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Burb's Eye View: Body painting her way to success

February 21, 2012|By Bryan Mahoney

Gwen Davis’ business has struck a niche market of baby bumps and bar mitzvahs.

Her Burbank studio, a former Lockheed office building on Cedar Avenue near San Fernando, is adjacent to former airplane hangars and warehouses now used by Western Studios. On any given day, a television show’s set may be constructed or torn down nearby, yet in the quiet of Davis’ offices, a more delicate trade is taking place.

Here, a model is laying stock still as Davis paints tiger stripes all over her. On another day, an actor may receive a temporary tattoo for a film role. And helming the art at Airbrush Hollywood is Davis, a single mom and lifetime makeup master who says she’s finally learned one of the most valuable lessons an artist can learn: how to run her art as a business.

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“The challenges I’ve given myself have been like moving mountains,” she said. “Just because I work for myself doesn’t mean I can take a day off.”

The L.A. native began Airbrush Hollywood a year ago. She would travel from home to home with her airbrush kit, painting designs using custom-built stencils. Occasionally she’d rely on the more traditional touch of a paintbrush. Both skills she learned as a teen — her boyfriend’s mother worked in Hollywood as a makeup artist.

Davis further honed her paint skills airbrushing T-shirts at Universal Studios, and later car hoods.

“I’ll airbrush anything if it will stick,” she said.

In the following years, she moved on to a custom jewelry line, pairing vintage pieces from different eras to create new looks. The eco-friendly line, Verde Rocks, used only materials that already were in use — a green philosophy that “went a long way with my values,” Davis said.

When her son, Kai, was born, she moved to Portland to give him a greener place to grow up. For Davis, that also meant getting “a regular job.”

Then, a photographer who knew about Davis’ paint work asked her to create a design on a pregnant woman’s stomach for a photo shoot. You can take the body painter out of L.A., but you can’t take the L.A. out of the body painter.

Davis and Kai, now 8, moved back to the place where body art can mean big business.

“I guess the grass wasn’t as green…” she said.

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