How to train and break in a new face painter
by Gary Cole

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There are as many different ways to train a new painter as there are ways to drive from New York to Los Angeles. I tried many and I'm going to try to tell you, in the least number of words, what I feel is the best way to train and break in a new painter. I'll warn you up front this is long. I'll also tell you up front this is MY OPINION. What will work for you will depend a great deal on your particular business focus, your marketing and how well you work as an administrator.

We are going to assume you selected someone that is worthy of your time and the effort. To find that person, you will have to make an educated guess or try to buy a high quality crystal ball down at Wal-Mart. For me I first look for desire more than anything else. Most of our workers are high school and college age youth. Some are moms. It is a variety to be sure. I used to look for workers that had a lot of artistic ability but I found that a mistake. Artistic people certainly will pick up the skill and do well almost right away but with the artistic skill THEY TEND to be problematic. In other words... they want each face design to be perfect and an original work of art. You can count on your artists to be slower than a properly trained worker. In addition, artists tend to be more difficult employees. They tend to demand much more from you as the "company" and they also tend to be a little flightly on assignments. If you hire artists you better be willing to give them lots of verbal "strokes" to keep them pumped up. I recognize I'm not real good at this so in my experience a trained artist is better than a natural artist. You choose for yourself. Artists are more motivated by the experience than the pay and assignments. Personally I would rather take a non-artist and groom them into a skilled face painter. They tend to stay around much longer and make more loyal workers.

More than anything else look for desire. People see our workers and think "wow that looks like fun" and they start to make inquiries. In our work areas we always add to our signs "we are looking for more face painters, are you interested?" They all direct the potential workers to me. At one point I looked for a target of the 16 to 17 year old. I figured I could give them six months of training and get one or two years out of them before they headed out for college. I also wanted them to be 16 because at that age they are eligible to drive in the state of Texas. Also at that age they tend to have some good energy and can be pleasant when working with children. As time has gone on, I have started to target younger workers. You need to be careful in your area and make sure you understand the laws in your area. I will now start training "mature" youth even as young as 14. When I say "mature" I mean, I want them to LOOK older and I want them to be able to work well under a "lead painter". If they have even the slightest "teen attitude" (and you know what I mean) I do not take the time to train them. In our case we pay them a rate of pay that is around $20 to $30 per hour and that is substantial as compared to what they could earn elsewhere. As you know face painting is fun and rewarding if you can build the skill base both in terms of speed and quality. I would say my workers average around 20 years old but I like hiring younger workers. Do not get me wrong here. I NEVER send out youth this young alone. Up to the age of 17, I send them out with a trained lead painter. Most of our events want more than one worker so this is easy.

I know it is going to take about six  to twelve months of work before they are good enough to go out and work solo. So back to the story of selecting workers... I train a group of workers about every three to four months. I look for a group of six to twelve for the training process. At first I make them pursue me. In other words the moment they first contact me I tell them I'll be doing a class in a few weeks but they need to call me about once per month for the scheduling of the class. If they do not have the tenacity to follow through with finding the training spot most likely they will not be worth the effort of training. Sure I might call some of those that I think would make the better painter but I try to put the burden on them. I also look at people that I think have a good presentation. I really like to hire people that have natural smiles and look properly groomed. If they walk around like they just ate a dill pickle then they get crossed off of the list. You want employees that can have some light banter with the children they paint. Do not hire any that are grumpy. They will make your life miserable.

On the initial training I used to spend three hours or so in their first setting. I have now stopped doing that. I have changed this around several times. I now give them some brief training and send them home to practice on their own. Once you have your candidate, provide them with photos or print out samples of a minimum of 10 cheek art designs and 15 full face designs that eventually you would expect them to be able to paint. Certainly in this group of pictures put in what you would consider your trademark faces. Also, tell them that eventually you would expect them to be able to paint any 12 to 15 of these images in a one hour event. You don't want to discourage them, but you need to point them toward the goal. Admit to them that the first time they do it, that it very well could take them 12 to 20 minutes. Tell them that after that first time they get it quickly down to 8 minutes and then it takes practice and some painting tips to get it down to 3 to 5 minutes per face. Provide them with some quality paint and the right painting tools. Teach them the basic tips to working with face paints, sponges and brushes. As you well know, if you paint the exact same face with a fine round brush, or a fine flat brush or a large flat brush, you will get three very different faces. Give them the right brushes for the particular face you are about to train them on. You can find the basic tips for sponge and brush work at the "ten commandments of face painting" at (this has been published here before).

Take the tiger face, which is one of the known more popular faces all over the world. You can see the step by step at . This is a good face for training because it gives a great combination of sponge work, color blending, brush work as well as detail. Take your trainee and ask him/her if she is right or left handed. You need to do this because a right handed person can paint the best, when they are painting on the left side of the person being painted. It is the opposite for a left hander. You demonstrate the step by step on only the harder side of the face. Take your time and give them the steps slowly enough for them to be able to ask questions. This is not the time for you to be showing off your speed or advanced painting skills. Simply do the face methodically verbally walking through the steps as you do them. When done tell them that you can do the face exactly like it is shown in about 2 to 3 minutes (or whatever is true). Then have them paint the other half of the  face. I do not do this with each person in the class. I take one person to take the lead training spot. I try to pick someone that I think will do ok on the first face. Gently critique them as they go through applying the face so that they as well as the others can understand what you like and do not like in what they are doing. Be real gentle in your critique but be thorough. Pretend like you are teaching your very best friend how to paint. If you are too critical then they will be discouraged and not be back a second time. You should be able to do all of the above in one to two hours depending on your teaching and their learning skills. Just as a guide, I generally do this with one person in one hour. If I am working with groups (which I prefer) it drags on to two hours but then again, I would be training up to 8 or 10 potential workers.

