Sunday, June 6, 2010

Real men do makeup

A frequent subject of my posts is schools—teachers, kids, the gym, the cafeteria, that smell in the hallway that only a well-worn school possesses and can't be duplicated.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to take in all that fantastic ambience yet again, serving a shift in the cafeteria as a face painter at the annual Arbor Heights Elementary School carnival.

I love this job. It's part of a huge production put on by the PTA, complete with bouncy houses, dunk tanks, cupcake walks, hot dogs and games where everyone's a winner. My station was situated at a strategically advantageous location, right next to the cotton candy. Kids can smell that stuff from further away than cadaver-sniffing bloodhounds, so I had an instant customer base.

Most of the kids were shy at first; it can be a little daunting gazing over at some middle-aged dude with earrings and eight colors of paint, ready and eager to tag your face. With this in mind, I tried to be as un-intimidating as possible. Here's an example:

Me: "Hi, do you want your face painted?"
Six-year-old girl: (no response)
Me: "I can paint a cat or a butterfly or a rainbow or a flower or something else."
Six-year-old girl: (no verbal response—tentative head nod—quickly walks over and sits down)
After she sits in the customer chair, she requests the final item on the list I rattle off, which usually happens with the smaller kids. This is why I try to make the last example a sunshine or peace sign, as opposed to, say, a replica of God giving Adam life on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

I always feel a little sorry for the first couple of kids, because I inevitably experience a slight learning curve. Face painting is a lot like bowling—your first game is terrible, your second and third are pretty decent and then back to terrible in the fourth and final game.

Adding to the challenge a bit, my first customer was a little autistic boy, who was a fantastic guy; he just moved around a lot. I felt like I was painting a cat's face on someone while surfing. His face ended up being the most heavily painted, just because I kept trying to compensate for errant paint streaks and balance out each side of the moving target. Finally, he ended up looking like a cat, and his dad told me he was really surprised that the boy sat still for as long as he had. It was really nice to see the young man look into a mirror and smile.

Before long, the line was about five or six kids deep. Usually, trends would develop, like eight consecutive butterflies or four sunny faces, but some kids wouldn't be swayed by fads:
"Can I have a dolphin?" It looked more like a penguin.
"Can you paint some red lips on my cheek?" I painted lips on the cheek of a thirty-five-year-old woman.
"I want to be in Blue Man Group." This didn't really happen, but it would have been fun.

I was spelled when someone arrived to take the second face painting shift, but it would have been really fun to keep going. The kids were so patient and funny.

And just for a little show-and-tell, here's some of my work on a group of four friends:
I think they were fifth graders.


  1. Looks like you played it safe with the painting and escaped without any parental complaints, just a lot of happy kids. I'm sure the woman with the red lips on her cheek was especially thrilled...! You should have charged her extra!

  2. I went to Arbor Heights for kindergarten and part of first grade before moving to Auburn. Don't remember any face painting back in those days, probably would've been toxic paints if they had!