Make-up artist Joanne Gair | Photo by Spencer Franklin
Updated March 3, 2016

Featuring Behind-the-Scenes Videos

Potholes. Sand. Turtles. Ocean waves. Paparazzi.

These are just some of the things renowned body painter Joanne Gair encountered while working on the latest swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated (on sale now).

Gair calls working with Sports Illustrated a privilege. “It’s very exciting to have the challenge of body painting such beautiful women,” Gair told Make-Up Artist magazine via phone from her New York home. “We also shot in the Caribbean and that was very exciting. We were at Petit St. Vincent for some of it. And [Great Exuma] in The Bahamas. The Caribbean is breathtaking. Every island is very different. I love all of these islands. It is extraordinary how there are small distances between them but the terrain is so different.“

Gair has been touring the world and working for Sports Illustrated for 16 years. She has worked on 17 SI issues (16 of them the swimsuit edition). Her first body-painting cover featured Miami Marlins player Giancarlo Stanton in a painted-on jersey. This year’s swimsuit issue marks her first U.S. body-painted swimsuit cover.

For the first time in the history of the swimsuit edition, Sports Illustrated featured three different women on three different covers. Gair and her crew created the body-painted swimsuits for cover model and mixed martial artist Ronda Rousey, as well as alpine ski racer Lindsey Vonn and tennis player Caroline Wozniacki.

Caroline Wozniacki wearing body paint for the 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (on sale now) | Photo by Frederic Pinet/Sports Illustrated

“This year’s SI editor, M.J. Day, decided we should do athletes,” said Gair. “It was a whole thing about celebrating women and the power of what they’re all about.”

Planning happened months earlier.

“The concept and direction were decided around the middle of the year [2015],” said Gair. “Months of preparation back and forth discussing with M.J. I love collaboration. It happens with myself and SI. Over the years, the challenges have gotten more: ‘Can you do it?’ ‘Of course I can do it! I’ll work it out.’ Over the years the process is different. … I love the fact that I’m still growing in my craft.”

Photographer Frederic Pinet captured the women’s strengths, and Day selected the bathing suits that Gair would replicate on the models. Rousey wore looks Gair described as feisty and animalistic. Wozniacki had a softer lace look, and Vonn’s look, according to Gair, conveyed the energy of skiing.

Chanel Iman on location in Zanzibar for the 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (on sale now) |Photo by Ruven Afanador/Sports Illustrated

Gair, her assistants Stephanie McGathy and Marissa Jade Willinsky, and the SI team traveled to Petit St. Vincent in the Caribbean to create the athletes’ looks. Part of Gair’s preparations included shipping three large cases of make-up supplies—which included items from Reel Creations, Trendy Tribals, M.A.C. Cosmetics, Make Up For Ever and AJ Crimson Beauty.

“They were shipped early so that they would be at the location waiting for us when we arrived,” said Gair. “Shipping times and the way you ship always depends on where you are going. In the U.S., it’s pretty straightforward. When you are shipping overseas, you always need to take into account where it’s going, how long it will take to get there and clear customs and then arrive at the location. We have a really great shipping company on these shoots!”

Gair likes to use a variety of media, from alcohol-based to water-based; she also likes to mix them and see what she can accomplish. Her assistants are briefed before the work begins and help her prepare for the project.

“It’s a commitment for my team,” she says. “The hours are long. The beauty make-up, the hair, the painting … it can be 10, 12, 14 hours on the day of shooting. And of course the days are long because of the shoot and then getting the work off,” said Gair. “I think really what happens with us all is that when you’re put up to the challenge, it brings out the best in you. … I do love the fact that the commitment is real. You’ve got a talent. You’ve got to make it as painless as possible.”

While working in Petit St. Vincent, paparazzi photos of Rousey in the tiger look (inspired by a We Are Handsome swimsuit) were leaked to media, so the crew had to add another shoot at the more private Great Exuma in The Bahamas.

“My prep accelerated a bit, but everything came together pretty easily without any drama,” said Gair. An image from that shoot, with Rousey in a look inspired by a Camila Swimwear suit, ended up going on the cover. (See video below for the body-painting shoots.)

Another eventful photo shoot took the crew to Zanzibar, where they worked with photographer Ruven Afanador. They showcased the islands’ natural elements and exotic cultures.

Lindsey Vonn wearing body paint for the 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (on sale now) | Photo by Frederic Pinet/Sports Illustrated

“Ruven is an extraordinary photographer. He came up with that approach to how he did it. We worked with real Maasai people,” said Gair. “The experience was unforgettable. I fell in love with Zanzibar. It’s the most glorious island. Beautiful waters. Everywhere was a challenge to get to. Full of potholes. … We were standing in water from about 6 in the morning. The tide only lasts for about two hours, so he [Afanador] absolutely utilized the conceptual visual of the location. He and M.J. also had things made before going there. That’s what SI swimsuit is all about: adventure, destination and location and bringing the world to the viewer.

JG-Pull-Quote“The travel to this incredible location was quite a journey from New York City. With the planes and time change, it comes out to a two-day travel on both ends. When you arrive it’s happily right to work!”

Gair did the beauty make-up for the five models, mainly using Josie Maran Cosmetics. All of the make-up held up pretty well while the models swam with turtles, avoided sea urchins and waited for tides and rain to clear. (See video below.)

Now that the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition is out, Gair isn’t slowing down. Her work was recently featured in two beauty editorials for Lucire magazine and in two pieces shot by Afanador for the March issues of Vanity Fair and Maxim. She’s also been busy working from her New York base with celebrity bookings (including Martin Scorsese and actress Ivana Milicevic). But Gair admits there’s no cure for the travel bug that bit her.

“Being a New Zealander, I have to say that traveling is right up there with my passion as well as my craft,” she says.

To see more images of Joanne Gair’s work and travels, follow her on Instagram: