Improving your speed in face painting - FAQ


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As I sat down to write this FAQ on improving your speed in face painting I realized it was a more difficult task than what I thought it would be. I received a lot of suggestions from people on the list but those suggestions only made my task seem more difficult. The problem is there are so many factors involved in improving your speed it becomes difficult for you to decide which might work for your particular situation. There are many things that can improve your speed but many of them will affect your quality and/or creativity. It can be a two edged sword. 
Note: at the end I give a list of those who gave creative suggestions for this list. 
As an analogy, sorry but this is going to be a stretch, I am going to talk about race cars (which I know very little about). If you want your car to go fast, there are all kinds of things you can do to make them faster. It is up to you on how extreme you wish to get in order to make your car faster. One of the obvious is to make it lighter. You can start dumping parts from bumpers to fenders to lighten the weight but in doing this you will affect everything from its esthetics to safety. You would want to be careful on how extreme you want to get to get that car going faster.
With this said, I'm going to give a whole list of tips you can do to increase your speed when face painting. You will need to evaluate your particular situation and see which of these factors will apply to your needs and your situation. Like my example of the car, those things you sacrifice for speed could affect everything from your creativity to your interpersonal skills with the person you are painting. So be conscious of those tasks you do to improve your speed as they could affect future events.
When the fab four from the UK and I broke the Guinness world face painting record in 2004 on face painting we definitely focused on churning out very fast three color, full face designs that would meet the expectations of the Guinness judges. However, I would not want my future clients to view those faces that I painted as my standard. What you really want is to work on your speed in a manner that will improve your speed but not affect your future. As I teach my future workers, I tell them to work on quality first and the faster speeds will follow with repetition. It is one thing to meet the technical objectives of the Guinness judges and another to get yourself booked for future events because of your speed.
I suppose it also depends on your definition of the word "speed". The general public thinks painting a full face in three to five minutes is pretty fast. Before the Guinness event my personal record for full face designs was forty-six faces. My peers at our face painting company felt that was smoking. In that event, my goal was to do one face every sixty seconds or sixty faces in the hour. I even surprised myself when I did seventy-six faces which made me the fastest male painter in the world. Now when I teach lectures, I talk about this record and those in the crowd are quite impressed. It is always good for some ohhhs and ahhhhs. They think this is setting the world on fire and then I drop the bomb. I then tell them that I was rather slow because Liz did eighty-nine and Anne did one hundred and sixteen. No one is going to question that those speeds are phenomenal particularly when you consider they are full faces, each has three colors and each design is different. Add to that each face must pass the "what is it test". I think it would be safe to say that Liz and Anne would not want those faces be the faces they would want to go on their company brochure or on the front of their business card. When you think of speed, you need to keep it all in perspective. In my opinion (for what it is worth) a professional face painter should be able to produce twelve to fifteen NICE full face designs in a one hour period. It would be great if you can do twenty to twenty-five but know quality will be sacrificed. Again, in my opinion, if you want to increase your face painting business, you better focus on quality first, speed second and creativity third. If you are making speed as your first consideration you are going to burn yourself out and it will hurt your future bookings. I have found that PART of the love for this way to earn money, is the joy you see in using this as a creative outlet and the fact that you are putting a big smile on those children's faces. A quality painter will win out almost every time against one that can product twenty-five percent more faces per hour. People do not pay our hourly fees because we paint twenty faces per hour. They hire us because we paint twelve to fifteen CONSISTENT, QUALITY faces in the hour.
I wrote these suggestions based on my personal experience. Everyone will have their own opinion. You take from all that you see and experience and then do what is best to meet your own specific needs.
1. Work out of a photo board or book. You do not want your painting time to be taken up with the child sitting in the chair deciding what they want painted. I know this can dampen your creativity but the child will have pre-selected a design and you can start painting the child almost the moment they sit down. Fast times in face painting comes down to eliminating seconds from the different tasks in the process. Simply knowing what they want painted, will save you from twenty seconds to minutes. I'll add, if they sit down and still have not decided, ask them to get up and start on the next child in line while they decide.
2. Put faces in your book or board that you know you can paint in three to five minutes. This does not mean that you can not accept some more detailed faces, but it would be your choice to paint them based on the time you have allocated for the event or even that child. A good example of this is the painting of "the Hulk". I do not have that face in my book but I do it fairly often upon request. In my opinion, in order to do this face correctly you need to spend some real time in painting the detail on his teeth or mouth area. I like this face and I get compliments on it but it generally takes me longer to paint. I certainly would not want the first child to select that face only to have all the other boys at the party want that same face. If you are wanting to show your skills, then show off on the birthday child. That way you can churn through the faces quickly and still have at least one billboard face.
