Now that my Belly Art Photos have become popular across the country and throughout the world (due in large part because of the internet), a week does not go by that someone writes and asks me questions about Belly Art Photos.
It then occurred to me to compile a list of the most frequently asked questions and posted them on my blog, along with my answers. This way, each time I receive a question, I can simply forward them a link to my Belly Art Photos blog post. Regardless, should you have question that you feel I’ve not addressed, please forward along and I’ll add it to the ones below.
1. How did your Belly Art come to be?
Starting in the late ’70’s I began to create puzzles, which I called Wordles® (rhymes with “girdles”). Wordles® are a figurative representation of a word or phrase by an imaginative arrangement of words, pictures and symbols that express that work or phrase. Wordle® is an amalgamation of the word word and riddle.
In 1978 I began teaching elementary school children in Irvine, California. It wasn’t long before I arrive in the morning only to find in my “teacher’s box” a copy of one of my Wordle® pages (usually 20 Wordles® to a sheet – see sample below), which someone innocently shared with the staff, being completely unaware that a teacher in their midst created them. When I’d humbly inform my fellow teachers that it was me who designed them, the looks I’d received ranged from quizzical to skeptical.
It was also around this time where besides designing Wordles® on paper, I began to imagine how they might look like on other medium such as t-shirts, screen-savers, coffee mugs, greeting cards, and even as a game. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind (primarily in conjunction with creating pregnancy portraits) it also occurred to me that many of my Wordles® were suited for belly designs. I then began to fashion Belly Art based upon my Wordles. Unfortunately, during a divorce in the 80’s, my Wordle® designs mysteriously vanished, and my life, as well as my Belly Art, was put on indefinite hold.
I remarried four years later, created three incredible children over the following six years, and was enjoying the fruits of our labor. A decade soon passed, and though my dormant plans for Wordles® remained alive, I nonetheless continued to cart my dreams off to “Someday Isle” (i.e. some day I’ll do it).
It wasn’t until attending a Qvale family reunion (my wife’s family) in the mid ’90’s that my Wordle passion was rekindled. Someone at our event presented the family with a list of twenty wordle-like puzzles for us to solve. They were the typical, easy type, like “| r | e | a | d |” (i.e. read between the lines). From then on I began to redesign my previous Wordles®, taking them to whole new level, as well as adding on a few thousand more.
Today, I have over four thousand in queue.
As to how my ignited passion for Wordles turn into Belly Art? Suffice it to day, it took a stroke of serendipitous good fortune.
It was 2005 when one of my portrait clients, who also shared my interest in painted bellies, suggested to me that they could arrange to gather a few pregnant ladies and an artist friend, if I would create the actual photographs. What was so peculiar about their request is there were unaware of my previous pursuit and passion for maternity portraits. I took this as a sign of providence and accepted the opportunity.
Even then, once my latent aspiration had wheels, it required a degree of time and dedication that, had I known, I wonder if I would have ever begun. At the time I was also in the grips of raising three teenagers, managing my family portrait photography, as well as designing/trademarking my Wordle® puzzles.
Regardless, having these images in the back of my mind for over twenty-five years, I knew that this was the “some day” I was waiting for. I also knew if I put my heart and soul into it, something of value could be accomplished. Little did I know what I was about to embark upon and the untold hours of labor I would lovingly endure.
2. What inspired the Belly Art?
Belly Art was not so much inspiration as it was perseverance and perspiration.
As a portrait photographer I had been creating maternity portraits for 25 years and found them especially rewarding. Maternity portraits were so special to me that I never charged a session fee, and offered substantial discounts to my mothers-to-be. I named my distinct style of maternity portraits “Soft and Sensitive.” Corny, I know. But it was a hit in the ’80s!
Articulating exactly what it is about the pregnant form that has captivated me all these years has remained elusive, which makes me believe it is something beyonds words.
However, if forced to offer an explanation, I’d have to say it must meet some sort of primal curiosity or need to be in touch with the wonderment and preciousness of life. When I am photographing pregnant woman, there is profound sense of freshness and fascination like no other.
For me, maternity portraits are a gift – it’s a vicarious sharing in the regeneration of life.
Around this time (early 80’s), I began to hear stories about moms painting their bellies. Not that such an artistic expression was anything new, it nevertheless intrigued me.
Subsequently, I was inspired to create my own, and because actual clippings were far and few (i.e. we did not have Google Images to spy upon), I began to sketch out ideas of my own.
My drawings were generally focused on my interests at the time. Being a ceramist, a guitarist, shell collector, a movie and sports enthusiast, as well as a Wordle® designer, my Belly Art designs largely reflected these motifs.
3. Do you come up with the ideas for the belly art?
Candidly, I don’t think either the art form (belly painting) or the ideas expressed in my photographs as being anything archetypal. Several of these images were in my 80’s sketches, while some I don’t recall seeing/designing.
My friend/client, Lara Lei Bailey, scheduled the sessions, provided props, her home, and stipulated the images to be created, while I interpreted, synthesized and realized the objectives.
Regardless, like all artists, I was merely building upon a foundation laid by generations before us. Rather claiming sole ownership to the concept, Belly Art, for me, is my personal stab at perfecting a tried and much beloved medium, and hopefully offering a perspective that causes the viewer to return for more than one look.
4. How did you actually create your Belly Art?
The belly artwork was first applied by a delightful graphic artist, Bridget Reid, and then photographed by me.
I then enhanced, manipulated and completed the designs in Photoshop. Extensive digital artwork was applied to define, articulate, enhance and sharpen features.
There isn’t a line, shape or color that has not been meticulously scrutinized and painstakingly reworked to create the Belly Art you see today.
