How to do Zombie Make-up — Quick, Step-By-Step Face Painting Instructions

Our Transformations technique is to create bold face designs that look exciting both from across the room and up close, based on our studies of theatrical makeup and world mask concepts. We work fast to paint as many people at an event as possible — a face like this zombie would take 3 minutes — so we do take shortcuts and simplify techniques (such as shading), and are less concerned about how a face looks in a foto as we are about it’s effect seen live. At a recent event I took these step-by-step fotos on a guest as I painted him.

zombiehowto_1base_131016c_agostinoarts  STEP 1: BASE — With a sponge, put a solid base color over the whole face (except the eyelids). Use any medium shade: grey is classic zombie, but can be green, blue or others. (See below for info on the makeup, brushes and sponges we use — and also for a pdf of a green zombie and other variations)





zombiehowto_2shading_131016c_agostinoarts STEP 2: SHADING — Add shading to exaggerate the sunken parts of the face: the eye sockets, the sides of the nose, the lines from the edge of the nose going around the mouth, the hollows on the cheeks and chin. Generally with horror make-up, you want to make the face more dramatic looking by putting shadows into the sunken, fleshy parts of the face and highlights on the bony parts (step 3). I do my shading by painting thin lines with black liquid make-up, then “pulling” those lines with a large soft brush to blend them into the grey base. You can also do your shading with the edge of a sponge — a triangular sponge works well for that.


zombiehowto_3highlights_131016c_agostinoarts  STEP 3: HIGHLIGHTS — In this step I use a sponge to lightly put white makeup onto the bridge of the nose, the cheek bones, chin and forehead, to increase the sculpting of the face.

I also put a bright color (yellow in this case) onto the eyelids to begin to make his zombie eyes.


zombiehowto_4eyesmouth_131016c_agostinoarts  STEP 4: EYES & MOUTH — I add a red spot for the eyes and black to create the open mouth shape. It’s part of the style that I work in that the mouth is kind of loose and jagged — I like my monster faces to look “ill-formed”, not too precise.


zombiehowto_5details_131016c_agostinoarts  STEP 5: FINAL DETAILS and EXPRESSIVE LINES — In this case I gave him small pointy teeth with some red dots for blood. I used what I term “expressive lines” to give his eyes an angrier look — they same kind of line techniques a cartoonist would use to change the expressions of an illustration can create the modern, fast type angry zombie or, with different eye lines, the old-fashioned shambling type zombie (in this case, I modeled off of those furrowed brows they always give the Hulk when he’s angry in comic books).


zombieeyes_131016c_agostinoartsZOMBIE VARIATIONS —  Starting from this basic formula of using shading and highlights to make the face dramatic, using bizarre colors, and adding playful details like a gory mouth and zombie eyes, you can make a whole range of zombies, monsters, and other horror make-ups. The blue shaded zombie here was also painted at the same event. See the 3  previous posts for galleries of Halloween faces and variations.

Click here for a printable pdf of the step-by-step for a green zombie, and some examples of variations:



Kit-060507eMAKE-UP AND TOOLS — There are a  lot of good face painting make-ups available today, so please be sure to get a safe, comfortable make-up product for any facepainting. Never use paint on someone’s skin, even paints that say they are non-toxic — always use make-up.

The brand we prefer is Kryolan’s Aquacolor because of the vivid colors, ease of application and removal, and how comfortable they are to wear. Learn more on our web page including where you can get quality make-ups in the NYC area and online. And check out my book: Transformations! The Story Behind the Painted Faces

I apply the Aquacolors with sponges and brushes. I prefer the round craft-type sponges and synthetic sable watercolor brushes.

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Halloween Face Painting 2013 — Gallery #zombieattack

TEventSign_Surprise-NiceorSpooky‘Tis the season… We do a lot of Halloween and Fall festival events this time of year, and folks seem even more appreciative of, and open to, our creativity as Halloween approaches. It’s a good time to develop new face ideas and expand on older ones. Our approach is to surprise each person we paint with an original design just for them, only asking if they want to be “nice” or “spooky” — or matching their costume if they have one. Here’s a gallery of some of my favorites as I paint this season, and I’ll add more as we go (gallery updated 10/23/13). Mostly they are the spooky ones, but there’s a few nice ones as well.  Check out our event schedule on the News/Schedule page and come and be transformed at Boo at the Zoo and our other Fall Festival and Halloween events.



