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  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces in Milford applies body paints to model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield as she works on a creation. The parrot theme artwork took more than 4 hours to create.

  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces in Milford applies body paints to model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield as she works on a creation. The parrot theme artwork took more than 4 hours to create.

  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces in Milford, left, applies adds some final detail to model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield as she works on a body paint creation. The parrot theme artwork took more than 4 hours to create.

  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces in Milford applies body paints to model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield as she works on a creation. The parrot theme artwork took more than 4 hours to create.

  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield spent nearly 4 hours to have a body painting done on her by Monica Leo of Milford. Rachel then recorded the painting in a photo shoot with photographers Arcy Kusari of Nashua, Joe DiMattia of Concord and Telegrapher photographer Bruce Preston.

  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces in Milford, right, applies body paints to model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield as she works on a creation. The parrot theme artwork took more than 4 hours to create.

  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces in Milford, left, applies body paints to model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield as she works on a creation. The parrot theme artwork took more than 4 hours to create.

  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Rachele Dubz of Litchfield poses for photos after nearly 4 hours of body painting by Monica Leo of Milford.




  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield spent nearly 4 hours to have a body painting done on her by Monica Leo of Milford. Rachel then recorded the painting in a photo shoot with photographers Arcy Kusari of Nashua, Joe DiMattia of Concord and Telegrapher photographer Bruce Preston.

  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield spent nearly 4 hours to have a body painting done on her by Monica Leo of Milford. Rachel then recorded the painting in a photo shoot with photographers Arcy Kusari of Nashua, Joe DiMattia of Concord and Telegrapher photographer Bruce Preston.

  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces in Milford, left, applies body paints to model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield as she works on a creation. The parrot theme artwork took more than 4 hours to create.

  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces in Milford, right, applies body paints to model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield as she works on a creation. The parrot theme artwork took more than 4 hours to create.

  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield spent nearly 4 hours to have a body painting done on her by Monica Leo of Milford. Rachel then recorded the painting in a photo shoot with photographers Arcy Kusari of Nashua, Joe DiMattia of Concord and Telegrapher photographer Bruce Preston.



  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces in Milford, right, applies body paints to model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield as she works on a creation. The parrot theme artwork took more than 4 hours to create.

  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces in Milford applies body paints to Rachele Dubz of Litchfield as she works on a creation. The parrot theme artwork took more than 4 hours to create.

  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces in Milford, left, applies body paints to model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield as she works on a creation. The parrot theme artwork took more than 4 hours to create.



  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces in Milford, right, applies body paints to model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield as she works on a creation. The parrot theme artwork took more than 4 hours to create.

  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces in Milford, left, applies body paints to model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield as she works on a creation. The parrot theme artwork took more than 4 hours to create.



  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces in Milford, left, applies body paints to model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield as she works on a creation. The parrot theme artwork took more than 4 hours to create.



  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces in Milford, left, applies body paints to model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield as she works on a creation. The parrot theme artwork took more than 4 hours to create.



  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces in Milford applies body paints to model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield as she works on a creation. The parrot theme artwork took more than 4 hours to create.



  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces in Milford applies body paints to Rachele Dubz of Litchfield as she works on a creation. The parrot theme artwork took more than 4 hours to create.

  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Rachele Dubz of Litchfield spent nearly 4 hours to have a body painting done on her by Monica Leo of Milford.

  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces mixes body paints as she works on a creation for Rachele Dubz of Litchfield.

  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Rachele Dubz of Litchfield spent nearly 4 hours to have a body painting done on her by Monica Leo of Milford.

  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo of Trading Faces in Milford, left, applies body paints to model Rachele Dubz of Litchfield as she works on a creation. The parrot theme artwork took more than 4 hours to create.



  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo is a professional face and body paint artist based in Milford.


  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo, a professional face and body paint artist, works on painting a tuxedo on the body of Mark McAdams. McAdams was having the painting done as part of a promotion for the hair salon that he owns.


  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo, a professional face and body paint artist, works on painting a tuxedo on the body of Mark McAdams. McAdams was having the painting done as part of a promotion for the hair salon that he owns.



  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo, a professional face and body paint artist, puts the final touches of a tuxedo on the body of Mark McAdams. McAdams was having the painting done as part of a promotion for the hair salon that he owns.


  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo, a professional face and body paint artist, works on painting a tuxedo on the body of Mark McAdams. McAdams was having the painting done as part of a promotion for the hair salon that he owns.

  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo, a professional face and body paint artist, works on painting a tuxedo on the body of Mark McAdams. McAdams was having the painting done as part of a promotion for the hair salon that he owns.

  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    Monica Leo, a professional face and body paint artist, painted a tuxedo on the body of Mark McAdams. McAdams was having the painting done as part of a promotion for the hair salon that he owns.
Sunday, October 9, 2011

Milford woman uses bodies for ‘living, breathing’ art

Watching paint dry is anything but boring when you’re watching Monica Leo work.

Leo, a face painter and body artist out of Milford, painted faces for three and a half years before she branched off into stomachs, arms, legs, backs – and every other body part you can imagine – a little over a year ago.

The body “is a much bigger canvas to work with than on the face, and it allows more room to be creative,” Leo said. “That’s where the whole art piece falls into place.”

