How To Face Paint
Everyone starts at the beginning with face painting. Many professional face painters began their artistic journeys as parents who were volunteers at events.
If you're a parent who is an amateur face painter rather than a face painting professional, you can still have a wonderful time sharing face painting with your children. If you feel you have limited artistic ability right now, don't worry. Below we have all the tools to help you awaken the artist inside.
Remember: Face Painters never say they are sorry. It's ART! :-)
Here's a list of what we will be covering belowFor your convenience, you may click on the topic you're most interested in to go to that portion of this post.
- What do I need to start face painting?
- Show me the basics
- What If I want a kit with a design booklet?
- What if I want to go pro?
- Where to buy face paint supplies?
- What should I know before face painting kids?
- Face Painting Safety Guidelines
- What face paint do you use for face painting?
- What brushes are used for face painting?
- What sponges should I use for face painting?
- What glitter should I use?
- How do I do face painting?
- The basics of face painting
- Activate your paints
- Lay down a base of color
- Paint in details with a brush and/or a stencil
- Add some glitter for sparkle
- Do your first face painting design
- How to face paint superheroes
- How to face paint sea creatures
- How to face paint animals masks
- How to face paint unicorns
- How to face paint flowers
- How to face paint butterfly designs
- How to face paint Halloween designs
- Tips and tricks
- Practice Makes Perfect
- Face painting resources on web for more information
We have created lots of videos and information to assist you on your face painting journey. Have fun!
The most important thing to have for face painting is a wonderful child's face to paint on. You will also need some face paint and something to apply it with (brushes and/or sponges). The following list will guide you, but at the very least, you will need face paint and a brush.
Where do you begin? It is a good idea to get a face painting palette with the basic colors you will need for most designs. Generally, most designs require you to use white and black so you will need more of those two colors than of the others.
Option 1: The Basic Palette
For parents or volunteers who don't normally face paint as professionals, the Kraze Regular Palette pictured below has 12 colors, which are good for approximately 60 designs, and comes with two brushes. Kraze formula is non-toxic, hypoallergenic, vegan, and cruelty-free, making it a safe choice for painting on children. It's all you really need to start.
Option 2: Basic Palette with some brushes and sponges.
If you want to go a little further than only face painting your own child, it would be a good idea to get some extra brushes and sponges. This will give you the ability to lay down a colorful, even base with sponges as well, to use split cakes (which makes face painting quicker and more professional looking), and to add more details to your design.
If you'd like a kit which includes a booklet of designs and instructions, two excellent choices are the Klutz Kit and the Snazaroo Mini Face Painting Starter Kit.
Wolfe FX face paints have been a historical favorite in the face painting industry, so the Klutz Face Painting Kit packs a powerful creative punch with its brilliant water-based makeup. This portable palette contains enough blue, red, yellow, green, black, and white for approximately twenty faces, depending on the designs chosen, as well as one brush for application. As a wax-based paint, Wolfe FX face paints are known for their durability and easy flow from the brush.
Another excellent feature of this kit is the hardcover 50 page book which provides face painting tips for the beginner as well as step-by-steps for the most popular cheek art, face painting, and body art designs. Twelve laminated tear-out sheets will provide easy reference while you're painting.
Made with non-toxic, hypoallergenic ingredients which meet the standards for cosmetic safety in the United States, Canada, and Europe, the Snazaroo Mini Face Painting Starter Kit is a great option for fun at home with your own children, or even for larger events as a volunteer. Each Snazaroo kit has six individual 18 milliliter containers of glycerin-based face paint in Bright Red, Sky Blue, White, Grass Green, Bright Yellow, and Black. It's a much larger kit than the Kiutz kit and can do about 300 designs.
Snazaroo is fragrance free and is a great brand to start out on, especially when applying large areas of background color. The Snazaroo kit comes in a sturdy box with a handle and also contains three brushes, two applicator sponges, and 12 milliliters of cosmetic grade silver glitter gel.
If you've never face painted before, have no worries. The Snazaroo kit also comes with a booklet to help you navigate a variety of designs all the way from pirates to princesses.
At the beginning, it can be difficult to know what you should purchase in order to be able to paint at a party professionally. The Facepaint.com Ultimate Professional Kit is the kit which will give you the tools you need for this, however, and it has enough face paint in it to do many faces, so you won't run out of makeup. If you are doing a volunteer event with a high number of guests, you might want an extra white and extra black for it, though. If your children love to be face painted, this is also a good kit to consider for that purpose.
What's in the ultimate kit?
The Ultimate Professional Kit has everything you'll need for almost any design.
- Kraze 12-color palette (6 gm each) has all the basic colors plus a few more which are handy to have. The palette contains Red, Orange, Yellow, White, Black, Light blue, Dark blue, Light green, Dark green, Pink, Purple, and Brown.
- Four dome strokes which will allow you to quickly create one-stroke or sponge designs such as princesses, snakes, butterflies, dolphins, and more with practice. One-strokes are a basic piece of equipment for professional face painters, enabling them to work more quickly. Using them will make your face painting efforts easier and more professional looking than simply applying one color at a time with a small brush.
- Cosmetic grade holographic white glitter (0.5 oz) in a standard "poofer" bottle which allows you to poof glitter over your design while the face paint is still damp. (Note that for face painting, always use holographic glitter because it allows the design to show through from underneath. Usually opaque glitter is reserved for glitter tattoos because then you don't want the skin to show through.)
