Painted ladies and gentlemen a seasonal boost for local body artists

The canvasses Anna Wilinski uses to paint her masterpieces become living works of art.

Wilinski, 31, has been painting the faces and bodies of children and adults for 20 years now.

She and her husband, Santiago Massano, own three businesses that specialize in the painting of people. They also cater to those who purchase specially produced paints to create their own bodies of art.

The website for the more adult part of the couple’s business trifecta--Art and Body Studios--discourages anyone 18 years of age and under from looking further than the introductory page because the site contains some nudity.

Then again, Wilinski and Massano’s artful application of body paint to the models in various states of undress and no dress make it very difficult to discern where the designs end and the skin begins.

Wilinski’s work has earned her numerous awards and recognition, and the business is ready to serve companies looking to promote everything from briefcases to cell phones.

"My greatest moment was when I placed second overall at the Face and Body Art International Convention in Orlando in 2007," she says on her website.

The couple’s face-painting business, Clash's Kazoo Party Crew, remains more in demand than the body painting business because it takes less time. They average about 10 children’s parties each month.

"The kids parties are definitely the most popular for our face painting. We have adults trying to sneak in to get their faces painted," Wilinski says. "Summer is really busy and then it turns into a trickle till the fall. Halloween gets really crazy. We have parties where people want us to face paint and we have all of these people who come to our house to buy paint. I wish Halloween was longer."

Born and raised in Kalamazoo, Wilinski began painting faces when she was 10 years old.

"Me and my mom started being clowns when I was 10," Wilinski says. She helped with a clown school her mother was part of during school lunchtime. "We also did a clown ministry during church where we did reenactments from the bible."

Face painting was her sole job during high school. After graduating from Loy Norrix High School in 1998, Wilinski attended college in California and returned to Michigan to take classes at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, eventually graduating with a degree and certification from Western Michigan University in 2009 to teach elementary education.

"My mom is a nurse and I thought I would be a nurse, but when I went to California I took childhood development courses and I was picturing myself having a different career (than nursing)," she says.

With that degree in her back pocket, Wilinski continued to perfect her skills as a face and body painter.

Her strong artistic abilities outweighed her business sense, however, and it was during this time that a "couch surfer" from France would indirectly lead her to Santiago--or Santi as he is better known--and the potential to turn her passion into a moneymaking venture.

"Couch surfing" is widely practiced among individuals who need a place to stay, but can’t afford to pay. Wilinski says she had the room and welcomed the opportunity to meet people from other countries and learn about their customs and cultures.

The gentleman who took up residence on Wilinski’s couch in Kalamazoo was affiliated with the Institute for International Cooperation and Development in Dowagiac. The organization trains individuals from throughout the world for volunteer work in development projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Wilinski became intrigued with IICD’s mission to improve people’s lives through education. She decided to take a closer look.

During frequent visits to IICD, Wilinski met professional photographer Pedro de Moraes. He was training to do volunteer work when he started photographing Wilinski’s face and body painting projects.

In 2009 the two collaborated on "The Body of Art Calendar," which featured Wilinski’s work as captured by de Moraes on film. Proceeds from the sale of that calendar were used to raise funds for a photo documentary de Moraes would be doing in Africa as part of his work with IICD and its umbrella organization Humana People to People. More than 700 calendars were sold.

The other connection--de Moraes’ roommate at IICD was--Santi Massano. Massano had been in Brazil teaching gardening to families in poor areas. As de Moraes' was leaving the school, Massano was heading back to Dowagiac where he would meet with the woman who would become his wife.

He first accepted a teaching position with IICD. Then he began thinking seriously about marriage and helping Anna make a financial success of her business.

"When I came back (from Brazil) I was training other volunteers and became more in love with Anna than with my job with the (IICD)," Massano says. With the school’s blessing, Massano quit and the couple married in April 2010.

Although Massano graduated in 2008 with an economics degree from a university near his hometown of Cordoba, Argentina, he says he routinely sought out opportunities to be more involved with people rather than pursuing economics.

In Argentina it’s traditional for parents to send their recently graduated offspring on a trip. He found IICD and convinced his parents to send him there.

"I contacted IICD to find out more about them and in two weeks I knew I wanted to do this," Massano says. "I talked to my mom and dad and told them this is what I wanted to do."

He arrived in Dowagiac on Jan. 1, 2009, and says he has never regretted his decision.

Wilinski says her husband’s business acumen has more than doubled their business, so that it now brings in about 90 percent of their income. (They make ends meet by tutoring for the Kalamazoo Public Schools.) Although Massano had originally intended to handle the business end of the companies, he now also assists his wife with body and face painting jobs.

"If we paint together it can take between two and four hours for a more intricate design," Wilinski says. "In 90 minutes we can do something really abstract. We have the models lay down while we paint them so they can relax."

In elementary school, Massano says, his sole exposure to art was when he played his saxophone. "I never thought about body painting and I didn’t have a feeling that I wanted to be a body painter," Massano says. "I told Anna that I would help her sell and pack orders."

Massano, 25, says he’s spent many hours learning how to market and advertise the businesses on Google. Most of the face paint he sells is to domestic customers who find the couple's Jest Paint online.

"The business is going well, although we can’t make a living at it just yet," he says. "We are starting to expand towards Argentina and we do have some customers from the Netherlands, Singapore and the United Kingdom."

The basement of the couple’s home serves as their warehouse. They are in the process of making plans to build a house in partnership with Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity, which should accommodate their growing business and growing family--Wilinski is almost four months along with the couple’s first child and her second child. She has a seven-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.

"It’s really exciting to know we’ll have a home of our own," Wilinski says. "We know we’re going to live there for a long time."

Until ground is broken sometime next year, the couple will focus on continuing to build up their fledgling business.

They have recently begun to sell their own brand of paint which comes in eight different colors and continue to travel to shows and events to teach the art of face painting.

"I love face painting like crazy," Wilinski says. "I always thought that I could travel the world and do face painting. I knew the potential was there."

Jane C. Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience. She is the owner of In So Many Words, based in Battle Creek.

Photos by Erik Holladay.

Anna Wilinski paints the face of Alexis Lake, 7, during a Halloween party in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Cassie Grooten, 6, has an elaborate tiger painted on her face by Anna Wilinski.

Anna Wilinski and Santiago Massano have a sheet full of various face paintings that they offer.

Alexis Lake, 7, smiles after she has a fairy themed mask painted on her face.

Santiago Massano, left, and Anna Wilinski own and operate a face and body painting company. (Photo provided by Art and Body Studio.)