How to run a succesful Face Painting Contest?
by Gary Cole


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I've seen my share of face painting contests through the years that turned up in being a bit of a train wreck and I thought I'd give some suggestions on how to smooth these out and make them less stressful. In the various conventions I've taken part in judging quite a few and everyone seems to run these a bit differently. I'll pass on a few thoughts on some of the things I've learned from the school of hard knocks. My point is not to take jabs at the other events but to give you some thoughts in order to make your next face painting contest less stressful for both those that participate as well as those in charge of judging the event.
Generally when I have been asked to judge I have been given some basic parameters and generally these are quite vague. I think the tighter you make the guidelines the less friction you will get when something goes sour. Also the more you can put into writing the better off you will be. This FAQ is my opinion and given as a starting point. I do not claim to have all the answers. I'm just giving you some wisdom from the bumps and bruises I've received or observed. What you do at your event is totally up to you. I'm telling you if you do not run it properly you will get hurt feelings, very angry participants, frustration all around and judges that are getting eaten alive. If run improperly it will turn your positive event into bad memories that are slow to heal.
Make sure when you select your judges you select a handful of people (suggested three to five people) that know enough about face painting that they can adequately be able to give a numerical value to each of the areas you will be judging. They do not have to be face painting "experts" but they should know enough to be able to make a sound judgment in each area of the contest. If unclear the lead judge should explain these BEFORE the contest starts to the other judges.  For example is a judgment criteria is "base" they should understand what it means to put on a smooth, uniform base to a face painting design. It is very important that those you select can be TOTALLY IMPARTIAL. Nothing will ruin a contest from being fair than having someone that would give someone a positive edge in the voting or one that would mark down another because of some sort of prejudice of any kind. Politics and all similar factors should have no weight at all in any contest. If your judges can not give everyone an equally/fair shake in the contest then they simply should not be invited to judge. If they can not judge based on the parameters of the contest then they should not be allowed to participate in the judging.
The rules and parameters should be very clearly defined. These can be anything you want but you should strongly consider all of the following...
a) Is there a skills level parameter? In other words is the contest for beginners, professionals or what? You need to be specific. In other words define what you mean. You might use words like "this contest is for beginners that have earned money for face painting but have painted for money for less than one year".
b) What is the particular theme of the contest? It is wide open or are you going to define a broad or very specific theme? Ranges could be open theme, girl's faces, butterflies, butterflies that cover 3/4ths of the face, those that use only four colors, those that only use red, white and blue, those that are a monarch butterfly. Be as general or specific as you wish but have the judges stick to the parameters listed. No exceptions.
c) Where is this to be painted... In other words is this contest for 2 inch by 2 inch cheek art, half faces, full faces or can this extend to the whole body?
d) Define clearly how long the person will be allowed to paint the design. Is there unlimited time to create the design or does it have to be painted in under three minutes?
e) Public or private. In other words can they paint the design totally out of the view of the judges or is it a contest that is to be performed in the presence of the judges?
f) Help or not? Does the entire painting have to be done by one artist? For example in body painting it could be done as a team with some working on the base and others doing the detail work.
g) Supplies... Do you have defined tools, paints or supplies that are required or banned? A good example is what would you do if the person showed up and the artist was using acrylic paints or some other unsafe material?
h) Accessories... are you going to consider accessories as acceptable? In other words are you only going to consider the face painting or can you give bonus points for extras like attached gems, bindis, feathers or the like?
i) What about costumes, music, dancing or other extras? If it is a face painting contest are you only considering the actual face painting or do you consider the full presentation package as they walk into the judging area. I'm telling you that as a judge I've seen it all. This would cover everything from sexual explicit dancing to swallowing fire in the judging area. What that has to do with face painting I have no clue but some judges give points for these "extras" and this needs to be defined in the rules of the contest.
j) Are their age limits? In other words could you give a weighted balance to your judging if the painter was 12 years old?
k) Can the artist enter more than one contests? Can they enter two different designs in the same contest?
l) What exactly could get you dropped from the contest?
m) Who can participate? Are there exclusion rules? If they have won before can they enter? If they are an instructor level painter can they enter? If it is a body painting contest, painting nudes, must the artist be over 18? If you are at a clown convention (for example) must they be a member of your clown group? Do they have to pay an entry fee?
n) Is there a limit to the number of contestants that can enter? Must they sign up in advance? Is there any preliminary entry rules like submit a photo of the design you will be painting?