Five high quality professional artists' brushes
- 3/4" flat brush - for painting with one stroke cakes
- Petal Brush - for making flower shapes
- #1 Round Brush - for detail work
- #2 Round Brush - for medium width outlining
- #6 Round Brush - for thick outlines and things like tiger stripes
- Six stencils in the textures most requested by children. For most professional painters, these are some of the most used stencils when it comes to adding fun texture to designs. They are a great way to add extra visual interest to your own designs.
- Twelve mini half-round face painting sponges which are used for applying even colors over large areas of the face and are especially helpful when using split cakes of multiple colors.
- Ruby Red Peel and Stick Gems which come in seven colors on a sheet of 49 gems. One of the best ways to impress party attendees is to add gems to your work.
- Mehron Brush Cleaner (4 oz) is especially important, since it is a mild soap which cleans your brushes thoroughly and helps to increase their lifespan. Although this is one of the only kits which comes with a brush cleaner, you may order it separately if you prefer one of the other kits which doesn't include it.
If you'd like some basic design menus for your face painting as well as plastic holders to keep them safe at events, we have those to complement your face painting setup as well.
This list is long, and is somewhat dependent on where you live, but most face painting companies ship internationally, no matter which side of the ocean you are on. If you're only looking for Snazaroo, you can pick it up locally at a Michaels in the United States, but the most used professional brands are often only available online unless you happen to live near a face paint supplier.
Of course we recommend our own company, Facepaint.com, and we make an effort to carry everything you would like, but no one supplier carries everything, so most artists usually have several favorite companies which they order from. Note that some companies focus on certain types of supplies, such as stencils or airbrush equipment or henna, even though they might carry popular face paint brands and equipment as well. A few of the most well known face painting supply companies are listed below.
- Facepaint.com (Our Favorite!)
Australia and New Zealand
During events you'll probably only have hand sanitizer available, but always wash your hands thoroughly before and after.
Keep your brushes germ free
We've provided a face painting hygiene document on the Facebook Facepaint.com 411 Learning Center in the Files secion, but we recommend a four-well system for brush cleaning. Even using three wells (soap, rinse, and clear water) should be effective for killing most germs, but if you're still concerned, every time a brush comes back from a child's face, it can be put through the four wells: a well with water and brush soap, a well of 70-75% rubbing alcohol, a well of rinse water, and then finally a well of clear water for activating face paint.
If you'd like more information about hygiene for your kit, check out the following links to our Facebook Facepaint.com 411 Learning Center.
Face painting for groups
Would you choose to eat in a restaurant which is dirty and disorganized, or would you rather eat in a restaurant which had shining windows, a freshly mopped floor, and clean tables? Most likely you would choose the latter.
In the same way, clients are going to be more at easy when they see that your kit is clean and organized. Do not think that they won't notice whether your kit has been kept hygienic. They will. In view of recent concerns about viruses, this will be more true than ever.
While you are working, make sure you clean your brushes with soap and then rinse with water. Also clean sponges well and dry them thoroughly between events. Wipe down your kit during events as you find it necessary and after events as well.
We also suggest taking these precautions:
Post a well-child policy and enforce it rigorously
While you may choose to cancel your events to be on the safe side, if you choose not to cancel, it's more important than ever that you look for any potential signs of illness in guests. Click here to download the printable Well Child Policy sign from the Facepaint.com 411 Learning Center on Facebook.
- Ask all guests to use hand sanitizer before getting into the chair
- Consider having parents clean each child's face thoroughly with a wet wipe before being face painted, starting at the forehead and going down to the chin
Listen to the line
Even if a guest claims to merely have allergies, you have to assume it's still possible he or she may have a virus. If you hear a guest with what sounds like a loose, chesty cough or a consistent dry cough, it's best to decline to face paint, glitter tattoo, henna, or airbrush the individual.
Use a chair cover which can be laundered between events
If you're not someone who enjoys sewing, check out online sources for chair covers if you use a tall or regular director's chair.
- Keep your work area covered as much as possible
Face the chair away from your kit
Because many viruses are transmitted by airborne means, face anyone in your chair away from your kit, just to be on the safe side in case a child coughs or sneezes.
If you feel unwell, get a replacement for yourself
This is a good policy for both you and your clients and is why creating a trustworthy network of other performers is important. You need each other, especially when you have events which you need to find replacements or for when you need additional artists. (This is also why it is best to keep your prices the same as those of other artists in your area. If you normally charge far below the average rate, you will find it hard to get replacement artists willing to take your place at an event or the client may be unwilling to pay a higher rate.)
There are three main types of face paint colors: regular colors with a matte finish, metallic colors (also called shimmers or pearls) with a shiny finish, and neon colors, which are UV sensitive and will glow under a black light. Most face painters have an assortment of all of these colors.
- Matte finish—The work horses of the face painting industry, and most of your designs will be done with matte finish face paints.
- Metallic colors—These are extremely popular and look wonderful on all skin tones. The terms "shimmers" or "pearl" also refer to face paints with a metallic sheen. You can make an average design (for example a tiger design) appear more glamorous by incorporating metallic colors in the base.
- Neon/UV colors—Neons tend to be a little more sheer than the regular colors, so keep this in mind while using them, because it might take more effort to work sufficient moisture into them to prepare them for use on the face. They also have a "stickier" feel when you're sponging them on. This is normal, and they will be like other face paints after they dry. (Be advised that UV/neon colors have been independently tested for safe use on skin, but the pigments used in them have not currently been tested by the FDA for use on the skin.)
