How I Side-Hustle as a Face-Painter

PREFACE: I wrote this blog post on how to side-hustle as a face-painter more than two years ago, and it’s lingered in my drafts folder (the Development Hell of blogs?) ever since. I’ve actually moved on from face-painting in the professional sense, but not because it’s not a lucrative side-hustle. For me, it was just time to move on.

It’s also worth noting that I wrote this in the Before Times (i.e., before #Pandemic2020) and that social gatherings like children’s birthday parties and picnics–AKA, a face-painter’s bread and butter–weren’t unilaterally cancelled. 

BUT, I see the search term ‘how to side hustle as a face-painter’ pop up in my Google Search console occasionally, so I know there’s at least a smattering of interest in it. And, with the renewed hope that the outside world will reopen at some point, I might as well publish this. Here we go: 


Hello, hustlers!

Since I mention face-painting in every single income report I’ve published and recommend it as the perfect side-hustle for creative introverted-extroverts, I figured it was time to devote a whole blog post to it. So, really, how do you side-hustle as a face-painter?

  1. Immediate disclaimer: I am not the ultimate authority on how one makes a full-time, livable income from face-painting. This is how I side-hustle as a face-painter. That said, there’s no reason why it’s not scalable.
  2. Second disclaimer: this is more about the business, technical, and logistical aspects of side-hustling as a face-painter and less so about how to be a face-painter. 
  3. Third disclaimer: lots of affiliate links because I have a lot of recommendations on supplies.

Diving right in, here’s how I run my face-painting ship:

How much money do I make as a face-painter?

From the start of publishing my income reports to writing this post, I’m averaging between $2,000 – $3,000 per year. Is it an impressive number? I don’t know. It feels good to earn that money from something that is easy, fun, and not that much of a time investment, though.

To give some context to that number, I think it’s more important to answer: what do I charge per face-painting gig? Answer: $75 per hour. It’s a moving target, and I don’t always reach that goal – but I never dip below $50 per hour.

pay me jenny slate GIF
Mona-Lisa Saperstein is me and I am her.

Related: stop selling your side-hustle short!

Wait, really? Why should a face-painter charge that much?

Yes, a face-painter is expensive. For good reason: 

For one, it’s a specialty skill, and the per-hourly reflects that. Think about what you pay plumbers, electricians, contractors, etc. If everyone could and did do it, and do it well, then $75 / hour is a reach. 

Secondly, your per-hourly accounts for paying yourself for more than just the time and effort of physically painting a face that’s in front of you. All told, you’ve got:

  • The time spent on:
    • Finding / pitching to / communicating with clients
    • Preparing for the event (washing brushes, packing your kit, loading your car, etc.)
    • Driving to wherever the event is and then back home
    • The extra time for setting up & breaking down
  • The money spent on:
    • Supplies
    • Marketing materials (that cool website of yours ain’t gonna pay to host itself, you know)
    • Taxes
    • Liability insurance (you should 100% have this if you’re a face-painter!!)
    • Gas for your car
    • Taco Bell. Oh, wait. Just me? I’m usually physically and mentally exhausted after a gig, and the only thing that will replenish my HP bar is Taco Bell…

And thirdlyit’s not just about you! Unless you have the monopoly on face-painting services, you need to peacefully coexist with other face-painters and family entertainers. If you are the one under-charging, you’re making it difficult for others by skewing the numbers and providing clients with unrealistic expectations.

image

And, that’s not exclusive to face-painting. I daresay, it’s true of all types of freelancing – replace the word ‘face-painting’ with something like ‘writer’ or ‘digital marketer’, and you’ll see what I mean.

Don’t be the one mucking it up for the rest of the hard-working hustlers, mmkay?

When would you consider a lower-paying gig?

Only after I’ve moaned and groaned for a while, of course. Deciding on accepting a gig that’s less than $75 / hour depends on a few factors:

  • How far would I have to travel? I hate driving, baseline. I could write an entire blog post or five about how much I ultra-loathe it. The farther I have to travel and more gas to expend, the less inclined I am to accept a lower-paying gig.
  • Can I put out a tip jar? If it’s going to be a well-attended event, a tip jar will usually make up the difference in the per-hourly rate (especially if you can move through a line quickly).
  • What kind of event is it? Festivals are MUCH higher stress than a small birthday party and the less they are willing to pay, the less worthwhile. Frankly, bigger events should have bigger budgets.
  • Am I willing to do some charity work? I am, but my time is valuable to me, and as such, I have a hard limit of one pro-bono event per year. You’d be amazed at how frequently people will ask for free or extremely discounted face-painting. I especially love the overtired, “Do it for the exposure!”

