'A LITTLE ARTISTRY' GOES A LONG WAY - Q & A WITH AWARD-WINNING BODYPAINT ARTIST, BMC MAKEUP GRADUATE JENNIFER LITTLE!
“I am a firm believer in not censoring your art. I love to turn difficult subjects around and bring attention to them in beauty. Not everybody sees it that way, but it always gets people talking whether they agree with it or not. Art should make you feel something. It’s so important.”
As one of Vancouver’s leading Freelance Makeup and Bodypaint artists, Jennifer Little has made it her job to boldly push the boundaries of beauty beyond the face, sparking engaging conversations in art, body positivity and even animal rights under her self-started banner 'A Little Artistry.' Wielding airbrush gun and a rapid-fire hand with hues, Jennifer has slicked the planes of the body with creatives that boggle the mind – see pin-up zombies, scarecrow goddesses and animorphs – for leading performers, artists, charities, private and corporate clients. Over the course of her career, she’s taken four 1st Place, a 2nd Place, and three 3rd place bodypainting competition wins and has been Art Director and Judge at some of the city’s largest bodypaint events. The Canucks jersey trompe l’oeil paints she created during the Stanley Cup Finals broke national news. And in the last two years, she's been published more than ever before for publications like Vogue Italia. She’s been making Makeup magic for over fifteen years, and she’s at it just as fiercely as ever before.
Having worked all areas of the professional Makeup game – from fashion to bridal to television and celebrity (cue Gothic Lolita star La Carmina) with vigorous independence and artistic verve, Jennifer is a dynamic force and an inspiration for anyone looking to make it out in the Freelance world. We sit down with Jennifer to talk telling tales in paint, mornings with Much Music VJ’s and how being a risk-taker takes the biggest reward.
What’s special about bodypainting? Why do you love it as much as you do?
It’s just so creative and colourful, bold and attention getting! Bodypainting is a really good way to get a message across because you’re already engaging people’s attention with the fact that you’re working on a human canvas.
You do quite a lot of these live painting sessions! What is it like having people engage with you while you’re creating?
I love it! I’ve always been a people person. I started bodypainting with the Taboo Naughty and Nice Show, so to have people watching, talking to you and interacting with you is how I first learned.
What are some things that you have to consider when working on such an intimate scale?
You have to up your level of professionalism. Not all models or clients are comfortable in their own skin. With a lot of people, even their partners won’t see them in the form that I get to see them. It’s a very intimate service and people have to let their guard down right away. I try to set the atmosphere so that they’re as comfortable as possible: making sure they’re well fed, putting on easy music. Many models are used to being on stage or changing backstage with other girls, but private clients don’t have that automatic openness and comfort being in their own skin. I try to encourage it in our sessions together!
You work with artists and organizations that are so empowered in their own skin, and that champion body-positivity. But in these private clients that are maybe not so comfortable in this, do you see a change after your sessions?
Being bodypainted is completely liberating. I have seen people do a one-eighty; from the booking process to having finished their appointment they are, to me, a completely different person. I’ve had people so happy and proud of themselves that they went through with this service that they cry. Having a bride cry because she’s so happy, feels beautiful, and emotions are running high is one thing, but having someone who’s closed-off or over-sensitive or self-conscious, and having them break out of their shell is another. It’s something that is a hundred percent for them! And even just having the consultation process to figure out who they are, what they like and what exactly they need from this, is so empowering.
Looking back, was there an ‘Aha – meant to be an Artist or Makeup Artist’ moment growing up?
I never thought when I was a kid that I would become a Makeup Artist – I wanted to be a photojournalist for National Geographic. I have always been interested in photography, long before I was interested in Makeup.
With what I do, I am still telling stories with pictures. So I haven’t swayed too far from my original dream career!
That’s very interesting! So how then did you end up here?
I did a lot of TV & Film extra work and some modeling as a teenager, so the profession was familiar and alluring to me already. I first spotted BMC at a career fair when I was in grade 12 – something about it caught my attention. Honestly it was probably the colour [she laughs]. I had always wanted to work with people. I’ve always coloured outside of the lines, if you will, and having a human canvas was very intriguing to me.