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Transformations — About the Company

About the Company

— adapted from Transformations! The Story behind the Painted Faces by Christopher Agostino – revised 12/12/12

The first face I painted was in 1976, as a young actor asked to help turn hundreds of my fellow high school students into clowns for a bicentennial parade. By the next summer, the members of our theater troupe had opened a facepainting concession at Adventureland Amusement Park on Long Island, NY. I haven’t stopped painting faces since. (Why would I? It’s too much fun).

In the eighties I began to look at facepainting differently — as an art. The art of transformation. In 1983 I was in LA,  painting faces and bodies at Venice Beach. I joined with another performer and visual artist, Jennifer Green, to promote facepainting to museums and art shows as well as the usual gigs. Jenn’s approach to a face was very different from mine. On the same day that I painted a classic Chinese Opera design on her as a logo for our fledgeling company, she turned me into abstract art.

When I returned to New York, I got a gig painting faces in the window of Unique Clothing right on Broadway in Greenwich Village and worked there on and off through the mid- ‘80s. It was facepainting as public entertainment. As was the case at both the amusement park and Venice Beach, I was painting more adults and teens than kids. I worked on ways to blend my theatrical approach and the Chinese Opera imagery with the punk styles people were wearing on the streets.

The extensive event industry in New York let me move from street fairs, where people paid for each face, to being hired for private parties and corporate events. Sometimes I’d be able to bring along another artist who painted full faces, but most often there would be other freelance facepainters on these gigs with their own styles or just doing cheek art.

As the work became more steady and the events larger, I wanted to always work with a group of artists who approached this art like I did, to present facepainting as more than a cute diversion for little kids. That led in the ‘90s to the formation of the company, Transformations Facepainting, and that was when facepainting really became fun.

Finding a facepainting home like the Bronx Zoo has allowed us to develop and maintain a company of very experienced artists. The members of Transformations Facepainting, over the years, have included: Dennis Pettas, Roberta Halpern,  Jennifer Wade, Miguel Cossio, Laura Metzinger, Michele Carlo,  Angela Izrailova, Miko and Claudia Reese, Jin Young Park, Danny Gosnell, Naoko Oshima,  Margery Gosnell-Qua,  Maria Pirone, Sigfrido Aguilar, Janet Izzo, Denise Lord,  Nirupama Kumar, Christine Gregory, Zak Brown, Lizi Costache, Regina Russo, Phil Zirkuli, Britt Lower, Colleen Gallagher, Deborah Berkson, Abigail Weg. Our website and promotional materials are full of my snapshots of the faces that I paint — their work is vastly under-represented in proportion to their contribution to the success of our company.

The artists who find their way into our company tend to stay with us. It’s so much fun and we like each other.

Before I had an organized troupe, I had friends to paint with. I’d get canvas painters I knew, like Wanda Boudreaux, to try facepainting. Wanda’s from New Orleans, so we also got a chance to paint down there for Mardi Gras, and I have always felt that I learned as much from artists like Wanda as they learned from me. Some of the other artists I’ve painted with along the way include Kate Cain Madsen (who began like me back at Adventureland), Teddy Goldman, Anne Farmer, Diane Epstein, Suzanne Haring and her sisters, Jodi Levitan, Susan-Rachel Condon, Luanne Dietrich, Erica Borillo,  and Therese Schorn. Some of these artists were with me as I first began to discover what I wanted to do with a face.

A facepainter is an artist who entertains, and entertainers get into the most interesting places. One day we may be painting at a party in the inner recesses of the New York Stock Exchange and the next day we’re painting an endless line of kids in the Bronx for the NYC Parks Department. One summer, Transformations was hired by the Nature Conservancy for the Long Island Beach Festival. It was a wonderful event, right on the beach at Smiths Point Park. I got to tell stories and talk about nature and facepainting to the crowd strolling through the tent, and we got a chance to dip our toes in the ocean afterwards. This is a wonderful business.

Usually for such events I’ll give the artists a theme and maybe some source images like masks or sea life photos and they will invent their own faces. This time I tried something different. I gave to the three artists working with me (Naoko, Marge and Miguel), a set of 70 sea life faces I had sketched out for an earlier project at the New York Aquarium and asked them for that day to use my designs rather than their own. We told the crowd we were painting not to worry about what they wanted to be, that everyone would be surprised with a different sea life face.

As these three accomplished artists, who I have worked beside for years, began painting my face designs each took their own approach, brought their own style and vision, and none of the faces looked like I’d painted them. What a pleasure it was to work beside them.