Face paints also vary in what they are comprised of. Standard water-activated face paints are usually either a wax base or a glycerin base. Both work well, but each have characteristics which make them better suited for certain purposes.
Wax based face paints (paraffin wax)—These tend to be slightly more durable in humid conditions and flow easier for the brush for crisp line work. They aren't as likely to smear when rubbed against, although they can still be damaged by friction, as can any face paint. The wax based face paints may cause a tight sensation after drying similar to the feeling of a facial mask and could chip off a bit if they are applied too thickly. Some brands may be more susceptible to this than others, but some professional face painters still use the wax based paints for bases.
Brands which are wax based:
Glycerin based face paints—These tend to be easier to use for sponging and blending. They are softer to the touch than the wax based paints, and if you were to knead them in your hands, they would feel similar to a polymer clay. This malleable quality makes them more comfortable to the individual when they are applied over large areas of the face, and they also blend very smoothly together.
Brands which are glycerin based:
Acacia senegal gum and glycerin based paints—In an effort to capture the best of qualities of both wax based paints and glycerin based paints, some paints are made using a base with acacia senegal gum, which comes from a tree sap, as well as glycerin. These paints tend to flow nicely from the brush for line work, but also provide fairly even bases. Some brands, however, do still feel tight on the face after drying as do their wax based counterparts, so experiment with brands to find out which you like best when it comes to base colors.
Brands which are acacia senegal gum based (although this may be for only some colors):
Pressed powder face paints—Most artists do not add water to pressed powdered face paint to activate this makeup, but rather apply it dry. Some artists prepare the face by wiping it with a wipe or using a primer before using dry face paints on the skin to help it appear more vivid and to stay on better. This makeup is usually applied with a lollipop makeup applicator, and works well for long lasting base colors, especially in hot, humid conditions when other paints become drippy as they are reactivated by perspiration.
Brands which are talc based:
Never use acrylic paints for face painting
The number one thing you need to know before face painting is that, although it has been referred to as paint almost since it's creation, face paint is not actually paint at all, but is rather highly pigmented makeup. Professional face paints are created with FDA compliant pigments or pigments which have been independently tested for safety. You should never use regular acrylic paints for face painting. The manufacturers of acrylics always state that acrylics are not for use on skin, whether they are non-toxic or not. The acrylic pigments and ingredients are not FDA compliant for use on skin, and children are far more likely to exhibit a sensitivity to them. Acrylics also tend to chip when they dry, causing a hazard to the eyes if they are used on the face.
Acrylic paints may contain ingredients such as formaldehyde. If a person were painting on canvas with acrylic, ventilation would be important because acrylics, as well as oils, may release chemicals into the air when drying. Considering some artists recommend wearing nitrile gloves to prevent the absorption of chemicals through the skin, the idea of intentionally painting on the skin, especially the skin of a child, is completely unacceptable.
Sometimes you will encounter adults at parties who confide that they have tried face painting as volunteers at events and have used acrylics for it. Explain why this should not be done, if for no other reason than that it is a liability problem. Acrylic craft paints are cheap and good quality face painting makeup is not, which is no doubt why volunteers are drawn to acrylics. For parents painting their own children, we hope they will make wise choices and use safe, good quality face paints.
Use professional, good quality face paints
If you have a stash of face paints you picked up a few years ago at the local discount store around Halloween time, you may want to replace them for a couple of reasons. Face paint, like any makeup, does have a shelf life. Often you will see a "best if used by" date or a note saying the shelf-life is 18 months after opening on the back of the professional face paint containers. Old face paint needs to be replaced. If you replace them and if you don't paint your children often, it is better to get a small palette rather than the large containers of face paint so you'll use them up in a timely manner.
Also, there is a good reason that face painters don't use the cheap face paints or the face crayons you find at Halloween in discount stores. These products don't produce professional looking results (lacking vibrancy and ease of use) and are sometimes poor quality. In some cases, they could be more prone to causing sensitivities and reactions in children than the professional face paints. Of course, individuals may show sensitivities and allergic reactions to completely natural substances, so it's always best when using face paint for the first time that you purchase a brand which is professional quality. It's rare for professional face paints to cause sensitivities or allergic reactions, but if you are concerned about this possibility, do some arm test swatches before doing a full-fledged face paint design on your child.
How do I remove face paint safely?
I will never forget the only time a parent contacted me in reference to a possible sensitivity. The girl in question had been the recipient of stage makeup which I had done for a school's theatrical production dress rehearsal. The girl, who had shown previous sensitivities to some substances, although not to face paint, ended up with a reddened complexion.
My first question for the mom was, "What was used to remove the face paint?" I asked her this because in many cases, the removal substance can be at fault rather than the face paint itself, although most parents don't realize this. It's rare for anyone to have a sensitivity or allergic reaction to face paint, which is carefully formulated to be hypoallergenic. As it turned out, the girl's makeup had been removed at school with a harsh hand soap from the bathroom dispensers, and it was the soap which was the culprit rather than the makeup. A later application of face paint produced no problems, and the parents were careful to use a gentle facial soap to remove the makeup after the play.
Possible problem causers when removing makeup can come from scented wipes or harsh soaps. It's best to soap a design well with a mild face soap or a no-tears baby shampoo and then use a wet wash cloth to wipe the makeup away. Soaping first without water is important because it breaks down the makeup for removal and helps avoid staining of the skin.
Anatomy of a brush
A brush has three basic parts: the handle, the ferule, and the bristles. The handle might be made of either wood or acrylic. The ferule is the metal piece which holds the bristles in their shape and attaches them to the handle. The bristles might be either natural or synthetic.
