In this post, we'll take an in-depth look at 12 of the best and most important face painting tips and tricks for beginners!
It's taken me years to reach a certain level of confidence and success at face painting. I made it through the first year by trial and error. And there was a lot of error! Of course learning is a process and it takes time to become good at something. But if I had just known these few tips I’m about to tell you, I think I could have had a ton more self-assurance and probably a lot more jobs that first year.
12 Face Painting Tips and Tricks
Now, some techniques take lots and lots of practice. I can’t imagine anyone picks up a face painting brush and swirls on a perfect princess crown on the first try. So these tips aren’t a substitute for good old–fashioned practice. But they will give you a head start and get you on your way towards becoming an expert face painter.
So let's get started on the 12 face painting tips and tricks for beginner face painters!
TIP #1: MAKE PERFECT TEARDROPS AND SWIRLS
Teardrops and swirls are two things that you’ll need to know how to do in order to be a successful face painter. While it may not seem like a difficult skill to learn, most beginner face painters struggle with this.
And keep in mind that teardrops and swirls are not just for princes crowns. The stripes on the kitty mask below are really just a variation of teardrops.
Here are a few tricks that will greatly improve your technique.
Make sure you have the right consistency of paint on your brush before you start your teardrops or swirls. While all water-based face paints need water to be activated, some require a little more work than others. If you are not getting opaque lines with your white face paint, take your wet brush and swirl the brush in the pan several times to get the right consistency.
Test the paint on the back of your hand to make sure you have a nice thick consistency. If the face paint drips, then you have too much water on your brush. In that case, just blot your brush on a clean towel while rolling the tip of the brush into a sharp point. Then you can get started.
Begin making a teardrop by pressing down with a round bush and then lifting the brush slowly off the skin. You should have a line that begins thick and ends at a nice sharp point.
If your brush is not gliding smoothly across the skin, then dip your brush in clean water and swirl it in the face paint again.
Reapply the face paint and try again.
Making swirls is very similar to making teardrops. You will use the same technique while curving the line. Remember to vary the thickness of the lines by pressing and pulling up onto the very tip of your brush.
Another thing to keep in mind is the placement of clusters of teardrops and swirls. Be sure to bring all lines in a cluster towards an imaginary point.
Notice the difference between the first and second tiger faces below. In the first pictures, the tiger stripes do not point towards a common direction. The result is okay, but a little amateur. Notice how the second tiger face is different. The cluster of lines (which are basically teardrops that run thin to thick and thin again) on the forehead point towards the bridge of the nose, as do the stripes on the cheeks and around the eyes. The result is a very impressive tiger face. This is something that took me a good six months to figure out!
TIP #2: STEADY A SHAKY HAND
When you are a newbie face painter, chances are, you’ll be a little nervous the first few times you face paint. (See my last tip if that’s the case.) Or maybe you just had too much coffee before your gig!
Painting whiskers, outlines, or swirls with a shaking hand is, no surprise, really hard.
Whatever the reason your hands are shaking, there’s an easy fix. Just rest the pinkie finger of your working hand on the forehead of your subject as you paint.
I use this technique all the time, even when my hands are steady. I find that using this method also gives me a little warning should the child move their face suddenly. I have a split second to pick up my brush before I make a mistake.
TIP #3: GET YOUR TABLE ORGANIZED
When you are just starting out as a face painter, you may start collecting face paints that don’t all fit together in a nice, neat palette. After I got my first gig, I went out and bought several containers of face paint in different shaped containers and sizes. Then I bought some split cakes in various sizes and a few one strokes too. The face paints were scattered across my table while I was working and it just wasn’t very tidy-looking. Then I’d have to move stuff around to find what I wanted. Hello, time waster!
Not to mention I didn’t exactly look like a professional face painter either. Not surprisingly, I didn’t get a ton of job requests that first season.
But by the second year, I’d invested in a professional Mehron face painting palette. (So worth the money!)
You don’t necessarily need to spend over one hundred dollars on a palette right away, though. There are plenty of smaller face painting kits that cost less, but still look professional. I love Diamond FX Face Paint Palette in 12 colors. That, combined with a one stroke palette like Fusion Body Art Spectrum Face Painting Palette, Rainbow Explosion and you’re ready for business.
Something else to consider when you are buying face paints is how they will all work together in terms of organization. Kraze FX is a new brand of face paint that is designed so that the individual pans stack together. Single colors and split cake containers are all the same size and stack together. And square containers like these will also line up neatly on your table if you choose not to use a palette case.