Note: I accepted lower-paying gigs more frequently when I was ‘starting out’ and trying to build my online presence on Thumbtack and social media. Sometimes, it’s necessary.

How do I learn to be a face-painter? Where do I find face-painting gigs?

I combined these two questions because the answer is the same: from others in the business.

  • NETWORK!!! I’m sorry, introverts, but networking is the single-most important aspect to establishing yourself, marketing, and finding gigs. It’s not about what you know, but who you know. You can either resist it or lean into it. I know I’ve expounded on the importance of networking before in a professional sense, but it’s just as true in face-painting, too. 
    • The best thing I’ve done to advance myself as a face-painter has been to join a private, state-wide family entertainer’s group on Facebook. There’s about 200 or so members, and it’s been infinitely helpful in getting to know my ‘coworkers’, landing gigs, and sharing resources. Try searching for ‘[your state / area] + family entertainers’ and see what pops up. If it’s a private group, request to join and send a note to the admin! You never know. 
    • If there’s no immediate groups to join, you can always at least ‘like’ other face-painter’s personal pages, exchange contact info, and make personal connections on an individual basis.
    • Also, if there’s no groups, there is nothing stopping you from creating your own and inviting local family entertainers to join! Take some initiative in these sorts of situations. 

These are the sorts of posts I see daily in my group!

 

  • Workshops, webinars, courses, and classes: the legit ones, anyway, can be helpful. My general mindset is to beg, borrow, and steal as much as you can: not only have I learned so much from other face-painters I’ve met and worked with in person, but also from Pinterest, Youtube series, forums, and face-painting blogs (there’s a niche for everything, people). I personally like:
  • Agencies: there are face-painting and family entertainment agencies out there – they do the bulk of finding and securing gigs for you, and most of them come with hands-on training (they want you to fall in line with their ‘brand’ of face-painting, usually). A word of caution, though, they tend to take a pretty large cut of the pay for gigs: i.e., they’re definitely charging $75+ / hour, but the face-painter only sees at portion of that, at the end of the day.
  • Thumbtack.com: I’ve blogged a fair amount about my experience with thumbtack.com. Rather than rehashing, take a peek at some of my previous articles:

I have my gripes about Thumbtack.com – in the past year, they pulled some massively shady shit that has left a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe I’ll blog about it one day. They seem to be reformed, somewhat, but I’m more or less of the, “it’s the last resort” mindset. 

  • Lastly: sure, it helps to already be artistically inclined, but what’s more important is that you practice, practicepractice!!! It sounds trite, but it’s so oft-repeated because it’s so true. Thirteen years, and I still don’t feel anywhere near confident enough to say that I’ve practiced enough.

What supplies do I need?

Fair warning, good face-painting supplies aren’t cheap – and, yes, you do need good face-painting supplies if you want good results. I order most of my supplies online through facepaint.comthough they’re certainly not the only vendor (Amazon tends to be more expensive with the paints themselves).

My well-stocked face-painting kit includes:

