What are your best face-painting recommendations?
August 5, 2008 6:47 PM   Subscribe

What are your tips for face painting? I'm not talking about fancy theatrical or costume painting, just your average person decorating kids' faces with hearts, stars, etc.


I just got back from Night Out Against Crime, where my friend and I were the designated face painters. It was fun and went pretty well but I think we need to up the quality of our supplies. I bought cheap face paint from Party City. I used generic make up applicators. The paint-style stuff pretty goopy and hard to use, and the crayon-type sticks didn't show up very well. Also the stuff doesn't really dry so it gets sweaty and smudgy.

I'll probably be doing this again next year, so I wanted to ask the hive mind for advice.

Actual Question:

What supplies would you recommend? I can't spend a ton of money (this was a work-sponsored event and we're a non-profit) but clearly $6.99 for the face paint and $3 for the applicators isn't quite enough! I don't need to be painting elaborate shimmering butterfly masks or anything, but I'm hoping y'all can recommend some products or techniques that would make things go a little more smoothly next time!

Online or US brick-and-mortar retailers are most appreciated.
posted by radioamy to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Go to theatrical supply stores. They will have higher quality facepaint than your standard party store.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:06 PM on August 5, 2008

Best answer: I use inexpensive eye and lip liners to draw designs on my girls' faces, and cheap eyeshadow with a wet brush (basically a small natural-bristled paintbrush) to fill in and add sparkle.

Low-end drugstore brands like Wet & Wild, Jordana, Prestige, etc come in garish colors and stay on pretty well--I generally have to rub pretty hard to get them off at the end of the day.

The type of pencil that works best are the retractable crayon type, rather than the wooden pencil type, and those are usually "stay put" formulas, which also helps.

It's not professional, but it doesn't stop my kids from asking for it pretty much daily, like so. I wish you could see how that bee's body is gold sparkles and the wings are silvery. It's some of my finest work.
posted by padraigin at 7:26 PM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am always the face painter at kids parties. First of all, you want actual paintbrushes, not make-up applicators, especially for the fine work. Nothing too fancy, just go to your local craft store and pick up a $10 fine-tip brush assortment. Second, I usually use the cheapo face paint, but be sure to have a stash of toothpicks on hand to stir the paint very well with (a slightly blunted toothpick is also good for dinosaur eyes and fairy dust). Finally, you need to support your painting hand somehow. I usually put my left hand on the child's shoulder and use my left wrist to support the wrist of my right hand. If you (or the kids) aren't comfortable with that kind of touching, you can use a high-backed chair to similar effect.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:27 PM on August 5, 2008

Best answer: I wore a clown suit and painted faces at Circus Circus 20+ years ago. We used water-washable sticks like these, art supply natural bristle brushes, and regular poly sponges cut into smaller pieces. Have lots of old washrags or small towels handy, and several cups of water for rinsing brushes. Have headbands on hand to hold hair back. Don't apply the paint too thick, it will dry faster and the colors won't run together. The sticks will last a lot longer than the "5-7" faces the description says. Some colors lasted me the whole summer. If covering the whole face, have them close their eyes softly, like they are pretending to be asleep, not squeeze them shut. Talk to the kids to keep their attention and keep them from moving too much out of distraction. Do a little homework and practice a few designs that will be popular. Simple ones for the younger kids as they get squirmy pretty fast. I did so many Ghostbusters logos I can probably still paint one in my sleep. If I were doing it today, I'd probably learn the Hannah Montana logo or something.
posted by krix at 7:52 PM on August 5, 2008

(padraigin, those are some ridiculously adorable kids there. Good job!)
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:27 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

The easiest way to do face painting is to use the cheap acrylic craft paints that come in little individual bottles for about a dollar each. One brand is Apple Barrel They're not traditional face paints, but I use it on my kids for Halloween or Mardi Gras (and my daughter has very sensitive skin and has never had a problem.) They're easier to use, in my opinion, and the big deal to me is that once they are dry, they don't smear at all. When you wash them off, it kind of peels off and doesn't leave a big smeary mess. However, it might seem a bit weird to other parents (who don't know you) that you're painting on their kids with real paint. Oh. It probably won't come out of clothes easily, so actually, I would only do it on my own kids without a really big smock... Never mind.
posted by artychoke at 9:17 PM on August 5, 2008

I never thought to use acrylic paints, but that's something I'll file away for Halloween. I know for a fact it won't harm my kids skin permanently, since they certainly get enough of it on themselves on a regular basis.

