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Belly art

Christian Reynolds, right, paints the seven-month pregnant belly of Jessica Aiton during a session at Sears Photo Studio at the Rock Hill Galleria. Aiton, who chose a fall theme for the belly painting, is expecting a son, to be named Coty. She posed for portraits showing the finished washable painting, below.
Christian Reynolds, right, paints the seven-month pregnant belly of Jessica Aiton during a session at Sears Photo Studio at the Rock Hill Galleria. Aiton, who chose a fall theme for the belly painting, is expecting a son, to be named Coty. She posed for portraits showing the finished washable painting, below.

For 40 weeks, expectant mothers watch their bellies grow. During the final few weeks, they often grumble about their awkward size and complain about the discomfort.

Two Rock Hill artists also want them to celebrate.

For Jamie Burton and Christian Reynolds, body art takes on a new, rounder dimension when they work with pregnant mothers.

"It's really nice to work with ladies who are at that stage in their life," said Burton, 29. "It's a very unique time that doesn't happen but a few times in a person's life."

Burton captures the anticipation of a baby's birth in a tactile form through belly casts. The bowl-like cast helps link mothers to the fleeting time of intense connection with their unborn child, she said.

"With 'mommy brain,' you can sometimes forget different aspects," Burton said, referring to the pregnancy months. "It's kind of a nice reminder."

Burton, who studied sculpture at Winthrop University, often made castings of hands and faces in college. But she had not heard of belly casting until a friend approached her several years ago. After creating casts for a few expectant friends, she decided to start Belly Casts by Jamie this summer.

"It definitely appealed to me after I had my first child," explained Burton, who is the mother of 2-year-old Kyra and Wyatt, 6 months. "I'm a stay-at-home mom, so I wanted to do something that I could do during my kids' nap times. I could go to do the castings on the weekends or on the evenings."

The process of wrapping the belly in gauze and plaster works best between weeks 36 and 38, Burton said. The cost of her castings start at $50 and the process takes less than an hour. Depending on humidity, the cast is dry and ready for decorating in about two weeks.

The result is a round, blank surface that can be used for almost anything the mother wants.

"Some people want to just have it as a temporary item for six months post-partum to look at it and go, 'Wow,'" Burton said. "Other people put it in the nursery as part of their child's life, kind of a keepsake."

She had one client who lined the inside of the belly cast with blankets for use as a prop for portraits after the baby was born.

And another client has arranged to have her cast embellished by Christian Reynolds, who paints women's bellies for a more temporary celebration of pregnancy.

Reynolds, 31, is building on a life-long interest in painting and crafts. She was looking for a unique way to share her first pregnancy with distant relatives when she stumbled on the idea of belly painting.

"He was due in February, and I was pretty big already," Reynolds said about her son. "I wanted to do a Christmas card for our friends and family, and I wanted to paint him as a Christmas present."

With a little help, she created a red package on her belly that was complete with a tag saying, "Do not open until Christmas!" It's an order that her son Rylan, now 2, obeyed by a couple of weeks.

After painting an Easter basket on her belly while she was pregnant with her second child, Savannah, 1, Reynolds decided to start Painted Baby Bubbles.

'Celebrate their body'

"It gives them a chance to celebrate their body in pregnancy," Reynolds said about her clients. "It's very common for a woman to say, after they've had their baby, that though they're glad to have their body back, they miss that special connection with the baby."

Mothers can request any design for their belly painting, from tropical scenes to baby announcements to school colors. Painting sessions start at $50 and take about two hours. The picture stays perfect for about two more hours.

"Everything looks perfect when it's painted," Reynolds said. "And they can feel comfortable with it, because it's not naked. They can show it off to people."

Some mothers have even used the painting as an "outfit" for a baby shower, she said.

Reynolds provides each mother with pictures from the painting day, and she also will make cards to share with family. Free mini-sessions with older siblings are also included.

"They think it's great," she said. "You could paint anything you want on them. It makes a good family portrait."

While belly painting is a newer form of pregnancy art, interest is growing, Reynolds said. Sears Portrait Studio in the Rock Hill Galleria contacted her to arrange a day of painting and pictures.

As for the cast Burton made, it's still a blank canvass sitting at Reynolds' house. The mother of a now 2-month-old has yet to decide on a design for the cast.

"Once the baby comes out, people slow down a bit on the hurry," Reynolds explained with a laugh. "They find plenty of things to do."

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