To help your brushes last, make sure to clean them in cool or lukewarm water (never hot, which can loosen the bristles and ferule) with a good brush soap. Dry thoroughly by lying them down flat or by hanging them bristles-down. Hanging them bristles-down is difficult unless you have an apparatus for this, so most people put them in a holder with the bristles-up. This is only a disadvantage for the wooden-handled brushes, because the water can cause the wood to swell each time you do this. Laying them down flat to dry is a good compromise. Finally, never leave them sitting bristles-down in water, which can damage them by causing the bristles to develop a permanent curve, making them unusable.
Different kinds of brushes for face painting
1. Round brushes
Standard round brush—The standard round brush will be used for lines, teardrops, swirls, and any detailed work you do. You will need at least one #2 or #3 brush for small details and a #5 or #6 round brush for heavier lines. Most professional face painters have several small round and several large round brushes. If you're going to become a professional, it will be easier to have one of each size for white, one of each size for black, and a few extras available for use with other colors. (If you use the same brush for both white and black, you'll find it difficult to clean the brush sufficiently after using it in black. Using it then in white will result in a slightly greyed white, which isn't as distinct looking as the pure white for designs.)
Lining brush—Lining brushes, also known as riggers or script brushes, are also round brushes, but they have longer bristles which hold more paint. They are great when you don't want to go back and forth to your paints so frequently to load your brush, but the drawback is that if you haven't used them before, you may find them more challenging to control until you get used to the length.
Petal brush—The petal brush is also a version of the round brush, but the bristles are shorter with the taper to the tip being more pronounced. Petal brushes are specifically used by face painters to make double-dip petals for flowers.
2. Flat brushes
Basic flat brush—The basic flat brush enables you to put down a wider swath of color, or of several colors from a small split cake. It has a squared-off end.
Bright—The bright is also a flat brush, but the bristles are shorter. Most of the flat brushes used by face painters are actually brights, since they are easier to load and use, although they are typically referred to just as flat brushes.
Filbert—A filbert is technically a flat brush by design, but it has bristles which are curved from side to side. Filberts are sometimes referred to as chisel brushes by face painters or makeup artists because the bristles taper toward the edge of the brush from the flat sides.
Angle brush—Angle brushes are a flat brush on which the edge of the bristles is set at an angle. Angle brushes are often used by face painters for large one-stroke flowers, roses, leaves, and butterfly details.
Dagger brush—The dagger brush is similar to the flat angle brush except that the bristles also have a slight curve and the bristles are longer than the angle brush. Some artists prefer the dagger brush for adding design elements such as whiskers.
6. Other brushes
Fan brush—A brush which has bristles in the shape of a fan.
Wisp brush—A brush which looks as though some of the bristles have been removed, allowing it to provide a wispy effect.
Makeup brush—Useful for covering large areas with an even, stroke-free finish comparable or even superior to sponges.
The brushes you use frequently will depend on what you are painting. Body painters, who must cover large areas as quickly as possible, are more likely to use makeup brushes or even 2-inch flat brushes to complete large areas quickly. A standard face painter is more likely to choose smaller brushes when only working on a face. After trying brushes, you'll know which will be the best ones for you.
In face painting, you often use sponges to lay down the base color for your design. There are a wide variety of sponges to choose from, but the main ones are listed below.
When you're choosing your sponges, consider the shape and density of the sponges. Face painting sponges are very dense, but also soft, since they need to apply face paint evenly as well as comfortably when pressed on the face. Since sponges can be pressed into any shape during use, some artists just use the basic half-circles sponges, although other shapes have advantages, too.
• Half-circle sponges—The half-circle sponge is an all-purpose sponge which can be used for any design. These sponges can be cut in half to make quarter-circle shapes which are useful for applying single colors. You can use either the flat side or the curved side for applying face paint, depending on which design you are painting and which side you prefer.
• Petal sponge—Petal sponges are in a teardrop shape and are used for many designs, but are a good choice for butterflies, masks, and eye designs because the tip allows easy access to the inner eye area.
• Stipple sponge—A stipple sponge puts down a broken, stipple texture, and is often used for pirate beards.
• Smoothie sponge—Preferred by some artists for a very smooth finish and commonly used in the makeup world, these sponges have an unusual three-dimensional teardrop shape which allows you to put face paint into small spaces because of the tapered end. Their density might make them a little more challenging to clean, however.
• Dauber sponge—Daubers may be a sponge on a dowel, a sponge with a plastic holder, or the kind which fits over a finger tip. These are great for use with stencils because they allow the artist to have a lot of control over where the paint is being applied on the stencil.
Never use craft glitter for face painting
Craft glitter is vastly different from cosmetic grade glitter. Cosmetic glitter has to meet certain standards as to what dyes used to color it (they must be FDA compliant), the degree to which contaminating substances are kept from the glitter, what material the glitter is made of (plastic rather than metal or glass), and the size and shape of the glitter (to keep it from cutting or injuring the eye).
Craft glitter, by comparison, doesn't have to meet any of these criteria, thus making it extremely dangerous to use on the face. Since no one wants to be the means of causing an eye injury and a trip to the emergency room for a child, particularly one's own child, make sure that you never use craft glitters for face painting.
How to use face painting glitter
Glitter will only stick to damp face paint. You can apply it with a poofer bottle by squeezing the bottle over damp face paint, or you can use the tip of your finger or a barely damp sponge. Whichever method you choose, make sure you warn the person you are face painting to close his or her eyes while you are adding glitter. Sometimes young children aren't good about closing their eyes. In this case, shield their eyes with your hand while you apply glitter.
