10 Things a Professional Facepainter Wants You to Know
Editor’s note: Ever thought about hiring a facepainter? Well not all facepainters are created equally. I didn’t know this until I met Lenore Koppelman, my friend and neighbor and an AMAZING face and bodypainter… the most incredible one I have ever seen, and I’m not exaggerating. I asked Lenore to share things she wanted parents to know about her work as a facepainter because I realized many parents must wonder what makes her (and other professional facepainters) work so different… but after you see these pictures you will understand why she is simply the best.
By Lenore Koppelman
Yes, we do this for a living. Face painting is a real honest-to-God profession! Many people who aren’t in our industry seem to be under the impression that this is a fun hobby for us. Something that we do for our own personal enjoyment, rather than a way to pay our bills. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some people are doctors. Some people are lawyers. Some people are teachers. And some people are (you guessed it!)… face and body painters. Face and body painting is an entire industry! We have real registered businesses just like everybody else. We pay for face painting insurance. (Yes, that’s a real thing, too!). We pay taxes. We have guilds. We travel far distances to learn, and attend extremely expensive workshops and conventions. We refer to those of you that we paint as our “clients”. A professional face painter is every bit a business person and we take great pride in what we do. Is our job fun? Oh you BET! Truth be told, it’s one of the most fun jobs on the entire planet! But just because what we do is fun, does not mean it isn’t a real job. It’s a lot of work, too. I meet so many people who are always shocked to hear that this is my actual profession. When I tell them I have insurance… a registered business… that I go on business trips… many people laugh, wide-eyed! They say “WOW! I had no IDEA face painting was an actual THING!”. I am here to let you in on a little known secret. It totally is. And it’s absolutely awesome.
- Face painting has come a long way since you were a kid. I was born in the mid 70’s. By the time the 80’s had rolled around, I was experiencing face painting for the very first time. Back then, it mainly consisted of waxy sticks of color being scribbled onto our cheeks. A heart. A star. A thick squiggly rainbow. We loved it! Back then, that was enough to appease us. But oh how times have changed! There are a plethora of new products and new techniques that we need to learn how to use in order to stay ahead of our competition. Hardly anybody does it the “old school way” anymore. Our industry has really advanced over the past few decades. If we don’t keep up with the times, we won’t be able to survive against our competition. This is why we must invest so much time and money into taking courses, attending workshops and conventions, buying books and instructional DVDs, taking online courses, and buying all of the newest products as they debut and become all the rage. Oftentimes, a parent says “I can do this myself. I don’t need to hire a professional for my kid’s birthday party. This will be EASY.” Then they think back to what it was like when they were children. They spend a few bucks picking up some cheap waxy sticks to scribble those hearts and rainbows with that they loved as kids. Unfortunately for them, that’s not what most children want or expect anymore. Especially if they have been painted by a professional anytime recently. Nowadays kids expect glorious crowns created with one-stroke rainbow cakes. Cosmetic grade glitter. Incredible stencils created specifically for face and and body painting. They expect full faces of realistic tigers, scaly dragons, and multi-colored butterflies with ethereal wings. These are techniques that we, as professionals, have worked countless hours in trying to master… and with some degree of speed, to boot. So if you really want to impress the kids at your next event, you are better off hiring a pro to do the job right. It will blow your guests away! And it will allow you the luxury of getting to be in the moment and… God forbid… enjoy the actual party.
- Cheek art is not faster than full faces. Oftentimes, we get parents who say to us “I can only afford to hire you for one hour. There are going to be a lot of kids here, but I am sure you can get through them all if you just paint little designs on their cheeks instead of full faces.” Let’s pause for a moment and think about it. What would take less time for you to do? To use big sponges and wide brushes to place vast sweeps of color across a large canvas of paint, until you quickly create an image of the Eiffel Tower? Or trying to paint a tiny version of the Eiffel Tower onto a tiny grain of rice? Smaller is hardly ever faster. In fact, a majority of face painters (myself included) don’t even do “cheek art” anymore. Cheek art not only takes us longer, but it also has less visual impact than a larger full-face design. Why would we want to waste all that precious time taking forever in tediously painting something that, at the end of the day, turns out to look far less impressive? The beautiful full-face designs we have worked hard to create exist for a reason. They are what people want, they are faster and easier to paint, they look more impressive in the end, and they are what we pros were trained to do.