3. In your book/board I would also suggest that you do not get too carried away on the number of designs. I suggest you feature your top thirty designs. In my personal book I have close to 150 designs but I'm doing that more for me than for the child. I get tired of painting the same faces over and over and all of the faces in my book, I personally, can paint in an average of three minutes. If you have trained workers, allow them to focus on the top thirty faces. You will find with practice you can paint even the complicated faces in a faster time. I love the zebra face in my book that was done by Brenda. At first that face took me eight to nine minutes. Now, since I've done it so many times, I can do it successfully in three or three and a half minutes. You will do this also as you focus on your speed. 
4. Consider your logistics in your painting. You will have to decide what works best for you. Some like to paint sitting down, some standing up, some a combination of the two. Think of the number of seconds it takes you to physically get the child positioned for painting and how fast you can get the brush the first time to the child's face. Your goal should be under thirty seconds from the time you finish one child to when you position the next child AND determine what you are going to paint. If you take longer than thirty seconds you need to improve.
5. Make sure your painting supplies are all very close to the person being painted and very convenient to you. If you are right handed or left handed make sure the situation is perfect for minimal wasted time. You do not want to have to turn around ninety degrees in order to load your brush or sponge.
6. Do not get carried away with your supplies. Even though I'm perfectly fine in sell you all sixty plus SNAZAROO colors you need to ask yourself "do I really need all of these colors at this particular event?". My suggestion is you make your "speed palette" to consist of eighteen or fewer colors. I have found I need a minimum of twelve colors but having a few more allows me to spend almost no time in mixing colors and I can paint all of the many faces in my photo book.
7. Consider the accessories you have. My suggestion is for you to keep your supplies in an area that is about one foot deep and one and a half foot wide. If you can do this you will spend less time in reaching for supplies. Personally I like working out of the SNAZAROO eighteen color wheel simply because it gives you the broad range of colors in a very small organized area. You do what works for you.
8. In terms of your face paints, you might wish to choose one format if possible. In other words, when you consider your face paints do you really need a bright red in the cake form, the creme form and also a liquid form? That is up to you but this is a factor that adds seconds to your painting.
9. In terms of those accessories pick and choose what you need. I think the glitter gels, the gems are a must even for the quick in and out one hour birthday party. When you are painting that one hour face for the magazine photo shoot there is a need for all of the hundreds of painting accessories? Dragging all of those to every even is only going to dampen your speed. It also takes time to unpack and pack them up for each event.
10. I suggest you keep your glitter gels or other accessories to your top three to five colors on speed events.
11. Your water source is a critical factor in terms of your speed. Keep your container as close to you as possible. You SHOULD be able to work out of a water container about the size of a cup. Refer to my FAQ on coffee water at . You SHOULD BE ABLE to paint a ten hour event working out of the same cup of water. Without the mom thinking you are working out of your coffee. If you follow my suggestions on that related FAQ then you will save loads of time in swapping out your water, pounding your brushes clean in the water and in other time wasters. I can paint all day long out of the same cup of water and still drink the water at the end because it is crystal clean. "Coffee water" as I call it is a big time waster.
12. In the faces in your book consider keeping the bases to the same three to five colors. This way you can work with the same five preloaded sponges. Loading up those sponges takes up time. When I did the Guinness event seventy-three of the seventy-six faces started with a white base.
13. Buy yourself a good brush holder of some sort and buy more brushes. In the "no coffee water approach" to painting I use a particular brush for a range of colors. For example I use the same large flat brush for my pink, red, lilac and purple. I use another for the blues, green, turquoise. I'll have a dedicated white and black in both the large flat and small round. For those that go to the water cup to clear out the paint as you switch colors be very conscious of how many seconds this takes. I know it is not a speed issue, but you are also wasting forty percent of your paint and abusing your brushes. You also need to consider the time you take to load up your brush with the next color. All of these are factors that eat your time.
14. When at all possible paint light colors to dark. It is much easier to paint a dark color over the top of a lighter one. Not only is it easier but it is faster.
15. Use your hand and your voice to guide the child. I put my hand on the head and "steer" their head to make the painting easier. If you are having to position yourself it will really slow you down. These days most children have had their faces painted before. They do a good job in responding to your touch and verbal instructions. Use this to your speed and comfort advantage.
16. If you are painting a design like a full face butterfly (for a girl) or a Batman logo (for a boy) (as examples) consider not painting a base on the face. I think these designs look better without the bases. Use your base time to add more detail or for the next child in line.
