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Curves Ahead: Denise Thompson celebrates the female form

Published 06/13/2012 12:00 AM

A good day for Denise M. Thompson begins with opening the doors of her Niantic shop and taking in the sights and sounds of a small coastal town.

It continues as she reviews the latest work submitted by a featured artist or puts the final touches on a custom framing job, all the while listening to her favorite classical tune on repeat. A not-so-good day usually falls on Sunday and Monday, when the owner of Artisan Framing & Gallery forces herself to close her doors.

"I really love my work. I get ants in my pants when I have a few days off," she says.

A Hebron resident, Thompson ran the frame and gallery shop there for more than 10 years before briefly moving it to Marlborough. She's been in her current location on Main Street for a little more than a year.

Although she features and sells work by several established artists, including her own abstract pieces, and does custom framing, most of Thompson's recent work has focused on body prints.

She discovered body printing by chance nearly two decades ago when she was attending art school in New Jersey. Thompson was one of nearly 2,000 students trying to register for classes, but she didn't get her first choice, so she was forced to pick an elective from the remaining list of art courses.

"It was called 'Erotic Art.' It was a filler class. I didn't want it and it turned out to be one of the best classes ever, but I didn't think that going in," she explains. "It was really interesting. It wasn't just the Kama Sutra stuff, but the evolution of erotic art through the ages. My final project was a body print."

Thompson earned an A in the class and that original body print, which was based on her own figure, was framed and hung in her parents' home.

In the following years, she worked in various frame shops and galleries in Virginia and Connecticut, but didn't revisit body printing until 12 years ago, around the same time she opened her own business.

Thompson and a group of friends were vacationing in Naples, Fla., when one of the ladies suggested that they get their bodies printed. Thompson agreed, and soon those friends told another group of friends and the business "just blossomed from there."

Along the way she's refined the process, but one thing has not changed: "You stand there naked in your socks," while Thompson applies a base coat of paint to the client's body. Even though they understand their bodies are being used to create a work of art, it's not easy stripping down to the bare essentials, she says.

"My goal is to help them relax. I always have a bottle of wine, red or white, and we sit down and chat so they know exactly what the process is," Thompson explains. "Then they'll go into the bathroom and disrobe."

After the base coat, Thompson brushes on several layers of metallic paint before pressing an acid-free vellum paper against the body. Most clients discard the first print, but it doesn't take long before they begin liking what they see.

"The female form is so fabulous. We are luscious and ripe, and our lines are so different," she says. "It's very soft and very sensual, nothing 'in your face.' Every print is unique to each person's body."

Thompson has created body prints for wedding parties and for some who want to gift the gift of their nude figure on paper for their spouse. Many women do the print as a gift to themselves.

"One lady did it while she was pregnant, to show off the fullness of her breasts and the fullness of her belly. Then when her son was born, we did his feet and belly," she says.

Another woman, who had been diagnosed with cancer, called at the beginning of the week she was scheduled to have both her breasts removed.

"We had a lovely afternoon. I shut the shop and we talked about her two little ones and why this was important for her to do this now," explains the artist. "Her surgery was that Friday.

"These prints are not just for bedrooms," she says.

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Artisan Framing & Gallery
293 Main St., Niantic
860.739.2286
artisanframingandgallery.com
10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.,
Tues., Wed. & Fri.
10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thurs.;
10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sat.
Or by appointment;
closed Sun. & Mon.