StoryFaces — Visual Arts and Mask Workshops

Follow-up a StoryFaces Assembly Program with Classroom Workshops

Christopher’s surprising performance allows him to introduce students to complex educational concepts in an entertaining way in follow-up workshops for grade levels 2 – 12. The unique combination of visual and language arts at the heart of StoryFaces exemplifies using multiple strategies to communicate your story and demonstrates the power of art to convey social information, to retain and synthesize traditional wisdom, and to inspire — making this an ideal vehicle for workshops developing communication, visual storytelling and critical thinking skills. A variety of programs are available including mask design workshops and interdisciplinary programs combining ELA, Visual Arts and Social Studies in which students write stories and apply critical thinking to synthesize these stories into visual mask designs. Programs include:

•  My Amazing StoryFace Workshop  – telling a story through words and art 

•  Designing Tribal Masks – using symbology to bring ideas to life

•  Create Your Personal Superhero – a motivational mask arts program

and two special programs for Middle and High School:

             •  From Masks to Modern Art – a fascinating art history program 

             •  World Theatre Makeup – for theatre, art and fashion students

Classroom programs can be custom designed  in consultation with art teachers to fit a school’s curriculum goals.

*** Professional development workshop programs also available for teachers ***

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Workshop and Demonstration Programs include:

My Amazing StoryFace Workshop

This activity gives students their own experience in visual storytelling, as they create an original story starring themselves, first through a drawing exercise, and then as a written story meant to be told  — based on one of my original stories (see The Amazing Face Video). For the drawing, students use a special Drawing Form in which they draw a cartoon picture of themselves in the story — just like the image I create in my performance.    Grade Levels: In Elementary schools, grades 2 and up have been able to complete the StoryFace drawing and a simple written story in a single workshop session.  In Middle and High Schools the concept of placing a portrait of yourself into an illustrated story can continue into a visual art project by incorporating other media, digital art, animation, etc. Please see the MyAmazingStoryFace_TeachersGuide  for full information.

Designing Tribal Masks

This project gives students an experiential understanding of the traditional approach to art in tribal cultures as they apply critical thinking to create an animal mask design using symbols to signify the animal — in a way that even elementary students can understand. This “mask-concept” approach moves the design process away from realism and illustration, into an exploration of communicating through symbolic art and abstraction, and can be a vehicle for creating original mask designs for students with any level of art skills. Grade Levels: Grades 4 and up have been able to complete a pencil sketch design for a Tribal Animal Mask in a single session, this design can be the basis for a mask-making project in subsequent art classes. Please see TribalMaskProject_TeachersGuide  for full information.

Creating Your Personal Superhero — Spirit Healing Masks

This is a unique interdisciplinary workshop program I’ve developed to get students to work on using critical thinking to synthesize and communicate information visually, through signs and symbols, in reference to the traditional role in some cultures of Spirit Masks that allow performers in rituals to represent ancestors and other powerful healing spirits that protect the people — kind of like our superhero movies. For Grade Levels 6 and up: To start, I ask each student to identify some social concern they would like to help solve — it can be anything, from the obvious ones such as “ending war” to smaller scale concerns, such as “helping stray dogs”. Next they determine what “powers” they would need as a “healing spirit” to achieve this task, and I present this via the idiom of modern superheroes —i.e., would you need to be able to fly in order to end war all around the world?  The students then choose a color or graphic symbol to represent each of the powers or “attributes” their character has, and they design their Personal Superhero mask using those symbols — this step moves the design beyond an illustrative approach towards symbolism and abstraction, as the mask will communicate information purely through colors and graphics, giving students an experiential understanding of the thinking process that underlies visual arts, including modern art, and also allows any student to make a successful design regardless of their drawing skills. The process can also include a writing assignment —  for example, students can write essays to accompany their designs, in which they describe the social concern, or find media links to examples of this problem, and develop a storyline for how their Personal Superhero/Healing Spirit will solve the problem. Please see SpiritHealingMask_DesignForm

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From Masks to Modern Art — for Middle and High Schools

Picasso/Nuba — a synthesis of a Picasso cubist portrait and a traditional design of the Southeast Nuba of Sudan

Picasso/Nuba — a synthesis of a Picasso cubist portrait and a traditional design of the Southeast Nuba of Sudan

This is a unique and fascinating program giving students a vehicle for understanding the origins of Modern Art by exploring how artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Klee found inspiration in the masks, sculptures and bodyarts of cultures in Africa and Oceania as they sought to create more powerful art forms with greater social impact — what the art historians call “Primitivism in Modern Art”. After viewing African sculptures in the Trocadero Musuem, Paris in 1907, Picasso is reported to have said: “Men had made those masks and other objects for a sacred purpose…At that moment I realized that this is what painting was all about…it’s a form of magic…a way of seizing power…When I came to this realization, I knew I had found my way.”

