Denver Paramedic Alan Anderson Competes in Skin Wars, a New Reality TV Show

You can find art all over town -- not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

Get ready for some very special effects: Denver resident Alan Anderson, RAW Natural Born Artist's 2011 Makeup Artist of the Year, stars in GSN's new series Skin Wars, premiering this Wednesday, August 6 at 9 p.m. EST. In anticipation of the show's debut episode, we talked with the professional body painter -- a firefighter and paramedic by day -- about everything from finding an artistic niche to getting gruesome to handling ticklish models.

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Anderson's infatuation with body painting started early on. "I did make-up on myself when I was younger, and continued through my late teens and early twenties," he says. He'd always drawn inspiration from horror movies and science fiction, and especially enjoyed doing horror faces for Halloween. In 2008, the boyhood hobby morphed into a part-time gig in special-effects makeup when a friend asked him for help. "When I was old enough to go to bars, I would do those costume contests," recalls Anderson. After relocating to Denver from Birmingham, Alabama, to "follow dreams of being a ski bum," Anderson got a job as a firefighter and paramedic for North Metro Fire Rescue in Broomfield. And that work helped inspire another interest: "When I got into the special effects make-up, I'd seen blood and guts in real life," Anderson says.

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When he decided to take that hobby to a new level, he signed on for a body-painting class in Vegas with world-renowned face-and- body artist Pashur.

Anderson is pretty sure it was Pashur who recommended him for a new reality-style show based on body-painting, and he was thrilled when he got a call from Hollywood two years ago. He was even more thrilled when he was selected to be part of the first season of Skin Wars. When Anderson needs inspiration, he scours the Internet. "I like the darker art," he says. But Skin Wars turned out to be especially challenging, Anderson says. "They wouldn't allow us to use outside information for our work." Fortunately, his imagination was up to the challenge. One of the show's goals was to demonstrate that body painting is an art, too, and Anderson says he was impressed with the ability of Skin Wars to elevate the form. "Some people have a bad idea of what body art is, and some people don't consider it art at all," he notes. But using human canvasses does have special challenges. "That's kind of the funny part," says Anderson. "I think sometimes people think we're putting acrylic on people, when in reality we are using skin-safe make-up." The painter uses paintbrushes, sponges and an airbrush to bring his bizarre ideas to fruition. "You are painting on a living canvas, so you have to take care and treat it with respect," Anderson cautions. He prides himself on always using high-end makeup, and none of his models have ever had allergic reactions. Still, even if they don't get itchy, the job can get ticklish. "That's something you just deal with," Anderson says of the occasional giggles that come with painting people. "Your sides are always very ticklish, and you find ways to get around it." Continue reading for more on Anderson's upcoming television gig. Body painting is a grueling process. "I do try to tell people that," Anderson says. For a full, head-to-toe work-up, Anderson reserves about four to six hours. "With any major body-painting competition, generally the standard is a six-hour time limit," he says, adding, "I'm sure you'll see some twists to that on Skin Wars, where they put us under time constraints."

Many body artists do what Anderson calls "club work -- people who go to local bars and do advertising on folks for local gigs." Anderson's done that in the past, but today works mostly out of his photography studio, Creative Culture, where he rents time and space to other photographers and artists. "We've even hosted some body-painting events there," he says. Skin Wars, though, is the most public way that Anderson has shared his work thus far.

Rebecca Romijn will host Skin Wars, which will run for eight hour-long episodes. In each episode, contestants will test their creativity, talent and artistic technique as they participate in a series of body-painting challenges. Every week, the contestant with the least compelling creation will be asked to wash off thei canvas -- a real person! -- and head home. Eventually, the ten original contestants will be stripped down to three finalists, who will compete in a high-stakes finale.

Judges include legendary entertainer RuPaul and body-painting icons Craig Tracy and Robin Slonina, and there will be guest appearances by Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman) and Carson Kressley (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy). The winner of Skin Wars will receive a $100,000 cash prize and a one-year supply of paint, and will be the featured guest artist at IMATS, the premiere body-painting trade show in New York City.

The show premieres on Wednesday; in the meantime, to learn more about Anderson, visit his website.

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