Shannon Fennell's Blog

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


About Brushes

Brushes are something that most artists cannot do without, and I am no exception.

I admit to being a brush junkie… a really bad one.  I can’t walk by a display of artists brushes without buying at least one… usually two or three… or ten…  And if Michael’s is having a sale (and they always are) I HAVE to buy a bunch!

I don’t stick to any particular brand  (as you can tell from the photos below!) My favourite brush was a Winsor & Newton “Cirrus” Kolinsky Sable Round #4 or #6 which cost around $32 EACH… but I can’t find them locally anymore.  So I pick brushes out of the display by the look of them… if they are the right size and shape I grab them.  If they are on sale, even better.  I like natural fibre (hair) better in rounds and acrylic or manmade fibres for flat and filberts.

I never want to run out so I always have a lot of back-ups on the shelf, just in case (note: these are just my face painting brushes… I also have make-up brushes, art brushes, craft brushes…)

I have a preference for #4 and #6 round sables, but will use just about anything.

I like filberts a lot and they are very versatile – small ones called cat’s tongues are fantastic for applying eyeliner  and for very fine line work, and the super large ones are the best for freeform body painting.

There are lots of choices available – all have their good points.  Some are versatile, others are very specialized.  And figuring out which ones you like to use is going to be a matter of trial and error.  Angles or shaders, flat, washes, filberts, rounds, liners, riggers, daggers, deerfoot, wisps, rakes, the list is really long!

Brushes can be expensive.  And most of the time you get what you pay for – better quality does cost more.  There are some gems that you may run across on sale or very cheaply priced but, in my experience, the more expensive brushes tend to work better and last longer with proper care.  Cheap brushes start to deteriorate almost immediately – hairs fall out, they won’t hold their shape and start to splay, the handles break down and flake, etc.

One tip that I have for preserving your wooden handles is nail polish.  If the paint is starting to flake or crack, simply paint over it with nail polish!  It will completely seal the handle and lasts forever.

You can also cut down long handled brushes and paint the ends with the nail polish to seal the wood.  I usually sharpen the wooden end in a pencil sharpener before painting with the nail polish – there is a brush I did this to in the third photo from the top, the second brush down.  I find the pointy end comes in handy.

Nail polish can also be used to personalize or mark your brushes for ease of identification.

Taking care of your brushes means:

– Storing them upright or flat without bending or crushing the hairs/bristles (technically called the loofe).  I carry mine in a plastic bin which is transported standing on end so that the brushes are always upright.

– Cleaning them well and reshaping while wet to allow them to retain their shape, and allowing them to air dry while lying flat (I usually lay them along the edge of the counter so that there is no pressure on the loofe.)  You can sometimes rescue a brush by reshaping with a touch of soap, hair gel or starch to hold the fibres in position until they dry into their desired position.

– Never letting them sit in water to soak as it will cause wooden handles to swell and can loosen the glue holding them together.

– Treating them well when using them!  Don’t smash, scrub, poke with the loofe as you can damage the fibres.

Pretty much use common sense… treat them gently and with care and they will last longer and work better.

When I am working I put all my clean brushes in a small acrylic vase, and as they are being cleaned while I work they stand in the holes of my water well until dry.  This is the only time I stand them up like that to dry – simply for expediency.

And, if I pick up a brush that is shedding hairs I throw it out.  And if I pick up one that is splaying and won’t hold a point or edge, I toss them too.  I have others.

Brushes DO NOT last forever unfortunately.  And a good brush is your best friend as a face painter or make-up artist.  Take care of your brushes and they will take care of you.

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Mom and I went out today – went to see Expendables 2 and then went to Swiss Chalet for dinner.

Swiss Chalet just opened at the end of last month and apparently it has been very difficult to get in – they are short-staffed beyond reason.  People were waiting for hours, take out orders were not being taken, etc.

As we have never been to Swiss Chalet we went over after the movie around 4:20 p.m.  There was a line already.  The hostess told us there was a 15 minute wait so I put  my name down.

Thing was… one whole side of the restaurant was empty and the other side wasn’t full… yet the foyer was full of people waiting?????

