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Face Painting For Beginners: Top Tips And Simple How-To Guides To Get You Started

06/09/2012 10:47 | Updated 22 May 2015

With school holidays, summer fetes and garden parties just around the corner, we caught up with professional face painter Rachel, who runs Brilliant Face Painting to get the inside track on how to create fun works of art. We've got top tips and step-by-step guides to help you paint a masterpiece in minutes...

How did you first get into face painting?

It was a summer job at London Zoo when I was at art college. I learnt how to paint really fast when I was working there, as each day there was always such a long queue. I set up Brilliant Face Painting when I left college in 2004. I wanted to be an artist and realised I needed a good part-time job, so got professional cards made up and every job I did seemed to bring in four or five new bookings, so it grew quite quickly.

What's a typical booking for you?

I mainly do birthday parties for three, four and five-year-olds. I arrive about twenty minutes early and paint the birthday boy or girl first, while it's still quiet. I usually stop painting when the cake comes out and everyone sings happy birthday. It can become quite frantic when everyone is full of sugar, which can end in a few tears, so I'm on hand for necessary repair jobs!

How long does it take you to do a face?

Because of my zoo days, I'm really fast. A full face takes about five minutes, but I can do a tiger in two or three minutes. Some children really love having their face painted and will sit beautifully for ages, so if there's time I spend longer.

What's your favourite thing to paint?

I love painting the big cats - tigers, lions and leopards. They really work on a child's face, because most children have tiny button noses and round cheeks, which are great for whiskers! I also really enjoy Notting Hill carnival. I always paint the same carnival band from Peckham, and I make the designs work with their incredible costumes. That's the most creative job I do in the year, and the most fun.

Ever had a child throw a strop over your work?

Yes. You really have to watch out with boys and dinosaurs. I paint quite a generic dinosaur, which is green with scaly skin, horns and sharp teeth, but an awful lot of five year old boys know a lot about dinosaurs, and they seem to get very upset if it's not actually a Triceratops or whatever they've asked for!

What would you say to parents wanting to get into face painting?

It's a great job and once you're up and running it allows you a lot of freedom to do other things. But you do need to know what you're doing. It takes practice to get good at painting quickly, and it's very important to be fast. It pays to get really good quality paints and brushes, and if you want to do it professionally, you need to be CRB checked and have PLI insurance. If you just want to face paint at a one-off event like a school fair, keep things simple and just offer three designs.

Rachel's top face painting tips:

Put a kit together

For a basic set up you'll need lots of sponges (I use baby sponges from Superdrug, cut into quarters), a selection of watercolour brushes, a palette of at least 12 paints (Grimas is the best brand, but Snazaroo is also fine and easier to find in shops), a water pot and a water spray bottle, a mirror, baby wipes and tissues.

Take photos of faces you've painted

Have them with you at each event so the children can choose which one they want. This is better than using a book, as it gives the child a realistic idea of what to expect, and it will also discourage them from asking for something really impossible, like an octopus!

Make sure you sit well when you're painting

Face painting is one of those jobs that can really hurt your back if you're not careful. Sit up straight and ask the child to sit forward, so you don't have to.

Put your non-painting hand on the child's head

It really helps the child to sit still while you work, and it allows you to balance yourself so you have a steady hand.

Always carry glitter

If your first attempts don't come out quite right, give them a liberal sprinkling of it-the kids will love it.

Have a go yourself with our step-by-step guides to creating a tiger, fairy and leopard...

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