The Joy of Face Painting

The Joy of Face Painting

Photos courtesy of Jason Lea

My son likes to have his face painted.

That’s good because it encourages his imagination and makes for great Instagram fodder.

It’s bad because it costs me money.

It doesn’t matter where we go. Face painters lurk at medieval fairs and Easter egg hunts.

And it starts to add up: Eight dollars at the zoo; five dollars at the apple festival; 12 dollars at the other zoo.

So after spending — this is an estimate — about $4 million dollars on face painting, I had a great/terrible idea.

I’d buy the paint and handle the artwork myself.

It was a great idea because it saves me money.

It was terrible because I have no artistic talent. None. My neighborhood has banned me from using sidewalk chalk because my smiley-faced suns and indecipherable stick figures are bad for property values. (I’m exaggerating, but only a little.)

Still, I bought the paint. Because parenthood stretches your comfort zone to unimaginable parameters. And I wanted to save money.
And here’s the wild thing: My plan worked for two reasons —
• There are YouTube channels dedicated to teaching talentless hacks like myself how to paint faces.
• A child’s imagination can compensate for any artistic deficiencies. If a kid wants to look like a dragon, then he’ll think he looks like a dragon.

My son and I started with easy things: vampires (mostly white with some black and red accents) and dinosaurs (a lot of green with some big ol’ teeth.) And eventually graduated to more ambitious projects — elephants, giraffes and at least one yeti.

Each morning, he’d come down the stairs and tell me what he wanted to become that day.

It was fun. We had a thing. And it feels great when you and your kid have a thing.

But then the thing ended.

One morning, after about three weeks of face painting, my son disapproved of my work. He was supposed to be a tyrannosaurus, but the teeth looked sloppy and had melted down his chin. I offered a touch-up job, but he went to the bathroom, washed his face, and sulked on the couch.

So I got mad.

At first, I thought I was mad because my son was rude. But after I’d stewed for (let’s be honest) a few days, I realized the real reason for my tizzy.
He’d hurt my pride.

You see, I’d somehow convinced myself that I was a good face painter. (I’m not.) Worse, I’d convinced myself that my son’s face-painting phase was about me. (It wasn’t. It was about looking like a tiger.)

Fortunately, once I got out of my feelings, my son and I were able to come to an understanding.

Now, he paints my face. And that’s good and less than good.

It’s good because we still have a thing. And that thing stimulates his imagination and encourages his creativity.

It’s less good because his favorite painter is Jackson Pollock.

About the author

Jason Lea has a son, daughter, and a full-time job at the Mentor Public Library. He also blogs for Northeast Ohio Parent in his nonexistent free time. You can find this East-sider on Twitter at @jasonmarklea or read his blog at

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