Body art

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See also: Wikipedia's body painting and body art articles. Want to decorate your bike? Check out our art bike page.

What should I wear, if anything? How can I use my body as a canvas to express myself creatively without looking like I've experienced a "wardrobe malfunction"?

The World Naked Bike Ride dress code is "Bare As You Dare"... How bare is that? How dare is that? Its all up to you, you decide what you are comfortable with. The ride is clothing-optional. Be creative and colourful in expressing yourself! Body painting, customising your bike, and other creative expression is strongly encouraged!

If you look at the history section of this site you will notice different groups have different approaches to their rides regarding body adornment. As an example, in Seattle, The Painted Solstice Cyclists ride during the Summer Solstice Parade & Pageant that prides itself on its display of body painting creativity. In fact some even have dropped the "naked" in their name to call them the Painted Cyclists. Despite their streaker roots, a few among them even look down on participants who are just naked. We don't do that, our event is not strictly artistic, however, we strongly encourage people to express themselves and be colourful. We paint our bodies with political messages or beautiful designs to complement our forms. We pass out flyers informing the public about our message. We use portable public address systems or raise our voices and chant in unison.

Getting people to laugh and smile is a great way to connect and share ideas in a non-threatening way. We realize there will always be the occasional grinch that just can't share the road with cyclists or stand the sight of a natural human being. Fortunately for us, their numbers are decreasing and ours are increasing.

What to bring

One of a few body painting privacy areas set up for the Seattle WNBR 2005 event.


  • Sunscreen (facial/waterproof sunscreen is recommended if you want some on the face without being blinded by it dripping into your eyes). Put on the sunscreen FIRST then allow it to dry a bit before putting on body paint. Be sure to reapply it when necessary. Make sure you are covered with sunscreen everywhere, including the locations where you plan to apply paint. (Similarly, you do not want a protest slogan sunburned/tanned into your back in cases where paint does block sunlight.)
    • Always ask someone if they have applied sunscreen before painting them.
    • Use the least greasy, most absorbing formula you can find: sunscreen tends to break down body paint and make it more prone to smear
  • A "minimum" to wear if necessary (please bring it with you on the ride). We also are recommending a t-shirt (possibly with long sleeves), if you are concerned about burning. Remember t-shirts do not completely protect you from UV rays. If you want more protection try Sun Precautions.
  • Your creativity, a non-antagonistic, fun-loving attitude and common sense when it comes to respecting peoples' personal space and ride safety.
  • $$$ Some artists will want some money to paint you. Paint and supplies cost money. Labor and time are also well worth your dollars. This is another good reason to bring a friend.
  • Compliments and smiles for your artist!
  • Hot/cold beverages and snacks.

Painting gear

A WNBR design using Mehron Paradise water activated body paint

Safety warnings

Before you use any body art product on yourself or someone else, confirm that it is a cosmetic product meant for use on skin! DO NOT use non-cosmetic products! Paints labeled "non-toxic" & the ACMI AP non-toxic label designate incidental contact safety & DO NOT apply to body application.

  • DO NOT use textile acrylics/screen printing ink despite other sites (e.g. Solstice Cyclists) suggesting this. Acrylics are allergens in some people and can cause contact dermatitis.
  • DO NOT use CREATEX Airbrush Colors or other non-cosmetic airbrush paints as these are for painting objects.
  • DO NOT use art store paint which can contain heavy metals and other toxic materials that skin can absorb (especially if labeled ACMI CL).
  • DO NOT use craft glitter as these are plastics that can get into eyes (and make a mess). (Instead look for biodegradable cosmetic glitter.)

Incorrect use of these products can cause temporary or even permanent skin damage. See here for more information about allergic reactions.

Stop unsafe painters if you see them using incorrect products. This is particularly important if someone has brought the wrong type of paint for use on others. Consent includes ensuring that due diligence has been taken regarding use of proper materials on someone else's body.

The US FDA and other country regulatory bodies regulate the types and ingredients that can be used as cosmetics, explained here.

Shop local costume/theatrical supply stores or online businesses that specialize in face paint (e.g. Jest Paint, who has pages focused on product safety advice).

Cream makeup

If you want the least complex body art solution, consider simply getting a tube of cream makeup and use as finger paint. This isn't as preferable as water activated body paint and will be more prone to smearing, but it works OK for finger painting a simple slogan. Mehron Fantasy F-X Cream Makeup is one product example.