  • Paints: well, duh. Wolfe, Diamond FX, and Tag are my favorite brands; they are highly pigmented and easy to work with
    • I have larger (30g or more) cakes of white, black, and the colors I use the most often (gotta have that neon orange for tiger faces), and smaller cakes (10g or less) for colors I don’t use as frequently.
    • Split cakes – not necessary, but these are the types paints that add flair. That is, it looks flashy without any extra work. They’re expensive but worth it. If you’re feeling thrifty, you can definitely make your own.
    • I think these types of rainbow palettes are perfect for those just starting out. They are small cakes (10g), so you’ll run out of black and white pretty quickly, FYI.
  • Brushes: bury me with my brushes.
  • Brush holder: I’m very lucky to have a father who enjoys wood-working, so my brush-holder is rather ‘custom’. But, there are hundreds of brush-holders out there on the cheap.  
  • GLITTER: damn. This should really be at the top of the list. I’ve recently discovered the joys of a squeezy-bottle that puffs glitter precisely where you need it to go. Before, I was working with these individual jars (another item that my father crafted a custom holder for).
    • Remember, safety first: any glitter you’re working with needs to be cosmetic grade and non-toxic! 
  • Water spritzers: most face paints are water activated. Tip: go with smaller spritzers rather than bigger spray bottles. More controlled, less of a mess.
  • Sponges: needed for stencils or doing large swathes – I don’t use makeup sponges, because they get really gross really quickly.
    • Circle sponges with a handle – I literally just use this one specific sponge for a Captain American logo.
    • Craft sponges work well for color-blocking. I cut these in half along the diameter, resulting in two semi-circles and effectively giving me six sponges for the price of three.
    • I think these color-coordinated sponges are so damn clever, and I wish I’d been using them from the beginning. They seriously help keep me organized if I’ve got a chaotic line and can’t keep washing sponges or trying to remember which sponge had which color in it last:
  • A mesh bag for those sponges: I used to keep them in sandwich baggies, but that also gets gross really quickly – the plastic doesn’t allow for air-flow or let the sponges dry, and you generally don’t want to keep sponges perpetually damp. A mesh bag lets you throw those sponges into the wash pretty easily.
  • Stencils: I have neither the time or patience to do the batman logo freehand. Work smarter,  not harder, people.
    • A binder ring to hold all those small pieces of plastic together.
  • Paper towels / rags: to wipe your brushes on. I’d recommend rags first (old, cotton t-shirts work great) because environmentally friendly, more absorbent, and infinitely cheaper.
  • An apron: I re-purposed my bartending half-apron because the pockets are handy for storing my phone, keys, and wallet (I don’t like bringing a purse because I work, distracted, in large crowds for hours at a time and I can’t watch it). Oh, speaking of bartending…
  • An old cocktail tumbler: that or any sort of re-usable container will do to hold your brush water.
  • Two milk jugs, one empty and one with clean water: for switching out your brush water, because it gets nasty in a friggin’ minute. These are for the occasions when I cannot readily get to a sink for clean water or if I’m not outside and can’t dump it somewhere.
  • Makeup wipes: I go with the fragrance-free & sensitive skin types. Yes, it’s useful for correcting mistakes, but the more frequent uses are for:
    • Kids who run around and half-sweat off your design and want a redo.
    • Kids who weren’t supposed to get any face-paint at all in the first place (or, they went #ham and got a full mask when they should have only gotten a cheek design or something on their arm).
    • Wiping a dirty face / snotty nose off before putting paint on.
  • A handheld mirror: Oh, man. One time, I forgot my mirror, and had to use my phone and the front-facing camera to show kids the finished product… eesh.
    • I always get the dollar-store cheapies because I just assume it’s a given it’ll break at some point. Kids + fragile things = you know…
  • Silicone brush scrubber thingy: This thing is a life-saver. It’s great for scrubbing and really cleaning brushes. I also have separate ones for my personal make-up brushes.
  • Brush bath / sanitizer: I just operate under the assumption that all kids are germ-factories, and re-using brushes and paints on hundreds of kids is not helping.
  • Folding tables and chairs: always ask if there will be tables and chairs provided – for me, it’s been about 50% of the time. These just live in the trunk of my car always, so they’re always just there if I need them.
    • A wagon: so I can load up chairs, tables, and supplies in one tidy trip from my car. Not necessary, just a time-saving convenience.
  • Container / organizer for all your supplies: no joke, I used to use a cupcake holder. I also have an ‘actual’ art caddie, but I like the cupcake holder better!!
  • A design board / binder: makes life pretty easy, especially if you present designs that you are good at painting (and quickly!!). It really eliminates the classic scenario of a kid sitting down, you asking what they would like painted, and five minutes of, “Uhhh….”
    • Tape or an easel: with which to display it. Not always necessary, but good to have.
  • My business cards: I keep them on the table and also in the pocket of my apron so that I can quickly hand them out if need be.
  • My tip jar: if I’m using it. Make sure it’s bedazzled and colorful 😉 
  • ‘Last in line’ sign / star: if you’re at a larger, public event, and you need to close the line at a specific time, give a sign (mine’s a laminated star) for a kid to hold that says ‘Last in Line’. Kids usually love having this very important job bestowed upon them.
  • Water bottle, sun screen, sun glasses, hair ties and clips: 9 times out of 10, your gig is going to be outside, in the summer. Prepare accordingly.

