Production artist & event designer for international royalty, British gentry & celebrities.
Neil Hughes is a visual production artist, creative consultant and artist agent creating fantastical themed special effect make-up & entertainment for extravagant events, bohemian festivals, intimate gatherings and private celebrations for over 20 years.
Qualified with a BA (Hons) from The London Institute and a Post Graduate Certificate in Education in Art and Design, Neil (and his team of artists, circus acts and performers) are also available for guest speaking, media demonstrations, lectures, staff training, workshops and shows.
The House of Liechtenstein (Switzerland), Lord and Lady Leicester, Mr and Mrs Caring, Princess Beatrice, Albert II Prince of Monaco, Jean Paul Gaultier, Elton John, Simon Cowell, Gary Barlow, David Walliams, Jimmy Carr, Alesha Dixon, Amanda Holden, Craig David, Zandra Rhodes, Paul o’Grady, Annabel’s of Mayfair, The Savoy, Claridge’s, The Four Seasons, The Waterside inn, The BBC, Formula 1 and a whole host of media production companies, event planners, charities and private clients.
Neil and his team of make-up artists, body painters and performers collaborate to transform international circus artists, models, choreographers and dancers into beautiful, fantastical creations to amaze party guests, audiences and clients alike.
All of the stylings, costumes and special make-up effects are exclusively designed, constructed and overseen by Neil in his workshop.
This site showcases the most popular performers, themes and costumes but should you require something bespoke, we enjoy managing projects from concept to production.
AN INTERVIEW WITH NEIL HUGHES FROM HUF MAGAZINE:
Making Fantasy A Reality
IT’S not every day in the modern world
that we see people daubed in paint.
HUF Magazine had the opportunity to interview Neil Hughes, the UK’s multi award winning body artist and sculptural costumer. His work has been seen in numerous prestigious projects for international companies such as: the BBC, Vodafone, Orange and Smirnoff; Fashion designers including: Jean Paul Gaultier, Zandra Rhodes and Diesel
NEIL first became interested in body-painting when, at the young age of 12 or 13, he bought a special effect make-up book. Although the book was written in German, it had lots of step-by-step photos and Neil was fascinated with what he saw.
To become a body-painting artist, a lot of hands- on experience and skills are required. “I was exceptionally fortunate to grow up around a lot of creatives who always took time out to show me what they were working on and how it was done. Most of the materials, techniques and processes, I use today are from them. I also went to London College of Fashion to study my degree in Costume, Make-up and Technical Effects. I cannot recommend it enough, on the calibre of the visiting lecturers. They’re amazing.”
Like many other artists, each body painter has their own individual style, which give them their own signature image. Looking at Neil’s work, you can clearly see the element of fantasy. It’s almost like bringing the stories of Tim Burton into real life and we love it.
We asked Neil about his style of work. “I love fantastical characters. Victorian literature and the dress styles from the 17th, 18th and 19th Century I incorporate lots of those visual styles and themes into my characters. Fops, Fauns, Dandies and Alice in Wonderland are my current favourites.”
For the models, being body painted can be a strange experience, particularly the first timer. “When you are painting, transforming or dressing, someone’s body it involves a huge amount of trust and respect that you are going to present them in a positive light.”
It is important that the model enjoys the process of being transformed and, in the same way, that the body painter enjoys creating his art. “I enjoy that trust and mutual respect that it takes to produce a piece of work, it’s a privilege. I also enjoy the moment when the sitter or model can’t recognise themselves in the mirror, they take on a new personality – that’s the bit I love the most.”
BODY painting is actually a very technical process because the canvas is not two-dimensional. There are also many different type of brushes, tools, paints and mediums. Obviously, different project s require different tools and every body painter has their own favourite tools, paints and mediums. So how about Neil? “I love new technology and developing new textile processes to make my stuff unique. I’m always testing and experimenting with new stuff to see how it can be used. If I discover a new way of using something I’ll always find a way of incorporating it into a costume. Make-up wise – silicone airbrushing, laser cut stenciing and kryolan cosmetic products are my current must- have kit components.”
And unlike with normal canvases, body painters cannot take months, weeks or even days, to finish their work. They have a very limited time to finish their work because it is not reasonable to ask the model to remain still for long hours during painting. “Time is the main factor, I try and limit myself to three hours from start to finish of production, otherwise it can drain the energy levels of a shoot or a performance. I know plenty of painters who will spend eight hours on a model. It’s pretty frantic on a shoot, or backstage, with so many small details to execute across so many models. I have an amazing team of assistants and dressers who make it all possible.”
What about the challenge of applying a two-dimensional artwork to a three- dimensional canvas? “Texture and layers of make-up are my signature, it has to work from all angles not just the front and with one pose, involving different textures and materials that reflect light, metallics, foils, lights and glitters are a must.”
While most artists develop one talent at a time. Neil started with two. He doesn’t only body paint his models, he also gets involved with the costume design which is why he is a favourite for clients.
“My interest is in creating the whole look from top to toe. I found that anything bought just doesn’t have the same magic as something designed, cut and integrated into a whole look.”
His ability to also design the costume means clients don’t have to deal with a separate designer. Making everything a lot less complicated. Neil and his team can deliver the artwork from sketch to finish.
Neil’s work is not only beautifully executed, it’s also incredible and breath- taking. Looking at his work, we can only begin to imagine how much work and effort goes into each piece. We asked Neil about how much time he would normally spend on a project from start to finish.
“It really varies. Some ideas are easy to produce, others have taken years. If I’ve made them before, a month or so is enough time, if I’ve not and there needs to be a lot of testing that goes into them it can take years. The Oberon and Titania stilt tree costumes have taken four years of work, they are my absolute favourites.”
IT seems that the saddest part, of body painting, is that each piece of work only lasts for a very short time. No two pieces of work are ever the same, even if the same look is recreated. Once the paint is washed-off, it will be the end of it forever. Not many artists can embrace the temporary aspect of body painting, especially when so much time and effort has been put into every single one. How does Neil feel about this?
“I think it’s beautiful when it’s viewed in person, people instantly recognize that what they are seeing is meant for them, it’s temporary. It’s not going to be there forever and it should be enjoyed, for what it is, for that moment.”
Neil Hughes’ creations have been seen with many international high-profile companies, as well as famous designers. This is an impressive achievement. Neil did not get where he is now with just a few years. He has been developing his skills and portfolio for twenty years. What are some of his significant accomplishments?
“My significant accomplishments have been re-cutting,producing and documenting my favourite characters from the past twentyyears. It was enormous fun to invite back some of the people who were the original performers and bring them up- to-date with modern production techniques. It’s been a fantastic experience.”
With many artists, inspiration is an important part of being the creative. Usually, creatives have other creatives that they look to. This is no exception for Neil. “Jean Paul Gualtier and Alexander McQueen are my favourite artists. I admire them for producing work that goes against the grain of how people should express themselves.”
Body painters have few limits with their work because there are so many industries that required such creative people, in particularly filming making and night clubs. “I use my art to express myself, its the purest way I can articulate how I see and interact with the world. I’m extremely fortunate that its given me access to such a wide variety of fantastic sights and opportunities.”
Neil’s working on a book. It’s a work-in- progress, he’s been writing it for a few years, on how he produces his work. He is planning to edit and publish it over the next year, or so. This is going to be a great insight into his techniques and creative mind.
For those looking to body paint, or be painted, we asked Neil for some partingadvice.
“Environment is everything, it should be professional, safe, warm and respect the privacy of the model. Body painting is a process, it takes time for a model to feel comfortable in the studio especially if they haven’t been painted before. Models should speak to others who have been painted by the artist and find out how they found the experience.”