Problem: You’re buzzing through your line during an event, completely in your creative element, and a little boy in your chair suddenly asks you (loudly) who you voted for in the last presidential election. The room quiets down as the adults lean in to hear your answer.
Your face warms as you are jolted out of your happy creative place, and you wonder if there’s any way to answer the boy which won’t alienate at least half the people in the room.
Solution: The truth is, while face painting is a joy for you and looks like loads of fun to everyone watching, it requires a great deal of concentration, especially when you’re trying to keep up with an ever-growing line. Your mind is totally engaged to allow you to paint both well and quickly, and unusual questions that don’t fall under the normal “how long have you been face painting?” or “how did you become a face painter?” are apt to blind-side you momentarily as you spin back to reality.
This particular situation happened to me at a school event in December of 2016 (an election year). I’m not a person who naturally has a repertoire of snappy comebacks at my disposal, but am more likely to think of what I should have said a day or two later. In this instance, the training of my parents came to my rescue. I gently explained to the little boy that since voting is a personal choice, I didn’t share that information with others, but that I encourage everyone to vote, regardless of whom they might choose.
He was a child of action, so he didn’t ponder my response long before telling me (and everyone else in the room) whom his parents voted for. Then he slid out of his seat and happily ran off to be a superhero in a Spidey mask. He didn’t really care to know my candidate choice, but was just making conversation in the same way he had heard adults do the same over the past few weeks.
The point of this story is that you are going to get some weird questions—some of them personal—while you’re on the job as a face painter. It’s best to plan a strategy in advance for how you will handle awkward or personal questions so they don’t incapacitate you creatively while you’re fumbling for an answer.
The first thing you should realize up front is that it’s okay to decline to answer any question you feel is too personal or makes you uncomfortable. If someone wants to know how old you are, whom you voted for, where you live (precisely), or anything else you don’t want to share, you can simply smile and let them know that’s private info. If pressed, you can explain that you don’t answer personal questions. If someone would like to contact you for a party, he or she are welcome to do so, but everything from your private life that you don’t care to share falls under the heading of “off limits” while you work.
In some cases, it’s not a strange question, but a strange request that could make you feel like a guest has put you uncomfortably on the spot. The same advice applies to odd face painting requests that you feel are offensive, derogatory, or inappropriate.
At one birthday party, a grandfather of the birthday child asked if I could paint him as Donald Trump. Considering the feelings of the last election, it was a potentially volatile request in a room full of adults and wasn’t an appropriate request for a children’s party. It was certainly made in jest, since it’s not possible to make anyone look like a different person without time-consuming stage makeup, prosthetics, and wigs, but the hostess seemed visibly uncomfortable and embarrassed that her relative had made the request during her child’s party. I smiled to set her at ease and just ignored the question and continued to paint children while she diverted the conversation to a new topic.
In most cases, smiling and continuing to work will silence awkward questions. I exert myself a little further with children, because I don’t want to unnecessarily squelched their curiosity, because there is nothing wrong with asking a question. Sill, I gently (always with a friendly smile) mark the boundaries which retain my privacy concerning information I don’t care to share. And it’s totally okay that I do.
Beth MacKinney is the owner of and primary face painter for Face Paint Pizzazz in Elgin, Illinois, and her artwork has appeared in The Colored Palette and SkinMarkz magazines. She services the western and northwestern Chicago suburbs, Chicago’s north side, and the eastern and southeastern suburbs of Rockford. Stop by Clownantics.com to enjoy more of Beth’s face painting tutorials.