Cream makeup can be a good option for temporary hair coloring and is available in a variety of colors.

Water activated body paint

12 color Mehron Paradise Pro Palette is a great option for shared painting among many riders.

If you plan to provide body painting for others, use of a high-quality, professional grade face paint such as those discussed here will provide the lowest risk to riders, as these are regularly used for face painting children at parties, cosplay events, etc. Especially for organizers, it is important to make sure the event supplies products intended for cosmetic use (e.g. for liability reasons) rather than products that could cause injuries.

Most will want to use theatrical body/face paint. This is the safest and most common choice. You can find these at costume supply stores and online. Brands to look for are Fardel, Snazaroo, Ben Nye MagiCake, Mehron Paradise, Wolfe, Grimas & Kryolan. Whatever you use check for skin safety. Some of these paints should be kept away from mouth and eyes due to FDA regulations. Please check labeling for these details.

Using this product and method, riders can enjoy opaque and vibrant body art. Generally, it will stay on for the duration of the ride, although sweat can make the paint run/smear. This isn't a large concern, though: most art stays intact just fine--even with sweat--as long as it doesn't get rubbed.

Color test design on skin from Mehron Paradise body paint palette.

These paints "activate" with water. One method is to use a small spray bottle, as only a few spritz of water are needed to turn the paint from a dry surface into a paste. Using a brush, rub the surface until the paint reaches a cream consistency and begins to "peak" like whipped cream. At this point, it can be applied to skin.

For running body paint operations at a ride, consider focusing on participants painting each other rather than paid artists, as body painting is a fun social activity. A bulk pack of inexpensive synthetic watercolor brushes provides a great way to have multiple dedicated brushes per color and avoid the need to wash brushes when changing to a new color. Consider stocking multiple 2oz/50ml spray bottles containing water for activation (as a single bottle always goes missing when you need it). If brushes need to be used across multiple colors, a large (2 L/0.5 gal +) wash water container can be used to clean brushes at a shared painting station.

The containers may seem small, but the product goes a long, long way. Even a few colors in the pro-size 1.4oz/40g containers can be enough to supply paint for an entire event. Teal, dark pink, and yellow seem to be the most consumed colors since many people enjoy pastels. Black and white also make good choices for outlines and highlights.

Discourage use of body paint on faces, as some colors shouldn't be used near eyes/mouth. It is also best for hygiene, health, and safety concerns to avoid pathogen-sensitive/origin areas given the number of people using the paint over such a short time period. Be aware that some colors can temporarily stain skin, but this is seldom.

These paints come off easily in the shower, etc. with soap and water. Even rinsing with water and rubbing will remove most pigment. Investing in a pack of makeup remover wipes makes cleanup much easier. Transfer/drips onto clothing generally comes out after laundering, although it can sometimes require washing in the warmest water the clothing will tolerate.

Additional materials

  • Regular artists brushes are great for body paint application. Synthetic bristle watercolor brushes are preferred.
    • Many of face paint manufacturers produce a line of brushes, but they can be more pricey.
    • Inexpensive foam brushes also work for applying the paint in broad strokes.
  • Rinsing/mixing containers. Reuse your yogurt tubs and plastic containers to clean your brush (and mix liquid paints, if used).
  • Sealer spray if you want it to improve durability some. Ben Nye makes this, Mehron also make a mixing liquid which helps to waterproof make up & can be used in place of water with pretty much any brand.
  • Makeup remover wipes, moist wipes, old rags or paper towels to wipe or wash off your hands. A bulk pack of makeup remover wipes also works well for removing body paint when you don't want it to get it on clothing and have nowhere to rinse off after the ride.
  • Handheld mirrors and/or long mirrors, people like to see the progression of their paint job without having to walk to a bathroom or somewhere else to find a mirror. Tape edges thoroughly for safety. No broken glass!
  • Drop cloth, carpet square, chunk of cardboard or an old towel to stand on while being painted. (particularly for messier painting methods - leave no trace!).
  • A bucket, box, artist supply box, or backpack to carry your supplies.
  • Reference drawings/sketches, photos, and color tests to previsualize your ideas.
  • Stencils/meshes make a great method for applying designs quickly. Use commercially available designs or make your own. Fish scales and other patterns can be crafted from netting used in fruit packaging.
  • String lights work great for evening/night ride body decoration and help make one's other body art more visible. Inexpensive 10m/30ft LED strands powered by a AA battery pack work great (although plan for somewhere to mount it).

