How to: Living Statue
This is where you find everything you could want to know about being a mannequin.
Even how to make this lifelike patina effect with acrylic paint!
(It's practically an e-book!)
Hire + contact info at bottom.
My Colonial Bronze Costume, comissioned by Alaska Airlines.
Living Statues were invented in the middle ages. The "tableaux vivants" (living statue teams) captured the breathtaking presence of the theater, and the austere silence of a painting or sculpture. The tradition was informally passed down in France, especially Paris, and slowly spread through the major cities of the world.
One such Parisian living statue (Thierry Arfeuillères) is featured in the movie "Amelie".
Seattle saw its first living statue in 1999 when a traveler came to Seattle dressed in silver aerosol body paint.
His act was simple... Sit in his silver lawnchair with his silver boombox scratching out a quiet beat. Since I lived in Seattle and was constantly around Pikes Place Market and the festivals of Seattle Center, I got to see his act at Bumbershoot that year.
I was amazed, I had never seen anything like it.
He never made it back to Bumbershoot, but I didn't mind, he would have been competition.
The next year I was at Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival with my friend Alex Humbert. We made our first costumes from suits we bought at a thrift store and house paint. I used a sponge to add black and dots on a white background. The pattern was designed to hide any shadows, facial features, and imperfections.
This picture was taken the night we finished the first costume. "The headbands" to hide our hair were cut from the bottom of the legs of an old pair of jeans.
On our first day we sweated it out in one spot, suffering from dehydration, not once using the bathroom, not sitting down for a break, nor eating anything, for eight hours straight.
Ready to go out to Bumbershoot. It was the year 2000.
The pressure from those headbands was extreme and we both ended up with excruciating headaches. It took a couple of hours to recover. That night, out of mercy, my mom sewed us a set of hoods from old t-shirts as we counted our money.
We made a lot of money.
Here we are getting ready for day two at Bumbershoot.
Hoods are wonderful for a full-time living staue.
It keeps paint out of your ears and hair. It confines makeup to just your face too. But as you can see, we had no gloves, so we are painting our hands to match the costume.
As we worked we also brainstormed about improvements for next year.
The hood needed to be stretchy.
We needed gloves.
The pattern needed to be more uniform.
Here is what we came up with:
Then white sponged dots.
Then black Sponged dots.
Then some white splatters.
Images are from 2001, days before 9/11.
This year someone tipped us a $100 bill! Also notice Alexes painted face... You can barely find his nose, mouth, and eyebrows!
We also made a video:
The costumes were terrifying, and fun. But no one really wondered if we were actually statues.
The glasses and hats were a dead giveaway.
Next year... they had to be gone.
I was performing all year long by this time, I even payed rent for a while via the income from busking as a human statue.
The hats were easy to get rid of. But a new technology needed to be invented for the glasses. We would paint them to match the rest of the costume, the black dots in the patters would be holes in the paint so we could see!
Here we are the next year on the Game Show "Street Smarts - Bumbershoot" (2002) hosted by Frank Nicotero with our new glasses!
This costume was a hit, Evening Magazine (the Seattle TV Program) even did a piece on us before Alex left for college:
Alex was gone for a while, but I recruited a new friend, Nat Boggs. We airbrushed a new set of costumes blue and added metallic flecks.
Left: Me with the airbrush adding depth to the shadows in the material. Right: My face fully painted.
The blue one didn't last too long. There were too many comments about the Blue Man Group. The airbrush set up and tear down was laborious. And, we both had other jobs at the time. Nat continued to use his costume for a while, here he is:
Nat now creates and sells fascinating wooden structures, furniture and such especially asscoiated with tea. I often would talk about my stories as a living statue with friends. And it was about this time that I joined an improv group in Seattle. One of the members of this group was Brian Cafferky. He wanted to see what it was like to be a statue.
I am on the left, and this is my "Staue Family" I brought Alex (top right) into the artform in 2000. Then Nat boggs (Below Alex), Brian Cafferky, my wife Brenda, Patrick Toney, and recently Bruce Pearson.
This video is Brian and I in the costume we dreamed up:
The person doing all of this filming is my wife Brenda.
When you watch someone having a lot of fun without you, a kind of urge rises to, well, join in. And she has.
Notice that the black and white transition is even in her teeth! We found a special black wax at a costume store normally used to simulate a missing tooth for that.
The hair is a rubber wig, probably from the same store.
This is the only image I have seen of living statues kissing eachother.
It's risky being a ststue, especially for a woman. People begin to treat you like a real statue. They grope you, they talk about you like you aren't there, aren't alive. Or they run up and scream in your face to scare you. This happened to Brenda and it really turned her off from the whole experience.
I once had a guy walk up and slap me in the face pretty hard. I said "HEY LEAVE ME ALONE!" His face went pale and he ran off, fast. About 10 minutes later he returned, I was ready to turn the other cheek. Instead he appologized and explained that he thought I was not actually a statue.
In my heart I wondered why he was so passionate about slapping actual statues... but I guess some people just treat public property that way.
