Even as I blink to adjust my eyes from the bright summer sun to the dimly lit interior of Spring Park Coffee in Green Cove Springs I immediately spot Heather Aguilera. Her stylishly bohemian dress, layers of funky jewelry, and long flowing tresses all cry out, “there’s an artist in the building!” However, Aguilera’s medium is quite different from that of most artists: her canvas is the human body.
Aguilera says that her art has always been effortless. She grew up in Laguna Beach, California, where her high school art teachers were her biggest inspiration and encouraged her to pursue her natural gifts. Early in her life she learned that her art also had a deeper, more spiritual side. “I grew up with kind of a temper, so I would go to my room and draw and that would heal me. I would come out with this drawing and I would give it to my mom and it was kind of like a peace offering, an apology. It was healing for me and it was healing for my mom and it was just naturally therapeutic,” Aguilera recalls.
Although she decided to pursue a career in art, body painting was not on her radar at first. She dabbled in ceramics, jewelry making, and floral work before eventually moving to Florida where she was introduced to a body painter in Miami. When first encountering his work, she remembers being blown away: “The human body is a work of art itself, but after seeing his paintings on a body I immediately knew that this is what I want to do – I want to dedicate one hundred and ten percent of my life to this.”
Aguilera began to hone her craft by first experimenting with painting herself. “I’d stay up until
three in the morning just painting my face,” she says. She then moved on to painting faces at her friends’ kids’ parties and setting up face-painting booths at farmers’ markets. Soon, she became bored with painting only faces and began to paint her friends’ backs, “because it was a bigger canvas.” At the time, one of Aguilera’s favorite body artists painted pregnant bellies so she decided to attend a belly painting class to learn more. Aguilera has never looked back since.
“After I painted my first belly, the woman I painted looked in the mirror and got tears in her eyes and said, ‘I can’t believe how beautiful I feel.’ Then the next day she called and said, ‘Thank you for the best day of my pregnancy. I can’t stop looking at my photos,'” Aguilera remembers. At first, the woman’s heartfelt appreciation and awe of the art Aguilera had created for her took Aguilera by surprise, but she soon began to realize that her body paintings could have the same effect as her earlier childhood apology drawings to her mom. “I gave her a gift and she will have those photos and that memory forever. I didn’t realize how something so therapeutic for me could be therapeutic for these women. I love what I do – I love all my mommies, and by the time they leave we are like sisters,” she explains.
Today, Aguilera continues her prenatal body-painting career, and she has also branched out to many other types of face and full body painting ventures. She’s even been featured in international magazines and on television programs including SyFy channel’s “Face Off.” But Aguilera’s true passion remains with the healing aspects of her work. “You have no idea how healing and empowering this is. The paint washes off, but the feeling stays,” she contends. Included among the many who have been transformed by Aguilera’s body art are people suffering from broken hearts, those dealing with stress, depression or addiction issues, women managing difficult pregnancies, and survivors of breast cancer.
Article written by Eva Dasher