Shannon Fennell's Blog

My life, art, travel, make-up, cooking and the occasional rant!


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Not another butterfly

As most of us who face paint know, once you do one butterfly you get asked for a whole lot more!  The first child always sets the theme for the job – and butterflies are very popular.

To combat this I have devised a cunning plan to keep myself amused!  As you know, they all want the “exact same” that their friend just had.  If it was pink, they all want pink, if it was purple, they all want purple… yes, we’ve all been there.

"I want EXACTLY what she had!"  But not the tiny differences that keep me sane!

"I want EXACTLY what she had!" But note the tiny differences that keep me sane!

My first step is to say “would you like it another colour” and indicate my many colour options sitting on the table beside them.  Usual response – “No, I want it pink like hers.”  So, on to Plan B.

Plan B involves me exercising my superior intellect and using psychology… “Would you like me to use this pretty sparkly pink?  It’s really beautiful.”   This gets about half of them.  So at least I’m able to use variations of pink.  If they refuse, then I get sneaky.

A Pink Moth - note the fuzzy antenna!

A Pink Moth - note the fuzzy antenna!

By now, of course, I am painting the butterfly… they can’t see what I’m doing, so I am in control!  I do many different things once I’ve started and the base colours have been decided.  Remember they watch which colours you’re using, so as long as the base colour is right, they don’t usually – there are exceptions, of course – notice if you switch colours for the detail work.

I have well over a dozen versions of butterflies that all start the same – with white and one colour option.  I blend these well together with a sponge.  Now comes where I have MY fun.

Basic Butterfly base

Basic Butterfly base

Plan C.  This is when I start switching colours around – instead of white in the center fading out to pink, I flip it and do pink in the center fading out to white!  I might throw in another shade of pink as a transition colour.  Or maybe, I alternate blocks of colour.  Who knows what I’ll decide to do…?

I alter the shape of the wings.  Depending on the child’s face you can make narrow long wings, wings with ragged edges, wings with smooth rounded edges, scalloped edges, wide flat wings, lacy wings, sharp wings, square wings… the options are endless.

Quick Butterflies - Two minutes or less

Quick Butterflies - Two minutes or less

With my brushwork and details, I do butterflies with narrow lines and segmented wings.  I do all teardrops.  I do an outline with teardrops.  I do dots and lines.  I do teardrops and dots.  I do top and bottom different.  I add coloured spots (ask first, they will usually say yes!), I make the bodies and antenna different.  I use different colours for the details – black is most common, but switch it around with electric blue, electric purple, red, dark green, etc. use a colour that contrasts and makes the base colours pop!  Use flowers, squiggles, ovals, angles, etc.  Get creative.

Super quick butterfly for little wigglers

Super quick butterfly for little wigglers

Then ask if they want sparkles!  I’ve had a few refusals, but most say yes!  I have choices there too – gels or loose; white, pink, blue, purple, green, etc.  Often butterflies have one colour on the wings and another on the body! Sometimes, a whole wing will simply be glitter gel!  That is quite spectacular by the way – but usually on older children.  And if I’m using glitter gel I don’t put any paint under it as it will smear.

Butterfly with Flowers

Butterfly with Flowers

As I do butterfly after butterfly, I get more and more creative… the last butterfly is usually the most spectacular!  I keep trying to one-up myself and make the best one ever.

And even though they wanted EXACTLY the same butterfly as their friend, I have NEVER had a child look in the mirror and seem disappointed – usually it’s a huge smile and a thank you!

Mutant Bunnerfly - Rabbit/Butterfly

Mutant Bunnerfly - Rabbit/Butterfly

So, keep yourself amused by making each butterfly different.  Whether it is simply adding a few more dots on a wing, or, changing colours and shape, it all will keep you on your toes and keep the creative juices flowing.


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Fun with Photoshop

It can be very frustrating but also lots of fun!

I purchased Photoshop CS3, the full package, when I was starting work on my book, Your Face or Mine, for Snazaroo USA Inc.  I was hoping to be able to “fix” the backgrounds in all of my photos as I had taken them against a black fabric backdrop.  Since the book was going to be printed in black I needed to get rid of the shadows and lines in the black so it would blend with the flat black of the printed page.

Unfortunately I discovered that Photoshop is not user friendly and that trying to figure it out while on a deadline was not possible!  I wasn’t able to find any classes running so wasn’t able to use it.  The photos all ended up being cropped without any alterations to the images at all.

Eventually I was able to sign-up for a class at the local Centre for Creative Arts – 19 months later!!  It was so worth it!

For my class project I chose to work on a photo I took at the Louvre of the Winged Victory of Samothrace.  I’ve been obsessed with that statue since I was about 9 years old and was thrilled to see it in person but tourists went and got in my shot just as I took the picture!!

