Facepaint UK Blog


Mar 14, 2017

Scared of Skulls? Freaked out by Fangs?
Catriona Finlayson gets to grips with culture for this timely article.

Bored to tears at the prospect of yet ANOTHER Hallowe'en where all you paint is witches, skulls and vampires? Tired of terrifying your more timid clients? Why not delve into other areas and different cultural traditions to give some new fun to your fright-night faces folio! The appropriately named Cat has done the hard work for Facepaint UK, gathering resources & ideas to get your creepy creative juices flowing!

If you fancy a change, read on; if gore is your thing, the DFX Brothers are the undisputed kings, you can browse the DFX's website, buy the first Creative Facepainting book or their new Cheat book, or see what they got up to in last years UK Convention magazine, all available at Facepaint UK.
So how did it all begin?

Celts held a major celebration at the end of October, the fire festival "Samhain", to mark the end of summer & harvest. They thought the veil between our world and the next thinned then, so those who had died could visit. Often black cats, now a classic Hallowe'en symbol, would host the returned souls.
This interesting blue one was painted by Cree, the other unusual green cat by Cat herself!

Celts would go to others houses to collect donations of food (for the Gods), or wood for the Samhain bonfire - possibly where "trick or treating” began. Locals carried home sparks from those sacred hill-top bonfires in turnips, to re-light their hearth fires. To scare off evil spirits on the walk home, they dressed up, and carved faces on their ember holders. Sound familiar?

If you haven't seen them already, the Celts have beautiful monsters and animals that could be incorporated into designs, and loved deep rich colours accented with gold. And vaguely related is the almost Maori-style tribal pictograms of the Picts - metallic blue (Paradise, DFX or Kryolan) strikes me as a modern woad replacement!

How about Mexicans?
As a child the bright, happy, (and drunken) Day of the Dead festivities seemed far more exciting to me than 'guising' in Scotland. November 1st is for deceased children, and the 2nd for adults, but it isn't morbid, instead celebrating their memories and the continuity of life. It mixes Aztec & Christian traditions; families welcome departed souls back, and 'join' them in their churchyards for slap-up picnics. Houses and graves are decorated to attract spirits, with colourful marigold flowers, favourite photos, food (brightly iced sugar skulls, or bone-shaped loaves with a lucky toy skeleton hidden inside), cigarettes and alcohol. Alter offerings also represent the four elements; Earth, crops or bread for the dead are food, as souls feed on the smell of them; candles add Fire, one for each of the dead and one for the 'forgotten soul'; Wind needs a moving object - like tissue paper or feathers; Water (or tequila!) sits in a cup for the soul to quench its thirst after its long journey back.

If that isn't giving you ideas (the booze & cigs are probably NOT best painted on kids!), try looking at Papel Picado designs. Something I have often made, myself or with kids, these are colourful paper cut-outs, hung everywhere as decorations. Similar to the paper snowflakes school kids churn out in the run up to Christmas, these are doily-like images of comical skeletons, kissing skulls, monsters, wildlife and birds. Masters of the art hammer specially shaped chisels through 50 layers of tissue to complete many copies of incredibly intricate pictures at once. Have a go yourself - if there is nothing to copy in your library, draw a 'stained glass' style picture, symmetrical or not, and cut out the 'glass' bits leaving the leaded framework behind. Why not paint a silhouette of the 'Beautiful Lady Death', La Catrina, in her skeletal ball-dress and hat. Smaller skulls or animal stencils make great cheek designs. And remember - hot pink, orange, leaf green, turquoise - that's the way they go!

The solemn Chinese Ghost Festival during Ghost Month (7th moon) is when spirits come out from the lower worlds. (If you want truly gruesome ideas for "kids who are nasty to their parents", read about 'Di Yu' in Wikipedia - they have their own hell level!). People send their dearly departed money to spend by burning special outrageously 'expensive' hell banknotes! They also float fantastic paper boats and lanterns on water, to help direct lost ghosts. Ancient Chinese used fire flies as lights in some - a chance to bring pretty glowing insects into your designs? Decorations in October for the Moon Goddess festival depict her and the Moon Rabbit, cute and cartoony or elegant & graceful, against massive full moons. Streets are hung with lanterns - bright rabbits, goldfish and strange air-ship structures shaped like physallis flowers on their sides (where the plant got its common 'Chinese lantern' name). If it can have gold red fringes on it, it will! Colours are mainly vibrant reds, oranges, lime greens and hot pinks. Definitely not white - luckily I was warned that white flowers are a sign of death!

Despite some Christians objecting to the pagan/satanic links they see in Halloween, and actively campaigning against it, other churches disagree, and join in, saying that learning about death is a valuable life lesson for children. Even the Vatican's senior exorcist sees it as just a game for one night! Some more conservative branches celebrate the holiday as All Saints Day, offering harvest-themed alternatives.

