April 19 • 03:33 PM

Send in the clowns

Dryden artist excells in arts of laughter and painting

Kyle Ross of Dryden, Jessica VanPutten of Imlay City and Ivy VanPoppelen model the face and body painting artwork of Dryden’s June VanPoppelen. Last summer, VanPoppelen won first place in an international face and body painting competition with VanPutten as her living canvas.

July 04, 2007
There she is in living color.

Literally living. Extreme color. 3-D artwork that breathes and moves. A canvas of skin and cells, curves and ridges, wrinkles and veins. A human canvas in living color. A body of art. Literally.

What may be daunting to artists who are used to painting on a flat, hard, stretched piece of rough woven material is a welcome opportunity to June VanPoppelen. The 47-year-old Dryden resident has excelled in the niche craft that has international appeal.

Last June, she took a first place at the Face and Body Art International Convention in Alamonte Springs, Florida. Some 400 artists from across the globe gather there annually to share their secrets, hone their skills and showcase their talents. And VanPoppelen's talents made the judges say 'Wowie!'—but that's another story you'll understand later...

Clowning around . . .

VanPoppelen has an affinity for clowns. She knows that laughter and fun make the human spirit shine—they're things that transform everyone in the same way. Everyone becomes beautiful.

So when she found out the FBAIC theme for the competition was 'Cirque de Fantasy,' she knew exactly what to do. Circuses have clowns. And VanPoppelen had a vision.

Model Jessica Van Putten, whose roots are in Imlay City, provided the perfect canvas—her 5'9" slender, toned frame an excellent blank slate for what would become a living masterpiece.

"A lot of the painting is about contrast, that's the whole idea of it," VanPoppelen says. "So I thought I'd do a really fancy, modern sort of clown."

The idea fit in perfectly with the entertainment at the convention, which was Cirque de Soleil (Circus of the Sun). But coming up with the design for her VanPutten canvas was only half of the project. Artists had to incorporate music and movement into their presentation—the model's participation a key ingredient that truly makes the craft living art.

Send in the Clowns . . .

Just making it into the competition was no easy task. The 400 or so artists at the convention hasd to submit samples of their body painting artwork to a panel of judges. From there, six were picked to compete. VanPoppelen was one of them.

Since she was going to transform VanPutten into a fancy, modern clown, VanPoppelen decided to incorporate an instrumental version of 'Send in the Clowns' for her presentation. VanPutten would move about the judges and audience and blow bubbles from a wand dipped into a wineglass filled with the gooey pink liquid.

The finalists were set up in one room, which a panel of international judges visited from time to time to check on their progress and technique.

Once the human canvases were complete, convention-goers gathered for a sumptuous dinner in the center's ballroom. The judges gathered and the performances began.

"Jessica is very tall, and we had her in high heels and on her head was a cone wrapped in fabric and bows so she towered over everyone," VanPutten says. "The music came on and the lights hit her and she went around the stage area and blew bubbles into the crowd. It was very elegant and fancy."

VanPoppelen was pleased and awed by VanPutten's performance—especially since the routine was almost spontaneous.

"She knew what she was going to have to do the morning we were doing it," VanPoppelen grins.

"Wowie," the judges obviously thought. VanPoppelen and VanPutten walked away with first place honors.

While the craft of body painting is exciting and attractive, VanPoppelen is quick to point out that the art requires specialized products—professional, water-based, hypo-allergenic paints. Never apply acrylics, oils or paints to human skin, she warns.

And just what is it that she likes about working on a human canvas?

"They move and that's exciting," she says. "And they smile when you're done."

Working twice as fast . . .

Groucho Marx said "A clown is like aspirin, only he works twice as fast."

VanPoppelen knows this is true. She sees it firsthand when her alter-ego appears.

"Laughter, fun, art and music and communicating with others in their world puts a smile on our face and hopefully theirs," she says.

The faces she's talking about are those of "Wowie the Clown," whose family includes "Wiggles the Clown," age 9, and "Wyatt the Magic Wonder," age 16.

When they work together something magical occurs. People have fun. People laugh. People feel special.

Wowie is relatively new to the clown world. She was born five years ago when VanPoppelen attended a birthday party for one of her daughter, Ivy's friends.

"It was so much fun that I decided 'that's what I want to do,'" VanPoppelen says.

Wiggles the Clown, Wowie the Clown and Wyatt the Magic Wonder always look forward to making people smile.

With a lifelong flair for art—she took numerous classes in college—VanPoppelen combined her talents and created Wowie. She went to clown camp and clown school, where she learned magic tricks and other tricks of the trade.

Pretty soon, Wiggles came along and then Wyatt joined the group.

"I thought this was something we could all do together," VanPoppelen says. Her husband Dave goes along with the program, she adds, supporting them in their endeavors and driving them around to gigs.

Like her mom, Wiggles has a flair for art, and she does face painting, hand-painted and airbrushed tattoos.

This summer, they'll be working at a festival along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Maine. The festival is to benefit the families of fishermen who've been lost at sea or others in need of new equipment, VanPoppelen says.

They'll be making people smile and transforming faces into works of art.

"It's wonderful because people smile when you're done with the artwork," VanPoppelen says. "It makes them feel special after you paint them and when they look in the mirror they're excited."

VanPoppelen revels in the excitement, she says, because she likes to make people feel special.

"When they walk around all painted up they get attention throughout the whole day that they may never have had before," she says. "They feel special that whole day."

Wowie, Wiggles and Wyatt the Magic Wonder enjoy entertaining families and sharing their unique talents with others.

Along with face and body painting, they do balloon sculpting, balloon decorations, painted tattoos, henna, musical merriment, parachute games, outdoor games and bubble stations.

For more information about VanPoppelen's entertainment possibilities call 796-9402.

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