My parents asked, ‘Are you sure this is what you want to do?’ And I said, ‘I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, and I think I’m going to be really good at it.’ I was, and I absolutely love it still.
Did you have a favourite class?
My favourite was Fashion – I loved it. It was more outside of the box; Beauty and Bridal are creative, but not on the level that I was needing.
Daemon was my Fashion instructor and she was super fun! It was really easy to relate to her, and she broke it all down so well.
After graduating you worked around at a few cosmetic retail counters before settling in at Spa Utopia. Is this where you met Jon Paul Holt, Avant Garde’s Salon Owner?
Yes! They brought him in to head the creative team, which they had assembled to do more shows and magazine shoots. I was the Key Makeup Artist, working at the Pan Pacific at the time, and him and I just hit it off!
Tell me about the creative connection between you two; it seems you are forever dreaming up the next wild concept for Avant Garde’s photo shoots!
When I left Spa Utopia, after about five years, I called him to tell him that I was really sorry that I wasn’t going to be able to work with him anymore. He said, [Jennifer dons a suave British accent here] ‘Now don’t be silly darling, you’ll start in with me on Monday!’ He took me in and I immediately started in at Avant Garde. I’ve been their house Makeup Artist ever since.
I’m very blessed to have people that trust my ability. We’ll know what each other is thinking for the final look. You’re always going to get the best work out of that – when you bring together people who are the best at what they do, and let them do what they do.
You work with so many BIG personalities – lots of performers and other artists. Tell me a little bit about the energy on set!
It can be really chaotic! Though, I’ve been really lucky in that all of the people that I’ve worked with – for the most part, 95% – are doing what they love. We’re all immersed in our passions at the same time and so I get to see the best side of these artists. They know my work and my skill level so they trust me to do what I do. It’s always a good time. I’ve gained some of my best friends from them coming to me as clients or models.
What is one of the coolest private commissions you’ve ever had?
I’ve been blessed to see a lot of incredible events that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to see just by being able to work them!
Working as a Key for the Olympics was definitely a highlight. It was A LOT of work. It was a month solid with no days off, 12 to 16 hours a day. I was lucky that I had pulled the day shift so my clock was still a little bit normal!
How did that come about?
I was working with CTV at the time. About a year before, they told us they were going to need Makeup Artists to cover the event. They asked if I would you be willing to be stationed in Whistler for a month. I said, ‘Yep, when do I leave?’
I was working with broadcasters, athletes, some performers. These were broadcasters from the BBC and from all around the world. The makeup was very minimal; most of the athletes did not want to wear makeup, but needed a little concealer and a lipstick to be camera-ready because it was all HD. The first people in my chair every single day for the whole month were the MUCH Music VJ’s and they were so sweet. I absolutely loved starting my day with them; they made it a lot easier to be there at five in the morning. They were doing live TV for the whole month and they were exhausted. One of the girls would come sit in my chair all wrapped up in her hoodie and her scarf, with her giant coffee, and I would hold her head and do her makeup while she napped!
What is the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career?
As a freelance artist you take constant risks. I’ve had friends ask me how I do it, not having that comfort of knowing exactly where the next thing is coming from. I just go out there and I look for the work – it’s a hustle and you have to hustle to make it work. It’s all worth it, and I keep doing it, because working for myself, doing what I want to do and having that creative freedom is an incredible thing. And having clients return to me year after year, event after event – there’s a lot of satisfaction in that too.
Advice for burgeoning artists?
Never say no to anything – to a point. There will come a time in your career where you will feel comfortable with saying no because you will have built your portfolio, you will have earned your credit, you will have built your name. There’s a lot of trade-for-print in Vancouver’s Makeup and Fashion industry, which means there’s always somebody willing to collaborate for free. There will come a point where you can’t just do every collaborative because you have to value your time, your skill, your products and you have to value yourself. So, take the time to build your network, always presenting yourself as professionally as possible even if it is a trade gig; you never know who you’re going to meet at that gig and what that person’s network is. Always challenge yourself and have fun with it.”