- We make less per hour than you think. People are always shocked by how much a professional face painter charges per hour. We frequently hear people say “THAT’S how much you charge per HOUR? But it’s ONLY FACE PAINTING!”. Not exactly. First of all, we do a lot more than merely face paint. Second of all, we don’t actually earn that much per hour. There are countless hours that we put into every gig that your fee needs to cover. I personally can spend upwards to a week preparing for a gig. We spend days practicing the designs you want. Sometimes some of us even create new designs to go with the party theme you have picked. Then there is the kit prep. Ask any professional face painter about their kit prep routine, and watch them sigh with exhaustion at the very thought. Here is what my own routine looks like: I stay up very late the night before carefully washing and drying every sponge. Every paint brush. Every stencil. Wiping down every container of paint. Then comes the disinfecting process. Everything in my kit must be wiped down, and sprayed with a ridiculously expensive product that is specifically created for makeup to kill any germs that may lurk about. By the time I get to bed, I am bleary-eyed and exhausted. I then wake up early the next morning in order to pack up my kit in a tidy and organized manner. I might have to run to the store to buy something I’m running low on, like rubbing alcohol, breath mints, or unscented sensitive-skin baby wipes. I then have to print out the invoice, an extra copy of the signed contract, and so forth. By the time I arrive at your event, I have already put countless hours into it. Days, even. Not to mention all of the time and money that we put into learning how to be quality face painters in the first place! So when you hand us our payment, and you think to yourself “How is it that this face painter makes as much or even more money per hour than I do? And I’m a top executive?”. Don’t worry! We actually don’t. 😉
- Professional face painting supplies are very expensive. Oftentimes, parents go to a local craft store or a toy store and see a really cheap face painting palette for under $20. I think that this might give many people the false impression that these are the same products that we use, so these must be the same prices that we pay. Au contraire, mon frère! A professional face painter will purchase professional products. The cheap stuff from your drugstore, big-box discount store, or local costume shop is usually really difficult to work with. It’s either too cakey, or too gloopy, the colors don’t blend well, it smells funny, or maybe it’s the cheap kind that can cause a rash… there are infinite reasons why we steer clear of the stuff. The same way that a modern-day Van Gogh would be happier shopping at a store like Pearl Paint Art Supply or Utrecht over buying his or her paints at the back aisle of a local dollar store, we prefer to buy our paints from a number of professional face and body paint supply sources. “The Good Stuff” is a dream for us to work with. It blends beautifully. It smells nice. It is compliant with standards set by the FDA. It looks prettier on! The colors are far more vibrant. The consistency is easier to work with. It is safer for your children. And it isn’t such a nightmare for the child’s parents to wash off at the end of the day. If you knew how much we spend on a regular basis on face paints supplies, you would faint. But we take great pride in our work, and would rather spend big bucks investing in creating a safe and well-functioning kit with which to paint you and your loved ones. Every session cuts into our incredibly expensive supplies. This is one of the reasons why we cringe at requests to paint for free.
- You can DIE from EXPOSURE: One thing that professional face painters (and musicians and artist and actors… basically anybody in the entertainment industry) really hate is being asked to paint for free, for the exposure. It’s the “E” word to us. Think about it for a moment: You have a cavity. You go to your dentist, and tell him “Hey, listen doc… this tooth is really killing me! I really need you to fill it for me today! I can’t afford to pay you. But listen! I don’t want you to worry! I am going to tell ALL of my friends about you! And about what a great dentist you are! I will give them all your business card. And I’ll bet they will all start coming here. I will help to make you a fortune! It would be GREAT EXPOSURE for you! Whaddaya say?”. Well? What do you think your dentist would say? A famous quote that lives and thrives in every entertainment industry is “You know… you can DIE from exposure.” Most people don’t realize this when they make us the offer, and sometimes they really do mean well. However, the fact of the matter is… it’s not nice. It cheapens what we do. Please stop. If you really cannot afford to pay us money, then perhaps consider a barter instead. For example, if you work at a gym and want us to paint faces at an event, then trade us for the equivalent amount in gym fees and offer us a membership! If you work in a retail store, offer us a gift certificate for items in your shop! If you work in a restaurant and truly cannot afford to pay, then offer us a certain number of free meals to bring home to our family until your debt is paid! Not every face painter will agree to such a deal, but some will. And at least you are respecting us enough to recognize that we should not be expected to work for you for free.
- It takes time to make kids happy. A question that I frequently get asked is “How many kids can you paint in an hour?” Well, that depends. Lots of innocent little things can slow the process down: Being indecisive about what design they want. Fidgeting around, which makes me have to pause what I’m doing. (It’s not easy to paint a moving target!). Getting chatty with friends or relatives around them. (Moving jaws make for moving faces). That well-meaning parent who offers a child a juice box or a snack mid-paint. That sweet and thoughtful aunt that keeps on asking the child if they are okay, causing them to nod, which causes me to make a mistake that I then have to go back and fix. And so on. The next thing you know, little Johnny’s tiger face took me seven minutes instead of four. And look… honestly… that’s okay. It’s a natural part of working with children. We face painters are extremely understandable and flexible. But in turn, we need our customers to be, too. Oftentimes people aren’t considering the whole picture. Trust me. You want a face painter who takes a reasonable and fair amount of time painting and happily entertaining and engaging with the kids. Imagine if the face painter was in a mad frantic rush because his or her clients were insisting that they cover an unreasonable amount of faces within the span of the party. If painters didn’t have the time to take the opportunity to be patient and entertaining in every way, the experience wouldn’t be nearly as much fun! So please try to be understanding and take this into account the next time you are tempted to ask a face painter if they can paint 50 children in an hour at your next event. Trust me when I tell you that in most cases, you really wouldn’t want them to.