Make sure you explicitly tell all the prizes and how they will be dealt out. In other words can one person possibly win more than one prize? How many places will there be and specifically what would each winner get as a prize? What happens if you have 5 places/prizes and only 4 participants? I'll tell you it is better to give out more prizes than less even if the prize is simply a computer generate certificate of accomplishment. Artist, more than anything else, want to receive positives and recognition. You would be surprised how motivating a Honorable Mention certificate can be to a beginner face painter or as a prize to an artist that is intimidated by the many great artists out there.
a) Is the judging done in private or publicly?
b) Create forms for the judging
c) Will you make the full results public? If so how?
d) How will you do the judging? Is there so much time per person? Will there be talking to the contestants? Or to the judges?
e) On the forms is there room for the judges to give positive comments or critiques? Will this be given to the contestant?
f) It is best to have a lead judge that can ensure equality for all participants, judges and the methods of the judging. There will always be questions that come up. The lead judge can set the parameters for those questions. It would be the responsibility of the judge to make sure everything is equal and transparent to all involved.
g) What happens if during the contest you have a problem or conflict of interest of some sort? Can the judge be asked to leave? How about a participant? I've seen a participant enter a contest with a design that was painted by one of the judges. In this case they were from outside the country and they misunderstood the parameters of the contest. This individual thought they could win the prize if the face was on their face and not the prize should go to the artist. We simply tossed their form and they were not included. We did not say a word to the participant because it was obvious they misunderstood.
In my personal viewpoint I think if it is a face or body painting event then the extras like costumes, added music or other antics should carry little or no weight. Also those that are at a convention of sorts are generally there for the learning process. If they do not win, they generally would want to know why they did not win or how they could improve in the future. One should be careful with this as you do not wish to crush anyone with overly negative comments. Critique yes but be gentle. Here is how I would suggest you handle a full face contest. Again this is just my opinion. You do what works for you.
I think it is important to give good feedback to the participant. I also think if feedback is given then the judge that is doing the judging should be willing to put their name on the judging form. There should be a judging form for each judge, each participant and each design entered. I would suggest you have a place that is pre-filled out with the judges name, the participants name and the contest in which you are judging. I would have a "tick mark" that allows the participant to receive positive comments or critiques. If the individual does not want any critiques then the judge simply do the judging with no written comments. Critiques should only be given upon request. A copy of the judging forms should be kept with the lead judge and copies go to the participants.
On the form I suggest a numbering system. If you allow up to 5 points then print out the numbers 1 through 5 on the paper and the judge would simply circle their desired number. Have someone other than the judges adding up a total so the final result can go faster. You would wish to have the participants move fairly quickly through the judging area. I suggest no more than 5 minutes per person judged.
OK, so here are the categories...
disqualification opportunity if they did not comply with the theme or any other required rule
up to 5 points for base
Is the base uniform, transparent or opaque, to the full borders of the face?
up to 5 points for lines
Is the line work smooth as intended, uniform, opaque as intended?
up to 5 points for blending
If there is blending in the base or lines is it a smooth transition as intended?
up to 5 points for use of colors
Do the colors stick to the theme if there is one? Is there proper contrast in colors if intended. Were there the right number of colors used for this particular design?
up to 5 points for symmetry
If the design is expected to be symmetrical is it?
up to 5 points for flow of design
If it is a design that is meant to flow around the eyes (as an example) does it do this smoothly and properly.
up to 5 points for complexity
Is there the perfect amount of detail? Or is it too plain or too busy?
up to 15 points for "What is It?"
If it is intended to be a Cheetah does it look like expected? Is it clearly an identifiable face? If it is a free form design then also use this criteria but you would probably judge lower if they submitted a face for example like a Dracula face.
up to 20 points for originality
These days and particularly at contests we seem to see a lot of the same old tigers, Spiderman or butterfly faces. Extra points should be given if someone really shows you something new.
bonus points
up to 4 points for first impression
If there is a great impact when they first walk into the room give extra points.
up to 3 points for clothing, or extras
If their overall presentation, taking into consider everything adds to their design give extra points.
up to 3 points if they do something really unique in terms of extras specifically in the flow of their design.
Bonus points can be given if they use extras that would cover everything from gems to prosthetics in the area of their painting.
I would allow a line under each area of judging for verbal comments. This would only be room for one line as you want to run through the judging fairly quickly. One line is plenty of room to say a positive or comment of critique. Remember... only critique IF THE PARTICIPANT has asked for constructive criticism. If they have not checked this part then only give positive comment should you have one. A judge should not feel pressure to make a positive comment if it is not there but most entrants should solicit some positive comment.
Once the contest is over all a quick recap to see how the judges did would be helpful as you seek to improve your contests.
Well I hope this helps as you prepare for your next face painting contest.
Gary Cole

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