Anyway, they shortly opened up the empty side and started seating people.

So… food:  Chicken was good but mine is better at home in my convection oven.  The ribs were adequate but Tony Roma’s are MILES better.  And that “chalet sauce” is bloody awful, mom didn’t mind it but I couldn’t even swallow it.

So, we’ve tried it.  No need to go again.

Oh… and the body count on the Expendables 2?  I think it was about 200 in the first five minutes… and they all exploded to bits.  Guess that was what the warning “gory violence” meant?


Body Painting Calendar Fundraiser

I’ve been honoured in having my work included in this  Body Painting Calendar that has been created as a fundraiser for Brian Wolfe in his fight against Pancreatic Cancer.

The fourth image from the left across the bottom is my work.  I did this painting for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life several years ago.  The model, Robyn, is a cancer survivor herself which I thought was very appropriate for this project.

The calendar is available from and pre-orders will start to be accepted as of this Sunday, September 23rd.

As it is being produced in the UK the cost is 10 GBP plus 2 GBP for postage.  It is a stunning collection of body painting works from around the world and would make a great Christmas gift for anyone interested in the art form!  And 8 GBP of EVERY purchase goes directly to Brian and his family.  What could be a better gift for everyone?

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While we’re on the topic of butterflies

I was reviewing my photos of the butterflies I’ve painted and realized… I paint myself as a butterfly an awful lot!  LOL

Obviously my design of choice, as it is with all girls everywhere!  I blogged before about “the butterfly effect” in this post Not another butterfly.

Here are some examples of what I paint on myself  – I like to get into events without having to explain why I am there, and I get good parking usually too!

I actually painted a very cool one for my gig last Saturday but didn’t take a photo before we left.  Ten minutes into the gig I was wiping it off as I was sweating so bad the paint was running into my eyes (it was 29C) and I had to get it off.  I knew I should not have used the Wolfe black!!!


Sleeping Butterfly

We were face painting yesterday at the Wembley Demolition Derby and this little girl dozed off completely while I was painting her.  Can I get an “awwwww”?

My newly recruited assistant face painter (a new co-worker at the day-job) came along as my second painter and for someone who is a complete newbie she did great!  Her work over the course of the six-hour day of painting improved immensely. And her speed was impressive considering most of the designs she had never painted before.  She is a keeper!

I had the kids stand between my legs to be painted while I sat this time.  Mainly because the ground was so uneven – we were set-up in a ball diamond dugout and my chair was on the cement but where I would put the other chair was off the edge and into a hole with no way to stabilize it.  So I set it aside and had the littles stand between my legs and I would stand up for the taller people.  Amazingly my back feels fine this morning rather than killing me!  Might have to do that more regularly.


Elegant for adults

I love painting adults!

I paint at a local night club several times a year – they hire me to paint the staff for theme nights –  and I really enjoy it!  I also do galas and stagettes – generally painting mask and eye-designs on the women.  Men are more hesitant but after a few drinks usually go for moustaches or aviator shades.

I have also painted at adult birthday parties which are hugely fun!  The guys at these parties usually jump right in and get the designs they didn’t get as kids.  I’ve painted 30 somethings as Optimus Prime and the Joker and they love it.  Bald guys are fun too and usually willing to go with off the wall stuff like giant spiders eating their brains.

It is actually quite liberating to paint willing adults.  They usually let me be creative and aren’t specific in what they want.  I get to match clothing or jewelry or they want specific colours or a vague description of an animal print or pattern they like.  Many just tell me to paint what I would like.

Adults are more patient, sit still, and follow instructions – such a nice change from painting a never-ending line of spideys and butterflies hour after hour (not that there is anything wrong with that!)

Here are two photos of the same painting – we changed the hair between shots.  This was for a mask contest a few years back on my favourite model Naomi.

I love painting her!

This type of design is very very popular with adult women – pretty, elegant, striking and looks great on anyone.

And here are a couple of plays on the same theme – a red, black and gold butterfly.  More intricate than I would do on a typical face painting job, but nice to do on adults and older teens.

If you get the opportunity to paint at adult parties and events, take it!


