Shannon Fennell's Blog

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

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February wrap-up

Well… CATS is history.  Closing night was last Saturday.  Every single performance received a standing ovation…  many nights the audience cheered and “whoooo’d” individual numbers too.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to watch any of the actual performances.  I was able to watch the last run through before the first dress rehearsal which is when we did the make-up, wig and costume checks.  It was excellent… but the atmosphere of a real performance with a full house is so different.  I am sad to have missed that but we were working right through intermission in the make-up room getting the second act performers ready.

This is an excerpt from Tuesday’s paper – it is from a letter to the editor:

“Grande Prairie Live Theatre’s production of Cats – which I saw Saturday, Feb. 16 – was probably one of the best musicals produced over the past 50 to 60 years in my humble opinion. I’ve been involved in theatre here over the years, and yet was in awe of the level of professionalism exhibited in all aspects from costumes and makeup (spectacular) to the ‘cat’ eyes intro (wow!), to the orchestra (splendid, just right), movements and dance (exciting and energetic – I was breathless before the first number ended), character interpretations (intriguing), lights and sound (just the best), and singing (I’m a singing teacher) was beyond excellent.”  Kaye Donovan, Grande Prairie [bold and italics are mine]

And the director sent me this:

“Shannon, you were the only one that could have pulled off this feat. Your talent and dedication drove this show. We always forgot about you ladies working down in the basement. Your hard work is so unsung , thank you so much, again.” Monty Haughian

I’ve had people come up to me at the day-job and when I am out face painting to compliment me on the make-up.  It was so much fun to do this show, tiring and hard work, but FUN!

My crew ended up totaling nine – one of whom was exclusively applying the wigs; one who only applied base colours; and the rest doing full applications to finishing details.  The last week several of the Cats were doing their own bases and some even their whole application and I have to say I was really impressed with how well they did!  It freed up the crew to concentrate on the rest as we had a few nights short staffed.  I’d like to thank Cazzie, Devon, Naomi, Marg, Julia, Robin, Gail, and Amy…  And thank you to the cast members who stepped up and helped out/did their own!

I had done make-up tests on each actor back in January and then used the photos to create charts to use.  Once we did the run through and we could see the effect the lighting had I changed the base colours – the white was to be for muzzles and under the eyes only (except for the two set of twins which stayed white.)  We used Ben Nye creams and base colours were Death Straw, Death Grey, Vampire, and Lite Auguste.  Then the colours and markings of the individual costumes and wigs were replicated to shade and contour – we used many shades of brown, dark grey and grey, yellow, orange, goldenrod, Dark Tech, Sunburn Stipple, Dark Sunburn, Desert Tan, Ultra Lite, and, of course, white and black…. tons of black.  Oh… and blue on Grizabella (except for closing night when she requested green.)  After the initial run through I also changed the eye designs to make the white area larger under the eyes to make them more visible to the audience.  I took all the charts I had printed and using pencil crayons made modifications to the eye lines and colours right on the photos which was way easier than trying to get new photos or draw new charts.

I strung up a rope in the make-up room with 3M hooks and used fold back clips to attach all the charts to the rope.  Then the actors would remove their chart when they arrived and went to get their bases on.  Then they would give the chart to the make-up artist who would finish their make-up.  We would then keep the charts until the end of the night.  Then when the stage manager or other backstage cat-herder came to check how far along we were they could just look at the charts on the wall to know who wasn’t yet started.  This worked excellently!  I could also then know how many cats I did at the end of the night.  I was doing 13-14 of them myself most nights.  You can see the charts in the background of this photo of me doing McCavity’s make-up.

Me and McCavity

Five characters were face painted – Rumpus Cat, Fire Frore Fiddle, McCavity, and two kittens (who appeared after the bows with their “mom” who presented them to Rum Tum Tugger who ran away with them chasing after him!)  The impact of the face paint was bolder and it was faster to do for the actors who were only on stage for minutes and not working up a sweat.