Art changed at the beginning of the 20th century in large part because these early Modern Artists saw that in traditional cultures art was not confined to being beautiful or decorative, but rather that traditional art and artists played a vital role in maintaining the social fabric of the community — that art could have the power to communicate complex social and political ideas and help make a better world.

Christopher Agostino has also explored this seminal moment in art history through a dramatic series of fine art body paintings: Modern Primitive Art

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World Theatre Makeup — for Theatre, Art and Fashion Students

From the very beginning of human culture we have used makeup and masks to transform our appearance and create a new identity. As ancient ritual evolved into theatre, makeup remained as the way for an actor to present an identity beyond their normal self. It is especially evident in non-western theatre, such as the Chinese Opera or Japanese Kabuki in which fantastically painted faces transform performers into gods, demons, heroes and all kinds of creatures to bring myths to life. Today, traditional designs are a source for creating theatrical magic in productions like Julie Taymor’s Lion King (with makeup based on Maasai body art) and in the fantastic special effects makeup that brings aliens and superheroes to life in Hollywood movies. Christopher Agostino uses makeup and mask art from world cultures to present the story of this fundamental art from ancient origins to modern theatre in this fascinating performance/lecture illustrated by his amazing facepainting on audience volunteers.

The participants from a Transformational Makeup lecture at the U.S. Institute of Theatre Technology Conference (USITT) in Houston, 2008.

The participants from a Transformational Makeup lecture at the U.S. Institute of
Theatre Technology Conference (USITT) in Houston, 2008.


Transformation Facepainting for Arts-In-Education Events

Our professional company of artists present facepainting in an educational context using styles based on World Masks, Tribal Faces, Native American Totem concepts or cultural traditions from regions around the world, such as Dia De Los Muertes or Amazon Indians. The same artists seen at the Bronx Zoo and Tri-State area events can facepaint students to create a uniquely memorable cultural experience that goes far beyond how much fun they will have. Events can be tied into assembly programs and to specific cultural regions or areas of Social Studies.


Makeup Artists for School Theatrical Productions

Transformation Facepainting for a school production of the Lion King

Transformation Facepainting for a school production of the Lion King

Our artists are also available to paint the faces of student performers for theatre productions and other special events. Bringing in professional artists is a thrilling experience for a young actor and a great confidence boost that makes a school production extra special.


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Zebras — Body Painting at FABAIC 2012 with Kryolan Aquacolors

"Zebras" — painted on May 26 at FABAIC 2012

by Christopher Agostino

I clipped a foto a few years back of two zebras crossing their necks like this, and thought how well it fit the shapes of a woman’s shoulders. Once the design is worked out, this is an enjoyable kind of body painting to do, because the painting process is pretty straightforward: block in the white areas for the zebras, add the shading over the white and then the black stripes on top—the stripes which fool the eye and make it all work just like they do on a zebra.

From the "Nuba Bird Dance", Bodies Alive!

The back design makes play with a photograph of a painted dancer from the Bodies Alive! show at FABAIC a few years back. Continue reading

Face Painting — Fine Art Images: Learning from “Living Masterpieces”


Some of the faces I painted recently on a select group of students who acted as the hosts of their  school’s art show. They wore T-shirts that said “I Am A Living Masterpiece”.





Each face is an imitation of a specific painting, or a detail from a painting. It is always a remarkable learning experience for me to get to paint like this.



To learn more about our programs and performances:

See my fine art bodypainting at


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Why Body Painting? — 2: Ultimate Collaboration — MODELS, Pt.1 What I have learned from models.

   by Christopher Agostino

For all of my artistic life I have depended on the willing participation of another person. Even the simple act of painting a face requires the acquiesce of the person with the face to be painted. So much more so the body model. I think about this relationship between bodypainter and model a lot, and it is at the essence of the question “why body painting?”

I can’t take a canvas off a shelf and just start bodypainting, and I can’t buy a model at Michael’s. A body model is not an object, not a commodity. They talk, move, think and feel while you are painting them. What would it be like painting a canvas that talked to you? Or that had an opinion of the painting as you were doing it?

We entrust our art to the model, as they trust us when they let us paint them. There is an exchange of intimacy in the collaboration between artist and model: the obvious physical intimacy of the model letting an artist paint their body in exchange for the artist giving them entrance into his vision and the act of creation.

