Shannon Fennell's Blog

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The Making of a Matador (Body Painting)

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My piece in this year’s Wearable Arts Show at the Centre for Creative Arts was a body painted matador and a bull.  The show is part of the Alberta Art Days celebrations which happen province wide the last week of September.

I called my entry “La Danza del Amor” which is “The Dance of Love” in Spanish – it started as a matador, a bull, a bullfight that ends in a tango with a rose.   (Thanks Mark for editing the music for me!)

I get many questions about how I construct my latex body paintings – which involve a lot of pre-made parts which are attached on the day of the actual body painting.  So here is how I created my matador (and the bull too!)

First:  Inspiration.  I get an idea from somewhere and then start looking for examples – Google Images is my go to in this case.  I actually had planned to do a matador for the 2012 show but instead was hired by the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie to do body painting demonstrations all day (HIRED = paid) so put the idea on the shelf, along with some of the props I had already purchased (horns and swords).  When this year’s show was announced I pulled out the files and started serious planning and research.

I had to submit sketches to the Centre by the submission deadline, along with some reference photos.

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I like to be as authentic as I can be so I look for ways to duplicate all the details without actually buying or making them in the traditional manner.  That was a challenge with the epaulets – how to get the “bubbles” without adding weight to them – as they had to sit on the shoulders without shifting and pulling off from being heavy.  They also had to look right and be relatively easy to construct.  I was wracking my brain on that one…. guess what I used?



The trays from a box of Toffifee!  Thanks to Sue Farrell Holler for that suggestion!

I cut the cups off and trimmed them, then sat them on a layer of wet liquid latex applied to plastic.  Then added a few more layers of latex around the base in stages, then painted with glitter glue – it took a few coats to completely cover.  Then let them dry for several days.


I then created a base for the epaulets from gold fabric that was from the table runners I cut up (more on that later!) and liquid latex (I’d outlined the exact shape and size on plastic first).  Once that was dry I started to attach the bubbles with more latex.


And it progressed from there – adding in trims, ribbon and braid with glitter buttons:


And… the close to final version with the beaded trim, pearls and sequins.  I still added more detail – tassels, more beads and detail on them as well which can be seen on the final photos!


Then I was making the medallions – which were for decorating the vest, jacket, and cuffs.  I really had a problem with getting this done – my math skills vanished.  I decided to use flat gold buttons for them and on my trip to Fabricland took all the ones they had in stock, and special ordered more.  I quickly figured out how many to order while standing at the till … when they called three weeks later (two weeks before the show) and I went to pick them up I realized I had miscalculated, seriously… I’d only ordered HALF of what I needed!  I grabbed all the rest of the stock they had replenished their display with, AND some larger buttons of the same style.  I still am kicking myself on that one!


I also bought pearl trim, rick-rack, and stick on gems for the medallions.  I started with the pearl trim on plastic with liquid latex, added a bit of gold trim, three buttons and a gem.  the glitter glue filled in the gaps.  Unfortunately the buttons discoloured the latex so the glitter glue was necessary to cover that.



I made additional with one larger button each … and then some using glitter buttons as well for back-up.  It worked out but I would have really preferred to have done them all the same.  But no one but me cared in the end!

Then I made the jacket and vest panels which were going to be attached to be three-dimensional.  I started with clear latex and fabric to reinforce the panels – I used the clear so I could see the template I’d traced on the plastic, and when it was all done followed them to cut out the pieces.  The jacket was quite thick on the front corners.

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I did a couple of layers of clear, then once I was satisfied, I put a couple of layers of blue latex on.  Once that was all dry, I cut the pieces out following the template on the plastic, peeled them off the plastic and flipped them over onto a fresh piece of plastic as I wanted the underside to be the outside of the jacket, then put a layer of blue on that side too.

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Then I did the leg and arm panels… again traced out the templates (which, by the way, were based on the measurements of my model!)  These I started with a layer of blue latex, let it dry, then just used enough to fill in the spots that weren’t opaque.  Then I attached the trim and decoration which included individual pearls and sequins using the clear latex as I didn’t want the blue to discolour anything.  The nice trim that I used cost $9 metre!  But it was PERFECT.  Very light and flexible and authentic looking.  (I found this trim after spending well over $100 on OTHER trims, but they were heavy and braided and would have made the panels bulky and stiff… so I have lots of trims left for other projects.)