Types of Glitter
There are several types of glitter used by face painters.
1. Holographic cosmetic grade glitter—This type of glitter is most used by face painters on face painting designs because holographic glitter is sheer so you can see the design underneath it. It adds sparkle, but does not obscure the design itself. There are many color options, but the most practical glitter for a beginner is a holographic white glitter, because it goes with everything.
2. Opaque cosmetic grade glitter—Opaque glitter is usually used by artists for glitter tattoos, since you cannot see through it, but sometimes an artist will place opaque glitter on a design. For best results, usually artists put opaque glitter on face painting of the same color. For example, if an artist painted red holly berries and green leaves in a Christmas design, she might then add red glitter to the red berries and green glitter to the green leaves. This adds an extra intensity to each color, but does require the artist to have many different colored glitter options, since you have to match face paint and glitter colors.
3. Festival glitter—Festival glitter has found great popularity in recent years. It comes in many colors and is much larger in the size of cut than cosmetic grade glitter. Because of this, festival glitter may not be the best choice for use on children and should not be used near the eyes. Usually festival glitter comes in a gel and is applied around the design or on the hair, but not over the face paint, since the gel will activate it and possibly smear it.
4. Liquid bling—Liquid bling is cosmetic grade glitter in a gel, allowing it to be applied in a slender line from a squeeze bottle. Liquid bling creates fabulous glittery outlines and accents in designs and comes in a wide array of colors. The most popular color choices are silver and gold. Liquid bling takes a little longer to dry than face paint, so warn the individuals you use it on not to touch their designs because it may smear if the glitter gel isn't completely dry.
If you aren't a person who normally uses a brush for artwork, it's helpful to know some of the techniques which artists use while face painting. This section will help you use your face painting tools successfully.
Regular face paints are activated with water. When using a brush, you should get the brush wet with enough water so that you can work up a creamy consistency before using the face paint. One common newbie mistake is not mixing up the face paint and water sufficiently so that when it is applied to the skin, it looks transparent and weak because it's lacking pigment. Especially for white and black, which are used frequently for outlining, it's best to make a small hole in the face paint in which you can mix up a good amount of face paint and water for outlining use. This will help keep you from over-saturating the rest of the face paint.
If you are using powdered face paints, such as Mehron Intense Powders or Starblends, do not activate them with water, but apply them dry with a smoothie blender or lollipop applicator.
How to load your face painting brushes
When using a brush, dip it in water and swirl your brush over the makeup until you have a creamy consistency. Some artists prefer to create a trench or valley in each color for loading round brushes, and they twist the brush as they pull the brush across the face paint. Other artists prefer to make a small divot in each color where they mix water into the face paint. Both of these techniques work well, so if you are a new face painter, try each of them to determine which works best for you.
Once your brush is loaded with face paint, it's helpful to do a practice stroke on the back of your hand to remove a little of the paint from the tip, especially if you're creating a thin-to-thick line. A heavy load on the brush will make it a little more difficult to start with a very thin line.
How to load your face painting sponges
When using a sponge and a single color, it is best to spritz the sponge itself rather than the face paint before rubbing the sponge in the makeup. Again, the reason for this is that if you spritz the face paint, it's possible to over-saturate it so that it becomes harder to use. You have more control if you only add moisture to the sponge.
Some artists prefer to barely dip the edge of the sponge in their clear water rather than spraying the sponge, so this is an option as well, but if you do this, make sure to only touch the very tip of the sponge in the water. You don't want too much moisture in your face paint.
How to load a brush from a split cake
To load a brush from a small split cake, get the 3/4-inch brush wet and then blot it a little on a paper towel or sponge. Place the edge of the brushes at the end of the split cake and stroke it from end to end on the split cake about 12-16 times while pressing down firmly. If you don't press down, you'll only load the tip of the bristles, and for best success, you need to drive the makeup up toward the ferule. One of the mistakes of inexperienced face painters is to not load a brush fully before using it. This will result in weak, thin-looking colors.
If the brush dries out too much, just touch the very tip of the bristles in your water to moisten it and continue until you have a good load of paint on your brush. If you use too much water, the colors will blur together and look muddy rather than distinct, so controlling the amount of water by blotting the brush is very important.
How to load a sponge from a split cake
To load a sponge from a rainbow split cake, use a spritzer to moisten the flat side of the sponge. Wipe it across the rainbow split cake lengthwise several times to build up enough face paint on the sponge to be able to use it on the face. If it becomes too dry, you may spritz it a little to extra moisture and continue to load it. For some designs, you can load the curved side of the sponge, but most of the time face painters load the flat side.
A standard rainbow split cake is versatile and will work for many different designs. If you only want to use the colors on half of a large split, just squeeze your sponge to make it shorter while loading the color so it picks up from only one half of the split cake. (For example, if you wanted to paint a child as a tiger, you would load only the yellow, orange, and red (or magenta) from a rainbow split cake. As you're looking at split cakes, however, you should consider which designs you are likely to paint frequently so you can have the best color combinations available for your own use. Most professional face painters accumulate a wide array of split cakes eventually.
To put down a solid color with a sponge, first spritz your sponge with water or dip just the tip of the sponge in your clear water. Then rub the tip of the sponge in the color of face paint you would like to use. Once the sponge is fully loaded with makeup, dab it lightly on the face. When sponging face paint over the eyes, make sure to use a light touch, since it can be very uncomfortable for the person you are face painting if you push too hard on the eye area.
