This summer, Ellee Evans, an artist who is from Lynchburg but currently living in Atlanta, set out to alter perception and bend reality. With paintbrush in-hand, she stood in the middle of Art Alley in downtown Lynchburg for four hours expertly mixing color and creating contrast. But rather than painting something stationary, Evans relied on a patient model to act as her canvas.
“I have a deep desire for making things magical just from illusion,” Evans explained. “I think it started from my scenic painting training my senior year of college. I learned how to make backdrops for plays look three dimensional and it inspired me to do the reverse with body paint. I want to turn the 3D image we see in life into a 2D illusion. It’s magical and so incredibly fulfilling once I step back and see the final product.”
Using Mehron, a water-based body paint, Evans was able to ensure that a thin layer of breathable, weightless paint could be applied to the skin and clothes to act as the base before applying contour and details. But before Evans ever puts brush to body, she first puts pen to paper.
“Prepping for a paint session starts with a drawing. I draw out a rough sketch using the dimension of the model, and then I play around with color palettes and designs,” she said. “Then, when I have a vision, I will share it with the client or friend that I am painting. I wash and cleanse all of my brushes and palettes, and then I pack up my back with all of my essentials and meet with the client to create the magic!”
For Evans, painting a person versus a canvas is about the connection and the process. Evans enjoys being able to talk to someone while she paints and allows herself to get inspired in the moment to add more details to her living painting while she works. But Evans also recognizes that there can be something deeper at play when you spend that much time working closely with another person.
“It’s body positivity,” she said. “I love making someone feel like a beautiful piece of artwork—even though every human already is one, we just often are hard on ourselves and don’t see it! I have a lot of self-image issues and whenever I paint myself, I feel so valuable and special and important. It means the world to me to be able to share that feeling with other humans.”
Evans has been passionate and curious about this type of live, body art since she was a child. Her mom would read Purple, Green and Yellow by Robert Munsch to her, which recounts a story of a marker-obsessed girl who runs out of paper and begins drawing on herself instead.
“Throughout high school, I would use sharpies and eye liner to draw tattoos on myself,” Evans remembered. “Eventually, I started playing around with makeup and cosplays. I would want to buy a costume, but then something would just click in me, and I would just say, ‘I could just paint it on me, right?’ It all started trickling off into more and more creative ways to use paint and play with illusions.”
Although Evans moved away from Lynchburg a little over a year ago, she still enjoys returning for art projects or to see how much the city has changed.
“This last time coming back to Lynchburg, I found myself taking so many photos downtown,” she recounted. “The art scene has made a huge difference in the downtown atmosphere. It makes me feel welcome and appreciated as an artist. Like, ‘Hello, we welcome art here.’”
Evans plans to return to Lynchburg often, and is available for commissions via her website or on Instagram.
Photos by Enrique with Kanded Photo