Page last updated at 07:33 GMT, Friday, 20 February 2009

Turning pregnant bumps into art

Proud Mari cradles her bump

A face-painter is appealing for mums-to-be to offer their pregnant bumps as blank canvasses for artwork. So Mari Williams - who is expecting her second child on 12 March - went to try it out.

Dig out Moses basket... check.

Overnight bag... check.

Have bump painted... er, pardon?

Yes, I know. I've just included have pregnant belly painted on my things-to-do-before-baby's-born list.

It sounded strange to me too at first, but it was all in the name of research and I have to admit I was curious.

Apparently, pregnant body painting, or bump-art as the professionals call it, is increasing in popularity.

Mari Williams and Erica Norman
Erica says the paints are approved by the Face Painting Association

That's why, three weeks before my due date, I found myself in a lounge on a suburban estate in Flintshire, offering my pale, very big bump as a blank canvas to a complete stranger.

Without wishing to stereotype at all, I was expecting a middle-aged, hippyish woman obsessed with joss-sticks, crystals and Buddha statues.

In reality, Erica Norman is bubbly and welcoming and runs her successful face and body painting business from her immaculate, minimalistic home in New Brighton.

She was encouraged to try this unusual art form through other body painters and friends.

Recently, Erica has been offering her services to mums-to-be for free, in the hope of building her portfolio before charging for her services.

The package includes the painting itself - which normally lasts around two hours - and a professional photoshoot.

She has a range of designs, and is happy to accommodate any personal preferences.

Flowers being painted on the bump
Painting intricate flowers is the most time-consuming part

But I was curious to know what kind of people want to invite a stranger to paint on such a personal, and special, part of their body.

"Anyone who wants a nice memento," said Erica.

"At the end of the day I think we should celebrate births and bumps.

"Body painting has always been around, but more people are picking up on this type of body painting now and it's becoming more mainstream.

"I want to offer it as a service to pregnant women. It's a little bit different and it's nice for mums-to-be because it's a chance for them to sit back and relax."

We decided to go give my bump a colourful and vibrant design, and I took my place on the sofa. And Erica's right - being forced to sit still for two hours is a welcome treat.

The process itself is very relaxing, even soothing, and I didn't feel self-conscious at all.

Erica Norman and Mari Williams
Mari found the whole experience quite relaxing

It's a bit like having a massage.

And baby obviously enjoyed the tickles of the brush strokes too, judging by the way the "canvas" suddenly started moving.

I never would have tried it if Erica - who is a mum herself and very reassuring - had not explained that all the paints are water-based and approved for safety by the Face Painting Association.

Some women probably don't see the appeal of taking a photo of their huge, distorted bellies, especially with Michelin-style stretch-marks, veiny skin and wonky belly buttons.

On the other hand, most of us are secretly proud that our body, which we constantly condemn for being too big, too small, too fat, etc etc, is suddenly building, feeding and protecting a new human being. So why not add a lick of paint and some colour?

And when post-natal normality kicks in and we squeeze our dieted, buffed and vain selves back into our size 10 (okay, maybe size 12) jeans, how nice it is to have a memento of that maternal, all-powerful, precious time.

Suddenly, I'm starting to see the appeal and, maybe, Erica could be on to something here.

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