Passion, Purpose and the Power of Paint

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Kent State University student Carrie Esser is that she is not an art major.

The 21-year-old from North Royalton has gained a reputation for her makeup and body-painting business, Makeup Madhouse, which has an Instagram following of more than 13,500.

Ms. Esser started her senior year this fall majoring in entrepreneurship in Kent State’s College of Business Administration.

She is used to the surprised looks that she gets when she explains that she is not studying art.


Ms. Esser loves to paint, but art is a talent she already cultivated on her own. She wanted to learn how to turn her talent into an enterprise.


“My dad always said, `If you choose a job you love, you won’t work a day in your life,’” Ms. Esser says, explaining that her goal is to operate her own makeup and body-painting business.


“I want to turn what I already know how to do into a business,” she says. “Having that business degree was really important to me.”


She never considered any university but Kent State. She visited the Kent Campus while still in high school and immediately was attracted to the university. After touring the business college and learning about the entrepreneurship program, she knew Kent State was for her.


“I loved the school as soon as I toured it,” Ms. Esser says. “It’s my second home, my happy place.”


In high school, she took just a required art class, and at Kent State, she has taken a class in makeup for stage and screen, and also a wig and makeup class.


NYX Cosmetics 2018 Face Awards USA

Recently, she has advanced into the Top 12 of the FACE Awards national competition. 

Carrie Esser used water-based body paint to turn herself into a "Queen Bee." Her artistry landed her in the second round of the NYX Cosmetics 2018 FACE Awards USA.


Ms. Esser was selected to be one of 30 contestants for the awards based on her initial submission titled “Killer Queen,” in which she made up herself to look like a queen bee. Judging criteria included creativity, value of the accompanying tutorial video, makeup artistry, quality of production and overall presentation.


The 30 contestants then received their first challenge: a video to show their interpretation of what the power of makeup means to them. Those videos were posted online for voting, with the top 20 vote-getters advancing to a second challenge round.


The second challenge was announced June 4, and the finalists had two weeks to create videos of their makeup presentation of a machine. Online voting took place from June 15-21.


Ms. Esser won that challenge and went on to finish among the final 12 contestants.


“Having the support of Kent State is incredible,” she says. “I’m so grateful to have an amazing school to have my back."


Getting Started

Ms. Esser was in high school when she discovered her passion for self-expression on the canvas of the body. She started out the way many teenagers do, experimenting with eye shadow and elaborate eye makeup.


Then, one Halloween during her junior year of high school, she decided to paint herself as a sugar skeleton and her reputation as “the body-painting girl” was set.


Ms. Esser typically works on herself or friends who volunteer to be her models, using water-based body paints that wash off easily.


Her colorful, eye-catching work ranges from whimsical to macabre, and allows her subjects to be clothed in paint.


She says painting on canvas doesn’t hold the same appeal as body painting because it is too easy to put down a canvas-based project and not come back to it.


“With body painting, I have to finish in one sitting,” Ms. Esser says. “It forces me to get it done.”


When working on herself, Ms. Esser uses a mirror to create the images – she has trained herself, essentially, to paint backwards.


Thanks to attention she has gotten through her website and Instagram account, some paying jobs have come her way over the past year. Ms. Esser then photographs her subjects once their makeup and body painting is complete.


“I do a lot of pregnant tummies,” she says, adding that at Christmas time, she painted three sisters, which one sister purchased as a gift for the other two.


Being clothed only in paint is “a very liberating experience, very freeing” for her subjects, she says.


Ms. Esser was hired to paint the performers at a ball for the American Heart Association and has done the makeup for some projects for art and fashion students at Kent State. Most recently, she has started offering her services for children’s birthday parties.


The Future

After graduation, her goal is to move to California to build her own makeup and body-painting business. She believes the entertainment industry would provide a larger market for her work.


“My absolute dream would be to work with celebrities or musicians or artists for creative photo shoots,” Ms. Esser says. 


Her style of body painting, she believes, would work well for music videos or events such as fashion shows.


In one potential business model, she would manage a team of artists to send out on assignments.


Working on movies or television shows has its appeal, but Ms. Esser says that she hopes her work will include diverse jobs so that she does not end up applying the same makeup day after day.


31-Day Challenge

In October 2017, Ms. Esser challenged herself to paint herself every day and to post a photo of a new design for each of the 31 days.


“It was a big project, and I’m very proud of it,” she says.


The October series also helped to increase her social media following.


At one point, Ms. Esser was in the pipeline to be a contestant on “Skin Wars,” a reality television show on GSN that features competing body-painting artists, but the show was canceled before she could appear.


Her favorite work so far hangs framed in the bedroom of her apartment. Titled “Life and Death,” the piece actually is two separate images framed together to appear as one, with her appearing as a skeletal death on half and flowering life on the other.


Ms. Esser says she sketched out the work one summer while working for her father’s manufacturing company, spending most of her day sitting in a cubicle entering data into a computer.


“I was sketching it out while I worked,” she says, noting how the death side of the painting reflected her life in a cubicle at the time. That sort of work is “definitely not my thing,” she says.


POSTED: Friday, August 31, 2018 09:34 AM
UPDATED: Tuesday, May 28, 2024 06:29 AM
Lisa Abraham