For such artists to believe me when I tell them what I think is possible in this unconventional medium; for them to let me give them certain rules for painting on certain days; for colleagues to let me set a course for their creativity — this is all a very unexpected consequence of my decision to be a facepainter. To have a company of artists who want to do what I do amazes me.

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Why Body Painting?—2: Ultimate Collaboration—MODELS, Pt.2: Just how much a model can help, Amber and Kuniyoshi at FABAIC 2011

"Angry Ocean / Waterfall Tears"

by Christopher Agostino

In bodypainting, you kinda know what you paint, what you achieve, as you paint it, but you don’t know how it will survive, what it will be in the end. I have worked to learn to value the process first and understand that, for me, it is the process of painting that is my art. The photograph that results is not my art—it is a new thing, an amalgam of my art, the model’s art and the photographer’s art.

Here’s something else I find about painting people rather than canvas: when I look at my work—the final result, the photograph that makes the ephemeral act permanent—in addition to any self-critique I may make, or understanding of intent or technique, there is also always the memory of the interaction with the model, the story behind the painting. In the case of this particular painting I did with Amber LaValle Morrisey at FABAIC 2011, the story is about just how much I owe this model and a very clear answer to the question “why body painting?”
I believe that Amber is more responsible for this painting than I am. She very consciously worked to bring me to that edge of my abilities in a situation where I would not have gone there on my own. I hardly know Amber. I wish I could say we were friends but I’ve only met her, and painted her, the one time, and so I am stepping out of bounds to be describing her intentions like this, but I am aware of the results and self-aware enough to know how much I relied on her help as I painted. This is not something you could ever say about painting a canvas, that it helped—it is absolutely an example of how bodypainting is a shared act of creation by artist and model.
I painted this on Amber on Saturday night at FABAIC (Face and Body Art International Convention Although I like to paint in public as a performance art, painting at a convention is not the same thing and I will own up to the fact that my ego gets in the way there and I feel like I’m in competition with the other artists, rather than working just to my own goals. There is a fear of failure in front of my peers. Friday night I had failed. I failed to paint anyone, as the model who had asked me to paint her backed out at the last minute, too late for me to find a replacement (see how much we depend on our models?) I also failed my sponsor, as I spent Friday night sitting embarrassed on my little stage at the Kryolan booth rather than painting Very unprofessional, and very pissed off.
So by Saturday night I felt that I did have something to prove. The pissed off part of me wanted to show off, but I also had a need to prove something to myself, that it was the art that mattered and not the praise, not the public response. That’s why I decided to take a shot at this Kuniyoshi design, the serious kind of design I’d usually save for painting at home where I have more control over the circumstances and the final photography. So that’s all on me, the decision to try something difficult for the sake of the challenge, with the awareness that I would have a beautiful woman as a model—on Friday, when I was sitting there stewing, Marcela (trying to make me feel better, I imagine) introduced me to Amber and arranged for her to model Saturday night.
Here, as I understand it, is what Amber brought to the table: she made it her business to put me in the position to succeed. Starting off by being very easy to talk to, opening up about herself and drawing me out, getting me to talk about what I was trying to do with this painting and how frustrated I was about Friday, engaging me so that I was much less concerned about where we were doing this and more fully focused on the painting process between us. And (again, stepping over the line to describe her intentions) I think that Amber is a very savvy person and worked this interaction to encourage me and get me feeling confident, confident enough to take chances. You don’t get that from a blank canvas. She also fully acquiesced to the idea that it would be a long, difficult painting process and might not come off at the end, that there were some parts of the design I was uncertain of, that we could be wasting our time—but she made a point of talking throughout like success was certain. More than that, Amber made me aware that she was fully committed to this painting being a successful work of art, and I therefore felt compelled to get past any baggage I had brought into the process to join her in that effort. So, in this case, I felt that the model led the process, not the painter.
In addition to her being a very professional model, she and her husband Bill are both photographers, so they (and my wife Lorraine) were able to help me work out some of the design questions. At one point we all conferred about how to treat the line of the waterfall at her eyes, just where it should be positioned for maximum effect and I was greatly appreciative of having that supportive collaboration.
One other thing Amber did bears mentioning, because it was unusual, and (I think) very deliberate. She started drawing attention to the painting as I was working, praising it to passersby, telling people they had to stop and look at it, pointing out details—forcing me to confront and get over that ego demon that inhibits me at conventions, giving me permission to show off while embarrassing me enough to keep me in my place.
There is a point in a bodypainting in which I have to release my art—let the model take ownership, let the photographer see it through their vision—and wait for it to return all grown up. In the best case, just like in raising children, the result exceeds the parent.
By the time we finished this painting it was 2:00 am, the convention floor was shutting down and we were rushed through the convention photography studio. Bill tried to get a shot there, but the lighting was too harsh. So Amber and Bill went off to shoot it at their own studio, and I went to bed not knowing what it would survive as, what the final result would be—only knowing how I felt about the process, the collaboration, and how much I enjoyed the challenge of the painting.
What a bonus to work with a model who has her own photography studio. After the convention, when I saw this photograph that Bill had achieved, I was overjoyed. It was much more than a record of the painting. Amber’s pose, the curl of her hand. The way they had cropped it. The colors. And if we are looking to answer the question “why body painting?” we need to look no further than her eyes.
I know that part of the reason I paint people is that I am not good enough to achieve something like this on my own. I can’t make a painting on a canvas with the poignancy of this photograph. I need the model’s help, I need her humanity. The answer to “why body painting?” is right here in Amber’s eyes.
Please check out Bill and Amber’s work at
About the painting: I had seen an exhibit of work by the Japanese printmaker Kuniyoshi at the Japan Society and was working on a design using several of his images when the Tsunami struck Japan, changing the direction of the piece.  At the top, Hatsuhana stays under a sacred waterfall for 100 days to purify herself so that the Buddha will heal her sick husband—and this was the initiating image for my design concept. Kuniyoshi is considered one of the major masters of Japanese wood block prints, both in his illustration technique and in his subtle manipulation of colors and shading in the printing process to create effects such as the transparency of the water as it falls over Hatsuhana. The figure at the bottom of her torso is the Emperor Sutoku who turned into a demon and ravaged the land in revenge for being disrespected by his successor. The image on her back (below) is from a remarkable triptych print “Miyamoto Musashi kills great whale”.