Roses, one-stroke to be precise

I have a really hard time with one-stroke roses… one-stroke meaning the technique copyrighted by Donna Dewberry.  If you’ve ever watched her show on PBS or seen crafts painted using the technique you’ll know what I mean.

Using this technique with face paints was made popular by Rebecca Tonkovich of Arty Brush Strokes.  She developed the ABC (Arty Brush Cakes) brand of split cakes which were then picked up by one of the retailers/suppliers who started producing them commercially (they are now available from many retailers and similar products are now made by most face paint companies.)

The thing that really annoys me is that I can DRAW roses in pencil/ink… I can PAINT roses in oils and acrylics… but I cannot get the hang of doing them in the one-stroke style.

I’ve got books (including two of Donna Dewberry’s flower books), step-by-steps in magazines, have taken classes at conventions with Rebecca – she even spent a LOT of time with me, one-on-one to help me but…

I still feel I cannot do them adequately.  They are blobby and do not look like the ones I admire.  Gina Newsum does great ones and even did a step-by-step for one of the Snazaroo photo contests which she won, which unfortunately didn’t help me at all.

I’ve even watched several YouTube how to videos… and I still suck at them.

Now I am probably being super-hyper-unreasonably critical of my own work (which is not usual for me, I assure you) but when I cannot do what I want to do and make it look like I want it to look I get annoyed and just stop.  I tend to be able to replicate what I see easily so that is why I am so frustrated about this.  I just can’t get them to look as gorgeous as the others I see.

My attempt at some small roses on my hand using a homemade Snazaroo split cake

My attempt at a larger rose – resorted to black outlining to try to make it pop more

My attempt at a cabbage rose… added white outlining in another attempt to punch it up

And the thing is that I do get asked for roses… it would be great to be able to quickly create a stunning one-stroke rose with a few buds, leaves and glitter… would impress the heck out of the customers!  Unfortunately I end up making reddish blobs with leaves… glitter helps, but not much.


Business Tips for Face Painters, Body Artists and Make-Up Artists #9 – Soliciting Work

September 1st means it is time for the ninth excerpt from my e-book The Business of Face Painting.  Of course, if you would like to get all the information included in my book right now you can find out how here.

The Business of Face Painting was published in September of 2009 and I am working on the final stages of the companion book The Art of Face Painting which we hope to have out sometime this year.

So, now how do you get those face painting jobs?

The following is an excerpt from Chapter Four of  The Business of Face Painting.


Soliciting Work

Use the information you have compiled on your target markets to determine those potential clients that you want to get your information in front of.  You want to make them aware of your services and why they should hire you over anyone else.  I tend to choose one specific group to target each year based on my current interests or potential for business in that area.  By concentrating my efforts on one narrow area I can keep my costs reasonable and am able to easily track the success of the campaign for any given period of time.  One year I targeted daycares and schools, the next restaurants, then nightclubs, then festivals, etc.

Some events may require you to submit an application and pay a fee to set-up at their event.  At these types of activities you would most likely be charging pay-per-face.  Decide if these are the type of events you want to go after and then inquire about the vendor application process.  Be aware that some events may let anyone who pays their fee set-up so you might end up in competition with a dozen other painters.  Try to negotiate exclusivity so that you are the only face painter.  Location is also very important to your earnings.

Choose how you want to approach your potential clients – by letter, with a postcard, with an email, in person.  Then prepare your materials.

I’ve included some sample letters and emails [these are included in the ebook] that you can use to solicit business.  These are the actual letters that I have sent to potential customers.  The one called “Introductory Letter for Face Painting” is a generic letter that I sent to organizers and associations that hold events in the region.  “Restaurant letter” is self-explanatory.  And “New Year Letter” went out to all my customers and selected potential customers – I got a lot of bookings confirmed for the next season by sending out the New Years letter in January every year.  The “festival email” is an actual email I used to solicit a gig at large local event.  Feel free to use these as examples to make up your own versions.

Using Kryolan Interferenz Bach Blue with other colours

© Shannon Fennell, 2009

with material from “Designs and Templates Volume 1” © November 2007

and “Designs and Templates Volume 2” © March 2008