For Those About to Face-Paint, I Salute You

A pro bass fisherman carries his own Arbogast Hula Popper.(available for $5.79 from Cabela's)

If assassination happens to be your line of work, you don’t locate your victim and then ask to borrow his 44. Likewise, a chef always carries her own knives, a bartender his wine key and apron, a bass fisherman his lucky lure. So why, when I signed up to work the face-painting table at Mbot’s preschool Halloween party, did I arrive empty-handed, allowing my success–at least partially–to rest in the hands of those who would provide my equipment, and who probably had spent as much time face-painting as I had ( none)?

Beforehand, I’d been worried about remembering what a frog looks like. Other than that, I was pretty confident about my rudimentary drafting skills. A bat, a pumpkin, a ghost, all within my artistic reach. Still, pride had urged me to practice a little beforehand, but I got so involved making Mbot’s Spiderman costume, I didn’t have time. I comforted myself remembering that Mrs. Pursell had stressed the bar would be set very, very low.

It only works if you are on your knees. (

I hadn’t known it would be a limbo bar.

It wasn’t, actually–it just seemed that way when I realized, to my horror, that, as usual, I’d been worried about the wrong thing.

My first client, a four year-old dressed as a princess, asked for a butterfly on her cheek. A butterfly. A butterfly. I visualized Eric Carle’s post-cocoon caterpillar and dug my brush confidently into my makeup palette. It turned out I should have been losing sleep over whether the brushes would be too flimsy to dent the cakey makeup (yes), and if the makeup would uncake if mixed with water (no, not really, even when jabbed repeatedly with the flimsy brushes). The pink makeup went on clumpy, so I tried to add water, and it turned scrubby and translucent. After sixty seconds of intense concentration, the butterfly looked distinctly like a skin disorder, the kind my siblings and I loved to look at as kids in the hospital library while we were waiting for The Guru to finish his rounds. A wipie saved me and the princess and I started over, chirping, “Almost done!” in a voice I hoped registered joy.

I flailed away. The paints did not want to be tamed. I had to consciously stop myself from mumbling excuses about my equipment. It would have made me look petty, like I was blaming my materials for my near-misses with failure as I was presented with one smooth trusting upturned cheek after another. I finally figured out how to make large simple shapes by crushing the recalcitrant cakes into submission.

UK-based Chris Kuhn probably doesn't squirm or turn his head while he is painting his face. (

Fortunately, Randy, my partner, was the father of a six year-old daughter, and he was an old hand, having sat at the face painting table last year. That he volunteered for this a second year in a row instead of, say, manning the fishing station, which involves clipping treats to the end of a line dangled behind a reef-painted room divider, suggested he was either very good at face painting or that he just thought he was very good.  It turned out he was okay, although it was hard to tell, given the stubbornness of our materials, and it was a good thing Randy was the one who got asked to do a mermaid. With two boybots, I couldn’t have drawn a  convincing picture of Ariel if I’d been threatened with having to be a cheeseburger.

A better bet for the amateur: Fantasy F-X water-based face paint from

Half way through the party, my performance rose when, in desperation, I opened three little tubes of paint–white, black, and green–that Randy had brought in addition to the palettes of useless grease. At least they went on smooth, leaving me and my eye-hand coordination as the lowest common denominator.

The last kid who sat down in front of me was dressed as I don’t know what–he could have been one of Robin Hood’s merry men in his drab medieval-looking garb, except that his face didn’t look merry. “What do you want on your face?” I asked gaily. “A monster? A ghost?” He shook his head and said in that hushed whisper that all midgets use to express their deepest face painting fantasies, “Spiderman.”


The night before, I’d Googled “spiderman images.” I’d studied spidey eyes, cut out a pair, and zigzagged stitched around them, twice. I’d propped the netbook on the table, squeezed a red fleece mask over a birthday balloon, balanced it in a kitchen bowl, and squinted at the screen as I squeezed glow-in-the-dark 3D fabric paint webbing on the fuzzy red dome.

On a cheek: a simple red oval. White eyes. Black webs. Spiderman, I could do.

Consulting a mirror, the unmerry man grinned. I’d squeezed under the bar.

"There's a crazy lady making your face look like a bowl of melted rainbow sherbet? I'm on my way."

Have you risen to the occasion, or squeezed under the bar, poorly armed, lately?

1 thought on “For Those About to Face-Paint, I Salute You

  1. Given a properly operating palette, you are certainly a fantastic face-painter. What a good idea. I have remarkably low standards for preparedness as well as adhering to standards so it is hard for me to answer the question. 🙂

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