Devils Night, especially in Detroit from the 1930s, is the night before Halloween, the 30th. It grew from practical jokes to vandalism and insurance-fraud arson, to over 800 fires a night by the 1980's, especially after the film 'The Crow' advertised it! By 1995 officials started with 'Angel's Night', with volunteers patrolling their street, which luckily, has stopped this.

In Scotland, kids have to 'work' for their treats; they don't get away with shouting or threatening practical jokes on the people who open their doors to the groups in fancy dress! If your joke/ song/ skit doesn't please, traditionally you don't get given anything...... Scottish thrift? (I can say that without getting shouted at, I hope, I'm a Scot!)

The French in Brittany follow a 2000 year old tradition, by baking Kornigou, fruit and spice cakes shaped like the antlers shed by the god of winter as he returns to his kingdom in the Otherworld. Could be a link to fawns & Bambi for face paint purposes?

Ancient mythology is a great resource too - here are a few more ideas....

The Egyptian afterlife is full of amazing animal designs - Anubis the jackal-headed god of the dead, the two feline goddesses Sekhmet & Bast, even the desert god Set with the random anteater/ elephant mystery creatures face. Horus the sky god was pictured either as a falcon-headed man, or an actual bird - think of the amazing blue & gold a style spread- wing crowns and necklaces worn in Cleopatra films!

Amongst the many characters in Australian aboriginal myths, Bahloo the moon is a man-god, with three deadly snakes as pets. Yara-ma-yha-who is a small red man with a huge toothless head and large mouth. He hides in fig trees, waiting to grab victims resting in the shade. His hands and feet are octopus- tentacle suckers, which drain the prey's blood. Waking up later, after eating the whole person Yara regurgitates a shorter version of the victim! The Rainbow Serpent created Australia's mountains and gorges as it rose from the underworld, but it is a kind protector of its people, punishing criminals and linked to water, life and relationships. I love the fact that so much of their art is symbolic - it looks like beautiful dots and squiggles with the occasional recognisable object, but if you know the key, there's a whole story.......maybe you could create a dream-time story-tale on skin?

Africa is full of colourful myths and monsters, so I have just mentioned a few. In some West African regions Anansi the spider is one of the most important gods. He became a hero and 'King of all Stories' by tricking his way through various trials. In South Carolina spiders are called Aunt Nancy because of this!
Tokoloshe, according to one Zulu shaman, is a nasty looking teddy-bear with sharp, bony ridges on top of its head, that knocks out oxes by butting them. Others say he is a water-sprite who loves women and sour milk, with only one arm and leg, an old face on a young body, and a rather large 'lady pleaser' - maybe not for painting on children! On a more colourful note, the Zulu goddess Demeter invented or controls rainbows, rain, - and beer!

Useful Links:
Any image/ photo I want I often use the Google search 'image' tab - as long as you are only looking for inspiration, its fine!
For animals, plants & photos of anything living - http://www.arkive.org/species/
(The BEST quality pics of any I have ever seen, with the BBC, top photographers & the Natural History Museum donating their images, free for educational use. You can even create a 'scrap-book' online to save the photos you like best for later. They don't have every species ever yet, but enough big cats, insects & reptiles to keep you going!)
Aboriginal art: http://www.aboriginal-art.com/contents.html
DFX bros: http://www.heretoserveyou.com/DFXfx/default.asp
Mexican sugar skulls/ papel picado shop: http://www.mexicansugarskull.com/mexicansugarskull/
Mexican day of the dead photos: http://www.dayofthedead.com/PhotosSkeletons.html

Best of all, why not search for the beautiful in the beastly - there is always space for good witches to balance out the evil crones! Try swirly sparkling spidery designs such as the ones Bibi has here, rather than the venomous species.

The new Funky Faces book (on sale here) has an example of an amazingly lifelike (or should that be death-like?) flowery girl skull. We all know that princesses, cats and butterflies can be adapted to suit any theme so why not go slightly ghoulish on them? Maybe adding a stipple sponge effect in, goth-ing up the patterns, or altering the colour ranges you often use for a slightly spooky look. Harry Potter could be a popular option, as although not really a Hallowe'en person, he and his fellow characters ARE of course warlocks and magical creatures. Snazaroo USA has a great photo ideas page for him. I'm all for trying to encourage kids away from the nasty tricks and rubber Freddy masks that now seem popular, and returning to a broader fancy dress theme! Lets make it a truly magical event again...............

Here are some fabulous designs for Halloween by Cat,

And from Cree - again generously donated, a big thank you to her!

Catriona is currently resident in Hong Kong, and we look forward to more interesting articles from her, but she is already in high demand for her fantastic facepainting!

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