So I played around and cropped, stamped, blurred, burnished, added effects…

My first successful experience with Photoshop

My first successful experience with Photoshop

My final project was a layout using four different versions of the image manipulated in different ways – sort of an Andy Warhol take on it!  The instructor brought in his super-size photo printer and printed each of us copies of our projects on our choice of paper finishes.  I signed, numbered mine 1/1, and had it framed – it is now hanging in our living room.

As a make-up artist I am always taking photos of my work to use for display or publication and being able to fix things is a godsend!  Things like spots, bloodshot eyes, stray hairs, backgrounds, and boogers!  Nothing is more frustrating than taking a photo of what you thought was an excellent example of a design only to find a long nose hair or a snot bubble!! EEEWW…

I just like playing around too… I like to call it being “artistic” but, well…

I think I look good blue.  What do you think?

I think I look good blue. What do you think?

Being able to manipulate photographs to make appealing images for promotional purpose or just for my own use is fun too.  Although, I keep forgetting HOW!  I spend hours fiddling around trying to remember how I did it before, then figure out some way to do it… never knowing if there was actually a easy way to do it within the program!

A simple butterfly on a pretty little girl!

A simple butterfly on a pretty little girl!

It took me about three hours to get this done… I kept getting part way through it, mucking it up, closing the file without saving… then starting over with the original file… FINALLY, I decided to save a black and white version, open a colour version, cut out the butterfly, then copy and paste from one file to the other… and it WORKED!!

I always take my photos against a black backdrop whenever possible… I’m in the process of hanging a black velvet one.  I’ve been assured by a professional photographer that velvet absorbs light so I shouldn’t get the draping shadows anymore in my studio shots.  Hope so…

Just for fun… this is NOT Photoshopped….

I don't think any comment is necessary.

I don't think any comment is necessary.


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special effects

I really enjoy doing special effects make-up.  In make-up school I had the highest mark in that part of the program and have a letter from the head of school about it… 🙂

I actually got into make-up in the first place due to special effects make-up… my brother and I joined a Star Trek fan club that was heavily into role playing in full costume and make-up and the members taught each other how to do excellent prosthetic make-up.  I got hooked on that and wanted to learn all about the rest of the art of make-up so decided to pursue it.

I enrolled in the Blanche Macdonald Institute’s Make-Up Artistry program (now called the Blanche Macdonald Centre for Applied Design) in Vancouver.  I also acquired many books and taught myself quite a few techniques before the program started.

I really took things to the limit – for class assignments I would spend 8-12 hours preparing pieces and costuming to go with my make-ups… I enjoyed the whole process immensely!

My SFX Make-Up Final Exam - Cobraman

My SFX Make-Up Final Exam - Cobraman

I do research, make sketches, write notes, do tests, take photos and then start all over if I’m not happy with it!  I apply that same process to custom work I am hired to do – be it body painting or a special effects custom job or designs for a show.

I then had a chance to take some training in LA and Hollywood with some of the top artists.  A highlight of my entire career was showing photos of my Klingon to Michael Westmore and of having him be very complimentary (and giving a few tips to improve it!)

My Brother Neil as a Starfleet Klingon

My Brother Neil as a Starfleet Klingon

I like a challenge and living where I do even getting the proper supplies is a massive challenge!  I had to make a full head cast of the lead actor in the play “Dracula” and it took a week to source the proper type of alginate I needed to make the mould.  Joey, the actor, was a trooper to suffer through the process…

Making the mould and the finished head cast

Making the mould and the finished head cast

Since I do have problems getting the “proper” special effects products I have figured out what can be used for a substitute… and there are lots of everyday items that are excellent replacements.

I use eyelash adhesive (Duo brand) instead of liquid latex, soak bran flakes in food colouring to create “scabs”, make my own blood with corn syrup, and lots of other things.

Burns are about the easiest effect to create… you can do it with red and black face paint, some torn single ply tissue, eyelash adhesive (or liquid latex if you can get some) and a little Vaseline…

Latex burn and bran flake scabs

Latex burn and bran flake scabs

Here is a step-by-step of latex burns that I created years ago.

Easy Third Degree Burn

Easy Third Degree Burn

I’ve also adapted this type of burn “look” to be created with face paints only!  I was getting asked by teenage boys for the latex burns, which I do not do while face painting, so often that I just went ahead and did it with paint.  I lay down the red, blend out the edges, apply the black on top, being sure to leave “cracks” showing the red underneath, then apply dripping “blood” which is runny Wolfe red… looks amazingly similar and gets the same reaction from their parents… 🙂

I’ve also used commercially available prosthetics to create characters requested by the client… Woochie makes some very nice pieces that can be trimmed a bit for fitting to the face as everyone is a different shape.

I worked on a series of short films that were parodies of the Planet of the Apes while I was still in Vancouver.  They were “Convenience Store of the Apes,” “Yard Sale of the Apes,” and “Car Wash of the Apes.”  It was very funny… they had a scene where Squeedgy Boy Ape went up to the human car to clean the windscreen and the driver leaned out and said “Get your hands off my car, you damn dirty ape!”  As the films were very VERY low budget I had to work with the Woochie Ape face and ears… I thought they worked very well once I tweeked them!

