Editor's Notebook: Paint me. No, really, paint me

July 11, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Artist Deborah Paswaters, center right, offers Lindsay Lee, 7, center left, and her sister Alexis, 6, bottom left, a try at body painting, as Mike Harris, top left, and Times Community News Features Editor Michael Miller, right, look on during the Sawdust Art Festival on Wednesday.
Artist Deborah Paswaters, center right, offers Lindsay… (KEVIN CHANG, Coastline…)

I was not, in fact, a slightly more humanlike version of Gumby when I took the pedestal Wednesday at the Sawdust Art Festival.

But it took a small child to know it.

That morning, I submitted myself as a model to Deborah Paswaters, the Laguna Beach artist who paints live people near the festival's front entrance. As the artist circled the podium and dolloped colors around my body, a father and daughter passed by and stopped to gawk.

"Daddy, it's a real live man," said the girl, who looked about 6.

"No, honey," her father replied patiently. "It's a giant clay figure that just looks like a man."

I couldn't keep a straight face at that — clearly, I have a ways to go before I can volunteer for the Pageant of the Masters — and as I fought to stifle a chuckle, the man declared, "Well, the clay cracked."


Fine if it cracks. When I volunteered to be Paswaters' latest living sculpture, I didn't do it in hopes of technical perfection. I wanted to know what it actually felt like to be a human work of art — an endeavor that has made Paswaters, in her first year at Sawdust, something of a poster child already for the festival.

With this year's Sawdust just two weeks old, Paswaters has already had her photo displayed in the Coastline Pilot and the Laguna Beach Independent. And judging by the number of festival-goers who crowded around Wednesday, it's not just photographers who are noticing her.

More on those passersby in a minute. But first, let me give a full account of how Paswaters works.

Our session Wednesday began at her studio in Laguna, located on a hill a short drive from the festival grounds. In her workspace, which features a piano, a central supply table and canvases propped around, she gave me a shirt and pants smeared with white paint and had me stand in front of a massive wall mirror.

Her first step was a white primer coat over the skin and hair, which brought to mind the black-and-white film stars depicted in this year's pageant. Once that was done, Paswaters sized me up for a moment and then started on a layer of light blue.

Why blue? Paswaters, who explained that she tries not to think too much about the artistic process, picks the base color that each model evokes for her. Perhaps the hue came from my blue eyes, or perhaps I subconsciously reminded her of Derek Zoolander, Ben Stiller's fictional male model whose trademark is a pouty expression called "Blue Steel." Yes, I like that theory best.

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