Unicorns are Magic


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Lucky Unicorn Ryder Gledhill, photographer Maggie Riley and Caroline Jordan, models


A special word about the Unicorn…

The story of the Unicorn:  When I was little, I loved Unicorns.  I think all little girls who ride horses must!   I would pretend that Bob, my chestnut quarter horse would take me to see one as I went through the riding trail. I drew them endlessly, on my notebooks and on my homework. They were a symbol of luck and magic for me, and I remembered the Unicorn during a challenge on Skin Wars.   We had to pick a mythical beast to paint and work it into a narrative with two other characters in a three on three team challenge.  I was paired with Nicole and Gear on team Blondetourage, and I decided to paint a unicorn character because of my outstanding track record for making the mark narrowly, and by the skin of my teeth lucking out.  For example, one time, I was locked in a printmaking closet during an all-night art making session, all alone in Rome, Italy…  and narrowly made my flight to Dublin, with only my passport, airline confirmation number, sketchbook and the clothes on my back.   The kindness of the bus driver, who didn’t request a fare from me, and the first lads I met at Trinity College who even gave me their own bed, happily for example… the scholarship I got for writing an essay the night before it was due… and one time on a fluke, I face painted a friend of an executive for ESPN, unbeknownst to me and a year later got a phone call requesting me to face and body paint for the Super Bowl VIP parties!  The list goes on and on and on and does NOT exclude a Hollywood producer calling me out of the blue and then casting me on Season 1 of Skin Wars… ALL OF IT seems like an outpouring of God’s favor, undeserved, and I have always felt “Unicorn Lucky.”  I knew right away that was the beast I wanted to paint.  I had a choice of creature, and even though the visual references were bad, I decided to risk it, because of my heart.  I had a rough sketch, and went into the challenge overly confident that I could knock it out with elegance, plus help my team mates with the collaborative part of the challenge.  But as I looked around the Skin Wars work space, and stood back from my own body painting with time running out,  I realized that my piece was by far the weakest in the room and looked as if it were one of the notebook unicorns I drew at 15 years old, and not an accomplished artwork.   If my team was chosen as the losing team, my flat, badly composed unicorn would be sending me home!  I was very emotional, but happy that my time at Skin Wars was so well rounded, and grateful in the moment, to at least have made it this far to episode 5 of 8.  I was making my concession speech in my head, and I remember the judges being displeased with my performance, noting that it was the weakest thing I had painted so far in the competition.  The light at the end of the tunnel, was that I was on the winning team!  Even though my paint job sucked, I was safe miraculously.   When the inquisition was directed at the losing team and the judges asked who should go home, I was surprised to see how quickly the guys on the losing team pointed the finger at one of my best friends on the show, NATALIE FLETCHER!  They were going on and on about how she didn’t pull her weight and how sloppy her painting was. I actually loved her Minotaur piece, and my heart pounded as I thought about what it would be like in the house, without Natalie and honestly, I was more upset than as if it were  me on the chopping block!

Usually, during the elimination judgment, you stand there and wait for the final call to be made.  You respect the judges and celebrities and speak when spoken to.  I started to feel really hot under the lights and as I imagined Natalie packing her bag, and it just felt so incredibly wrong, it felt bleak, and it felt like I couldn’t breathe.  “What the hell,” I thought.  “This is TV torture and i don’t care!  I don’t care if I get in trouble with production, or the judges, or RuPaul or Michael Leavitt, or whoever!”  I bolted up my hand, in protest of Natalie’s elimination, which is something you do not do on the stage at Skin Wars.  Rebecca Romjin held her ear piece and said, “Uh… Shannon is raising her hand.  Should I call on her?”  When Rebecca called on me, I talked about what the judges didn’t see.  I told them that Natalie stayed up all night, drawing her own portrait in the mirror, perched on the tiny bathroom countertop with her feet in the sink, holding a hairbrush so she could get her portrait on the back of her body painting correct.  I talked about how Natalie wrote the story for the characters to be interwoven together, and how she implemented the most UV into her piece, more than anyone. I said that body painting was her life’s work, and that she is an authentic body painter, who paints from her heart.  Then I was asked who I thought should go home, and quick as a whip, I said, “FELLE!”  Felle  had  been psycho torturing me at the house with mean pranks, and trying to scare me and trying to make me emotional by picking fights, obviously a tactic in trying to getting me eliminated as well!  I didn’t feel guilty calling him out for elimination, but  Felle was eliminated for none of these reasons, and I got to keep my bestie.  I realized how close I was to going home at that point, and shudder to think.  Living through a reality television experience is wonderful but can be freaking traumatizing.

Fast forward four months.  Hours before I watched this Mythology episode of Skin Wars as it aired with my friends at Cafe DaVinci, I recreated my Unicorn piece, the way that I SHOULD have painted it the first time.  I had time to find good visual references, and I worked on a full tank of sleep, painting it in Ryder Gledhill’s photography studio.  Then I brought the models down to the show and let my friends take cell phone pics of the loveliest painted bums in the entire world.  I couldn’t escape my thoughts about what a failure the Unicorn I painted on set at Skin Wars was, and so I re painted a Unicorn I was happy with.  The latest version is so cool, but it never would have been created if I hadn’t been so dissatisfied with my original painting.  There is a golden standard in body art, and I want to hit the mark and do beautiful paint jobs;   if not the first time, then definitely the second!  That is how this brand new Unicorn image was born.  If this beautiful thing was created from a crash and burn moment in my body painting career, for all the world to see, and I got to save my friend, then it was totally worth it!

Every week, I do a Q and A session after the viewing party at Cafe DaVinci in my home town, DeLand!  I have recorded a few of them on an iphone app, and am going to post them here for your unedited audio pleasure.  Please enjoy!    To compliment the viewing of the mythology episode of Skin Wars, I painted this double model unicorn,  redeeming my bad paint job with team Blondetourage!  After the episodes, my guests can take cell phone photos of the body painting, and pose with models.  All of these professional photos were taken by Ryder Gledhill.  The Unicorn painting is modeled by Maggie Riley and Caroline Jordan and was a 3.5 hour paint job.



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