Face value: how passion became a business
Gina Thompson started face painting, certain she had all the popular characters down pat. Then a little boy asked for Barney.
“I couldn’t remember for the life of me what Barney looked like,” she said of the Tyrannosaurus rex whose television show, Barney & Friends, was a massive hit. “The parents kept saying he was purple. So I did something that I thought looked like a purple dinosaur.” The boy looked in the mirror when she was done, visibly unhappy.
“That’s not Barney,” he cried.
It was time for Mrs Thompson to pull out the big guns.
“I slapped some glitter on it,” she laughed. “Glitter saves everything. Then it was, ‘How pretty’!”
That was 19 years ago. Today, if she’s not sure about a character, she looks it up on her mobile phone.
As for Barney, he is now a purple has-been, replaced by a sea of newer characters.
“Unicorns are really popular right now,” said Mrs Thompson, who has painted an estimated 25,000 faces under the banner of Sniggles Face and Body Painting.
In 2002, she won third prize for one of her designs at the Face and Body Art Convention in Florida.
“The next year they invited me back to be an instructor,” said Mrs Thompson, who works at Crawl Hill Post Office.
Last month, her work was featured in New York face painting journal Qmagazine. It will be featured again next month.
“The editor heard about me through a group I am in on Facebook,” she said. “She asks for submissions and you have to send certain pictures in. Last month the theme was Valentine’s Day and next month it will be flowers.
“I’m hoping to share my art with the world. I’d love it if it led to me getting to some convention overseas.”
She got into face painting after her daughter was invited to a party and the host needed some help entertaining the kids.
“The mother had these [special] crayons and wanted someone to use them to do face painting on the children,” she said. “I was just sitting around doing nothing so I offered to help.”
She put a long-held passion for sketching and painting into drawing the requested characters.
“The children were all happy,” she said. “But I said, ‘I can do better than this’.”
A lightbulb went off.
“I went to the Phoenix Store and asked if they had any face paint,” she said. “God must have been smiling down on me. It just so happened that they had a face painting kit and a book.”
She went home and started practising on anyone who would stand still long enough.
“All the children in the neighbourhood got tired of me,” she said. “I’d be like, ‘Come here, let me do something to your face’. Their parents would come over and I’d do their faces.”
Before she knew it, she was hired and business boomed. She can meet any request — from birthday parties to corporate events to Harbour Nights and Carnival.
She has also expanded into pregnant bellies and full body painting. Designs can take anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour.
“A small design takes longer,” she said. “With the large ones I use a sponge and can work fairly quickly. With the smaller ones I have to use a brush to draw on the design. It requires a lot of detail.”
The secret, she said, is to work with the shape of the face.
“Everyone’s face is different, so every design is different. The best face to work with is a large one. You can do a lot with it. It’s not as easy with a small face.”
She gets her inspiration from looking at different people’s work.
“If you are going to face paint you shouldn’t copy someone else’s design,” she said. “If you do you will frustrate yourself. If you are talented and artistic you can make up your own designs. But it is all right to take inspiration from different people’s work and combine it into something unique.”
This summer she is thinking of offering a face and body painting camp for children, but she is a little reluctant to teach adults.
“The market is only so big here,” she laughed. “I don’t want to teach someone and then have to compete with them.”
She is proud that people like her work.
“I would like to go further with it, but in Bermuda, you can’t go too far,” she said. “In a bigger community there’s an opportunity to do workshops and things like that.”
For more information, look for Gina Thompson on Facebook or call 236-2347. Watch the video at http://bit.ly/2GQEhpm
Roland Skinner (1940-2018)
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