I took some photos of my applications that I was particularly pleased with during the run.  And I did Rum Tum Tugger every night and took photos to see how I changed the design each time.  One of the reasons I love theatre make-up so much is that I can play around with a design and alter it to improve it, or fix something that doesn’t work, or just try something different just to see how it will work.  I tend to stick to a plan, but details can change without causing the character to alter.  And when I like how it looks I will keep that element and play around with other parts.

Last Saturday I also face painted at the Maple Sugar Festival put on by the ACFA (local Francophone association).  This is a very popular annual event and this was the first time they hired me to face paint.

Cabane a Sucre 2013

I was swamped!  I don`t know how many I painted but I was doing under two minutes a face most of the day.  And an interesting note:  First time that I have ever had the health inspector come and check out my set-up… passed with flying colours of course!  When I arrived I was handed a copy of the Alberta Health Regulation for Face Painting by the event organizer with was the first time an event has actually been enforcing the regulations, let alone even known about them.  I was impressed and happy to be in compliance.

On Sunday I face painted with two crew members at the annual Timbits Jamboree which is an Under 8/Under 4 soccer tournament sponsored by Tim Hortons.  We were painting steady without any breaks for five hours, as usual.  Mom was washing all of our brushes as we worked.

Had a rather nasty woman at the end of the day – I had my signs up and they stated that the people in the chair at 5:55 p.m. were the last being painted.  This woman came over about 5:54 (we were all in the middle of painting children) and asked if we were painting the last ones in the chair, I said yes, these children in the chairs now are the last ones (as they were going to still be there at 5:55.)  She went away… I thought.  (I know the time exactly as we were in an arena with the big clock up on the scoreboard.)

Then when I finished the face I was painting, I stood up to see that she was still over at the bench by the sign which was the line-up location.  I said, Sorry, we’re done.  She got really angry and said all sorts of nasty things… I was tired so was not in any mood to try to be nice about it.  We think she thought that the ‘chair’ was referring to the bench used as a line indicator not the actual chairs we were using for the kids to get painted in.  Although I have no idea what her reasoning could have been.  Painting was done at 6 p.m., the event was OVER at 6 p.m., they were removing things from the arena in order to play soccer.  We weren’t able to continue in any case.  I pointed out the sign that clearly stated the times (and I’d also been making announcements for the last 4o minutes about how much longer we had.)  She said the line was long and she couldn’t see if from way back there… um, lady you’ve been pretty close to it for sometime now, obviously.  She told me I had a lousy business model. I can’t figure that one out as she was lining up for FREE face painting sponsored by Tim Hortons, not sure how us closing the line before she got her turn is a bad business model? I told her to speak to the organizer if she felt that way as we were following instructions – she said she was going to.  The organizer said she hadn’t heard from her when she came over to give me the cheque… and said she is going to try to get more budget for next year for four painters.

I rarely get really nasty people… this would be, I think, the third that has been really belligerent.  One of them was a woman with a child in a stroller who got really mad because she had got in line and waited, only for me to refuse to paint her baby… the sign, again, clearly stated that I did not paint children under three years but she complained that the sign wasn’t visible because the line was so long…???? So… once you get close enough to read it you stayed in line? Really?  What is it with people and lining up for FREE face painting and not bothering to read any of the notices?  And am I supposed to hire someone to wear my a-frame sign and walk up and down the line using a megaphone?

The line at the Maple Sugar Festival ended easily – the organizer put my sign out front a little less than an hour before the end time and put a “closed” sign on it.  No problem there.  I think I’ll have to start putting a “Line Closed” sign up – might make it easier.  Generally the times being posted works well enough.  Just is annoying to have someone attack me after a long tiring day.  I mean… none of us even got a chance to go to the restroom!

I’ve got a new crew member, Cazzie, who worked with me on Cats.  I had put out a call for volunteers to work on Cats and Cazzie contacted me – she’s also a graduate of Blanche Macdonald which is where I got my make-up diploma!  She did great on Cats and I was needing a third painter for Sunday’s job… so we made her face paint the kittens at the closing performance of CATS and she did great so “you’re hired!”… She did fantastic face painting from my photo sheets – was able to copy them and her speed was great for a beginning face painter!  Mom was very impressed as she was watching her all day.

