Looking Out To Sea

Body painting for fun and (educational) profit

Art and anatomy event illustrates the wonders of the human body

Art and Anatomy is a group which aims to teach anatomy to medical students at Edinburgh university through artistic methods: body painting and sculpture being the two obvious approaches. As a promotional thing they ran an evening session for the public, letting people have a go at sculpting clay hearts and painting the structures of the hand onto each other.

At the same time American artist Danny Quirk was nearby (well, London) for a seminar so agreed to come to Edinburgh and demonstrate his own body painting techniques. He has done a lot of anatomical painting on bodies. His images use acrylic paint and marker pen rather than “face paint” which is water based, so his body paintings are so much more vivid and powerful.

Helen had agreed to help out with some of the anatomical teaching side of the day and as soon as I saw photos of Danny Quirk’s work I knew I wanted to volunteer. As luck would have it the model that had been arranged (another medic) had a latex allergy — and the acrylic/marker pen is painted onto a transparent latex layer which is directly on the skin. Clearly she was not the best candidate so I stepped up to the mark.

We started early — I stripped off my shirt and painting began before 8 AM. We took a brief few minutes out for lunch and a few toilet breaks but basically the work continued until about four o’clock in the afternoon. Walking through the halls of the medical school building topless to visit the toilet was quite amusing. I’m unsure how many people who saw me knew what was happening; it wasn’t obvious I was painted until I was walking away.

The evening lecture was the point at which Danny unveiled his new work (ie me). Then the audience went off to their chosen workshops and to look round the medical artifacts museum and the “artist’s studio” where medical illustrators in the past would work from the results from the dissection table.

The day received a lot of press and there were photographers in from the university and a bunch of high profile papers/press agencies. My photo appeared in the Metro and the BMJ while others got into the Herald etc. You can see the university press’s official photographs here.

The latex sheet was removed in one piece the following day and you can see the video of the process. The whole thing took nearly an hour but it’s been edited so you don’t lose all interest. I don’t have a hairy back but removing a full sheet of latex wasn’t a pleasant experience. The tiny hairs near the spine seemed to be a consistent source of pain. I would recommend anyone who did this in future to just shave regardless of how unhairy you are.

We’ve still got the piece at the moment, weighted down on a piece of mounting board under plastic sheet and heavy (anatomy) textbooks. The plan is to get some kind of boxes to display it like items in a specimen case. Meanwhile Danny’s promised to send a cleaned up photograph of me and my back to keep on the wall.

Totally great, really glad I signed up for the day.