John Neyrot’s career is the envy of guys everywhere: Not only does he photograph girls in bikinis for a living, but his job also entails painting girls’ naked bodies — a few times at the Playboy Mansion, no less. Oh, and jetting off to exotic locales is also part of the job description. As much as his life seems perfect, especially among you Sports Illustrated Swimsuit fans out there, he promises that his path wasn’t always as exciting.
Having started out as an airbrush artist, Neyrot was thrilled when he got the opportunity to paint something other than t-shirts. “Whenever you're painting,” he says, “it's just you and whatever you're painting, so it’s a very solitary thing. But now, when I body paint, the canvas talks back. We always have music on in the background and they’ll start dancing as I’m painting them.
Curious about his job? We were too, which is why we couldn’t wait to chat with Neyrot about his work. We left no stone unturned in our Q&A with him — he spilled about starting his career, fainting models, working at the Playboy Mansion, and so much more.
JustLuxe: Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into your career?
John Neyrot: Well, I used to be an airbrush artist, airbrushing t-shirts, jackets, cars, and walls. I had a shop and during Halloween, people would come in and ask me to help paint their costumes. And then one day, somebody said there's a festival in the [Florida] Keys called Fantasy Fest where they do body painting. They said I should go and try it out, so I ended up going down and renting a space for the day. That's the first time I got to body paint.
But before I really got into the body painting, I discovered photography and decided one day that I wanted to be a photographer. So, I totally dropped painting and got into photography. As I started getting into it, I got to travel everywhere with models all the time, and I wished I could bring my paint and stuff to paint the girls I would travel with. But it wasn’t easy to travel and bring the airbrush, equipment, hoses and liquid paint with me. So one day I just bought a couple of tubes of paint and brushes in a little bag. When I was in Aruba, I got someone to let me paint them, and from then on, I would travel with paint wherever I went.
So, I started as an airbrush artist, but then became a hand painter. All of the recent work I do now is all hand-painted — I don't use airbrush anymore. And I went down to the festival in the Keys 15 years in a row, but I haven't gone down there in the past five years.
JL: Do you miss going to the festival?
JN: Kind of. It's a fun festival, but it's so crowded and it's a lot of work. You make good money, but it's really, really a lot of work. I've been going many years, so I was excited to stop. And I would find that I would make three or four times the amount of money just working around Fort Lauderdale.
JL: Is painting women's bodies as cool as guys think it would be?
JN: Yes. It's an awesome job and so much fun. I hear from everybody, "Oh my gosh, you have the best job in the world. I thought my job was good, but man your job is crazy.” What's funny, too, is that I have photographers who are jealous that I'm a body painter. I tell them, "I don't understand, you guys shoot models and nudes too.” But they're like, "No, you're right there!"
I'm very grateful for what I get to do. I'm always thanking the girls. For them to be able to disrobe in front of me is an honor, because it's not easy for them to do that. I really appreciate that.
JL: You're both a body painter and photographer. If you had to choose to do only one, which one would you choose and why?
JN: Photography. I have always loved pictures since I was little. I think I love photography, but I like painting.
JL: Tell me a bit about your body painting process.
JN: I use water-based paints that are made for body painting. When I have a model that wants to get painted, I'll ask them if they have any idea of what they want. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. Everyone's bodies are different, so I'll look at them, and then figure out what would look cool on them. Then I'll do a little sketch. Once I do the sketch, they come over and I just get to it.
Have you ever had to deal with difficult models?
JN: Rarely, rarely. The only problems I have as far as body painting goes is that a girl has to stand in one place for anywhere from an hour to three or four hours. They're so scared not to move that they lock their legs. What happens is, if you stand too long with your legs locked, a lot of times it makes a girl pass out because you have a pressure point behind your knee. So I always have to warn the girls. I tell them, "As I'm painting you, you can move! Don't stay perfectly still. Move your knees around every once in a while."
JL: What has been your career highlight thus far?
JN: For body painting, it was painting at the Playboy Mansion. I actually got to paint there four times at four different events. I had to paint anywhere from 10 to 20 models in one day, so it was crazy and non-stop. It was cool, because after I was done, I got to hang out at the party and all that.
JL: What would be a typical workday for you?
JN: Well, if I'm not physically shooting or body painting, them I'm behind the computer editing, whether I'm editing video or stills. There's a lot of traveling involved, and because I shoot a lot of swimwear, it's always flying to a lot of Caribbean islands and warm, hot, exotic places. I have always loved travel, but I never knew getting into this business that it would be part of it.
JL: So do you do all of your own editing or do you have a team?
JN: I do all my own — I'm like one big art department. But I do need help.
Do you want to expand and hire more help?
JN: Yeah, for sure. With my bikini team, we're working with other photographers and I have a partner in the company. He does all the marketing and I do all the art stuff — all the shooting and keeping up with the models.
JL: What would you like to accomplish in 2014?
JN: That's a good question. It's funny, because I haven't been focusing on body painting, I've been focusing on photography. I have a website, BikiniTeam.tv, and it's a video blog of the bikini world — everything to do with bikini models and fashion. We write stories and I shoot at events. I've been focusing on video now, so I've been getting really good at video.