I’ll post more of my photos from Cats later this weekend… I need to crop and edit them first.   But here’s one of Naomi starting McCavity’s make-up…


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Even more CATS

The show is going wonderfully.  Every performance has had a standing ovation and the cast are nailing it!  I neglected to mention that it is a live orchestra as well which makes it that much more impressive.

Last night the cast and crew went out after the show to In The Zone which is a sports themed restaurant across the highway from the theatre – they kept the place open and staff on hand just for us. Just to get an idea of how big the entire crew is… there were people I knew there who I did NOT know were working the show!  We are isolated in the dressing rooms which are in the dungeon of the complex under the stage… the make-up and hair crew are down there at 4 p.m. to start and we don’t generally get out of the room until 9 p.m. at the earliest.  Curtain is 7:30 so we don’t see the technical and stage crew at all.  So it was nice to see so many more of them last night.

I don’t often get a chance to go to the social things but mom’s aide was able to stay last night.  So once we got the make-up room cleared up most of the make-up crew headed over before the show finished – we got good parking and got to choose where to sit.

I’m having to do laundry pretty much every night – the capes and towels are getting completely coated in powder and are a mess.  The key to a good solid make-up that doesn’t smudge or lift with sweating is to POWDER it heavily.  My make-ups are holding up excellently even on the actors who sweat so bad that it actually rains off their wigs – every strand of hair is dripping.

The designs have been modified a bit more as well – along with darkening all the base colours which I mentioned before, I have altered the eye design to make them more visible.  The catch is that each artist is interpreting this a bit differently but I think we’ve all now got it happening consistently.  And the rest of the make-up crew has had a chance to see their work on stage and are noticing details themselves – like the muzzles needing to be whiter.

These photos are mine which I took at the tech rehearsal and run-through.

Posed photo by the entire cast – they were posing for the photographer who was in the balcony and I took this from the main level.


Cats lounging about…


Near the end of Mr. Mistofelees number…


Addressing of Cats…


Coricopat and Tantomile aka “the twins” (the brown on their faces is now matching the costume rather than the wigs.) The make-up here was done by another artist on the crew…


Quaxo aka Mr. Mistofelees…


Grizabella… I like this shot – the empty theatre seats make her look so alone…


Rum Tum Tugger… early version… and I am tweaking it every night (I am the only one who is doing his make-up.)  I’m taking photos of him each time to show the progression of the design which I will share when the show is over.


Tugger and his “mate” Etcetera…

DSC08343Tugger and the kittens…


Did I mention that Tugger is about 6’5″ or more?  Tugger, Demeter and one of the kittens (the kittens are face painted) …


This show is the most exhausting of any of the 80+ productions I’ve worked on… and I love every minute of it!

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More CATS photos

As promised here are more photos from CATS.  These are from the tech rehearsal – the make-up changed after this. I had used a lot of white bases but due to the use of bright white LED light the make-up was being bleached out.  So I switched to white for the muzzles only, with coloured bases using Ben Nye colours: Vampire, Death Straw, Cadaver Grey, Big Top Auguste, Steel Grey, Desert Tan and so on.  I also tweaked the eye design on all the cats and a few other things… this is what rehearsals are for!

Again, photos are copyright of Beauchamp Photography.  I’ll post my photos and make-up technical shots show how the changes happened in a day or so for those who want more detail.






cats faces














Me and McCavity

Me and McCavity2

Mr mistofelees






Old Duet




say cheese

skimbal leap





two twins

waiting for make-up and hair

Thanks again to Beauchamp Photography for letting me post and share these photos!


What I’ve been up to

I’ve been pretty busy over the last couple weeks with CATS make-up test sessions and working on the wigs and the usual stuff like housework, day-job, dealing with the insurance claim on the house damage, mom…

Most of the make-up designs have been done… just have a two coming tomorrow, and there are a couple of stragglers that I hope to get over here sometime during the week.

I have to get all the wigs styled/neatened up – they are all pretty messy.

