The Art of Face and Body Painting
Getting Things Started
Whether you are new to face painting or an advanced painter, it's always good to start off on the right foot with the proper tools and equipment. I will walk you through from what you need to know from the actual face paint to how to work with the customers and victims...ahem, I mean the lucky people you paint on.
"There's too many face painting suppliers to choose from!"
When I first was interested in face painting on a professional level, I was immediately overwhelmed by how many different brands of face paint there are. To put it simply, you will get what you pay for. A child's skin is sensitive and only FDA approved high quality face paint makeup should be used. Don't be fooled by the non-toxic paint you find at local craft stores. If these paints do not say "makeup" on them, they are not safe for skin. Non-toxic means that it will not harm you if it is ingested but these products can contain dyes or preservatives that can irritate skin and you would not want to put it on yourself let alone a child's. The best place to look for paint kits at competitive prices is on the Internet. Be prepared to fork out some dough on your face painting kit and supplies but be comforted in the fact that you will quickly earn your money back within a few successful face painting gigs.
Face paint can come in the form of liquid, powder, or cakes. You may want to invest in a couple paints of each type to find what works best for you and your budget. My personal favorite face paint suppliers are Snazaroo and Diamond FX face painting cakes. There are many other brands of high quality face paint but I find these products generally affordable, simply to use, light on the skin, dries quickly, blends easily, and comes in a great variety of colors. You can also find glitter powders, dust, and gels available at online professional face paint suppliers as well as high quality cosmetic makeup stores. I suggest purchasing a small sample amount of paint from major face paint suppliers to see what works best for you and your wallet. You may find that you prefer certain colors from one supplier yet others from a different one.
From bristles to handles, not all brushes are created equal
You have your face paint kit ready to go but now you need some brushes to apply the paint. You should look for soft yet sturdy and bouncy brushes. Synthetic hair brushes are great and affordable and work well for face painting. Avoid brushes that are labeled hog or boar's bristle as they are too rough and don't work well.
You will need a variety of brushes that vary in shape and hair length for different paint effects. A basic brush set should include:
- A round fine liner brush - It should have long fine hairs that will be perfect for doing detailed outlines and accents. Test it with some water to make sure that it comes to a fine point when rolled on a piece of paper towel or sponge.
- A #2 and #4 round brush - for details and medium sized areas. Should also come to a fine point.
- A medium to large filbert brush (#10-#12 size) - to cover large areas and create different line variations. Filbert brushes have a flattened fennel (the metal part holding the hairs) and the ends of the bristles form a soft curve.
This is just the beginning. Having more brushes will speed your painting and give your designs a more effortless and graceful feel. Some painters have multiples of the same brushes so they don't have to constantly wash their brushes.
With face paints and brushes in hand, it's time to start practicing some designs! Purchase a face painting idea book or search the Internet for ideas that interest you.
It's time to accessorize!
Once you start face painting, it's hard to stop. It is such a joy to watch a child's face light up after handing them a mirror and you'll want to keep practicing to make more unique and beautiful designs that please both you and the painted. After mastering a few designs, you should think about gathering some more supplies to add to your face painting kit. Not all of these things are necessary but I use them for every face painting gig I work at.
Sponges are great for sponging!
Not only that, sponges are very effective in covering large areas quickly and makes blending a breeze. I'm not talking about dish sponges of course, but of high density makeup sponges. You can find a large pack of these types of sponges at a local drugstore such as CVS or Walmart for less than $5. You can also purchase sponges directly from face paint suppliers online.
I cannot say enough about sponges. It is a great tool to have in your kit. I recommend getting enough sponges for every color, that way you don't have to wash out your sponges during events and it will save you time. Less time means you will be able to paint more faces, which of course is more money. Take a look at the videos I've included in this article for they show how to use them successfully.
Who doesn't love glitter?
Glitter is the gift that keeps on giving. I swear I still have some glitter on me from an event that was more than four days ago. Adding glitter powder, dust, or gel really brings a design to life and makes it that much more special. Always remember when purchasing glitter that it must be cosmetic makeup glitter, not craft glitter.
I'll explain in detail what each glitter is:
- Glitter powder: This can be used like paint directly on skin or on top of face paint. It creates a beautiful shimmering effect and is easy to blend. It can be painted on top of easily as well. This is my personal favorite out of the different types. You can also achieve a similar look but using metallic face paint that already has a sheen to it.
- Glitter gel: This is great for lining a design or adding small accents of sparkle. When applied, it is raised up from the skin slightly therefore it cannot be painted over.
- Glitter dust: The most common form of glitter. Similar to craft glitter but make of cosmetic materials. Best dabbed on to paint that is still wet.
Cosmetic glitter can be very expensive but it is well worth it if you are serious about face painting.
What a gem...
Another thing you can have in your arsenal are sticker gems. Best used for princess and fairy themed parties, they stay remarkably long on skin and look fantastic. They are not cheap either so consider that when planning your budget.
Top Face Painting Books
- The Usborne Book of Face Painting (How to Make)
- The Face Painting Book of Masks
- Extreme Face Painting: 50 Friendly & Fiendish Step-by-Step Demos
- The Face Painting Book of Butterflies
- The Face Painting Book of Eye Designs
What your arsenal should contain:
Here is a list of things you should have with you when preparing for face painting events.
