UV painting: Turning bodies into landscapes

Juneau artist Ron Gile likes to experiment with his art, and last summer he turned to the human body as his canvas for UV paintings.


He uses a water-based, non-toxic acrylic paint that is UV reactive to create vivid scenes on people’s backs. They shine with what seems to be their own inner glow under a UV light. Then he takes pictures of the final work before sending his models home to scrub the art that took anywhere between one to two hours to make off their bodies.

Gile explained that he found a photo of the work of John Poppleton of Utah, was intrigued, and decided to give it a go.

“I used to draw back in the 80s for my own personal satisfaction, and I did a little watercolor but nothing like this. I just picked up a paintbrush and it worked out,” Gile said, comparing to returning to the piano after long absence of practice. His paintings just kept getting better, he said.

Poppleton gave him some practical tips. Poppleton does UV paintings commercially, and can charge around $3,000 for a piece, but Gile did it for fun. Both he and Poppleton do more landscapes and other detailed nature scenery, Gile said. It’s a bit unique compared to what other people tend to do with UV paint, like using it for rave parties.

“It was a little awkward at first but after I sat down and started painting the very first person, I was just chatting away with them,” Gile said, explaining that often a friend or two of the model’s would come along to watch the painting. “It was a lot of fun. Turns out, I ended up doing a lot of couples, husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend. I did three people at once, which was kind of an interesting process because each one of the people had something different on them. The people who go as pairs usually combine the images together.”

He painted adults of all different sizes and ages, and he put on them whatever they wanted, from lightning bolts to “Star Wars” fighters. Many people wanted the aurora or some other kind of sky imagery on their bodies, he said.

“One girl was a motorcycle fan so she brought a Harley Davidson in and had me paint a black top highway going off into the mountains. We got her up on the bike and shot the photo so it looks like she is going down the road. It was kind of a cool idea,” he said.

While people usually have a clear idea of what they wanted, sometimes pieces could take unexpected turns.

One time “we changed things up. We had a lightning bolt coming over the top of the mountain and it turned out to look like a volcano so I put some lava coming out of the mountain and it came out really good.”

Gile begins a piece by getting the model situated, and then the lights go off so the paint shows up. He creates masks with suede for shapes like mountains and then he uses an airbrush to make the sky. Once the sky is completely finished, he paints the mountains white since it shows up so well. Then he takes a regular paintbrush and goes in to add trees and other details.

Gile was surprised by the number of tattoos people have – only two out of the 30-40 people he painted didn’t have one, he said. He covered up most of them, but for some of them, he just incorporated their design into the art piece.

“Like anything, the photo never gives it justice. I have live video of a couple of them,” he said. “One girl got a Fourth of July theme with a waving flag with like fireworks going off. In the video you would have her move her back a little bit and everything comes alive and it’s really surreal looking when they do that.”

Gile is no longer doing the UV painting after getting burnt out on it last summer. Word of mouth spread quickly, and for every piece he finished, two more people wanted one done, he said.

Now he is looking for something else to do, like his experimental photography. His advice to other artists: “Never be afraid to experiment. You never know what you can do.”



Contact Capital City Weekly staff writer Clara Miller at clara.miller@capweek.com.




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