Though I do no wish to take away a scintilla of credit from the graphic artist, I’d be disingenuous were I to omit the degree to which Belly Art images were dependent on the postproduction creative process.
5. How long does each pregnant belly take to prepare?
Well, to prepare the belly, all it took was clean, naked skin.
However, to prepare each belly for each photography session, the actual painting varied greatly.
While a few belly sessions required no more than an hour, other belly designs demanded twice that, and more.
The time our pregnant models posed for me in front of the camera lasted anywhere from thirty minutes to over an hour.
As is the rule in life, the preparation process was multiple the actual event.
6. Which of your Belly Art photographs were the most challenging?
Painting – both the Fetus, Earth and Presidential bellies took the longest and required a very patient model.
Photographically – Snowman and Pumpkin bellies were by for the most difficult. It wasn’t easy trying maneuver three pregnant bellies/ladies into place and keeping them there. Not to mention once we finally did get everything just right, pressured bladders would demand a quick dash away…
Where I to do it again, I’d prefer to select slightly less modest models. Frequently, a posed challenge could have swiftly been resolved were I able to be more mindful of the creative process than attending to modesty issues.
Post-production – the images which required the most comprehensive graphic artwork and several renditions were Presidential, Easter, Ying–yang, Fetus, Pumpkin and Shell bellies.
Basketball was challenging trying to have our very pregnant model push her belly away.
Fishbowl Belly was fun adding shells and creating a three-dimensional look in Photoshop.
Happy Face required dozens of version and alterations.
Clock Belly was time intensive defining the hands and numbers. Lest you think it would have been easier to simply add the digits in post, please understand that the intention was to maintain the look of a hand-painted application. Applying them in Photoshop would have been effortless, but we would have also lost the natural feel of being applied by hand.
Snowman is in a category all its own. Creating a believable foreground over which the Snowman Bellies emerge was a Promethean challenge, which propagated over four dozen versions.
Even though I have been unable to whittle my Snowman bellies to my favorite one (always posting at least two versions), in interest of space, I limited myself to only one here.
7. What role did photography play in your Belly Art photographs?
I have offered you glimpse of the graphic design contribution, yet have said very little about the key component: photography – writing with light…
You see, without the subjective interpretation of the photographer, wielding the tools of light, lens, and years of savvy, no amount of artwork, digital or otherwise, could have resurrected these paintings or elevated them to the stature of art they hold today. The variations and possibilities are endless – but someone had to decide.
As to the particulars, all Belly Art photographs were created on location in the living room of one of my clients, except Beach Ball Belly, which was taken at local park, in a sandbox.
The images were captured digitally with a Canon 5D. The primary light source was a large, south facing window. White and silver reflectors (48″) were employed to soften the shadow edge and bounce light into the shadows.
Each photographic session took around an hour or two. While crafting the light is intuitive and was fairly quick, managing the exact placement of the props (for maximum aesthetic appeal) and arranging the ladies consumed the vast majority of my time. The digital artwork demanded at least a day’s worth of work of manipulations to over a week or more.
8. Were you just the photographer?
Was I just responsible for the photography? Yes, I am the photographer – I did not actually paint the bellies.
Were these images created by the application of paint to belly? No. This was just beginning – a rough draft, if you will.
Such a question would seem to imply that merely painting the belly is where the artistry lies. Were this the case, I believe the images you’re viewing today would be among the thousands of humdrum photos blanketing the web.
Painting is one thing – Photography is another, which I would argue makes all the difference in the world. As you can see, combining the current art form of simple painting with digital graphic art/design, elevates belly art’s present state of mediocrity to a whole new level.
9. Do you have a favorite belly?
Like my children, I love them all.
However, Watermelon Belly, and No Smoking Belly do have a special place in my heart.
I also am delighted with Easter Belly, as are people throughout the world who write me to share their appreciation.
Fetus Belly is also an internationally favorite, as it is one of my faves. I am not sure what the appeal is but believe it has something to do with the fascination of life and a living soul residing inside the mother’s womb.
10. What bellies would you like to do that you haven’t done so far?
Besides a host of balls (especially Baseball), I’d want to do Moon Belly, Orange Slice Belly, Mag Wheel Belly, Tire Spoke Belly, Speaker Belly, all the Planets, Bowl “Of” Bellies (i.e. spaghetti, salads, cherries, etc), Stained Glass Belly, a series of Guitar Bellies, Kaleidoscope Belly, Car Logo bellies (especially VW), Pizza Belly, Christmas Ornaments and Golgotha Belly – just to name a few.
11. Do you provide this service for pregnant women?
As much I would love to provide this service for pregnant women, there does not seem to be a clamoring demand. Considering the cost of not only the photography session, but the artist’s time/talent, as well as my graphic artistry, and the actual photographs, such luxury is not a key component of the target market – young mothers with restricted budgets.
It’s not to say that it won’t be in the future, but for now I would have to say that my Belly Art is definitely project based than profit motivated.
12. What to do you plan to do with your Belly Art photographs?
In the initial stages, I did have tacit hopes of my photographs blossoming into something larger. The couple who motivated me to create my Belly Art, also hoped they might use my photographs for a calendar. Though they abandoned this notion some years ago, I have kept my photographs alive by posting on my website. Fortunately, the images are timeless…
Today, I derive pleasure from posting my images for others to enjoy. That’s enough for now.
Should you have any further questions about my Belly Art Photos sessions, the artwork, how you might own an image, about me (Orange County Family Portraits or Orange County Headshots) or any aspect of the photographic process, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We are more than happy to share.
Master Craftsman Photographer
American Society of Photographers
International Photography Hall of Fame & Museum
Orange County Photographer of the Year
3-Time Honoree -EPCOT’S World’s Greatest Photographers Exhibit
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