When using colors which are more sheer than others, you may need to reload your sponge and apply a second coat over the first after it has dried.
Blending colors with a sponge
- When blending with a sponge, make sure your sponge is not too damp after loading it, or the colors will bleed together rather than blend.
- Blend colors which are next to each other on the color spectrum/wheel. If you try to blend complementary colors (colors which are across from each other on the color wheel), you will get a muddy brown. Complementary pairs to avoid are red and green, blue and orange, or purple and yellow.
- When blending, it is best to begin with the light color and then add the darker color as you blend.
- Use a clean, dry sponge to blend between the colors while they are damp.
- Always wait for your sponged area to dry completely before painting over the top of it to avoid unsightly bleeding.
How to lay down a base with split cakes
While not necessary for the amateur, large and small split cakes allow a face painter to apply multiple colors quickly and evenly. If your budget will allow you to get a small split palette or a large split cake or two, I would recommend it, because it will help you produce better results faster on your own children, and most children will only sit still for a short period of time.
When holding a round brush for face painting, it should be perpendicular to the surface you are face painting. Although you'll see a slight angle sometimes (especially for purposes of explanation when an artist is trying to hold her hand so that you can see what she's doing better in a video), this is the best standard technique. For narrow lines, stay on the very tip of the brush. For wider lines, press down slightly so that the bristles splay out and widen the stroke.
High quality brushes will produce better results than those of inferior quality, but in addition to this, each type of brush has peculiar traits which help it do certain tasks particularly well. While you should be able to do almost every stroke with each kind of brush, it’s also good to understand which brushes excel at which jobs so you purchase the ones you actually need and have them on hand so you can paint efficiently. If you are unfamiliar with the types of brushes artists use, read the section on "What types of brushes are used for face painting" above.
How to keep your hand steady while you paint
If your hands are a little shaky while you work, just rest the pinkie finger of your working hand on the forehead, cheek, or chin of your subject as you paint to provide stability. Using this method also gives you a little warning should the child move his or her face suddenly so you can remove the brush quickly.
How do you apply face paint smoothly?
Unfortunately, some colors are more sheer than others. This is part of the reason it is so important to work sufficient water into your makeup before you apply it to a face. Sometimes a color (for example, dark blue) will still have a splotchy look after it dries when it has been applied with a brush. In this case, you have two options. You can either wait until the makeup is dry and lightly apply more of the same color with your brush, or you can dab over the top of the color while it is wet with a sponge to remove any visible brush strokes. If the color is very sheer, you may want to do both.
Painting over another color
The base layer is the face paint you sponge or paint on a face before you begin detailed line work. After you apply a base layer in a color or in several colors, your design might not necessarily be recognizable, but this is part of the fun reveal at the end when you're finished. It keeps guests at a party guessing as to what you're painting. It is the line work which will provide definition for your fabulous face paint design.
The base layer must be dry before you can successfully complete the detailed line work on top. If the base layer is damp, the lines will bleed out into it. You will have to wait a little longer for the base to dry on humid days, but the result will be worth it, and it will help you to avoid frustration. While you're waiting for your design to dry, this is an excellent time to use your poofer to add glitter. The glitter actually needs the face paint to be slightly damp in order to stick to it well.
When the first layer is dry enough to paint on top of, it will appear to have a matte finish rather than a shiny finish.
How to use your face painting stencils
Stencils are a wonderful tool if you know how to use them correctly. When using stencils, make sure the design beneath has already dried, if you are using it over face paint, and make sure that you do not use too much moisture on your sponge or dauber on top of the stencils. If the sponge or dauber is too wet, it will bleed under the stencil and you'll end up with a blob of color rather than a crisp outline from the stencil.
If you struggle with using traditional face paint in conjunction with stencils, an easy solution is to use lollipop applicators and powdered face paint, such as Starblends, Mehron Intense pro-powders, or Elisa Griffith Color Me Pro Powders, for stencil work. To use pro-powders, rub the dry applicator on the powder makeup, tap the excess off, and then rub it over the stencil. The dry powder will stick to the design underneath and create a stenciled image.
Many excellent artists use stencils to enhance face painting designs, so there is no reason why you shouldn't make use of these great tools as well. There are thousands of stencils available, and the menu of options you're planning for an event will determine which are the best for you, but there are a few staples that face painters use most and which can help your designs look great. For the most used stencils, I recommend the following list as a good place to begin.
- Graduated dot pattern
- Reptilian skin texture stencil
- Pirate skull stencil
- Fairy stencil
- Star stencil
- Snowflake stencil
- Flower stencils
Basic Face Painting Strokes
How to outline
Obviously, outlines are made constantly while face painting. The most commonly used brushes for outlining are either round brushes or lining brushes. With a little experimentation, you'll find the brushes which you like best for outline work. In most cases, this will depend on the designs you're creating, but in general, a mid-sized round brush is a good all-purpose outlining brush when you are a beginner. With practice, you will be better able to control the long bristled liners (also known as riggers or script brushes). While the longer bristles can be more difficult to control at first, they do hold more makeup so you don't have to reload as often as you will with the shorter bristled brushes.
When outlining, try to visualize the design in your mind so you place lines where you really want them to be. If you need to clean up any rough edges in the base shape with a wet wipe before you begin to outline, it's completely acceptable to do this.
Using thin to thick to thin lines while outlining your design will add a dynamic, elegant quality to it, so it's important to practice this for all of your designs.