In describing my experience collaborating with models, I can’t speak for all bodypainters, and probably not for most professional bodypainters. I don’t paint in competitions, and don’t take a lot of commercial work. If the painting is for a performance or someone else’s project the process is specific and my role is to support the vision of the director and function like a makeup artist or costumer to make the performer feel confident and look good. Sometimes in teaching settings or painting at the Kryolan booth at a convention the goal is specific and limited, and I may approach that body painting as a sketch or exploration, or repeat something I’d done before because I know it works. In those cases I’m hoping for a model that is professional, comfortable being painted and pleasant to talk to and spend some time with as we work.

It is when I have a strong vision for a realized fine art design I am trying to achieve—whether painting in studio with the goal of generating that one key photograph or painting in public as performance art—that I have come to understand how deep my collaboration with the model is, that I am as dependent on the model as they are on me for success. I need more than the acquiescence of the model, I need their support, their encouragement, to allow me to take chances. I especially need them to let me be vulnerable and to risk failure. It’s not something you have to ask of a canvas off the shelf, and it’s an understanding I’ve only come to learn about my process through the years, and through the failures, as I have tried to find my way forward in this art.

I don’t think this is true of more experienced, professional bodypainters, but I’m not sure.

Behind the question I’ve been addressing in this series of posts, “why body painting?”, is the larger question, “why art?”, and the specific question of why did I choose to be an artist? As a generalization, I think artists are compelled to create art—I couldn’t say why or how, maybe in response to having an awareness of life that seems to them different than the norm, and so the desire to change the norm or at least express their difference. Beyond that original  impetus, I can say for myself that a large part of what keeps me creating art is the excitement of the fight, the struggle to succeed, to “win”. In much the same way I imagine an athlete must feel, setting out to create a painting feels to me like a competition, albeit an internal one between me and the limitations of my abilities to bring that idiosyncratic vision I identify as myself into the world as a physical, undeniable reality, an “object of art”.

Artists strive for the edge, both in the sense of a place they’ve never been and in the sense of a place they are unsure of, walking the razor’s edge, unsure of their footing. I’ve felt that edge most keenly in performance before an audience, especially on stage alone trying new material, unsure of how to perform it and knowing that success or failure is in my hands—and audiences let you know if you fail. I’ve also felt it late at night all alone in my workshop making a sculpture out of a piece of clay, or painting a canvas—though it’s so much harder to assess success or failure in that setting and I’m sure I’m not the only visual artist who sees the things they’ve created over the years and remains uncertain of which category they fall into.

But, speaking strictly from my own experience, there is something about body painting that feels different. Added to the usual angst of creating art is the awareness of its immediacy and ephemeral nature—you get it right or you don’t, like a performance—but it’s also there before you as a physical object. That “object” is a person, a person whose participation I appreciate and whose feelings I care about, and I want to succeed for them as well as for me. They are becoming the art I am making and I feel responsible for that in a way I’d never feel for a lump of clay, and maybe that connection to the human I am working with helps me reach deeper. The model is also invested, showing me confidence by giving me permission to paint them, plus the time and physical sacrifice involved (unless you have been bodypainted or done a bunch of bodypainting I don’t think you can understand quite what a body model is agreeing to when they let you paint them—we artists ask a lot, they work hard). Often the models I paint also help with the design and the process, making suggestions, showing me movement ideas, helping with decisions, in addition to the beauty of who they are that they bring to the painting in a  way beyond any other canvas can. When it’s really working, the model is right there at the edge with me. In a stage performance, you work to energize and engage the audience so that you can soar on their wings to new heights. When bodypainting, it is more of a direct collaboration, if we are to fly we fly together.

And then, there is that magic thing that happens when I finish the painting and now the model takes it, owns it, brings it to life—takes it away from me and makes it more than I had conceived of. This is the pivotal difference between painting a person and painting a canvas. Not only does the art come to life, but as soon as I am done it is no longer mine, it has a life of its own now—how different that feels than seeing a canvas I’ve painted hanging on a wall.

The ultimate lesson I have learned from models is about my own limitations. I don’t believe I can transcend a model’s limitations, whereas I know they can transcend mine. I’ve seen it happen, I’ve seen a model take the limited work of my art and make it into something more. That alone would be answer enough to “why body painting?”


Painting Becca at FABAIC 2007

I’ve had quite a number of very positive collaborations with models, here are just a few practical examples of how models have helped me, helped my art.

The first time I painted someone as a recognizable, famous painting, the Picasso “Seated Woman, 1937” image in the previous post, it was because Becca told me to paint something on her I’d always wanted to try but never had the chance, and that I could take as long as needed to work it out as we went. I had a few months earlier painted some kids with Picasso faces, for a museum exhibit of his work, and with her encouragement tried it as a bodypainting. (Recently she flew to New York to let me paint her for a project with no pay, and made me feel like I was doing her the favor.)