The leg panels also incorporated an embroidered strip cut from the middle of some table runners that I bought at the dollar store – a gold thread medallion pattern.  I also use individual parts from it of it in the back panel as well.


The back panel was done the same way, a couple of layers of blue latex.  Once dry I used clear latex to attach the four medallions from the runners, and lots and lots of pearls, some rick-rack.  After this photo was taken, I also used some gold fabric paint to fix some of the areas on the medallions weren’t showing gold well, then glittered them, and added some red gems.


I drew the tie shape onto plastic and then poured red liquid latex out onto the plastic and moved it around with my palette knife.  I did two really thick layers, then peeled it off and used a sharpie to add the shadows of the knot.  I use a tiny bit of red pigment powder to rub over the entire top of the tie to stop it from possibly sticking to anything else, just rubbed it on with my finger then polished with a cloth to remove the excess powder.



I piled everything up to wait for the big day.


I made the hat for my matador from a cheap cap from Michaels.  I cut off the bill, and then used it for the sides, then covered in black duct tape.


Then, I glued rick-rack on the top, and bobble trim around the sides – this was to make it as close as I could to a real matador hat.



I painted the toy swords I’d bought as the blades were just grey plastic and I wanted them silver, and had to reinforce with chopsticks glued to the blades as they had to be stiff enough to hold the weight of the cape which was made from coloured sheets bought at Value Village (which my day-job boss made for me!  Thank you Carol-Anne!!)


The bull was made out of a couple of black hoodies from Value Village.  I cut the arms off of the one that would be the costume base, then used the other fuzzy one for the hump and horn cover.  I used the cut off arms to make the ears and tail.  The horns were from a cheap Viking helmet – I remove them and used Sharpies to colour them to look like real horns, mounted them on some foam cylinders, covered with the fuzzy fabric, attached to the hood.  Under the hood I attached another cap with the bill cut off, and everything was anchored to that to hold the hood in position when it was being worm (which was essential as the bull was VERY active!)  The nose ring was an old bracelet painted silver.


And… the application process.  I started off making sure all the pieces would fit, trimming if not, marking where I need to paint/not paint.  I started with attaching the collar (which was from a boy’s dress shirt) then worked down.  White latex was used for the shirt front, then the tie was attached.  The great thing and the worst thing about working with latex is that it sticks and bonds immediately to itself so placement is really really really important and nerve-wracking!

In this photo we’ve got the shirt done – notice that I attached the armpits from the shirt as well. In a real matador suit, the sleeves are not actually attached to the jacket under the arms – so, this gave Khira some ventilation and made it more authentic too! The vest was decorated before the jacket panels were mounted.  The poles are so she can keep her arms up to prevent sticking or transfer without getting tired.


Once the front panels were attached and the “straps”(which were strips of interfacing that had been attached to the panels with latex and dry, with an un-latexed strip left to fit over the shoulders – to bear the weight of the panels) secured, the back panel was applied.  Extra trim was attached to fill in and cover the seams, and medallions were applied.


Then I got the arms painted and the panels attached, then painted the rest of Khira.  The rest of the decoration was left to do once we got there.  I was worried that sitting and climbing in and out of the car could cause the leg panels to be stressed and cause problems.  I had to powder down all the latex that wasn’t covered by decorations to prevent it from sticking to itself.  I used a blue pigment powder mixed with baby powder and basically used my hands to move it around, as well as a large powder brush used carefully!  Then rubbed down with a clean cloth to get rid of the excess and reduce the powdery look.

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And here is the finished Matador!


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So… that was how I made my Matador and Bull for this year’s Wearable Arts Show.

Check out my Facebook page for photos from the photographers at the show!


One thought on “The Making of a Matador (Body Painting)

  1. Pingback: Cretaceous Park – Grande Prairie 66 million years B.C. | Shannon Fennell's Blog

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