17. If part of your design has a lot of detail on one side or the other try to paint it on your "strength side". If you are right handed it will be easier and faster for you to paint the detail on the individuals left side (their left side will be to your right). Even if it is a cheek art design they might point to their right side (your left). Suggest they paint it on the opposite side and ninety-nine times out of a hundred they do not care and it only makes it better as well as faster.
18. For those that do mostly cheek art designs you might consider making the move to full face. In time trials I have found out most people can paint the full face designs faster than the detailed cheek art design. The detail required in most cheek art designs really chew up the time.
19. If you have a group of people all wanting the same or similar face try doing them in assembly line fashion. Even if you were painting four teen age children like the four members of KISS, consider painting the white base on all four at the start and then go to the black detail.
20. Consider the right "tool" for a particular design. In terms of speed a particular shaped sponge or a specific brush will save you time. You can certainly paint a leaf with a fine round brush but you might be able to do it faster with a filbert brush. Do not use a sponge when you should use a brush and visa versa. 
21. Use the same brush or sponge for several purposes. I like to use the large flat brushes a LOT. The reason for this is you can use it one way and you get a three-quarter of an inch line or twist it and you get a one-sixteenth of an inch line. Twist it any where in-between and you get to adjust the width of the line all with the same tool. This way you do not waste time in putting down one brush and picking up another.
22. Consider double loading your brushes. If you take a medium filbert brush and load it up with one color and then color the tip in a different color you can make great two color flower peddles. To do this with two different brushes would take more time.
23. If you do a lot of rainbow designs make your own custom rainbow cake of paint. This way you rub your sponge over the rainbow cake and then on the face and you spread your perfect rainbow in one swoop rather than five or six brush strokes.
25. Have a mirror that is easy to handle and keep it near your side. One of the most important things is to allow the child to see their face. I think this is needed even if it takes up some critical seconds in your painting. One thing you do not want is to have to reach, search or track down your mirror when the child has walked off with it. Some have suggested you have a mirror near your work area so you can tell the child to go and look at their faces "over there". This way they are using their time and not yours in order to view their face. I suggest you use your time because it is the most rewarding part of face painting to see the smile on the child and have that last little verbal interaction before they leave your painting station.
26. If you are doing a pay-by-the-face event be mindful of the time it takes to collect the money. If you have many painters you might consider hiring an individual to collect the money prior to sitting down as this will save you time. If you are collecting your own money make sure you have this organized and you have the correct change. Consider all the little steps that can save you seconds. When we do pay-by-the-face events each person has their own fanny packs (as called in the USA) to keep their cash in. In our case, we charge generally five dollars per face. Keep the bills in an organized method with small bills in the front and larger bills in the back. Also when you give out change get rid of those one dollar bills. It is ideal to keep your change to the five and ten dollar bills. At the end of the day do your counting and settling up with your booth manager.
27. You do not want to miss out on your marketing opportunities even if it takes some time. With that said, there are ways you can even save time here. You do not want to waste a lot of time searching for a business card when someone asks you for one. We keep our photos in a three ring binder. In that binder we have our business cards in a pencil pouch with an invitation for them to take a card for future events. Also our business cards are the tent-fold kind and we put a stack of them out on the table. When they see a stack of twenty or thirty cards it will be obvious that there is an open invitation for them to take one.
28. You will have many people that ask you questions. Some of those will suck up your time. You can elevate this often but doing some simple things like posting your prices. Sometimes it is good to even have a little sign visible that says "we only use FDA cosmetic-compliant water-based face paints intended for use on children". Or "our safe face paints can be removed easily with mild soap and water". You definitely want people to know "yes we are available for hire for private and corporate events".
29.If you are doing an event that last for hours then make sure you have everything you need nice and close to you. Feel free to take a nibble or drink break as you are painting. Taking a bite of a granola bar is much faster than leaving your post for twenty minutes on a break.
30. Have the child very close to you. Not only will this save you a lot of time but it will help save your lower back.
Well that is a lot to consider but if you follow these hints, it can speed up your painting and you can squeeze in another five to twenty faces per hour. As I said at the beginning... be careful on how you use these tips. You want to improve your speed but your long term future in this business will come from quality over that speed. Also if you take the time to allow a little creativity and see that big smile from the child it will bring you more long term reward than painting fifty faces in an hour. If you churn out fifty faces an hour which is a real possibility you will find it becomes more like WORK and less than a fun, rewarding job.
Happy painting and let me know how these tips have helped you. Feel free to suggest other speed tips if you have them.
Contributions to this list of speed tips came from Cindy, Arla Albers, Leah Reddell If I left your name off please e-mail me and I'll add it.
Gary Cole

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