The Capital of Annapolis

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CAPE ST. CLAIRE, Md. (AP) — Every artist has a body of work. But for Christalene Karaiskakis, the body is her work.

The Cape St. Claire resident uses special paints to fashion intricate designs on faces, torsos, backs, arms and legs. In the past four years, she’s expanded into prenatal art — adorning the bellies of pregnant women.

“I love her work, her energy,” said April Nyman, executive director of the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County. “It’s not something we see in our region that often. She’s a real treasure.”

Karaiskakis, 37, is a self-taught artist and never quite knows what she’s going to paint on someone until she meets them and gets a certain vibe. She does take requests, however.

Bellies take Karaiskakis anywhere from a half-hour to an hour to complete, and the fees start at $125. The paint simply washes off, but if moms-to-be want something a little more permanent, she can use henna instead of paint or have a photographer capture the finished work. Karaiskakis also does belly castings.

“It’s just a great way for the moms-to-be to enhance their curves and have a keepsake,” she said.

A mother herself, she said the belly is a great medium to work with, and finds it no more difficult to paint on a curved surface than an easel. An added bonus is the rapport she develops with the other moms. Her goal is to create a nurturing atmosphere, whether the women are visiting her home studio or she’s traveling to meet them.

“When you put on weight, you feel crappy,” she said. “But here’s a baby growing inside you. I’ve been through it and I understand. I’ve helped the mom-to-be feel beautiful and become part of her journey.”

Karaiskakis said belly painting can also enhance the bond between mother and unborn child. “The most magical thing is when the baby moves as I paint,” she said.

Kelly Melka certainly viewed the experience as a positive.

“She was creative and innovative,” said Melka, an Edgewater resident who had her belly painted last February. “I felt like there was a great connection between my daughter and I.”

Karaiskakis was born in South Africa and raised in Australia. She came to America in 2006.

Two years earlier, she set out to be artist after taking what she calls a long spiritual journey. She had been teaching
kindergarten and, when she returned from her hiatus, she decided she wanted to incorporate everything she loved — working with children and performing — into art.

Crystalooneys Creative Arts was born soon after, a name reflecting her playful attitude. Crystal is a nickname and her kindergartners used to call her “looney,” something she embraced rather than derided.

“I related it to `Looney Tunes,’ ” she said. “And I do things that aren’t conventional.”

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Karaiskakis has 10 part-time employees and puts in about 30 hours a week herself. In addition to belly painting, Crystalooneys offers face painting, body painting, glitter tattoos, hair accessories, magic and angel readings. Karaiskakis also organizes princess parties and birthday parties, and does corporate events and conventions.

Perhaps the toughest thing about using a human as a canvas is that practice is difficult. So, maybe three times a month she approaches expectant moms and asks whether she can paint their bellies. Most of the time, she said, the women are flattered and agree.

Originally, Karaiskakis concentrated on aboriginal designs, but over the years, she has expanded into more abstract forms and won some awards.

“If you give me a portrait to do, forget it,” she said. “But if it’s abstract, (no problem).”

Karaiskakis estimates she’s painted about 100 bellies. Her clients range in age from 19 to 38, and have to be at least 30 weeks along so she has enough of a belly to work with.

“It’s amazing,” said Linda Rihani, who has a partnership with Karaiskakis and runs Annapolis-based Baby To Be Images, which offers 3D and 4D ultrasounds. “I’ve never seen anything like it. She really puts her heart and soul into it.”

Heather Griner, 32, of Columbia, has had two sessions with Karaiskakis and appreciates her dedication.

Griner, the assistant director of student services at the Community College of Baltimore County, is due next month with her second child. She wanted to do something special for the baby and met Karaiskakis in a “mommy and me” gym class.

“I think it’s very relaxing and calming,” Griner said. “That can only help the baby.”

Earlier this week, Karaiskakis began the process by having Griner stand up while she sponged wide swatches of color around her belly.

When the background was done, Griner sat down and Karaiskakis used brushes to paint a complicated design. Griner tried to remain as still as possible, but Karaiskakis said if she moved, it’d be OK.

“I’ll just go with the flow and make another design,” she said.

The only troublesome part for Griner was that her belly prevented her from seeing the full painting while Karaiskakis worked. When she finished, Griner got up and looked in a mirror.

“To me, this is very, very rough,” Karaiskakis said.

“I think it’s gorgeous, Griner replied.

Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md.,

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