Kuniyoshi c.1842

Kuniyoshi c.1842

Kuniyoshi - Miyamoto Musashi kills great whale -1847

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Why Body Painting? — 2: Ultimate Collaboration — MODELS, Pt.1 What I have learned from models.

   by Christopher Agostino

For all of my artistic life I have depended on the willing participation of another person. Even the simple act of painting a face requires the acquiesce of the person with the face to be painted. So much more so the body model. I think about this relationship between bodypainter and model a lot, and it is at the essence of the question “why body painting?”

I can’t take a canvas off a shelf and just start bodypainting, and I can’t buy a model at Michael’s. A body model is not an object, not a commodity. They talk, move, think and feel while you are painting them. What would it be like painting a canvas that talked to you? Or that had an opinion of the painting as you were doing it?

We entrust our art to the model, as they trust us when they let us paint them. There is an exchange of intimacy in the collaboration between artist and model: the obvious physical intimacy of the model letting an artist paint their body in exchange for the artist giving them entrance into his vision and the act of creation.

In describing my experience collaborating with models, I can’t speak for all bodypainters, and probably not for most professional bodypainters. I don’t paint in competitions, and don’t take a lot of commercial work. If the painting is for a performance or someone else’s project the process is specific and my role is to support the vision of the director and function like a makeup artist or costumer to make the performer feel confident and look good. Sometimes in teaching settings or painting at the Kryolan booth at a convention the goal is specific and limited, and I may approach that body painting as a sketch or exploration, or repeat something I’d done before because I know it works. In those cases I’m hoping for a model that is professional, comfortable being painted and pleasant to talk to and spend some time with as we work.

It is when I have a strong vision for a realized fine art design I am trying to achieve—whether painting in studio with the goal of generating that one key photograph or painting in public as performance art—that I have come to understand how deep my collaboration with the model is, that I am as dependent on the model as they are on me for success. I need more than the acquiescence of the model, I need their support, their encouragement, to allow me to take chances. I especially need them to let me be vulnerable and to risk failure. It’s not something you have to ask of a canvas off the shelf, and it’s an understanding I’ve only come to learn about my process through the years, and through the failures, as I have tried to find my way forward in this art.

I don’t think this is true of more experienced, professional bodypainters, but I’m not sure.

Behind the question I’ve been addressing in this series of posts, “why body painting?”, is the larger question, “why art?”, and the specific question of why did I choose to be an artist? As a generalization, I think artists are compelled to create art—I couldn’t say why or how, maybe in response to having an awareness of life that seems to them different than the norm, and so the desire to change the norm or at least express their difference. Beyond that original  impetus, I can say for myself that a large part of what keeps me creating art is the excitement of the fight, the struggle to succeed, to “win”. In much the same way I imagine an athlete must feel, setting out to create a painting feels to me like a competition, albeit an internal one between me and the limitations of my abilities to bring that idiosyncratic vision I identify as myself into the world as a physical, undeniable reality, an “object of art”.

