Is most definitely Mardi Gras, in New Orleans at the House of Blues! I should be packing right now, making sure I have everything I need… but I wanted to share something with you. I have been painting at Mardi Gras since my second year as a body painter. I learned ON THE JOB, how to paint faces, at the festival! I work with my partner, Emma Kenemer at House of Blues every year now, and we paint all the staff… the servers, the cooks, the hostesses the bartenders, the managers, the manager’s friends… and anyone who will hold still long enough for me to throw paint, glitter and feathers on them!
It’s such an amazing gig. Yes, it’s a LOT of face painting, and I am definitely a body painter FIRST. However, what makes me happy, is making other people happy. After seven minutes, and they are done being painted, I show them their reflection, and I always hear a gasp, and an exclamation of joy, and disbelief. THAT is what I love about being an arts entertainer. It is the chance to connect with my client, (who are often shy and doubtful) and show them another interpretation of their once familiar face. It gives people the gift to experience life outside of themselves for a little while. The people who need face painting and costume first… are not little kids. They are the adults that have stressful jobs, who want to escape their lives for a little while and indulge in fun! And actually… face painting is spiritual! I believe we are stumbling through this human existence, a struggle that we’re trying to get right for many. When you can give someone a break, and a new beauty in themselves, it is a very empowering feeling. Ah… THIS is the meaning of life… to LOVE people, and help them love themselves. YES, face painting does that. Wierd, huh!!!
Well, last year, in 2014, during Mardi Gras, I was on the set of Skin Wars. I thought I might be sent home, and then get to work the gig regularly, but as contestants started to fall away, I realized, I would have to get back my cell phone, call my partner Emma, and let her know that I was going to miss the majority of Mardi Gras, and maybe the whole thing, because I didn’t know the time line, and everything was unpredictable. After the winner, my bestie Natalie was announced, the judges were not allowed to talk to us back stage, as Dutch and Natalie and I were kind of in shock that the whole reality show thing was over… but Craig Tracy bucked the rules and came back to talk with us. He told us how proud of us he was, and how our work was just outstanding and we should each be very proud that we made it that far. How encouraging! What a wonderful note to end on!!! Then we packed up our things at the studio, camera men and sound guys were gone, the lady photographers were gone, and the set VANISHED in a short amount of time. We were shuttled back to the reality house in Hermosa Beach, and they were already starting to deconstruct the whole thing, taking out beds, papering the walls with butcher paper, all the furniture started to be removed, and a cleaning crew came in. It was SUCH a bizarre feeling, and then… we got our phones back, and our wallets! Dutch was finally allowed to watch TV and he was 100% engrossed in some old school SciFi movie like Dune or something. Natalie and I looked at each other and were like WHOA!!! When we wanted to escape the “reality” we always headed up to the rooftop to talk and decompress. We noted how beautiful it was up there, but we never were able to take a photo before!!! Here it is from that moment.
The adult babysitters that we had wrangle us everywhere, (called Contestant Wranglers) FINALLY told us that they did not CARE anymore what we did, the show was over and to go have fun! Our jaws dropped! FINALLY we would be able to walk to the CVS … BY OURSELVES!!! Gear was in Hollywood but he couldn’t make it out to LA on his motorcycle, so we just walked up the street to the bar we always stared at from the isolation of the contestant van. Finally! A DRINK!!! IN A BAR!!! NOT a glass of champagne after one of our buddies got kicked off the show! It was Oscar night. We went into the bar, and … it was such a weird, small feeling… NOBODY was staring at us. Nobody had cameras in our faces, we were just a face in the crowd. I cannot tell you, how WONDERFUL that felt. and LONELY at the same time. Like, people were ignoring us. They could only stare at Matthew Mcconaughey make an acceptance speech, and we were like… one drink and OUT! On to adventure! Surely there IS something exciting to do in this town… We stepped into a dive bar, and proceeded to hammer ourselves. We befriended two gay guys who were AWESOME and they invited us back to their condo to smoke some California bud! (We obviously were not going to pass up this social opportunity.) It was a palatial condo, and the weed was strong. I only needed a tiny puff, and a breath of the ocean with the next door neighbors we never knew… to realize, finally it was over. I hugged Natalie tight, and when they wanted to take photos of us together, we got kind of spooked and fled to bed! It was AMAZING to hang out w Nat and get real!!! She had just WON SKIN WARS, and I got to see our parallel paths in a way that nobody will understand. It was magic, and things could not have been better that night. Besides, we earned it. Nicole snuck out before even the third elimination challenge, and I wanted to feel like I was doing something rebellious too! 🙂
Then the next day, in the early afternoon, we were taken to the airport and sent away. I had been planting seeds about Mardi Gras, the whole season at Skin Wars, so that if I did get the boot, it would be to New Orleans instead of my home town of Orlando. When it was all over… I begged the contestant coordinator, and then the producer, “PLEASE send me to Mardi Gras!!! There is just one day left, and I really want to work it!” Wish granted!!! I flew in on Lundi Gras, at midnight, found my hotel and partner sleeping in bed, and I jumped on her squealing about Skin Wars, and how amazing it was, and how I kicked ass and how my whole life is changed and NOW I GET TO WORK AT HOUSE OF BLUES, WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! I remember being so excited to sleep in the next day!! That I didn’t have to put on a mic pack! That there were no more Star Wagon portable toilets to deal with! That I didn’t have to have my photo taken of what I was planning to wear at 5 in the morning for approval. That I… was FREE. Showing up at House of Blues the next day was HEAVEN. I was greeted by all my friends who work there, and met new ones. Everyone was so proud, and then everyone watched the show when it aired six months later. It was a kind of homecoming that I’ll never forget. And then on my day off, I think on Friday… I made an appointment to visit the Craig Tracy Body Art Gallery. The only art gallery for Body Painting in the world, to my knowledge. He welcomed me in, I met his brother again, Philip, we talked for an hour, we went and got soy lattes down the road, and continued to talk… about body painting and about the show, for FIVE HOURS. It blew me away, that here this celebrity body painter, wants to chat with ME about all of the things I had questions about, and deconstructing different things that happened on the show. It was a magical moment in my life, and now Craig, and his wife Ashley are my friends, and so is our other judge, the conceptual artist and famous body painter, Robin Slonina of Skin City. I got to spend quality time with her at Craig and Ashley’s wedding!!! Just what a life. What an amazing, kick ass life.
So now. It is very possible that Season Two of Skin Wars is being filmed right now, because it’s Mardi Gras week. There will be new contestants, most likely blowing eachother’s skulls open with abilities they didn’t know they had … (Like this little number I painted with my friend Angela Roberts,)
… and the same kind of magic is probably happening for all of them! I’m very happy for them that they got to have that experience! Now I’m remembering and being grateful, and excited for tomorrow, to start making people smile through my designs. As we say at Mardi Gras…
Laissez la bon ton roulet! Let the good times roll! To make an appointment to be painted, click the “BOOK SHANNON” button and reserve your time Feb 12 -17, 2015!