Meet the Suffolk body painter whose work can be seen in Hollywood films

Can you spot the woman hidden in this market stall?   

Can you spot the woman hidden in this market stall? - Credit: Tim Anderson

We all have fond memories of painting when we were younger, or getting our faces painted as children – but what if we could turn that love of brushstrokes into a full-time career? 

Carolyn Roper has spent most her adult life working as one of the world’s most prolific and sought-after body painters – and she comes from right here in Suffolk. 

Carolyn Roper of Hadleigh is an award-winning body painter

Carolyn Roper of Hadleigh is an award-winning body painter - Credit: Carolyn Roper

Originally from Hadleigh, Carolyn boasts a client list that includes the likes of Sky, 20th Century Studios, Warner Bros, Cadburys, and even The X Factor.  

But how did she first get into body painting?  

Carolyn, who has always been creative, thanks her mum for getting her into art from such a young age.  

“My mum is a painter, so I used to copy her paintings when I was younger. I then studied art and beauty therapy at Suffolk College, before moving to London to become a makeup artist,” she explains.  

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It was during her time in London that she stumbled upon an advert for the World Bodypainting Festival in a makeup magazine – which soon piqued her interest in the niche art form.  

“I took my sister with me as a model and just turned up – but it wasn’t until I got there that I realised how huge of event it really was.” 

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Established in 1998, the World Bodypainting Festival is an annual event that celebrates and showcases the best in the world of full body makeup and special effects.  

Carolyn - who uses regular face paint and art brushes - can turn people into walking works of art

Carolyn - who uses regular face paint and art brushes - can turn people into walking works of art - Credit: Carolyn Roper

In a pre-pandemic world, the event would see around 30,000 people attend - with 100 artists from across the globe competing across a number of categories including brush and sponge, airbrushing, and special effects.  

“I studied makeup for two years and there wasn’t a lot covered on body painting, so it was mainly a process of trial and error - I’d practise on my mum, my friends, my boyfriend and myself. 

“As soon as I arrived at the competition though, I fell in love with it. It takes place over two days, and was outside in temperatures of around 30 degrees. It was physically hard and stressful at times, but also amazing.” 

Contestants have six hours to design and paint their art on a human canvas before putting their creations before a panel of international judges.  

The top 20 would then progress into the final day of judging before a subsequent winner was chosen.  

Superbike rider Leon Haslam covered in a painted bodysuit

Superbike rider Leon Haslam covered in a painted bodysuit - Credit: Gary Prior

It took Carolyn just five years of competing before she eventually went on to become world champion, taking home two world titles - one in the brush and sponge category, and another for special effects. 

“I last won in 2009, and have since gone on to judge the competition several times. 

“Art can be quite subjective. I suppose the hardest thing is there are a lot of people to judge and when it came to the finalists, there’d be one or two points in it as the quality is that good. It was really hard to choose a winner sometimes.” 

Outside of the world of competition, Carolyn’s own designs began to catch the eye of companies across the world, who soon began booking her for jobs in every corner of the globe.  

Carolyn in action at a Lush event

Carolyn in action at a Lush event - Credit: Carolyn Roper

“One of the biggest advantages of being a body painter is that my work has taken me to so many places. I’ve been fortunate to have worked in the United States, Mumbai, Thailand, Monaco, Cannes, Hong Kong, and the Dominican Republic to name a few. It’s been great.” 

Carolyn – who now specialises in blending people into backgrounds – fondly remembers one of her biggest and most-challenging jobs to date.  

“I worked on the 2014 film Dumb and Dumber 2. When I arrived in the States, I went straight to the set and met the directors, who wanted me to blend Rob Riggle into a vending machine. They asked if I could do it, to which I said I could, and they said ‘great, we’re holding you to that – we're not going to put any effects on it’.” 

After hours of painting the actor into the background, the result was a seamless and near-invisible blend that would fool most people into thinking it was green screen and camera trickery. 

Other places you may have seen Carolyn’s work include on The Alan Titchmarsh Show, The Michael Ball Show, and on the album cover of Scottish rock band Biffy Clyro’s 2005 release Puzzle.  

More recently however, Carolyn spent hours expertly blending a cast of people into various public backgrounds for Channel 4 and Showem Entertainment’s Naked & Invisible, one of the network’s most popular online short series.  

The hidden camera body painting series went viral, ultimately smashing All4’s network record for social media engagement and reaching a whopping 120 million views in the space of a week. 

But such detailed work comes with challenges, especially when your artform can take upwards of six hours.  

“Live events are always exciting, but there’s always varying factors that might mean something goes wrong. The worst conditions are when it’s cold or raining. 

“I’ve actually had to call off a shoot once because it was too cold for the model, as they’re only wearing underwear. I’ve also had models faint because of how long they’re having to stand for.” 

Carolyn worked on Channel 4's Naked & Invisible, where she concealed people into everyday public settings

Carolyn worked on Channel 4's Naked & Invisible, where she concealed people into everyday public settings - Credit: Carolyn Roper

With the pandemic unfortunately putting a halt to Carolyn’s work over the past year and a half, she has kept herself busy in the meantime by switching back to oil paint and paper canvases. 

“The makeup and bodypainting industry has been absolutely hit so hard due to Covid,” she explains.  

“Doing portraits helped keep me sane – but jobs are slowly coming in again, and I also teach. Things will be better once we can travel internationally again – I’d love nothing more than an assignment abroad right now.” 

For anyone who fancies following in Carolyn’s footsteps and becoming a body painter, her main piece of advice is to practise, practise, practise.  

“Why not try on your legs first and just go from there? Your legs are a great canvas. And you can just use a basic selection of face paints and art brushes – you don’t need specialist brushes. Have a go and see where the creativity takes you.” 

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