like you graduate and you find your way?
Michi: You have to find your way. And they usually tell you, go to Macys, go to this place, and try from there and get experience. It’s a lot about learning about the body. People just think it’s about the painting, but its about learning the face, the definition of the face, the body, curves, etc. Since every painting that you do is on a unique body part, you have to study the area really well.
Oscar: So it’s very skilled; a lot of complexity?
Michi: Yes, you have to practice a lot. People have different contours in their eyes, for example, and you have to learn about the techniques for each. People have different skin tones and you have to create a matching foundation.
Oscar: So you mix and match and it makes it very personalized.
Michi: Yes, its very personalized.
Oscar: Now that I know architecture is another one of your passions, do you think that they are related in any way or that you can take something from body painting and apply to architecture?
Michi: Yes of course. For me, it is the concept. When you paint you have a concept, similar to architecture. And not only that, but the definition of what you want to express. How you have to blend stuff in the face, the same thing has to be done in architecture, you blend the space. You blend architecture with a concept. You blend architecture with the people. In that sense, they both relate to each other.
Oscar: So Its more about the synthesis of the idea?
Michi: Right, ideas. Do something with an idea that you develop but maybe integrating the two together. Its a little more complicated.
Oscar: Do you think you’ll ever design a body-painting studio?
Michi: (laughs) Hopefully! For myself! I would love to have one!
Oscar: And what are the types of paint and brushes that you use?
Michi: The type of paint depends. It depends on airbrushing or body painting. When you do body painting, there are two different styles. People confuse body painting with airbrushing. Airbrushing is body painting but not the other way around. You can do body painting with a sponge and brushes and when you airbrush you only use high definition paint, which involves a different technique.
Oscar: So airbrushing is for finer quality?
Michi: Yes, its more like using it to give a more overall cover. You do body painting, on the other hand, with a brush or sponge and give a smaller spot more definition; like details.
Oscar: So basically body painting is that you’re able to do a lot more detail, which is basically where the art is, just like in architecture. There’s a saying that goes “details are everything in how things come together.” And you mentioned both detail and the way things blend, so it’s nice to see the relationship.
I have one last question for you and that is: how do you stay awake?
Michi: (laughs) How do I stay awake? With coffee and a lot of coffee!
Oscar: What else REALLY keeps you awake?
Michi: Architecture; that’s the only thing that keeps me awake all the time (with the help of coffee).
Below are behind-the-scenes previews of the body art photoshoot. Taken by Aurora Alcaide & Oscar Valdez.