Just as I was starting to experiment with modern art imagery, I did several paintings with Emma, who is an art historian as well as a dancer, and it was an education for me as we talked about the concepts behind the imagery. I appreciated how, given her background, she saw that what I was working to achieve was valid as fine art.

You can’t be a bodypainter without a body model. And yet, it feels like we aren’t that kind to them, asking them to stand there, forever, not moving, without any clothes on, and after all that, that’s when we want them to work even harder, bringing the art we just painted to life. I’d spent hours painting Christina at the Kryolan booth at FABAIC 2009. When we were done, it was late. Still, she went on to pose for hours. First for spectators, than for one photographer, and finally for the convention photographer, Lisa Konz. By that point it was maybe 2:00 am and Christina wouldn’t quit until she got the photo right, the photo at the top of the post of her leaping that became my Painted Bodies Living Art logo. Once the body is painted, we depend upon the model to present it at its best, even better than we conceived of it—and also on the photographer to capture it and preserve it. The result is a collective, collaborative art work.

Thank you to all of the models who have joined me in this adventure over the years.

Emma, as Cubist Tiger Pop

Christina also worked hard to get this wonderful action shot, photographed by Lisa Konz

Learn more at my Body Painting Page

Why Body Painting? — 4: Radical Act — The essential celebration of our humanity / the ultimate modern art

by Christopher Agostino

Traditional Significance: in cultures with profound traditions of bodypainting it is a celebration of the beauty of the human form. Among the Southeast Nuba the most elaborate painting is reserved for the young men in their prime health and youthful vigor. In the highlands of Papua New Guinea the brightly colored body-decoration presents a heightened self-image, an idealized form beyond the individuals’s daily persona.

Primal Transformation: anthropologists now point to the use of symbols and the beginnings of art as the igniting evolutionary spark of modern humanity, the defining impetus of the final great leap from animal to human— we are the symbolic species. And, as likely as not, that first act of art was to paint ourselves.

Radical Theory: to paint a body today is the most profound expression of that which makes us human, transcending the boundary of our physical, animal form through the act of making ourselves into art, into the essential celebration of our consciousness — reaching back to our origins on the plains of Africa through the most traditional of all art forms while startling the modern viewer with the acknowledgement of our naked identity as human animals. 

Traditional celebratory bodypainting from Papua New Guinea

Why does a painted, naked body evoke such a response? How can the most ancient of art forms be so surprising today?

I venture to say that a painted, naked body would be more disturbing in effect on an unsuspecting viewer than a body merely naked. A naked body is more readily comprehensible and our reaction more easily determined, or perhaps pre-determined, depending on the brand of morality we bring to the occasion. A fully painted body is less easily definable. It is both naked and clothed, both primitive and civilized—evoking the quality of “disturbing strangeness” as described by Freud, an uncomfortable reaction to “the return of what we have driven back” as we moved from tribal to modern culture. As relayed by Michel Thévoz, Freud was talking about why a member of modern society reacts so strongly, so negatively, to the painted faces of “primitive” people. I think there is an additional element of confusion, an additional uncertainty in how to react, when that unsuspecting modern viewer is confronted by a live example of full fine art bodypainting, because in addition to an apparent return to the primitive (a naked painted body) there is also the apparent elevation to higher culture (as that body has become art).

To continue in an overreaching, radical vein, I can make the argument that bodypainting is today an art form which is capable of fulfilling the quest of the artists 100 years ago who threw out the academic conventions to create “Modern Art” in order to re-establish the ability of visual art to challenge society, compel emotional response and shock the viewer into paying attention—in order to return art to it’s original function, the function art has in primitive cultures, of defining our humanity and raising individual and social consciousness. 


To say that I think bodypainting is capable of functioning in the same revolutionary way as the radical art of the early modern artists is not to say that I think that MY bodypainting has ever achieved that. I have no delusions that my work will ever rock the art world (or the bodypainting world) in the way that Picasso and Matisse did. When I use their imagery in my work it as an art lover and a student.

So to bring this back to the question “why body painting?”, as in “why do I paint bodies?”, it’s not that I’m trying to be the next Picasso. I do however find that artistic bodypainting (and facepainting, for that matter) have an effect on consciousness in a local, immediate sense both for the person you paint and for the people that see them. When you paint someone at an event, it injects a quality of magic, of mystery, into our modern civilized lives. In returning a glimpse of the primitive, it allows for questions about human identity and the permanence of form, and in that way it touches upon the original, transformative power of art.

the real thing

the student work

Learn more at my Body Painting Page

And read the related post:

is a painted body naked?