Hundreds of people each year parade the streets of Fantasy Fest in Key West after having their naked bodies transformed into artwork through detailed body paint design.
Florida native Ron Wolek, or “Capt. Ron Wolek,” is a professional body painter and make-up artist and has been traveling from Hollywood, California, where he works with celebrities, to Key West for the past four years. The craft of make-up has been in Wolek's famiy for three generations. His mother was Disney’s former hair and makeup department head, and following in his mother’s footsteps, Wolek started his career there. On the island, Wolek is known for his signature look: light brown long beard, hair and captain's hat.
This year the Fantasy Fest celebrates its 40th anniversary. Wolek joined Sundial to talk about the magic behind body painting, growing up in a make-up household and his creations for Fantasy Fest.
This has been edited lightly for clarity.
WOLEK: It's a funny approach because you have to have a plan and design going forward, but the person owns the canvas. Every time I ever approach it, I have to adapt to that person and the personality in order to bring life to your work. Otherwise, it can look stagnant and doesn't look special.
WLRN: Do they come to you and say what they want? Do you have to look at what you're working with?
Yeah, they come with it. Not really necessarily an idea, but like a theme. And that's the fun part -- trying to put all those pieces of the puzzle together so that they can become whatever their fantasy is. Body painting is such an expressive form of self-expression. Normally, it's for people who maybe don't do a lot of public speaking or get the spotlight and they love to get body paint. It must be a source to express their inner selves.
Let's go through the process a little bit. How does it work, when you're painting on the human body?
I go right with color and feed off of their expression and then work my creation to contour their shapes instead of trying to draw a portrait on them. That's pretty tedious. That's the hard part too -- to get someone to sit for that long, especially in like the atmosphere of Fantasy Fest where there are all kinds of distractions happening -- to get anybody to stay still. You have to think on your feet, not necessarily always have a plan, but bring a little bit of that actor's personality into the character you're trying to portray.
You've transformed somebody into a guitar, right?
The theme for Fantasy Fest was 'in tune and off-key.' I had the model and I was going to do this awesome Jimmy Hendrix rock-inspired guitar piece on his torso, but when I got there, I realized it didn't fit his personality. So I put the guitar on his chest instead of vertical. It was now horizontal and then the neck of the guitar went all the way down his arm. He could now play it like an air guitar. It really rocks out his body paint so when he curled his knuckles, it was like he was playing the neck of the guitar and then he could strum it.