Leo’s business, Trading Faces, started out as a face-painting service for events such as parties, corporate gatherings and fairs. Leo said when she started painting on people’s arms and backs, she got hooked on becoming a full-fledged body artist.

“It’s kind of like an underground world,” Leo said. “There’s actually only one other artist that I know of in New Hampshire that does body painting.”

To pursue her goal, Leo took a number of classes with notable artists in the region, including master body painter Mark Reid.

Not only did Leo learn both sides of the art, since Reid painted Leo as part of a lesson, she came away with the tools to transform any person into a masterpiece.

“I think that was good for me because that’s what made me understand it, what it’s like to be painted,” Leo said. “I know I was extremely nervous when I was first painted.”

The body painting process can take up to five hours, Leo said. She starts by tracing a design on a body, then adds base layers of paint as she builds up and fills in the final image.

Toward the end, Leo adds dozens of fine details on the skin depending on what she’s painting. She has added strips of fabric or painted folds and pockets onto jeans over someone’s legs. She has recreated the logos and lettering of a favorite Bruins jersey onto a back and chest. She has also brought a parrot to life on a model’s chest by shading feathers against the skin.

“It kind of unfolds as it goes along,” Leo said. “Sometimes even mistakes that are made, I’ll go, ‘Well, that’s really cool’ – and boom – you have something creative and different.”

The subject’s reaction tends to be the same, Leo said.

“The funny thing about body painting is you once you get it done, you want to get painted again,” Leo said. “It’s just an awesome thing to do. For some people, it’s something to add to the bucket list.”

When a person painted by Leo makes an appearance somewhere, viewers tend to respond the same way, Leo said.

“It makes a statement and it attracts a lot of attention,” Leo said. “Part of the thing is just bringing public awareness that this is available for people. They’ll say, ‘I’ve seen it in Sports Illustrated,’ where they have those renowned artists, but there’s a whole community of people I’m connected with.”

Despite the common association of body painting with racy spreads such as Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issues, body painting isn’t limited to bikini-clad babes, Leo said.

“The sky’s the limit,” Leo said. “It can be in any form.”

And the designs Leo uses – whether she’s blending a woman into the American flag or making a man into a werewolf – isn’t limited to any body type or sex.

“There are people that are self-conscious of their body,” Leo said. “But while you’re getting painted, you’re covering scars or whatever, because nobody’s body is perfect. You end up giving people a boost.”

Throughout the process, Leo constantly checks to make sure the subject is comfortable.

In September, as Leo painted a tux onto Mark McAdams, owner of PhilipMark Salon in Manchester, she always asked if he needed a break.

“It’s kind of like a relationship with the person that you’re painting,” Leo said. “It’s a whole process of making sure they feel comfortable, asking, ‘Are you warm enough? Do you feel faint? Did you eat? Do you need to wiggle?’ ”

And not all subjects are comfortable at first with posing practically nude, Leo said.

“I’ve painted people before that were very nervous at the beginning,” Leo said, “But once the first layer’s on, they’re like, ‘I feel like I have clothing!’ ”

But subjects aren’t painted completely naked, Leo said. Guys wear shorts or briefs, while women cover up with underwear, thongs or breast pasties when she paints, Leo said.

McAdams, who wore short, black briefs as Leo painted long black strokes down his arms and legs, said the paint would attract attention to his salon in a whole new way.

“There’s a lot of competition when it comes to local small businesses, so it’s a really unique way to get advertising,” McAdams said. “But still, at the same time, it’s not like I’m completely naked, it’s all covered and creative. But we will sexy it up.”

The water-based theatrical paint feels fine on the skin, McAdams said.

“It feels good,” McAdams said. “It’s not as cold as you think it would be. It’s smooth.”

Leo said every “canvas” she paints is different. She customizes each design to the person she’s painting. With McAdams’ design, Leo highlighted his back tattoo honoring a friend against the painted tux. She also matched the teal tie painted on McAdams’ chest with the streaks of color in his hair.

“That’s the interesting thing about body painting pieces,” Leo said. “You do it, and then it’s yours.”

In another body painting of Londonderry model Rachel, Leo started with a parrot as a focal point, then covered the rest of Rachel’s body with her favorite colors.

“You’re just taking an idea and going with it,” Leo said. “It’s a great keepsake for people.”

While McAdams used his art in a new advertisement for PhilipMarks, Rachel used hers to enhance a modeling portfolio. Many times that Leo paints someone, a professional photographer such as her friend Arcy Kusari from OTM Photography will capture the result to last long after the paint washes off with soap and water.

But body painting isn’t just for models and photo shoots, Leo said. It’s the perfect fit for art and fashion shows, theme parties, festivals or simply remembering moments in life, such as pregnancy.

“I painted a friend of mine when she was pregnant, and we had this whole wrap piece around her. … Her belly was sticking out, painted,” Leo said. “It was beautiful.”

Although Leo said she got started in body art painting NASCAR numbers at a car race, she gets new ideas everywhere she goes now.

“I dream of painting,” Leo said. “Or when I’m driving around, I’ll see something and think to myself, ‘That would be cool on a body painting!’ ”

She said she rounds up friends and family members to practice new designs all the time. Or she’ll try something out on herself – although it’s harder to use a mirror and paint your own face, she said.

“I just love what I do,” Leo said. “Like Vincent van Gogh said, ‘I dream my painting, and then I paint my dreams.’ ”

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or mgill@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Gill on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).