Optional:

  • I used to pack rhinestones in a small dish, tweezers to place them, and eyelash glue to adhere for extra flair on my designs, but oh my god, what a pain. I can’t be bothered anymore. It’s extra work for something that doesn’t add that much. Also, if not given the option, kids won’t miss it. There is bling expressly for face-painting, but it can get pretty pricey (since it’s almost always hand-made). Glitter is good enough.
  • Temporary tattoos are good for the extremely young and wiggly.
  • SFX: I usually pack a little extra if it’s a gig around Halloween, like liquid latex (make sure you ask if they have an allergy, first!!) and fake blood. Ben Nye also makes this absolutely dope bruise palette, but n.b.: I tend to only give (fake) black eyes to adults. Something about a child looking like they’ve just gotten the shit beat out of them, uh… doesn’t sit well.

Still with me?

Yes, it’s a lot. And, if you’re starting from scratch instead of slowly building it up over the course of a decade (like yours truly) then it’s going to cost a pretty penny.

Good thing you’re charging a per-hourly that quickly makes up for it!

What types of designs should I face-paint?

  • An even mix of cheek designs, masks, and full-faces.
  • Much as my inner feminist is here to dismantle the patriarchy everyday in every way (and I go blind from rage when parents tell a little boy that he can’t have a butterfly or flowery design or girls can’t have superheroes (and it happens way more frequently than you would hope))… do make it a point to offer an even mix of ‘girly’ designs and ‘boy-ish’ designs.
  • Designs that are:
    • Easy for you to paint
    • Quick for you to paint. Stencils, split cakes, and one-stroke designs are powerful tools to that end.
    • Have flair – i.e. they look flashy without a lot of work. Design elements that will accomplish this:
      • GLITTER. When in doubt: add more glitter
      • Dot clusters
      • Starbursts
      • Swirls & curls
  • I repeat: quick and easy, but looks complicated. Kids are easy to impress. Color? Glitter? They’re happy! Don’t let your perfectionist-tendencies get in the way. You’re your own toughest critic, and I can count on one-hand the number of times a kid didn’t like what I painted for him. (Usually, it’s the parents who won’t stay in their lane.)

To illustrate a quick-easy-showy design and also the difference between flair & no flair:

Cute BUT BORING.
The swirls! The curls! The starbursts! The dots! The rainbow! And trust me, there’s plenty of glitter. Oh my, WHAT FLAIR!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That first design is quick and easy: nine shapes that are more-or-less just circles + outline. Why stop there, though? The second design, it looks overly-complicated, but it truly took me no more than 90 seconds: a single stroke from a rainbow split cake with a one-inch flat brush, the flowers came from quick petal ‘stamping’ with this specific brush, and white swirls / curls / starbursts / dots all with the same color + brush. Top that bad boy with glitter and you’re done.

You have to admit, the second design looks a lot more impressive (if 10x as gaudy, but hey, face-painting’s not exactly a subtle art). The more impressive it looks, the more that your client will feel that they got their money’s worth from you!

If you care to see more, I have a Pinterest board just for face-paint designs that fall in line with my ‘quick-easy-showy’ motto. Click for more.

designs to help you side-hustle as a face-painter
designs to help you side-hustle as a face-painter

TL;DR

Too long, didn’t read? I don’t blame you. This behemoth is about three-thousand words. Here’s my take-away points on how to side-hustle as a face-painter:

  1. I charge at least $75/hour for face-painting gigs, and you can too. 
  2. Networking is the single most important factor for marketing yourself and landing gigs.
  3. A face-painter’s kit is as expansive as it is expensive, but investing in good supplies and materials will profit you in the long run.
  4. Focus on the quick-easy-showy designs to optimize your time, productivity, and to save your sanity.

I really hope this was helpful and that maybe you feel a little demystified & empowered! Questions? Feel free to leave a comment below or email me.

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