How to do thin to thick lines
Lines provide definition and movement in your face painting designs. Being able to vary them from thin to thick to thin is crucial in taking your face painting from an amateurish look to that of a professional. Pressure with your brush will provide this variance in line width, because as you stay on the very tip of your brush, it will produce a slender line, and as you apply more pressure, the bristles will splay, producing a thicker line. Practice will allow you to master this skill, but the video below will show you examples of how to create thin and thick lines with your brush.
How to paint teardrops
Teardrops and swirls are two strokes 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, beginner face painters can struggle to make them consistently. Teardrops and swirls are used for a wide variety of designs including princesses, floral masks, animal faces, monsters, and many more.
Always 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 in activating than others. If you are not getting opaque lines with your white face paint, take your wet brush and swirl the brush in the paint until you have the correct 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.
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. You should also be able to make teardrops thin to thick by beginning with your brush barely touching the skin as you move your brush and gradually pressing down until you stop the stroke at the wide end.
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.
Consider the placement of clusters of teardrops and swirls as you work. While practicing, be sure to bring all lines in a cluster towards an imaginary point. This is good discipline. In facial designs, most lines point toward an imaginary focal spot which is between the eyes and eyebrows.
How to do starbursts
While a star stencil works well for adding extra visual impact to a design, some artists prefer to create starbursts with a paintbrush. In order to make a starburst, begin at the center of your starburst shape with a round brush and press down to make a thick to thin teardrop going up from the center, going down from the center, going left from the center, and going right from the center.
If you want to add glitter to a face paint after it has dried, take a small water spritzer (the one used for wetting sponges) and spritz the child’s face very lightly from about twelve inches or more away. The key is not to get too close to the face or else you’ll end up with a drippy mess, which is why a distance of no closer than twelve inches is usually best. When you notice that the face paint has a slight sheen to it, use your poofer bottle to add the glitter.
Another possible way to add glitter after your design is dry is to use a slightly damp sponge, dip it in a pot of glitter, and tap it on the design. The dampness of the sponge should provide enough moisture for the glitter to stick to the design. This is also an excellent way to apply glitter if you need to be specific about where on the design you are applying glitter.
If using a poofer for glitter, always ask the child to close their eyes first. 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 or it will cause the face paint to reactivate and possibly smear.
It's especially difficult when you're starting out to know what to face paint, because there are so many tutorials out there to choose from. Because of this, we've assembled a group of videos below which will take you through some of the designs which are most requested designs while you're learning.
Organizing your work area
New face painters usually start out using a small, portable table as a work surface, and sometimes they are uncertain which supplies they will need, so they accumulate an eclectic assortment of face painting makeup. While these supplies work just as well as an all-in-one palette, they may not have the professional look of a single brand's palette of face paints. Also, a conglomeration of supplies is a time-waster at events if you don't have a way of keeping your materials in the same place every time for every event. (Never underestimate the power of motor-memory and organization.) Because of this, a professional palette is extremely helpful in terms of equipment and time management at events.
Investing in a professional palette, such as the Mehron face painting palette, will save you time. If you like using small and large split cakes, the Kryvaline split cake palette is a great choice and will hold a combination of small split cakes and large split cakes. If you have financial constraints in the beginning, there are several economical small face painting kits available, such as the Diamond FX Face Paint Palette in 12 colors or the Fusion Body Art Spectrum Face Painting Palette Rainbow Explosion.
Something else to consider when you are buying face paints is how they can be organized. Kraze FX is a brand of face paint which is designed so that the individual pans stack together. Both single colors and split cake containers are all the same size and stack. The Kraze FX square containers will also line up neatly on your table if you choose not to use a palette case.
A folding table which is big enough for your supplies and easy to carry to and from gigs is also key. Do not rely on the client to supply an appropriate surface for face painting, because sometimes there won't be a table available (and you won't know it until you arrive) or sometimes it's will be wobbly or too small. Your table must be sturdy because you will have containers of water on it. Always make sure your legs are firmly locked into place, and if possible, set it against a wall so children can't go behind it and accidentally upset your supplies or water. While working, make sure your water is not set up in a place where you can easily knock it over while reaching for paint or brushes.
With a little planning you will come up with a face painting set up that looks professional and allows you to face paint quickly with confidence.
Decide whether you are a sitting or standing face painter
Some face painters prefer to stand while face painting, and others prefer to sit. Try both sitting and standing for events, because sometimes practice reveals pros or cons you might not have thought of. Take these factors into account when choosing what works best for you.
Mobility. One advantage of standing is that you are able to move freely around the individual in the chair when necessary. If you are seated, make sure everything you need is within arm's reach. Since you aren't walking around a child, you might instead ask the child to turn his or her head so that you can paint. If you use a chair which turns for the guest and you are a sitting face painter, this will help provide the mobility you would not otherwise have.
Height. Your height will help determine which method works best for you. For example, sometimes tall artists don't care to stand because they have to bend down for children, depending on the height of the stool or tall director's chair they use. For them, it may work best to sit unless they have a seat for the child which is high enough to keep them from having to stoop frequently. Some artists use pillows and cushions to elevate the child more and to keep them at the front of the chair.
Protecting your back. If you've experienced back problems in the past, then you will want to consider carefully whether standing or sitting affects it. If you choose standing, it's important to use good shoes with excellent support to prevent exacerbating previous back issues.
