Seven Questions for Skin Wars’ Robin Slonina

The owner of Skin City Body Painting and producer of Game Show Network’s 'Skin Wars' on living canvases, shy wives and working with Mystique

Photo by Jon Estrada

Photo by Jon Estrada

How did you get started painting on people, instead of walls and canvases?

I was babysitting Todd VonBastiaans’ gallery in spring 2006 when this gorgeous, tall woman walked in with a slightly shorter man; it was Maria Gara (the SnakeBabe) and Steve August, the magician. They asked me, “Ooh, are these your paintings?” I had displayed some of my paintings behind the counter, and I said “Yeah.” They said, “You know, our body painter just moved to Los Angeles, and we need someone to paint Maria like a snake for a gig on Saturday.” This was, like, a week away … and like every good freelance artist, I said, “Of course, I can do that.” Then I ran home, got online and tried to figure out how to do it. I did a test-paint on my friend Mara, who was a scuba diver at La Rêve. That was the first body painting I ever did in Las Vegas, and it took me about eight hours. I can do it in four now.

What about that first experience grabbed you?

I realized how much more fun and vital it was painting a living being. I love the social aspect of it. It’s fun to watch your artwork get up and move around. Mara went from feeling tired and being a little self-conscious to suddenly inhabiting the snakeskin and moving with it. I was instantly hooked, watching it transform her.

What kind of clients come into your studio? Who wants to be body painted?

People find our website ( and realize they want Skin City to be a part of their Vegas experience; they want to get body painted and then hit the clubs and parties. We also get a lot of really wonderful clients who come from small towns all over the country who don’t have a body painting studio nearby. Maybe it’s a schoolteacher from Iowa who wants to be Wonder Woman. We paint her, we pamper her with professional hair and makeup that she’s never had done before, and then she gets a full photo shoot out of it, too. It’s really fun to help people’s fantasies come true.

Has anyone ever gotten painted just for a photo shoot, and then changed his or her mind about not going out in public?

That’s pretty frequent. Even if they didn’t have plans to go out originally, once they see the paint and the effect it has on the people around them, they pretty quickly decide to go out. Most people end up hitting the clubs in their body paint. We always use pasties, of course; we’re careful that we’re not breaking any laws and sending people out topless.

Photo by Jon Estrada

Photo by Jon Estrada

You’re on TV now. How did the Skin Wars project come together?

Many, many production companies approached me over the years, and for me it was just a matter of waiting to find the right partners for this process. When Michael Levitt and his partner Jill Goularte contacted me, I was instantly impressed by their passion for the art and all of the research they did to educate themselves about body painting as a fine art.  Together, we scoured the country for the best talent that we could find.

I imagine that includes your host, Rebecca Romijn. What was it like working in the presence of Mystique?

Rebecca was amazing. She’s the most iconic body painted actress in history, I would think. She did three X-Men movies as Mystique, in which she underwent six to eight hours of body paint. She has such an intimate firsthand knowledge of what it takes to get body painted, so her attachment to the art form is very real and very organic. She’s also super brainy and very, very funny, and we had a lot of fun cracking each other up on set.

Photo by Jon Estrada

Photo by Jon Estrada

Strange to think that even she had a first time under the brush. How do you overcome a first-timer’s nervousness about being painted?

Well, the most nervous customers we have are the wives who are getting body painted because their husbands made the initial call. So, I think a lot of times it might not only be the woman’s fantasy, but her partner’s. I really enjoy putting those people at ease and making them feel special and beautiful in their own skin, because we don’t just paint supermodels; we paint normal bodies. It’s sometimes a challenge for women in this culture to feel beautiful in their own skin. Through painting this second skin of paint on top of them, they’re able to finally look in the mirror and see their own beauty, even if they’re not perfect models.

Does the same prove true when wives make appointments for their husbands to get painted?

You know, we have yet to have a wife call and get her man an appointment. It’s pretty much always the other way around. I’m ready! The phones are open for all those women calling to get their husbands painted like the Hulk or Superman.

Skin Wars

Airs 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Sept. 24 on Game Show Network.

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