Madison Artist’s Canvas Is The Human Body


By Joel Waldinger | November 10, 2016

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Dawn Marie Svanoe is an artist with a flair for the dramatics and who is known for her black-light makeup artistry. She applies her craft for haunted houses like Screamin’ Acres in Stoughton. Svanoe is part of Team Scream and helps to transform faces into freaks, along with ghoulish zombies and creepy clowns. Svanoe co-owns a business called Glitter To Gore and specializes in body painting and selling body make-up and supplies to other artists.

“It wasn’t a big jump for me after having done face painting for a while it seemed like a natural progression,” Svanoe said. A progression that sent her brushes down past the neckline. If faces were fun, imagine if she went even farther. Svanoe says, she wanted a bigger canvass because bigger is better when your art is only skin deep. “It’s a totally different feel painting on a human than it is on a canvass,” according to Svanoe. Her human masterpieces can be mind-bending. The only limitations are her imagination.

“Don’t think of it as this taboo thing that you are seeing. Keep an open mind, and look at the body as the beautiful canvas that it is. Everybody’s got everything that you are seeing, just in different proportions,” Svanoe said. And if Svanoe had any reservations about painting nearly nude bodies when she first start, she got over it. “As far as myself feeling awkward about it, no. Not anymore”.  She wants people to realize that body painting is an art. It’s not just a passing fad. It’s been around for thousands of years, in different cultures around the world.

In 2011, Svanoe teamed with photographer Colm McCarthy on a project called “Extinction”.  Svanoe said, “I wanted to mimic the tribal style of the Xingu Indians from the Amazon.  The idea behind that series was we are all one tribe, and if we don’t start treating each other as one, we are heading towards extinction. We used all body types, all ages, and all sizes. We had a woman who was an amputee from just below the knee down. And they’re beautiful pieces.”  That series resonated with Svanoe and she believes it just had so much meaning and that it is probably the set she is most proud to call her own.

With a living, breathing canvass the experience is never the same. “Seeing it in person is always so much better, because you see the fluid movement of the body you see it morph with every move the model makes, every angle is a different picture,” Svanoe said.

Her creative inspirations also got Svanoe noticed in 2015. While on a family vacation Svanoe got a call from the Game Show Network. They wanted her to tryout for the reality show “Skin Wars”. She remembers jumping up and down in the parking lot of her hotel, overcome with joy. Her brush with stardom could be worth $100,000.

Svanoe remembers the tension, “There were times they would ask you, who you would send home during the challenge, and none of us liked answering that question. We didn’t want to throw someone under the bus. We’re all artists who like to learn from each other and hang out, and produce art together. That was probably the most stressful part about it was defending your own work and why you think you should stay.”  She added, “You have no idea how much you are sweating when you are saying ‘please don’t let me be the first one to go home’ I don’t want to go home right away! I want to show people what I can do!”

One of her masterpieces was a surreal chess board that wrapped 360 around the body. However, during the Steam Punk competition in the 6th episode Svanoe was sent home. “So they sent me home, and I had to be quiet, I couldn’t tell anyone I was back in town and then a week and a half later, I got flown back out to LA with six of the artists that got eliminated to assist the three remaining three body artists.”  The artist Svanoe helped eventually won the competition.

Svanoe describes the entire experience as transforming. She said, “I look back and go wow – everything I did in my life has lead me to this point. I never thought this would be an occupation. I didn’t even know the occupation existed to be honest. I found the beauty in it, and I just absolutely love it.”

Makeup, Not Paint

It’s called body paint but it’s really just special makeup that is FDA approved

Joel Waldinger

Joel Waldinger is a reporter for the “Wisconsin Life” project and considers a sunset over the “big island” on Manson Lake to be a perfect ending to a day of fishing and fun in the Northwoods. 
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