- Face paints
- Glitter & gems
- Brush cups
- A large container of fresh water (to refill brush water)
- Paper towels
- Face painting designs on a board
- Personal business cards or company information
- A tent, table, and a couple chairs if they are not provided for outdoor events
- Tip jar (please ask if you can bring one before hand)
- A small cash box or apron if necessary
- A large plastic bin to carry everything in
- Hair clips
- Baby wipes
- Brush cleaner
- Water spritzer
Practice, practice, practice! With experience comes confidence, and with confidence comes effortless masterpieces. To get you going, I'll provide you with some quickly tips to start turning you into a professional!
Handling your brush:
Hold your brush like you would a pencil. Changing the angle of your brush will in turn create different brush marks so try different marks on a piece of paper or your own skin. To make delicate, thin lines, hold your brush perpendicular to the skin surface. Changing the pressure of your hand in mid stroke will give you great variation. When you start to see your paint dragging and getting rough, it's time to get a little more water on the tip of your brush hairs and work it into the paint again. Most face paints come in cake forms and work best with little water. The less water you have in your paint, the more dense and beautiful your paint will be.
Working quickly with a sponge:
The high quality face paint I use dries in a minute so when I am using a sponge to blend colors, I must work quickly. Spritz the color face paint you are using with some water and heavily load your sponge with pigment so you don't have to return to your palette to reload mid-blending. Start from one end or the middle of a design and work outwards one color at a time and blend as you go. As I said before, use one sponge for one color or a couple colors of similar hue. Reserve a clean side of your sponge to blend two colors together.
Decide before you begin whether or not you will be using glitter. Planning ahead allows you to add glitter at the appropriate times to make your design really pop. Sometimes I start a design with glitter powder and then finish off with the dust on damp paint or gel on dry paint.
Presentation is Everything
As you grow from beginner to professional, you need to think about your overall image. Before an event, clean your palette and paints of any smudges and mess. Your sponges and brushes should be clean and sanitized using hot water and brush soap. My favorite cleaner is "The Masters" Brush Cleaner and Preserver. During an event, the brushes you are not using should be stored in a cup or basin within your reach but not sprawled across your table. All supplies, including your mirror, tablecloth, chairs, etc, should be spot free.
Exchange your dirty water for clean water often as it muddies your paint and doesn't look appealing to those waiting in line to be painted. I usually bring two large-ish lidded containers with me: one full of clean water and one empty for me to pour dirty water into. Also have hand-sanitizer out and available for you to use between customers (and some people would appreciate a squirt themselves!).
If you have time before your event begins, paint your own face or have someone do it for you. Having an incredible design around your eyes or something fun on your arms will entice people to get covered in paint as well They may even chose what you painted!
Working with the Customer
Nothing can ruin a face painting more than a sour attitude. Get plenty of rest the night before, settle all of your arguments, and come into a face painting event with a smile on your face and a skip in your step. You are the life of the party!
Introduce yourself and get to know the people you are painting. Ask the person's name, their favorite colors, or about the super cool shoes they are wearing. Compliment their hair, eyes, even skin! Making pleasant conversation and being excited about what you are painting makes the person happy about their choice and confident that it is beautiful before they even see it.
Make the victim and yourself comfortable!
Invest in a director's style chair that is high off of the ground for the painted so that you won't kill your back after a couple hours of painting hunched over. Position the person you are painting so that you can easily reach the area you need to rather than paint at an awkward angle. Push back any hair from the face and pin with a hair clip (don't forget to get it back when you're done!).
When you are finishing a design, let the person know so they can be prepared and built excitement. Be confident and have a big smile when you hand them a mirror, and trust that they will love it! Even one overjoyed reaction will make the entire event worth it for you.
This is Just the Beginning
While you are face painting, you are promoting yourself at the same time. If you are talented and fun, people will be interested in getting your contact information for the future. I receive most of my inquiries and jobs from people that have been to previous events I've worked at. Have professional looking business cards readily available and consider building your own website. There are many free website hosting businesses out there to get you started. You can upgrade to a domain name website or get a domain from a web-hosting organization and link it to the website you created.
Be active in promoting yourself! Nothing will get done if you don't let people know what you offer.
Now for some number crunching. Full time professional face painters can easily make a successful living for what they do but this can also be a great side income for the rest of us. If you still a beginner, please don't expect to be paid big money until you have practiced more and earned a reputation. It takes time and dedication but I find it (and I'm sure others will agree with me) a very rewarding job in both joy and monetary gains. Who doesn't love getting paid for what they are passionate about?!
When pricing individual designs, think about how much time, paint, glitter, and practice goes into each one. Your time is worth money! When I do large events (150+ faces), this is how I generally price things (but please don't think this is standard for everyone):
- Small cheek and arm designs no more than 3" square: $3.00-$5.00
- Medium cheek, arm, and eye designs 3"-5" square: $5.00-$7.00
- Masks (from middle forehead to above nose): $7.00-$10.00
- Full face: $10.00-$12.00
Sometimes I will vary prices depending on the event I'm at. I tend to lower my prices at fundraisers because I want to draw in as much money as I can to benefit the organization I'm working at.
Other events or private companies and individuals will hire your services by the hour. For me my rates also can vary slightly depending on the type of event, the number of expected people attending, and the budget of the person/organization employing me. Typically I charge $75-$100 the first hour, $50-$75 additional hours, and a traveling fee. I will also tack on an additional half hour of work time for set up and break down. Always ask ahead of time if you can have a tip jar at your table as well for added income.
I suggest starting at smaller rates if you are not quite at the professional level. Build your talent and reputation and your business will grow. Start small but dream big and you will get there! Enjoy!