The test process is proving very useful as I am working through the process repeatedly and improving things as I go.  For example – first day I used liner pencils for the black details but used almost an entire one on 7 cats, AND made a huge mess on my floor (on the drop cloth thanks goodness!) with the shavings from the sharpener… which I walked all over in bare feet, and ended up with feet covered in black make-up.  Next session I switched to a liner brush and used black cream make-up (which was my old stuff so I had to thin it out with some moisturizer to make it spreadable).  It worked well for the fine lines and points but was slow on the larger spots.  Then I switched to a small “shader” aka a rounded filbert… which is way better!  More coverage and I can do good edges with it.  Also, the NEW black  make-up doesn’t require the addition of moisturizer to be spreadable.

I’ve also been improving my speed – the first one took 45 minutes as I am designing as I go so the first one I was continually fiddling with and talking.  I am now able to get a simple, not too detailed one that doesn’t require blending, done in 10-15 minutes.  However, most do require some blending and a couple a lot of details.  And my crew has watched but not practiced yet – that will happen next Saturday.

I have to take the photos I’ve taken and make the charts – with front and side photos, a list of colours to use, and notes of things to watch for, for each of 31 cats (they added a couple more characters in…ack!)

I’ve had a few of the women asking about false lashes – I’ve told them they aren’t necessary as their eyes are outlined in black and I am actually drawing lashes on some.  I think there are a couple that still want them.  Which is fine – they just will be doing it themselves as we will not have time to fiddle with the lashes.

The photos are a bit muted due to the powder being used.  It will sink into the make-up once the actors start warming up and it will brighten up to how it looks in the pot.  There are also tricks to get rid of the powdery look – spritzing with water and blotting will take it off right away, but… I think the powder should be left as these guys are going to be doing warm-ups and the powder will be needed to soak up the sweat!

I am sharing this photo from this morning – another teaser!  You can’t see the make-up full on… so …  

Cori Tanto(800x574)

I love this shot!


Halloween Part Deux

Today I had a few appointments…

First one was a big SFX job… my regular customer, Chris (who won best costume on Saturday at The Shark Club with face paint) had purchased four foam pieces that he wanted me to apply and finish.

We had originally scheduled the appointment for 6 a.m. but since neither of us had to go to work we changed it to 8 a.m.

The job took about three and a half hours.  His plan was to roam around town scaring people and then go to a club that was having their costume contest tonight… It is early yet and I haven’t heard if he won again.

This afternoon I had an appointment for a person who was going to be part of a haunted house in a town north of here… said to be scary and dead.  So this is what I painted for her… she’s wearing a veil (she’s a mourner at a haunted funeral home).

And another regular stopped by for me to apply a wig and a bit of styling.

Now I am sitting here watching for trick or treaters… so far 25.  They like the full size KitKats.

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Halloween – the most wonderful time of the year

Ah, I love Halloween… I’m sitting here after my usual manic Halloween party weekend blitz of work.  The snow is falling outside (has been for a week now) and will be continuing.  The weather forecast for Halloween Day is -10 for a HIGH and -24 for a LOW… should keep the “tricks” to a minimum this year.  That is why costumes are designed to go over snowsuits up here.

The last time we had this much snow this early was 2006.  I didn’t get a chance to rake the front yard or clean up my flower beds so will have to deal with it in the Spring.  I did get the planters emptied, but had to bring them into the garage to thaw out first before I could get the dirt to come out.

This year I had some appointments booked Friday night, my usual Saturday morning down at the park painting up the haunters for the Haunted House, then back home for appointments the rest of the day till late, then a birthday party booked for today, Sunday… This year I promised myself that I would take photos of EVERYTHING…. I almost managed it.  I let one really cool Neon coloured monster leave without getting a photo… bummer ’cause it was really cute!  I’m hoping to stalk a photo of it down on Facebook!  And I didn’t take any photos at the birthday party.