Other, less common methods

Most people should simply use water activated makeup (and will have plenty of fun with just that), but here are other products you might encounter. These methods are ones someone might use for a photoshoot or costume event, but they are arguably overkill for a naked bike ride. When in doubt, don't overthink it.

Professional body paint artist Trina Merry discusses different body art products in detail on her blog.

  • Liquid Latex body paint can actually be "paint-on clothing", and you just peel it off when you're done! Liquid Latex dries to form opaque rubber designs, patterns, or garments, so it also works as a sun barrier, and it's even waterproof. Be careful of hair, though - you'll want to have little or no body hair, or have it trimmed very short. CAUTION: test on a small area for latex allergies before use.
  • Temporary tattoo paint is usually alcohol based (typical brands are Temptu, Michael Daley, OCC Cosmetics, Reel Creations) it is more expensive, but if applied to clean, oil free skin (that means no sunscreen) it will stay put and look good longer for days. This usually requires 99% isopropyl alcohol to apply and remove, so check packaging for details. Most riders who simply want casual body art should avoid alcohol activated paints: they are more tailored for special effects such as fake injuries.
  • Henna (Mehndi or body painting) - Real henna, which is generally safe to use, is an orange colour, with a red or brown tint to it. Artists use the ink to paint intricate designs on skin. Never use BLACK HENNA. Don't even go near it. A chemical called PPD, present in black henna, can cause chemical burns on your skin. Escaping an allergic reaction the first time you use black henna does not mean that you will have the same luck next time. Some artist/henna supplier listings (including links others add here) may use black henna, so use caution when sourcing.
  • Airbrushing requires an airbrush sprayer gun connected to an air compressor. They also need paints with fine pigments formulated for use in airbrush applications. Be sure to only use cosmetic airbrush paint designed for use on skin. For a naked bike ride, airbrushing is arguably overkill as a body art solution. The equipment is large, heavy, requires a power source, requires cleaning, requires respiratory exposure caution (especially indoors), and is generally not going to be easy to manage for a painter who also wants to participate as a rider.

Shade/Privacy Screening

Setting out painting kit in grass under the shade of a tree will work, but consider options that might be more comfortable.

Check out Burning Man's page for Camping Gear, Tents, Shade Structures and military surplus for ideas.
  • Privacy area. If bodypainting is done in a public area, not all the participants feel comfortable with people watching, especially if they have never been in a social nudity situation before. Tents can be put up, screens can be arranged. The Seattle ride is the first WNBR ride to setup such an area in a public park, although don't consider this a must-have facility for your event.
  • Sun shade/shelter. So your artists don't fry to a crisp in the sun or get pelted by the unexpected rain.
  • Table and chairs. Not absolutely required, but bringing a table/chairs (or making use of a picnic table, etc.) makes the painting experience more organized and comfortable. While rain will eventually wash away water activated body paint, leave no trace by wiping up paint drips with a cloth when finished.

Body painting tips

Establishing consent

When painting someone (especially a person you just met), establishing consent goes a long way to making the experience comfortable and fun. Many times this will be the painted person's first experience nude in a public setting getting painted in sensitive body areas.

Consent is just as much about what products you use as it is the method you do it. Let each person know/ask:

  • Have you prepared your skin with sunscreen?
  • Explain the product being used and how it goes on.
  • Assuming you are using a cosmetic that is made for skin, let them know this.
  • Explain how to remove it after the ride (particularly if there will be makeup remover wipes or a wash area available)
  • Let them know that there is a slight chance the paint can temporarily stain skin for a few days (but usually doesn't)
  • Let them know that the paint could transfer to fabric, and usually the best way to remove is washing using warmest water the fabric can tolerate
  • Let them know that certain colors should stay away from eyes and mouth per FDA guidance

Finally, body painting might involve touch either to stabilize hands or inadvertently. Simply asking, "is it OK if I touch you?" goes a long way towards gaining trust and is appreciated.