If you decide to buy face paint colors individually then try and buy containers that are the same size. That way you can buy an empty case like this and separate insert to keep everything nice and neat.
A folding table that is big enough for your supplies and easy to carry to and from gigs is also key.
I figured out just where to place my director’s chair so that I could easily reach my supplies while my little customer are seated.
Of course, planning out where you will put your supplies on the table is also super important. For example, don’t place your water containers between you and your face paints because you’re likely to knock them over.
With a little planning you will come up with a face painting set up that looks professional and allows you to face paint fast and with confidence.
TIP #4: USE PROFESSIONAL QUALITY FACE PAINT AND ACCESSORIES
While we all want to save money where we can, good quality professional face paints are the way to go when you want to create beautiful designs.
That doesn’t mean you need to break the bank to get what you need though. You can save money by buying larger containers of face paint. For example, a 5 gram container of Wolfe white is 44 cents per gram while a large 45 gram container is just 24 cents per gram. That makes buying the larger container a much better deal. Of course, you may not go through all that face paint, especially in colors other than white or black. I usually buy “bulk” in white, black, yellow and red. For other colors, I find I only need around 30 gram containers to get me through a busy year of face painting.
Even among the top quality professional brands of face paint, there is a difference in performance. This is especially noticeable with whites. Take it from the pros and start out with a reliable white face paint for linework. Wolfe white, TAG white and Diamond FX white are all great choices.
TIP #5: MAKE SURE BASE LAYER IS DRY BEFORE LAYERING
A base layer is the face paint you sponge on a face before you begin detailed line work. For example, if you are painting a blue kitty design, you would likely begin by sponging on blue and white face paint on the forehead, cheeks, nose and upper lip.
At this stage, your design won’t look much like any recognizable animal. But what comes next will define your design and turn it into a creation that will look like the furry feline your customer will love. That is, if you make sure the base layer is ready for the next step.
One mistake I made over and over again when I was starting out, was to start line work over a damp base layer. The result is bleeding lines or total dripping paint. Oh no!
If you have experienced this kind of disaster it’s likely because you didn’t wait a few extra seconds for that first layer of face paint to dry.
When you are in a hurry it may seem like forever until the face paint dries, but really it only takes about 30 seconds if you’re outdoors (usually a little longer indoors or if it’s really humid out).
Instead of just waiting around for the face paint to dry, use this time to spritz on some face glitter. Glitter will only stick when face paint is wet so this is the perfect time to apply some sparkle.
Once the glitter is on it should be time to move on to your detailed line work.
How do you know if your base layer is dry? That can be a little tricky. Look at the face paint from a few different angles. Is there still a sheen to it? Then chances are it’s not completely dry. You can also tap a fingertip on the face paint to tell if it is dry.
Trust me, once you get used to allowing the base layer to totally dry, you will have a much easier time painting on outlines, swirls, teardrops, dots and whiskers.
The results are professional-looking designs that will distinguish from the amateurs!
TIP #6: KEEP CUSTOMERS FROM WIGGLING WHITE YOU FACE PAINT
Most kids will not be able to sit as still as a statue while you paint them. This can be a real challenge when you are a novice face painter.
One thing I like to do is place my left hand (my non-painting hand) on the top of the child’s head. It kind of acts to calm them while also giving you a little warning if they should suddenly move their head. As soon as you feel their head moving, take your brush off their face.
I try and avoid constantly telling the customer to be “super still” until I really need them to be still. That’s usually when I do outlining. When you’re sponging on a base it’s not so disastrous if the child moves a little.
Other tips for getting a wiggly kid to stay. still include asking them to look right at their parent’s face or yours. I always like to wear something that kids like to stare at like a sparkly necklace, a cheek design or something like these cute floral crowns.
If the crowd starts singing happy birthday, then tell the child they can go join and come right back so you can finish up their design.
If the child’s friends are standing nearby and distracting them, I encourage them to go have fun and come back when it’s their turn.
TIP #7: SPRITZ YOUR SPONGE, NOT YOUR PAINT
Should you activate your face paint by wetting your face paint directly or by spritzing your sponge? You can do either, however, spritzing your sponge (or dipping your brush in clean water) first will keep your face paints drier and less likely to grow mold or bacteria.