My homage to Planet of the Apes

My homage to Planet of the Apes

It took a lot of effort to get the eye sockets to look seamless and I hand laid the hair myself on the mask, had a wig for the back of the head which it blended into… also made matching gloves.  Took approximately three hours to apply.

I really enjoy projects like this… too bad I don’t get lots of them up here in the Great White North… not a lot of demand for movie shoots!

I have a set of prothetics for “Darkness” from the movie Legend that I am dying to apply to someone…. if anyone wants to get done up for Halloween let me know!!


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a sad day

After singing the praises of Kryolan Interferenz Bach Blue (aka GB) in my last post I have just discovered that it has been discontinued by Kryolan.  Apparently they cannot get one of the ingredients anymore so are unable to produce it.

I managed to track down some through Canadian retailers so have bought up all the large cakes I could find!  I love that colour and really would hate not to have it!

The colour they have said “replaces” it has been available all along but it is more blue than Bach Blue was/is.

R.I.P. Kryolan Interferenz Bach Blue... I'll miss you!

R.I.P. Kryolan Interferenz Bach Blue... I'll miss you!


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Colour choices

There are so many colours of face painting cosmetics out there when you consider all the different brands that it can be confusing and frustrating, particularly when you are looking for something specific. 

Computer monitors do not show you the true colours, nor do printed brochures, or descriptions from other people.  People do see colour differently so what one person describes as blue-green someone else would call teal or blue or blue-ish green – all of which are quite different things.

Even when you find a colour that you love in a specific brand the next time you buy it it is not the same as they can vary from batch to batch!

Sometimes colours look good in the pot, but when applied to skin they look quite a bit different, and then dry to look completely different again.  Sort of like painting a wall… the colour in the paint can and on the paint chip are a lot lighter than it looks on the wall once it dries! 

Some people are a bit more finicky about the colours they use than the rest of us! 🙂  I’m not too bothered by slight variations or differences between brands.  I like lots of colours but when I am replacing a used up colour in my palette with a new cake I just pop in a similar shade.  I don’t need to have the exact same colour or even the same brand… 

HOWEVER, there are certain colours/brands that I would not be without due to HOW they work, more than the exact colour they are.  Snazaroo Bright Red is one of them – it is the definitive Spider-Man colour and it is the best of the Snazaroo colours for application.  It goes on smoothly and evenly in one swipe.  Every cake I’ve used works the same.

I also must have Wolfe Face Art & FX Red as it is so highly pigmented that it is perfect for animal tongues and dripping blood – I get it very runny and let it drip off the brush where I want dribbles of blood on vampires or injuries.  It goes over top of white or other colours and does not bleed – it stays red.

Wolfe White is also required as it stays white and does not absorb colour from the base colours.  I use it for teeth, details, and any white design features that are applied on top of base coats in another colour.

Another one of my must haves is Kryolan Interferenz Bach Blue – it is truly gorgeous!  I have to have it because I love the colour, no other real reason.  It blends beautifully with the other brands too to make fantastic butterflies, princess faces and wintry scenes.

Using Kryolan Interferenz Bach Blue with other colours

Using Kryolan Interferenz Bach Blue with other colours

I also need Snazaroo Sparkle Orange.  I honestly think it is the best colour for tigers, it is bright and stays that way even after it dries, is pretty and, well, orange!

Everyone has different tastes and preferences so there is nothing to say what I like will suit anyone else. 

I’m not picky about white for base work and I generally use either Snazaroo or Kryolan Aquacolour.  I have both and just plop a new cake in the white when I need another.  I actually have no idea at the moment which one is in my palette!  I think it might be Kryolan…

I do have colours I like a lot, but, am content to use another colour if that is what I have on hand.  I like Funky Foxes Bright Green but am content with Snazaroo Grass Green if that is what is here when I need to replace my green.  Same with Kryolan Blue (I call it Royal Blue, not sure what Kryolan calls it!) – I really like the colour and how it works, but, will use up the Snazaroo Blue happily.

For black I actually carry three brands in my kit – Kryolan in my palette for bases, Snazaroo in a separate cake for line-work and a large bottle of Fardel liquid for certain designs and techniques and as a back-up when working in extreme heat (when the other blacks get gooey!)

My Peacock Mask using Fardel Green-Gold

My Peacock Mask using Fardel Green-Gold

I also carry a bottle of Fardel Green-Gold which is one of the most beautiful colours I’ve ever seen.  I use it sparingly on faeries, peacock designs and sometimes florals.  It is wonderful on lips too as the gold in the paint rises to the top as it dries to create a gorgeous shimmer.

There is a Fardel cream colour that I love – their Turquoise is deep and beautiful and looking at my body painting portfolio I seem to use it most of the time.  Might be in a rut, I don’t know!  🙂

cakes