The Guinness speed face painting record and how it applies to the "real world".

by Gary Cole


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The Guinness speed record was broken once again on September 1, 2007 and for the first time in the history of recording it was won by someone outside the United Kingdom and someone that was not female. No one was more surprised by the record than I was. Ken and Lorna Strachan were the primary organizers in setting up the competition that was to be held at the Livingston Mall in Avondale, Scotland. A fun time was had by all. The previous record was set by Rosey Jones for speed painting. She set that record earlier at 113 faces. The Guinness guidelines state that each face must have a full base, have a minimum of three colors and each be different. My earlier record attempt left me at third place behind Liz Bylett  and Anne Ardern when I painted 76 faces. My goal for this attempt was to double my earlier record. Even that, I thought would be a stretch. I fully expected Anne and Rosey to beat me.


On the day of the event there was concern (rightfully so) that there were not going to be enough children to paint. Anne and Kath who had planned on being part of the competition backed out to keep the event from imploding. That put the reigning champion Rosey up against me the American. It was all good fun and there was plenty of  friendly "trash talking" before the event between foes just to drive up the adrenaline and all the adrenaline was needed as the competition took off with gusto. My previous record I did a full face about every 47 seconds and my goal was to cut that down to 24 seconds. As it started, my back was right up against the barrier and someone was there whom I never identified. One was video taping the painting and another was timing me. The first several faces I did in 22 seconds. The lady was shouting out the time per face for some reason. I was very nervous for the first twenty or so faces and then I hit my stride. I started getting them down to 18 seconds, and in the end I averaged a blazing 16.6 seconds per face. That means that many were well under the 16 second mark. When the final count down ended Rosey had blasted past her 113 record and did an amazing 195 faces but it was not good enough, as I came in at a new record of 217 faces.


The final results were adjudicated by Jane Boatfield from Guinness. The event, as you can imagine, was pure mayhem but it was a lot of fun and the proceeds went for a good cause and that was the Marie Curie Cancer Care Center. It took a team of about fifty very active workers not counting those that were getting painted. My primary support team was Linda Matthews who did everything from load my sponges to help manage children. Val Lampkin was slapping on numbered stickers on the children and kept them moving forward and Anne Ardern was the coach, drill sergeant and cheerleader for all. There simply were not enough children and it was nothing short of a miracle that neither painter ran out of children. The children would step up, have a numbered sticker slapped on them, toss their head back, hold back their hair and were virtually assaulted by wet sponge and brush. They then were shoved out of line as "done" and then were inspected, photographed and then has a very quick washing and towel dry only to literally run back to keep the queue moving. Those being painted, both adult and child should have won an award. No one expected either Rosey or I to go so far beyond the previous record of 113. I came close to almost tripling my last personal record and doubling the world record. We had both beaten the previous record at about thirty five minutes and the crowds let out a cheer. Again, it was pure mayhem and the whole crowd was cheering us on the whole way. It was very much a full team effort. No doubt the glory seems to go with the painter but truth be known, the record was to be given to the entire support team.


For face painter's, the very obvious question is how can one paint a face every 16.5 seconds and what in the heck did it look like? Well one needs to clearly understand that the faces painted were not stellar faces. The objective is to meet the guidelines of Guinness and yet churn out the faces as quickly as possible. It gets back to the very basics and simply meeting what needs to happen in order to not get your face rejected. The more you compete in such competitions the more time saving tricks you learn and you also learn the key feature of minimizing your designs. In my case I took a 75ml white (about the size of a hockey puck) and literally smashed it flat onto a large plastic plate to make my paint surface the quickest. I used a face painting sponge that was about three inches in diameter and three inches tall. That is considered huge by most standards. I used the white base on all faces. With one load of the sponge I could paint five to seven faces. I raised my paint kit to make the least distance between my paints and the child's face. I chopped my face painting brushes in half so I could easily hold them in between my fingers. On the faces I did minimal designs. I'll give you several examples. Most of my faces were clown faces. These had a full white base, a quick red swipe over the lower lip, a red dot on the nose and for the third color I did two blue arches over the eyes. For a mime, I did a white base, red lower lip and a blue tear drop by the eye. For a Dracula a white base, two black fangs and one red drop of blood. No doubt some of the faces were a stretch. For example, I painted a white base and a white cross to make the England flag and in order to comply with the third color rule I made a quick blue dot on the edge. On the last face, the one that showed up in the newspaper, I started that face when there were six seconds left and a thousand people were counting down. I slapped on the white and with one second left I took a brush in two hands and simply did a very fast criss-cross over the top of the face. I really did not expect it to pass. When Rosey or the others laughed and said "what the heck is that"? I laughed and said haven't you seen the flag of Mumbai before?

 Well it was all good fun and it was an honor to be invited and to be able to compete in such an event. In the end what is it worth? Not a whole lot as I'm sure all that have ever competed in such a challenge THOSE FACES are not those that you will be putting on your business card or be painting at the next paid job you work. For me, it was a lot of fun, time to spend with my friends in the UK and my nine year old son (at the time) thought it was pretty cool his dad won a Guinness record. Well one has to admit... the Guinness certificate was pretty cool.

 The question that should be asked is "how can one benefit by participating in a speed painting event when those faces will not generally get you new bookings or get you top awards at a convention. Well the way I figure it, any face painter can benefit by increasing their speed. Most competitions are based on a given time period. Most events you either need to paint all kids at the birthday party or move along in the long queue waiting in line. No doubt, most professional painters will paint a typical full face design in three to eight minutes and not in 16.5 seconds. When one competes in such an event you really learn how to most efficiently paint. Through such contests I have learned that when I am being paid by the face I can paint a pretty decent $8 face in two minutes when in the early stages that same face took seven. When a painter practices speed painting, they get faster every time they paint it. I learned a fun zebra face from Brenda Walden many years ago. It was a challenging face to do correctly. Well I teach face painting classes all over North America and they saw that face in my book and asked how long it took. Most of the faces in my book can easily be painted in three to five minutes but I admitted that the zebra normally took me about seven minutes. Those in the crowd challenged me and said no way could that face be painted in seven minutes. Well I'm always up to a challenge, so the clock was started and I was surprised when I finished it in about 3.5 minutes. That shows you that if you work on speed and the crunch is on, you can paint much faster than you think you can. This comes from practice, learned skills, adrenaline and a healthy challenge.

 So I know my blazing speed of 16.5 seconds is temporary fame in the face painting world as I'm sure Rosey, Anne, Liz or others will be back to reclaim the crown for women in the United Kingdom but for now I get to sit back chuckle and claim the crown to a male and an American. Since my breaking of the record I get calls every year of someone out to break the record and so far no one has come close. Can the record be broken, no question about it, yes but I know only a handful of people in the world are capable of it and I hope I get the chance to defend my crown. Lets hope the future competitors are not afraid because I know I can paint even more now. It was loads of fun and if you ever get a chance to compete in a speed contest, do it. Make sure it is well organized as it needs to be set up properly but that is for another article. See you at the next competition. My best piece of advice is make sure you clearly understand the rules and all the other competitors also know the rules. To do it right get an official Guinness organizer there to make it official. My regret is I did not get a video tape of the whole thing as that is what I get asked about more than anything else.

Gary Cole.... "Champion of the World" at least for the time being

 Ruby Red Paints, Inc.



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