When painting, make sure that the person being painted knows where you are covering next. Simply explaining, "I'll paint you from here to here" establishes a good expectation.

Planning paint designs

As with any design, starting with a good plan will usually create a better result. Consider outlining the desired layout using an eyeliner pen, small width white body paint brush, or children's washable marker. Once dried, the outlines can generally be painted over without issues.

Drawing lettering

Writing lettering for protest slogans, etc., on a body can be difficult to draw straight and evenly (especially if trying to paint oneself upside down!), so planning is important. Pro-tip: write words by starting with the middle letter(s) in the center and then work outward in both directions.

Friction and smear-prone areas

Water activated body paint descried here can easily cover one's entire body head-to-toe. The main issue to consider for any design is where the design might smear on friction areas. Arm-to-torso and leg-to-leg will be the most common contact surfaces. As long as the color painted on both surfaces is the same, smearing shouldn't be an issue. Be sure to plan for this consideration in the design.

Consider anatomy when painting as it relates to smearing risk. Some riders may have anatomical features that risk coming in contact in certain poses, so consider positions someone might enter during the event (e.g. leaning over to pick up a helmet or tie a shoe). For example, a design on breasts should avoid paint transfer to the torso by avoiding painting on the lower area of larger breasts.

Planning for sweat

Heavy, running sweat notwithstanding, general perspiration shouldn't affect body art too much as long as it can evaporate. The main risk in this state comes from smearing through an accidental contact with arm, backpack, other person, etc.

We want everyone to look and feel great before, during, and after the ride. Ending looking like a melted ice cream cone isn't the goal! When painting, consider the factors that will influence sweating:

  • Anticipated temperature and humidity
  • Planned uphill climbs on route
  • Rider's tendency to sweat
  • Rider's cycling experience/fitness

If the ride contains elevated sweating risks, ask the subject about areas where they expect to sweat the least. Painting entire areas in solid colors also can help reduce sweat impact, as can use of multicolor abstract designs that can still look good despite some smearing.

Dealing with hair

You can definitely paint over hair. Water activated body paint makes a great temporary coloring for pubic hair and head hair regardless of the original hair color.

Guys: please trim body hair before the event. Chest/back/leg hair will catch paint and make designs less crisp/more difficult to see. Using an electric trimmer to trim down body hair before the ride will make the body painting experience much more enjoyable for yourself and the person painting you: it's not fun trying to paint through thick body hair. Paint goes on hairless skin much more easily.

Decorate your helmet!

Helmets can sometimes look pretty drab, and there is disagreement about whether it is a good idea to wear one. See Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation (sceptical) and the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (in favour of compulsion). However, if you do choose to wear a helmet, or are forced to by the law where you live, get creative and customize it! Some even offer creative helmet covers (eg: Nogin Sox).

See also

External Links

"The Goldfinger Effect": Is it dangerous to cover the whole body with paint?

Basically, skin can perspire without interuption when coated with bodypaint.

"In fact the skin does not really "breathe". Oxygen is brought to the blood via diffusion through a thin membrane. It supposes huge thin surfaces, as well as large volume of blood pumped around this surface. This is basically what is going on in your lungs for the air, in your intestins for the food. Lungs area is the same order of magnitude as a soccer game field area, and there is only a very thin barrier between numerous blood vessels and air. Problem about "skin breathing" is a problem of heat. Indeed some substances can clog heat elimination and block sweat glands. In this case body temperature can increase quickly. And then will breathing rythm increase, making the victim look like suffocating." Comment by Jean-Francois Amadei.

"Oh and the thing about not covering the whole body is not true. It is perfectly safe to do so... someone has been watching too much James Bond (Goldfinger!) In the world of fetish some people clad themselves entirely in rubber with nothing but a small straw sticking out of their mouths to breathe, all that happens is they sweat a lot. Most make-up is breathable to a certain extent, although if it is very thick a model may sweat. Dri Clor or a really powerful anti-perspirant applied first will do the trick, follwed by a good dose of spray sealant once you are finished." Comment from Emma-Jane Cammack.

I suspect the 'goldfinger myth' is in part inspired by the unfortunate experience of the original Tin-Man actor in the Wizard of Oz, who was painted all all over with lead paint, and became very sick from lead-poisoning, and was replaced for the role. Comment from richinud