My regulars have all booked for next  year already – and their friends too, so I am almost fully booked for 2013 and it isn’t even Halloween 2012 yet.  One wants body painting so we’ve blocked off two-hours for him – he was a last-minute Avatar last year and this year had a photo of some tribal warrior body paint that he wanted which I rushed through with Vinny’s help… Vinny had only booked “face painting” for four people, so I didn’t book enough time to do a proper job… it was okay but could be much, much better as I could make sure to have other products to make a better job of it. It still looked pretty good.

And Chris, who comes twice every year – he won best costume at Rock City last year with the Evil Jester make-up I did, won best costume, again, but at the Shark Club this year!  He stopped by to give me half of his prize money this evening… he was so excited.  He is already planning next year’s costume.

So here are photos from this weekend – please keep in mind that customers bring me images of what they want and many are copies of other artists’ work.  I paint what the customer wants.  Some are done without references but others are exact copies as that is what the customer insisted on, so, thanks to the original artists for the great ideas for some of these designs.

First, this is Chris, who won best costume at The Shark Club last night:

He had three photos he’s found on the net and I picked the one I liked the best and painted it.  He had his hair seriously spiked AND had gel nails put on and filed to points – he goes all out!

Next is a friend of Chris’… didn’t get his name  but we called this a Kabuki Skull… I started out going for a half skull due to his beard but it ended up looking like a kabuki mask so I added the red:

The next ones are Vinny’s group.  Vinny comes every year with his posse… this was the first year he actually made an appointment!  He booked for four face paintings but one of them wanted body painting… I lectured them about telling me about it in advance so I can schedule enough time to do a proper job.  Vinny helped me with the body painting on Colin to get the base on while I worked on details… for a rush job it turned out pretty close to what Colin wanted.  And he booked for a body painting for next year on the spot.

First was The Reaper – he had a specific image he wanted with the really wide mouth and he wanted the eyes on the lids:

Then Vinny got painted as a wolf – in this photo he is posing in a way that I think he meant to be “sexy” … hmm, not sure about that but he is dressed in a sexy Red Riding Hood costume with glow sticks inserted in the hood.

And here are Vinny and I painting Colin… you can see Colin is holding a tablet with the image of what he wanted on it so we could refer to the image.

And here is the finished painting… he added a wig and cloak later.

I also painted a couple of scary clowns:

This next one is Manda who is a regular… she’s also got some sfx wounds and gore… after she left my place she was going to be trashing the costume and dousing herself with blood… I thought the costume was great as it was but she’s into the splatter.

I also did a couple of sugar skulls.  The first wanted exactly like the image she provided which was a black and white photo of a stylized half skull:

And then there was this one.  She had a photo of a red one that she wanted that she showed me but I didn’t refer to it as I painted… I did it, showed her the mirror, she liked it, I took photos.  Then suddenly this afternoon I was sitting here and I though OMG I forgot to …!!!  Can you see the mistake?

It would be an easy fix … but I am so embarrassed!

Then I did a grey zombie which I quite like – it was done to match the wig cap he had:

This next one is another of my regulars who brought his significant other with him this year – they are a Corpse Bride and Groom.  He’s long dead and they met when she was buried so she is fresher.  I hope to see photos of them in costume at some point.

And here is a pretty spider witch.  She had some photos – one of Lynne Jamieson’s spider crawling out of the mouth that seems to have gone viral lately.  She decided that it wouldn’t last until the evening so opted for a spider on the cheek:

The next two I painted for the annual haunted house down at the park:

A zombie:

A blue witch:

At the party this afternoon, which was all girls, I did a lot of matching costumes and the rest were all glamourous eyes.  One little girl had a gorgeous Grecian gown with typical Greek patterned trim.  She just wanted her eyes done, so I did gold with black liner and replicated the pattern from the trim on her dress…. then, of course, I did about a dozen more.  But they were all different.  All of the children were in costumes, really great costumes, and not one duplicate.  Really impressive.

It was -12C when I left to go to the party… and about a foot of fresh snow.  I had to park about a block away and struggled to drag my rolling trolley through the snow.  Had just as much fun getting back to the car too.

And, the best part is… tomorrow I go to the bank!

I love Halloween… and I still have a couple of bookings on the 31st!