“Art totally saved my life, I was in a very dark place, and have done a lot of work with art. I also love being on the giving end because I have done so much work on myself with art and body art, it is easy for me to be present for others during that time. Art will bring up the good and bad and it brings people together. People get really connected in a deep way; it’s not contrived or forced because you can’t lie when you are drawing a picture.” - Willow Durant
by RENEE PATRICK Cascade A&E Editor
Willow Durant’s canvas not only provides a form of connection with her models, but represents an acceptance of self and celebration of intuition and expression. Through body painting, art classes and massage, she has found a way of communicating on an intimate level with the world.
A Bend native, Durant spent the first part of her career fighting fires on a heli-crew before going to massage school. “I wanted to do something that was contributing more [to the community],” she said. “I was attracted to the emotional component to it. Massage is very healing; therapeutically it is healing, but then you are touching someone, and transformative change can happen.”
Durant’s creativity has always been an important component in her life, but it wasn’t until she had been living in Sedona, Arizona, 20 years ago that she took her first art classes that resonated at a deeper level. Her introduction to expressive art proved to connect the therapeutic element of massage with the nurturing nature of self expression through art.
“It was a very healing experience for me,” she commented. “I became obsessed with it at the time and took a weekly expressive art class for years, and then started studying it intensely. It was a very wholesome outlook for me.
“When people can be in a place where they can be in total acceptance of what they create, where there is acceptance there is transformation. If I am working with someone and doing massage, they are really connected, my shift was really my search to contribute in a deeper way.”
Some temporary work in face painting introduced her to the medium, but soon she was hooked and the calls started. Each face and body she works with present different outcomes and connections and the experience continues to provide fresh inspiration.
“I have been doing massage for 25 years; it is very natural to me. Massage is a very intimate exchange; it is touching in a safe way and creating something beautiful. It all wraps really well for me, it goes hand and hand. Body painting is a way to touch people in a very safe and sacred way, even in painting faces there is an intimate connection.”
The art of body painting is much more than color on skin. Finding the right model and having trust is an important part of the process. “I can find a lot of models, but not everyone is comfortable to be in their body,” she explained. “I will not have other people pick the models. If they are not comfortable in their body, then I will not touch them. I am not trying to exploit females, it’s important to me that I am on the same wavelength at the model, it’s about the beauty and sacredness of it.”
The process of a full body-painting can be an all day affair. The work on Ice Queen for the cover was a 12 hour painting session. Durant does all she can do to make the model comfortable during that time, having them lay down on a table and playing their favorite music. “My whole emphasis is on their needs during that time,” she said. “I just go into my zone once I start painting.”
Durant does not go into a body painting project with a set idea of the outcome. Just like the expressive art classes, she lets the work emerge as time and paint allow.
There are unique challenges to the medium, because she uses professional theatrical face paint, sweating does matter. The paints are water soluble and she has to pay special attention to the parts of the body that may run, touchups being all part of the experience.
In addition, there are a limited amount of hours in the day. “There is an end time, that is challenging because the painting can take a different direction, I always want to work more on it,” Durant explained.
She works primarily with photographers Randy Johnson and Tambi Lane. “Randy has an artistic edgy style that I really love and Tambi’s work is clean and light and love that too. I pick one of them depending on what the model and the clients want,” she said.
Durant paints for a lot of private parties, corporate events and festivals. Face painting is popular, but she finds she truly connects most with full body painting.
Teaching has become an important element to her progression as an artist and as a way to help others discover the healing nature of self expression. Taking her love of expressive art classes to another level after moving back to Bend 12 years ago, she began teaching process painting with experiential sound and guided visualization.
“I just paint like I teach my art classes, I just start out and I let it flow and whatever comes up comes up. There may be a theme, but I don’t have a preconceived ideas and let it evolve.”
Her classes follow a plan, but she allows a lot of freedom in the structure. “There needs to be structure to create safety and to work with movement and flow because it creates security in the class. There is a lot of room for freedom of expression…I let the option be there to explore uncomfortable things to, but also to be creative and fun,” she said.
Durant holds her classes about every four months with the next one starting in January. The four-week Soul Painting class is an introduction to the painting process and creative play. Using movement, sound, guided imagery, process painting and play, she explores art as an expressive process and tool for self-discovery and healing.
She also teaches Mandala Making – using the sacred circle as a means of transformation and healing, Body Wisdom – discovering and accessing the wisdom of your body to address health and body images beliefs and issues, Embrace the Shadow – meeting, integrating and transforming shadow aspects of self, Chakra Transformation – exploring the chakras through art making, movement, sound and visualization and Paint and Play – a class for kids and pre-teens that focuses on art making and process painting.
Durant is ever on the path to growth. She regularly takes workshops and always looks for new inspiration. She is working towards creating a calendar of body art and most importantly continuing her classes.
“It’s important for me to teach,” Durant finished, “especially if people feel stuck with any creativity…We are all creative beings, in our culture [we think everything] has to be perfect and so often people don’t even try.”