Still, I like the excuse to have glittery orange eyeshadow around the house, just in case I happen to have a David Bowie moment.
posted by padraigin at 9:32 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Caran D'Aache is a brand of water soluble artists' crayons.

The ones I have this time around are called "neocolor II: Aquarelle"

Dip the tips in a little bit of water, the color goes on very smoothly and stays on all day.
After 20+ years of impromptu face painting these have been the best tool ever.

Not, of course, as exciting as the bright orange eye shadow but you could certainly mix in some crazy and glittery stuff with the crayons.

And they come in a nice metal tin and you don't need brushes.
posted by theobromine_ady at 6:16 AM on August 6, 2008

I have had really good luck using acrylic paints, as artychoke said. Another advantage is that they show up really well on darker skin tones. I've never had a problem with it getting on clothes or anything--just have the kid sit there for the two minutes it takes to dry. Get a couple of good brushes and you're all set!
posted by wallaby at 7:20 AM on August 6, 2008

I worked at a childrens' entertainment company for a few years. We used acrylic paint and regular (soft) paint brushes. These paints dry quickly, show up really well, and wash off with water.

*Have a small palette to put paint into. Keeps your bottled paints fresh.
*Make sure to have mirrors! Kids love to watch.
*Look at popular kid show characters and simplify them to basics that you can remember and paint easily.
*When the child sits down- suggest! If you don't, they often want really complicated or extreme things.
*Don't just paint faces. I always had boys love snakes on their arms (head on the back of their hand, the body twisting up their arm to the elbow) and girls, flowers (flower on the back of the hand, stem twisting up their arm). Tatoo-style (on the upper arm) were also popular. Or painted on "jewelry" around wrists or ankles.
*And don't forget the dress-up painting! Make kids into dogs, cats, etc. quickly by just adding a nose and whiskers.

I loved doing this! I'd totally do it again...have fun!
posted by gracious floor at 10:01 AM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

In addition to acrylic paint, I have also used markers (e.g. Crayolas or whatever else is non-toxic and non-staining). The fine points make it easy to do detail work, they dry nearly instantly, and are easy to remove.
posted by holyrood at 12:47 PM on August 6, 2008

Response by poster: Hmm I never thought about using acrylic paint or artists crayons...I am going to have to try that out! Eyeliner and eyeshadow sound good for filling in and doing detail work.

gracious floor, yes it is really fun! I like your suggestions for "arm painting" - we did a few designs on hands but I like the winding around designs. I had a couple boys who wanted big gray "earrings" which I put glitter on as well to make them "bling."

We definitely had a little poster of "flash" and tried not to deviate too much from that.

Thanks for all the suggestions!
posted by radioamy at 6:52 PM on August 6, 2008

Caran D'Aache is a brand of water soluble artists' crayons.
The ones I have this time around are called "neocolor II: Aquarelle"
Dip the tips in a little bit of water, the color goes on very smoothly and stays on all day.
After 20+ years of impromptu face painting these have been the best tool ever.

I was coming in here to say exactly this. Link; I use just the basic 10 color set; you may need an extra white and black, or other colors if there's a popular character that uses a lot of eg yellow. They wash off easily with soap and water, too.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:08 AM on August 12, 2008

Best answer: radioamy, we got this on the contact email today, warning against acrylic paints on faces:
I am a professional face and body painting artist. I am greatly concerned about a couple of posts here that could give parents some inaccurate and potentially dangerous advice regarding the use of arylic paints on childrens skin. These products are absolutely NOT meant for skin and are not FDA compliant. They cause rashes, allergic reactions (sometimes very serious) and can burn skin if the paint heats up in the direct sun. Any company selling acrylics will advise NOT to use their products on skin. It is also very difficult to remove especially around the eye area. Thank you, Laura
posted by mathowie at 4:02 PM on October 23, 2008

Best answer: So I got in contact with Laura, who was the nice lady who contacted Mefi Admins about the acrylic paint...to summarize her suggestions:

Klutz Face Painting Book featuring Wolfe Paints
posted by radioamy at 9:13 PM on October 24, 2008

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