How do I paint a fine line?
by Gary Cole


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One of the most common questions to the face painter's discussion list is "on the photo pages I see such great art work, how do they paint such a fine black line?" With that question in mind we are going to tell you the tricks. The answer can be divided into tools, product & technique. We hope with these tips and some practice you will become a master of the fine line.


Probably the most important key to a nice black line (or the color of your choice) is to have a quality face painting brush. We suggest a stiff bristle, synthetic bristle. SNAZAROO carries a full line of professional quality face painting brushes (see but you should also be able to find these brushes at any fine arts supply store. Check out the prices for your best value. A sable brush will work because they offer a stiff bristle but you will find that they are two or three times as expensive, they are harder to clean and they are not as durable. We suggest the SNAZAROO brushes because they are designed for use with face painting products. They are the perfect stiffness and since they are synthetic they wash easily. You don't even need soap to clean instead use lots of hot water and allow them to air dry. Other than sable, stay away from the natural hair brushes that you'll find at most art stores (pony, goat, squirrel) as they are all way too soft for face painting and boar bristle is too stiff.

When cleaning your brush make sure you don't "pound" your brush at the bottom of your cup or water container. Often people do this to clean them. This damages the brush, shortens the life span and will result in "wild hair"

The primary reason for "wild hairs" or hair bristles that don't seem to stay in line with the others is lack of care of the brush. These "wild hairs" will prevent you from a uniform line, not to mention drive you crazy. I mentioned above that you can cause this problem with the "pounding" of your brush. Instead, when washing your brush sort of roll it around on the bottom of the water container or even better, under running water, roll it around on the palm of your hand. Do this and you will dramatically extend the life of your brushes.

Storage is very important. Never store your brushes bristle down. This can result in a permanent bend on the bristle as well as wild hairs. This can happen even when you let them set, bristle down, in your water container. When painting, I suggest you either buy or make a brush holder. Below you will see a photo of the one I bought at an art supply store. You can even make a home made one by making holes in a piece of wood or other object. I like this one because it is easy to keep clean (throw it in the dish washer) and it has plenty of slots for the 20 or 30 brushes I paint with. It helps me avoid "coffee water" (see Storing your brushes, bristle up, while painting will protect your brushes as well as avoid a big mess in your work area.

brushholder.jpg (60200 bytes)

When you are through painting and you have washed up your brushes. Store then (wet or dry) where the bristles are facing UP or at least horizontally. There should be no pressure at all on the bristles.


Using a good face painting product is key to a good fine line. Of course, only use a FDA approved face paint, that has a child toy safety rating, a paint designed for use on the face. When using the SNAZAROO face paint use as much water as you want to make the paint flow well. Don't be afraid to add extra water. I like to load up my brush so I can paint a good 5 inch or so line. For fine lines my personal favorite is the SNAZAROO, "fine round" brush. It is the one with the black handle. If your brush feels like it is dragging then you need more water.


I have found that the best lines are made when I slightly roll the brush in my fingers as I apply the paint. Not only does that provide a fine line but it also allow me to make a continual line longer because you are working with all of the paint that you load on the bristle. Different brushes will provide different results. Some brushes give a feathering effect, others a very fine line and others bold. I've snagged some photos from the photo pages from our expert artists to show you how these artists have used the brushes and paint different effects.

marion000329.jpg (9810 bytes) cheekpumpkin2.jpg (13490 bytes) cheek000307.jpg (5290 bytes) butterfly000510.jpg (9890 bytes) catsimple.jpg (2888 bytes)
Marion Griffith Marion Griffith Michelle Burke Sherry Mercer Stephanie Morgan
Pearland, TX Pearland, TX Pittsburgh, PA Riverview, NB, Canada Oklahoma City, OK
Here you see Marion has uses simply light strokes of the brush to make the fur. You will see strokes of the brush placed right over the top of other strokes. It looks like she might have even painted different colors of strokes over each other. It provides great detail and a more theatrical professional finish. Here you see the same artist dramatically changing the effect in producing a Halloween Pumpkin. It looks like she laid down the orange first, then the green and then she came back with a fine line black brush stroke. The black really makes the pumpkin stand out. Then to make an even more brilliant look, she added the fine line white strokes. Michelle has painted a perfect penguin logo or cheek art design in this photo. I'm not sure this logo could be done better if it was a manufactured plastic laid tattoo. I see no blending at all between the white, yellow and black. The lines are very crisp. We always suggest, when possible, that you apply your colors from light to dark. This way you get your best results. Sherry has created an effect here that I love. Despite the fact that I know how this is done, I personally struggle in making these bold black lines. I think they are simply drawn but provide a great dramatic effect. Don't be afraid to go bold with the black. As you can see here she has made this butterfly just jump out at you. Go BOLD! It looks great this way. Sometimes going simple is the best way. Stephanie has made, I'm sure, very quick brush strokes to form this simple cat face. Once you lay down the brush tip to paint, do not let it up, until you have formed your full line. It looks like she painted a quick white muzzle and came back with perhaps nine black strokes. She then quickly touched the nose and moved on to the eyes.

Well, now you have what you need to produce your own fine or bold, perfect lines. Buy a good quality brush, take care of it and practice, practice, practice.

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