While face paints do contain preservatives to keep them fresh, you don’t want to push your luck by allowing water to pool in containers. Dry face paints stay fresher longer.
Also, if you spritz water directly on split cakes and one strokes, the colors may bleed together and create a mess that you will need to blot.
So save yourself the hassle and spritz your sponges, not face paint cakes, with water.
TIP #8: GET YOUR GLITTER TO STICK
Applying glitter can be a little tricky. It won’t stay put on a design unless the face paint is wet. That can be a problem if you’ve waited to apply glitter at the end.
One trick to get the glitter to stick after face paint has dried, is to take a small water spritzer (I always use one for wetting my sponges) and spritz the child’s face from a distance. The key is not getting too close to their face or else you’ll end up making a mess. A distance of about 1 foot is a good starting point. When you notice that the face paint has a sheen to it then spritz on the glitter.
I always ask the child to close their eyes before I apply glitter. Avoid the eye area and use your hand to cover their eyes if necessary.
Glitter gels can be applied to the face, but not directly on top of face paint.
TIP #10: DECIDE IF YOU ARE A SITTING OR STANDING FACE PAINTER
Some face painters prefer to stand while face painting and others like to sit. Figure out what your preference is by practicing on your child or a friend. See if you find it much easier to face paint while being able to move freely between your model in the chair and your table.
Or do you know that your back will be killing you after an hour of standing? If so, then figure out how to best arrange two folding chairs so that you can easily reach your supplies and the face of your customer. I have found that when I am seated, having the customer’s chair directly in front of me is awkward. I have to tip my chair a little bit just to reach their face. So I like to put the customer’s chair parallel to mine. It’s less of a stretch for my arms and works out pretty well.
Standing face painters use director’s chairs for their customers. This way you can comfortably reach your customer’s face without having to bend over.
If you are going to stand, practice putting the director’s chair and table in a couple of different positions to figure out what works best for you. For example, if you are right-handed, then you may find that having your director’s chair to the left of your table makes sense.
Figuring out whether you are a standing or sitting face painter may sound like a small detail, but can make a huge difference when you are on the job. Comfort is key when you are working long hours, so be sure to figure out in advance what will make you as relaxed as possible while working.
TIP #11: SMILE
You may wonder what smiling has to do with anything. But a positive attitude and a smile will go farther than you can imagine. Smiling while you are face painting is a way to help your little customers feel comfortable about getting their faces painted.
Their parents will also appreciate your friendly demeanor and likely comment on how friendly and patient you are.
Believe me, there will be times when you don’t feel like smiling. Like when kids are arguing about who’s turn it is or when a picky customer doesn’t like the color you used to face paint her puppy face.
And then there are the times that you are just totally exhausted after a few hours of face painting at a busy event and just not feeling it anymore. This is when it’s more important than ever to remember to smile.
I am a firm believer that smiling, even when you feel like crying, will lead to a more positive attitude. Remembering to smile should also help you to remember that face painting is supposed to be fun. Not just for the kids who are getting painted, but for you too!
TIP #12: BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!
Seriously! You have to believe that you have the talent and skills to be an amazing face painter. Lack of confidence when you're face painting, or doing anything else for that matter, will only keep you from being the best you can be.
One thing to keep in mind when you are getting requests for animals that you’ve never practiced before is this: All animal faces are pretty much the same.
The thing that defines the animal is usually the ears. So a mouse face is really just a kitty face with big round ears. Put on a light gray base color as you would with a kitty and just paint big pink circles on the forehead! After that you’ll just need to add a few details like a furry outline, whiskers, nose, etc.
Once I realized this trick, I felt a lot more confident face painting all sorts of different animals. Not to mention I didn’t have to spend time trying to convince disappointed kids to change their mind and get, say a tiger face instead of a giraffe.
I hope these face painting tips and tricks for beginner face painters will help you out and allow you to really wow your customers. If I had know these things from the start I could have spared myself some really embarrassing moments. Then again, becoming good at what you do requires lots and lots of practice so don’t go beating yourself up if you don’t face paint perfectly from the start. You will get there, but hopefully a little quicker with these tips!
What kind of tips and tricks got you through your first year of face painting? Please share with us in the comments sections. We love hearing from you.
Vanessa Tsumura is a face painter in Milwaukee. Her face painting gigs have taken her all over southeast Wisconsin from pet supply stores, to farmers markets to a governor's gala. When she's not painting faces she enjoys painting on paper and making homemade ice cream with her three children.