Wait, maybe a statue slapped him once!?
I do not condone the actions of the grey living statue (David Mulder, Austrailia). But, the video of his violent response to being antagonized just goes to show that there is a lot going on behind the paint.
Poor David was choked briefly in a tight headlock about six months later. That kind of stuff happens, but there are also positive stories, many more than negative ones I believe.
I have been featured in different media regularly.
I have had tens of thousands of really genuine hugs.
Lots of people have handed me cash.
I got free inscense sticks once.
Bus drivers tell me I don't need to pay sometimes.
Lots of compliments
Once a crowd chased down a guy who tried to steal my tip canister.
Once while trying to rest with my head down and my bucket hidden, the crowd made a tip bucket for me from cardboard and tipped me even though I refused to move or even look at them!
My friend Patrick has had a man (possibly under the influence) chain his bike to him for a half hour.
Patrick also had a bird land on him.
And Alaska Airlines asked me to make a Paul Revere costume then get paid $300 an hour to stand in Portland's Red Square.
It had to look like real bronze.
How to make the most realistic living statue costume possible:
Looking like a real statue, not like a spray-painted looser, is the Holy Grail of the artform.
So , I set to work... Budget: $200.
I did research on the garb of the period and on the look of aged bronze patina. I got the bulk of the elements from thrift stores, then altered them. The boots and hat came from costume stores.
After tracing a shadow of my head on a piece of paper I sewed together two pieces of teal Lycra for the hood.
And traced where the face hole needed to be.
I painted the altered clothing and various elements:
First you need your costume elements! (Video)
The paint goes on in layers, but in a particular order (based on the amount of detail each needs):
1. Basecoat everything Chocolate Brown for a consistent color and layering surfce. For the costume use Chocolate Brown Latex house paint. For your face use grease paint WITH powder.
2. Once the crevices are dry, sponge/splatter forest green and liberty green all over every surface leaving a mottled look.
3. Now you are ready to drybrush forest green on the high points. Study the diagram below and take note of the poisition of the color in relation to the relief of the shapes:
4. Drybrush a light dusting of the chocolate brown color on top of your broader forest green drybrushing. If you want to make the gold color "pop" use black for this layer (see first panel of below image).
5. Wetbrush crevices (dripping wet, running drips of the watery color from lowest parts of the relief) see center image below.
6. Add gold highlights to the highest points of the relief.
A close up of the jabbot
The same sequence of colors must be executed on the face to match the costume. I use Mehron and Ben Nye colors. The metalic brass final layer is a Mehron Creamblend Stick.
Study the rubber wig. Can you see the cyan, dark green, gold highlights?
Drybrushing laters on the face.
Here is the final product, the company that hired me to pose here in Red Square (Portland OR) provided me the plinth to stand on. I did wheel it around to other events for a while... But, eventually it got flipped upsidedown and turned into a planter for strawberries.
My protege Patrick Toney (mentioned earlier) and I soon made him a bronze style costume and ventured out to Bumbershoot to try it out and play with people:
Patrick soon began to perform independently. He developed his own style and his friends began to make videos of him.
Here is a short documentary featuring DSLR timelapse clips:
One bad thing about painted clothes is that you can't really wash them.
Soon, these costumes began to break, and stink. Gross I know. But it keeps you in the mode of updating your style and comfort.
We set out to promote Patrick to a military general, and I got to do a costume I had been dreaming of for a long time... A rusty steampunk robot cyborg looking thing!
As of 2015 I have stopped going out on the street with the costumes. Seattle, like many other large cities, has become the home of a dozen or so statues, some better executed than others.
As I see it, the art of Living Statue has overrun its demand. There will probably always be statues, but when I first began doing it here in Seattle no one had seen it. I would quickly amass audiences of 100 or 200 people just standing still.
Now, the living statue is hardpressed to get a captive audience. Novelty, hidden framework, a gimic sets apart one statue from the others.
People still have fun, but that initial question "is this a real person?" no longer captures the imagination of the pedestrian. The most magical moment for a person experiencing this artform is the sudden shock of seeing an inanimate object come to life.
Visit this page for more about novelty statues (where these images came from) HERE >>
My reaction when I see these staues is admittedly, quite impressed. I can't imagine that they stay this way for long, they may get bruises from the straps and hidden platforms they pose on... That's commitment, it makes a great picture for a tourist...
I too have enjoyed the giggles from a bit of novelty.
But, I still love the simple, silent, still statue, who's breath control and rock hard facial expression betray the true nature of what lies beneath.
The most gratifying moment I had as a statue came to me as as a middle aged woman and her friend studied me intently at some festival.
I decided, as I stood completly still to just turn my head slightly, to look at them. They practically jumped out of their skin! A rapid conversation about how surreal and wonderful the experience was then preceeded a generous tip and a photo. I loved making magic happen for someone. Magicians who do close up magic and sleight of hand report that the facial expressions and awe that spring out of their audiences is the reason they love their jobs.