Face Painting Freedom is on the Rise

Snow Leopard

Werewolf Moon

by Christopher Agostino

News from the front: as we were facepainting at an event yesterday I noticed a marked increase in the understanding and acceptance by the people on line that we would be surprising everyone with what we paint on them, that everyone would get a unique, creative design. Beyond acceptance, there was a progressive sense of enthusiasm about the prospect of being surprised among many people waiting to be painted. The event was the North Hempstead Beach Family Festival and it’s an event we’ve painted at before. Whenever we return to an event our clients and the participants have an increased understanding of the creative approach we take, because they’ve seen it already. Yesterday, however, the general understanding I sensed in the crowd went beyond those people who knew our work — there seemed to be an overall feeling amongst the people waiting that getting a surprise facepainting would be fun.

I formed this impression over the course of the event through a number of small incidents. More than once, I heard an adult on line explaining to their child that they couldn’t be Spiderman because we would be surprising them with the design we painted, and doing it with real enthusiasm, saying “isn’t that a fun idea”. I had a few kids — friends or siblings who were being painted at the same time — talking to each other about how they’d have a contest to guess what each had been turned in to once they were all done. Several times a parent would bring a mirror over to show their kid the face in process, and the kid would say “no, I want to be surprised!” And for a portion of the day we had the occurrence that is part of the reason why we choose to paint this way: an audience — a group of adults and kids standing and watching us paint, remaking to each other about “what do you think this face is going to be?” and “look, what he’s doing now”.

So, why are we seeing this increase in excitement over being surprised? A large part, I think, is because we’ve been doing this at most events now for a few years and as a facepainting company we are increasingly confident in this approach —my artists know that it works, know that it can be creatively exciting both for them and for the people we paint — and confidence brings success. Our enthusiasm breeds their enthusiasm. And with practice we can present the concept better to the people on line and to the kids and adults as we paint them. For example, we’ve all learned that it’s better to tell a child they will be surprised before they have a chance to say they want to be Spiderman.

a standard display sign for public events

I also think that there is a gradual increase in the expectations of the public regarding facepainting. There are so many more good facepainters working these days that the standards are rising. There is an expectation of quality, and with it an understanding that facepainting (and bodypainting) can be very artistic. Mine is not the only company of quality painters in the NYC area, and people are getting used to facepainters who are artists. The most effective way to raise the status of facepainting as an art and industry is to paint exciting faces. Going back 25 years or more, over a course of years, I saw a distinct shift in the understanding within this NY market of what facepainting could be like as I and a number of artists I worked with or knew of began to paint full faces instead of cheek art. For quite a while I had to explain the difference to potential clients and event producers, and explain things like how a full face can be painted as quickly as a cheek design, along with selling them on why they want full faces at a large event because the impact is so much greater. Now, most clients expect full faces and I don’t need to explain those things anymore.

At the North Hempstead Beach Family festival we used what has become our standard approach to event facepainting. We asked each person we painted if they wanted to be “nice” or “spooky” and then surprised them with the design we painted. We didn’t take any requests. Our company motto is that “every face is different, every face is a surprise!” and so each artist, over the course of the event, will paint a wide range of ideas and styles of design. I feel that it is the collective effect of all the faces painted that is the essence of the art we present at an event, moreso than the results on any one face. If you want to see an example of what this approach results in at an event, in addition to the fotos here, check out the video slideshow from a similar event a couple of years ago, one of several “Every Face” videos I’ve posted to You Tube.

Giving everyone a surprise doesn't mean that the artist should be surprised too. We don't try to invent completely new faces all the time. This is a variation of the Chinese Opera design discussed a few posts earlier, a type of design I've been painting forever. This time transformed into a "Nature Goddess"

Likewise, this face is a variation on the "Spirit Mask" visual concept

I usually paint two people at a time, in order to paint quickly while still giving the base colors time to dry a bit as I work. So I'll put the base colors on one face, then start the 2nd face, and go back and forth like that. Yesterday, I sometimes played a creativity game of painting the two faces in variations of one concept. Here the concept I had in mind was a design motif, "spirals". I used the same colors for both faces. The girl on the left was wearing a very wild coat so I made her face loose and abstract. For the face on the right I took the concept into something more concrete, using the same colors and the spiral motif to make the sun.

Both of these girls wanted to be spooky, so while painting the two of them I used the same colors in two approaches: a tribalized spirit mask and a stylized vampire face I call the "Night Queen".

Two variations on Day of the Dead imagery, painted simultaneously, the one on the right from a classic Mexican folklore image of an upperclass woman skeleton in a fancy dress and flowered hat, called "La Catrina" in an illustration by Diego Rivera - this face was an idea that just occurred to me as I was painting the first girl. Part of the value of painting two people at once is that it gives me more time to think about each face as I go back and forth. Part of the fun of painting two people at once is that they get to watch the process they are going through up close on the face of the other person. These two girls were friends and excited about sharing the act of being transformed.

Sea Monster

Flamingo Sunset

Mermaid. My simplified adaptation of a design I saw by another facepainter.

"Imaginary Mermaid" - I give names to some of my more abstract designs like this, both so that I can tell a child a name for what I've painted on them and so that I have a shorthand key for ideas I'm working on. When i paint at an event, I have a written list of 50 or so ideas, ranging from specific things like "Elephant princess" to styles such as "loose" or motifs like "spirals".

Skull Zombie. In order to keep the ideas flowing and move myself through variations, I take a lot of inspiration from what a person is wearing.

Dinosaur Sunset. One thing w've learned is that it is possible to paint things you can be pretty confident that kids will like to wear while still offering a wide range of creative designs.

Here is a video of just about Every Face I painted at the Summer Solstice event at Socrates Sculpture Park in 2008:

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