Artists strive for the edge, both in the sense of a place they’ve never been and in the sense of a place they are unsure of, walking the razor’s edge, unsure of their footing. I’ve felt that edge most keenly in performance before an audience, especially on stage alone trying new material, unsure of how to perform it and knowing that success or failure is in my hands—and audiences let you know if you fail. I’ve also felt it late at night all alone in my workshop making a sculpture out of a piece of clay, or painting a canvas—though it’s so much harder to assess success or failure in that setting and I’m sure I’m not the only visual artist who sees the things they’ve created over the years and remains uncertain of which category they fall into.

But, speaking strictly from my own experience, there is something about body painting that feels different. Added to the usual angst of creating art is the awareness of its immediacy and ephemeral nature—you get it right or you don’t, like a performance—but it’s also there before you as a physical object. That “object” is a person, a person whose participation I appreciate and whose feelings I care about, and I want to succeed for them as well as for me. They are becoming the art I am making and I feel responsible for that in a way I’d never feel for a lump of clay, and maybe that connection to the human I am working with helps me reach deeper. The model is also invested, showing me confidence by giving me permission to paint them, plus the time and physical sacrifice involved (unless you have been bodypainted or done a bunch of bodypainting I don’t think you can understand quite what a body model is agreeing to when they let you paint them—we artists ask a lot, they work hard). Often the models I paint also help with the design and the process, making suggestions, showing me movement ideas, helping with decisions, in addition to the beauty of who they are that they bring to the painting in a  way beyond any other canvas can. When it’s really working, the model is right there at the edge with me. In a stage performance, you work to energize and engage the audience so that you can soar on their wings to new heights. When bodypainting, it is more of a direct collaboration, if we are to fly we fly together.

And then, there is that magic thing that happens when I finish the painting and now the model takes it, owns it, brings it to life—takes it away from me and makes it more than I had conceived of. This is the pivotal difference between painting a person and painting a canvas. Not only does the art come to life, but as soon as I am done it is no longer mine, it has a life of its own now—how different that feels than seeing a canvas I’ve painted hanging on a wall.

The ultimate lesson I have learned from models is about my own limitations. I don’t believe I can transcend a model’s limitations, whereas I know they can transcend mine. I’ve seen it happen, I’ve seen a model take the limited work of my art and make it into something more. That alone would be answer enough to “why body painting?”


Painting Becca at FABAIC 2007

I’ve had quite a number of very positive collaborations with models, here are just a few practical examples of how models have helped me, helped my art.

The first time I painted someone as a recognizable, famous painting, the Picasso “Seated Woman, 1937” image in the previous post, it was because Becca told me to paint something on her I’d always wanted to try but never had the chance, and that I could take as long as needed to work it out as we went. I had a few months earlier painted some kids with Picasso faces, for a museum exhibit of his work, and with her encouragement tried it as a bodypainting. (Recently she flew to New York to let me paint her for a project with no pay, and made me feel like I was doing her the favor.)

Just as I was starting to experiment with modern art imagery, I did several paintings with Emma, who is an art historian as well as a dancer, and it was an education for me as we talked about the concepts behind the imagery. I appreciated how, given her background, she saw that what I was working to achieve was valid as fine art.

You can’t be a bodypainter without a body model. And yet, it feels like we aren’t that kind to them, asking them to stand there, forever, not moving, without any clothes on, and after all that, that’s when we want them to work even harder, bringing the art we just painted to life. I’d spent hours painting Christina at the Kryolan booth at FABAIC 2009. When we were done, it was late. Still, she went on to pose for hours. First for spectators, than for one photographer, and finally for the convention photographer, Lisa Konz. By that point it was maybe 2:00 am and Christina wouldn’t quit until she got the photo right, the photo at the top of the post of her leaping that became my Painted Bodies Living Art logo. Once the body is painted, we depend upon the model to present it at its best, even better than we conceived of it—and also on the photographer to capture it and preserve it. The result is a collective, collaborative art work.

Thank you to all of the models who have joined me in this adventure over the years.

Emma, as Cubist Tiger Pop

Christina also worked hard to get this wonderful action shot, photographed by Lisa Konz

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