Sitting while painting. For sitting, arrange two chairs so that you can easily reach your supplies and the face of your customer. It's possible having the customer’s chair directly in front of you will feel awkward, and you may have to tip your chair a little bit to reach her face. It may be better to place the customer’s chair parallel to yours so it's less of a stretch for your arms and so you are closer to the person you paint.
Standing while painting. 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 it will help your flow to have your table to the right of the chair. If you're left-handed, then it's usually best to have the table to the left of the chair. For comfort, place a square of carpeting or of foam under your working area for long events, especially if you will be on a concrete surface. Also, if you choose to stand, ask children to scoot to the front of the chair and lean forward so you can easily reach their face.
Consider whom you will be painting. If you're used to standing and painting children, doing a few adults at an event won't cause discomfort. But if you are hired for an adults-only event (and this does happen), provide a chair of regular height for the adults to sit in while you work. Since the average adult torso is longer than a child's, a shorter chair should work well unless you are a very tall artist. If you use your normal tall director's chair, which is made to elevate children to a comfortable working height, you may find that your arms ache from reaching up even higher to paint adults sitting in it, especially if you have an event of several hours in length. Also make sure that any tall director's chair you use can accommodate the weight of an adult. Most are good to 225 pounds, but if you have an adult who is exceptionally tall or heavy, have them sit in a regular chair.
Deciding whether you are a standing or a sitting face painter may sound like an unimportant detail, but it can make a huge difference to your own comfort when you are on the job. This is key when you are working long hours, so be sure to choose in advance what will make you as comfortable as possible for long periods of time.
Good care will make brushes last
It's best to keep your face painting brushes only for face painting. Acrylic paints, for example, are very hard on brushes and will eventually damage them as the acrylic paint works its way into the ferule (the metal part holding the bristles) and hardens there, eventually causing the bristles to lose some of their shape. Also, face paints are used on the skin, so you don't want to pick up other substances which might cause sensitivity or have pigments which are not non-toxic.
During use, never allow your brushes to sit in water bristle-down. This can quickly cause a permanent curve to the bristles so the brushes are no longer usable. After rinsing a brush, it's best to blot the brush to remove excess water and then lay it down on a flat surface to dry. You may also keep brushes bristle up in a container, but this isn't the optimal choice, as the water drips down into the ferule and onto the handle. For wooden handle brushes, this can cause the wood to swell and the paint on the handle to crack.
Face painting brushes will last years if cared for properly, so it's best to clean them thoroughly with brush soap in cool water (not hot water, which can loosen the bristles) and allow them to air dry lying flat with the bristles not touching anything to cause a curve.
Improvement only happens with practice, and your own family members may tire of being continually painted as practice subjects. Fortunately, practice boards come in many forms (faces, arms, pregnant tummies, etc.) which will allow you to practice without needing live models. Most will work well for either left- or right-handed artists, but if you're ordering 3/4-face boards or profile boards, It's easiest to use the ones which face away from your dominant hand.
In order to clean a practice board, soap it well with dish soap and rinse it off with water. Some colors may stain slightly (usually blacks), but rubbing well with soap first makes them much easier to clean. Leaving face paint on the board for a long period of time increases the chances of potential staining. Also, using a wipe for cleaning does not remove face paint as well as soap will.
There are also 3-D practice heads which you might use, but these are more difficult to clean without staining. (They are also tricky to paint without a body attached to them, holding them in place.) Some of the most popular practice boards are listed below.
There are many resources available for face painters, and we wanted to share a few with you. Obviously Youtube is a wealth of free tutorials, and there are more artists making tutorials than we could list here, but we've chosen some of our favorites. While some of these sources are free, others involve cost, but they will all help you grow as an artist and learn your craft and are worth the investment in time and money.
- Facepaint.com Blog (FREE) — The Facepaint.com award winning blog is a great place to start for information in your face painting journey. We're always adding new tutorials and business information, and it's completely free.
- Facepaint.com 411 Learning Center (FREE) — If you're on Facebook, stop by our free learning center. The main area is a place to share your practice efforts or on the job designs, ask questions, learn about recent contests, and see tutorials and webinars as they become available. If you're looking for specific designs, use the search feature or check out the Units which are organized by subject and have loads of webinars and tutorials. In the Files area, you can find free downloadable resources for your business.
- Ashlea Henson on Youtube (FREE) — Ashlea has been creating amazing face painting designs for years. With over 59,000 subscribers, her Youtube channel is well worth checking out.
- Lisa Joy Young on Youtube (FREE) — Lisa Joy Young has created some of the most polished, beautiful face painting out there. Having over 70,000 subscribers is a testimony to her skill, and every design is beautifully placed on the face.
- Cameron Garrett on Youtube (FREE) — Another popular artist with a smooth, vibrant style, Cameron has taught workshops in the United States as well as teaching at face painting conferences.
- Olga Murasev's International Face Painting School (One time cost) —Olga Murasev is an internationally known face painter who brings tremendous skill to the table for her students. If you complete her rigorous international school curriculum, you will receive a certificate of completion. Olga also offers online conferences featuring some of the best face painting artists in the world.
- FABAtv (Monthly fee) —With hundreds of classes ranging from face painting to balloon twisting, FABAtv is one of the best known online options for learning face painting.
The smile is what it's all about
Face painting is not only about beautiful artistry, although professional face painters do their best to bring this to the forefront in their own work. Face painting is also the opportunity to make a child happy by providing special attention and a imaginative makeover with his or her favorite design. Even if your skills aren't at the level produced by a professional, we hope these face painting tools and tips will help to make your own face painting time with children truly special and produce that smile at the end.