Ok, so now they have the very basics. Ask them how they feel about what they have seen. Ask them if THEY are comfortable so far with what would be expected from them. Ask them if they want to still paint for you. If the answer is yes, then you move on to the next step. In my case I give them a small SNAZAROO six color clam pack along with a fine round brush, a fine flat brush, a large flat brush and two high density round sponges. Remember earlier I gave them a hand out of the top faces. I also give them the worker guidelines and tell them they MUST read it in full and bring it back signed. You can see the general idea of this at Now the burden is theirs.

I tell them to find some neighborhood kids or anyone that is willing to allow them to practice on them. Tell them that when they feel they can paint any five of the faces to give you a call. At that time I make sure THEY ARE COMFORTABLE IN PAINTING at least the tiger, butterfly, Spiderman and a simple flower face. If they have not painted at least six to ten children since your contact tell them to go and practice some more. I also have one of those latex training faces that I allow them to borrow for a week or so. This is a good way to do it but those faces are expensive. Generally they should find some children on their own. I ask them if they are ready to go on a trial one hour paint job with me or one of my trainers. They understand this first hour they are working for free. I MAKE SURE THEY UNDERSTAND this. Tell them the only hour is considered as part of their training. Also of course do not charge the customer for another worker. Let the customer know you will be bringing a person you will be training and they will get an additional painter at no cost. I have never had anyone complain and in general they see it as a positive. Take them to a one hour event. You paint the first two faces and then when one of "the five" faces is selected let your new person paint the face. You keep on working. Let them do as many faces as they can do during the one hour event. Lets assume they did ok. Make sure you critique their painting as well as their working habits. Again, be as gentle as you can and be encouraging. If they need more practice then tell them so. If they did not do so well then feel free to repeat this step.

The next step is to take them to the next event where you need two workers. This time you charge for them as a worker and also pay them. It will be fine even if they are not at full speed. They will be slower but you will just have to pick up your speed so your customer is still getting their value. In our case we tell our customers we paint 12 to 15 faces per hour. If you send them with a skilled worker the skilled worker will pick up the slack. When starting out they generally paint only 8 or so faces per hour. Their speed and confidence will pick up the more faces they paint. Let them do all the faces they can and you take the others. Don't be afraid to push them. Sometimes you will have to swap out children sitting in the chairs if someone asks for a face that is too difficult for the new worker. That is ok. I used to spend much more time in training and I found them always saying "I wish you would have turned me loose earlier". Well nothing like throwing them in the fire to see what they are capable of doing. You will also find that when their back is up against the wall they can generally rise to the occasion. True speed comes from practice and repeatedly working to improve your time. On top of that, as they build confidence in their speed, they will also increase their range in the faces. Put them under the pressure of 30 kids standing in line and four or five more painting events and you will have an excellent worker. Do not be afraid to critique their work and push them continually on their speed until they can actually paint the 12 to 15 faces per hour.

Continue to go out and work events with them side-by-side for the first 90 days. You do not have to be the total trainer. You can designate your top painters to also be trainers. After this length of time they SHOULD BE at the 12 to 15 faces per hour pace. They also should be able to paint 10 top cheek art designs and the 20 top full face designs. As I said before, don't be afraid to critique any concerns you have in speed, quality and range of designs. Most employees need a bit of a push to take them from mediocre to above average. Also make sure they are taking care of the paints and other supplies.

We send out painters out with a photo book that has about 100 different photos for them to choose from. At first, I allow them to use post-it-notes to cover up some of the harder designs. That is ok with me. You will see as time progresses they will start to slowly remove more and more of the post-it-notes. Now you have all of this accomplished you can work on their business skills.

During the first six months we continue to spot check to make sure they are meeting your minimum standards. The saying I always use is "inspect what you expect". They will not meet your minimum expectations unless you have clearly defined these to them. You need to be very consistent with these expectations. The more your groom them the better workers they will become. I continue to make follow up calls on occasion to ask the customer if they were pleased with the work of the worker. They will be very candid usually. Sometimes I will also schedule them to be working with me there and they will not know it until that moment. I find that some, even after a year of work need some spot training or upgrading.

We believe the workers need the proper tools to be successful. For example if they are working with good paints but crummy brushes you know it will affect their results. For this reason we provide a pretty basic assortment of colors, brushes, glitter gels etc. to make them successful. Also give it to them in a format that they can keep it organized and look professional when they go to the events. Feel free to ask for a deposit on the kits if you feel this is necessary. Make sure they understand this is YOUR KIT. I put this very clearly in the contract they sign. If it is not working out, then take back the kit and return their deposit. Let them know if supplies are missing or damaged you will deduct this from the deposit. Be fair but firm.

Once they master face painting, I train them how to do ballooning, you know when you twist balloons to make animals, swords and such. Once they can do this I increase their wage $5 per hour. The training is a little different for ballooning but that is for another discussion list.

Over the many years the training process has been an evolutionary process. I'm sure it will continue to change. As time goes on we get better at hand selecting the better workers. We certainly use the carrot and the stick to perfect their skills. In the beginning if they are making some good progress then they get not only more work assignments but we also let them pick the better events. In other those that are closer to home, have more hours or are more fun for them. We also allow them to work with their friends if they can work well together. The faster they learn the sooner we are to train them other skills. Likewise, if they need work and are not advancing to our gentle critiques we start to back them off in their assignments. If they do not have the desire, then we start to back off to a point that we take back our kits. Again, the more desire they have the more effort we put in their training.

If trained properly you can get many years of excellent work out of your workers.

Try these steps, see if they will work for you.

Gary Cole


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