- Sometimes we HAVE to paint fast. But in order to pull it off successfully, we need your help. If you are at a very large event and the face painter working a booth has a long line of children with no end in sight, it’s a whole different ballgame. At a gig such as this, every painter needs to paint fast. If we don’t take the time to chat up your child or be their buddy the same way that we would at a smaller, more intimate gathering (such as a birthday party), please do not be offended. We aren’t being rude. It’s just that there are some types of gigs in which we simply cannot afford the luxury to do anything but work as quickly and efficiently as we possibly can. A good professional face painter will still be smiling, courteous and kind, but at an extremely busy venue like a carnival or a fair it’s best to help things along in order to keep the line moving as efficiently as possible. This allows the face painter to paint more of the children in line that want it as badly as your own children do. Ways you can help are to make sure your child knows what he or she wants before they get to the painter at the front of the line. Take away that cotton candy they are devouring and tell them they can finish it later. Wipe their faces clean so the painter has a clean and sanitary canvas to work on. If your child has long bangs, pin their hair back with a bobby pin or a barrette. If you don’t have one, see if the face painter does. He or she will be absolutely delighted that you are ahead of the game and taking care of this for them. Once your child has been painted, it is extremely helpful if after a quick and courteous thank you, you help your child down out of the chair so that the next child in line can have his or her turn. And please remember: That quick and simple design that took the painter 3 minutes or less to create is probably not the full scope of what that painter is capable of. I have painted mass amounts of children for large public gatherings before, and in order for more children to be painted, I had to stick to designs that took me no more than a couple of minutes to do. This is NOT what you would get from me at a smaller, private party. When I have the luxury of time on my side, kids get full gorgeous ornate faces. So don’t be afraid to take that painter’s business card and consider him or her for your child’s next party. At least check out their website, and see what their slower and more detailed designs look like when time is on their side, too. You might be delightfully surprised.
- All good things must come to an end. I cannot tell you how many times people in my line of work have struggled with closing down a line at the end of an event. There have been days in which I have been painting for hours on end, usually with no time for bathroom breaks or meals, and I really need to pack up and get going. Often I have another party to get to and work at, or I simply need to get home to my own little boy. The gig is well over, but the line continues to grow and grow and grow. I warn everybody that the line is about to shut down, and that I cannot take any more people because I need to pack up and leave. I inform all of the parents. I even hand out a superhero cape for the last child in line to wear, informing anybody who attempts to get in line behind them that the line is now officially closed. Does that stop people from trying to get painted? Nope. And while children are understandably disappointed to find out that I don’t have time this time around to get to them because I really need to get going, it’s oftentimes the parents who display the most childlike reactions. I have had parents literally scream at me to stay longer, and a few have followed me out of those events, demanding that I unpack my supplies and work longer in order to paint their child. These sorts of “closing-the-line dramas” are unfortunately quite common. We face painters never enjoy making children sad or disappointed. Never EVER. We LIVE to bring smiles to children’s faces! That’s the entire point of what we do! But… alas… we cannot paint forever. We need to go to other gigs, and then to go home to our families and rest so that we have the energy to paint again tomorrow. So please help your children to understand that as much as we wish we could go on longer… all good things must come to an end. We truly look forward to painting your child the next time. With all of our hearts.
- We LOVE what we do! Is it hard work? Absolutely. But there is no denying how gratifying and fun it is, too. I frequently tell people that I have “the dreamiest of dream jobs”. It’s absolutely true. I am fortunate enough to know many professional face painters from all over the world whom I am honored to have as a part of this industry. We love to sit around together and talk about our favorite stores to buy products in, to compare what items we have in our kits, or to discuss what our favorite designs are to do. But do you know what we talk about the most with each other? How much WE PASSIONATELY LOVE this job. It’s true. I’ve lost count of how many times we gush to each other, sharing countless stories about how much we love it. Stories that make us laugh together and make our hearts swell. Some of them even move us so deeply that they make us cry together instead. Stories like how excited some kids have become when they look into the mirror at their grand reveal. The countless times that a child asked to be painted as something absolutely hilarious. The shy nervous kid at the party who asked to be a tiger, and then spent the entire rest of the time running around assertively roaring with his paws up in the air and a huge smile on his face. The little girl who gets bullied and thinks she is ugly, and then almost bursts into tears when she sees in the reflection that you have turned her into a radiant, glitter-covered butterfly. The young children bald from cancer, who ask us to paint hair on top of their heads. There are times when we love this line of work so much that we literally feel like we might burst! We are so incredibly honored to get to work with your children, and to make their face painting dreams come true. From the bottom of every face painter’s heart, to every parent who has ever seen the value in hiring us to share our passion for art and joy with your children… we sincerely thank you. Thank you SO much.
For more information on Lenore Koppelman (or to hire her!) please visit her site, The Cheeky Chipmunk