A Brief History of Face Painting

What is Face Painting?

In modern western culture, face painting is a fun activity where children and adults can get a fun and colorful design painted on their faces, usually at a party or carnival. Body and face painting is an art form that has been utilized by indigenous and modern cultures for many years and many reasons. In Indigenous cultures, face and body painting was used in rituals. Indigenous tribes all around the world have utilized face and body painting in places such as North America, South America, Africa, Australia, and India. In many tribal cultures, body paint was made out of plant materials and animal-based pigments. 



The Ritualistic Side of Body and Face Painting

The use of body and face painting became a daily ritual for most Indigenous tribes around the world. It developed into a way to determine status within a tribe, to celebrate during special events or rituals, as well as to honor someone who has gone through a “rite of passage.” A rite of passage is a ceremony that many tribes participate in, where a child is viewed as becoming an adult. When face and body paint is utilized to reveal status within a tribe, it is generally used by painting a specific mark on the chief or others in power within that group or hierarchy. It can also show when someone is grieving a loss, therefore, they should be provided space for healing. Spiritually, indigenous tribes also believe that certain body and face painting can ward off evil spirits that connect to the god that they worship. The evil spirits are warded off by certain body paints masking the identity of an individual which therein cloaks or hides them from said evil spirits.



What are Body and Face Paints made of?

Body and face paints are made out of a wide variety of materials, but generally, throughout history, they have been made out of natural elements and pigments extracted from plants and animal byproducts. In Indian culture, body painting, known as Henna, was made from the Lawsonia Inermis flowering plant. When done correctly, this body art stains the skin temporarily, generally for up to two weeks. In South America, charcoal was utilized to create markings on the skin. They would also extract orange pigment from what is known as the Bixa Orellana tree. Just like modern body and face paint, most of these temporary pigments wash off very easily with water and light scrubbing.


How did Face Painting Become a Modern Practice?

How we view face painting today in modern western culture can be traced back to the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, Illinois. A man of the name Max Factor invented a full body paint that was presented at the World’s Fair. Max Factor’s make up was exclusive to Hollywood and Cinema. He was known for creating some of the most well known looks for some of Hollywood’s most iconic stars such as Ava Gardner and Marlene Dietrich, but Max Factor believed this level of glitz and glamour should be accessible to all women, not just women in film.


At the World’s Fair in 1933, Max Factor took a risk with model Sally Rand in promoting his body paint. Sally Rand was his model and he painted her fully nude with paint strategically placed on her body to cover more sensitive areas. This caused such an uproar that lead to Sally being arrested multiple times that single day. This shock and attention brought face and body painting to the minds of the public and to the minds of artists. Many western artists took to this medium of expression in the 1960s.



How Face and Body Painting Came to What it is Today

Nowadays, many people see face painting at certain social gatherings for entertainment purposes, such as at carnivals, festivals, or even birthday parties. Face Painting is also sometimes utilized in protests or rallies to garner political attention. On the other end of this spectrum, it has also been used at flash mobs and music festivals with zero political agenda, simply as a fun and entertaining experience.


The above information only scratches the surface of the history and evolution of body and face painting. Now, it is more often utilized by children for fun at a birthday party in western culture, but it is still utilized among indigenous tribes and Indian cultures today. These traditional practices have not disappeared from cultures outside of modern uses. Face Painting simply bled into other areas of life, providing a wide range of uses, artistic expressions, and styles.



Face Painting and Mardi Gras

Many people have heard of Marti Gras, but how face painting developed its relationship with this festival? Marti Gras originated with the French Catholics as a celebration just before Lent. Mardi Gras literally means Fat Tuesday in French. This is because many people would eat an abundance of food and party all night long before the restrictive rules of Lent took hold. Body and face painting became a very popular part of Mardi Gras, as well as the use of colorful masks. In fact, nowadays, the most popular face painting designs are inspired by Mardi Gras mask styles. Painted Mardi Gras masks are even considered a respected art form by a lot of people. This can be a fashion statement during a masquerade party.


How to Paint a Marti Gras Mask?


Some items you will need to paint a Mardi Gras face paint mask are two brushes, sizes number two and number four would work perfectly. You will also need a wide variety of bright face paint colors, which are not hard to find here at Maydear face paints.


It is advised to paint a color base around the eyes and down the center of the eyebrows because these are the spots of the face where the eyes are naturally drawn to.


You should add at least two colors right above the eyes, but you can honestly add as many as you want. The more the better! There should also be a color to highlight the cheek bones and under the eyes. Generally, you should paint in upward strokes.


After the base has been set, add in color swirls and glitter, tear drop shapes of color and many other fun designs. You can even outline these other shapes with another bright color.


Face painting for Halloween,  Birthday, or Just Any Day

A must have for Mardi Gras festivals, face paints are also indispensable during Halloween. A nice face painting design and maybe a matching hair color would work miracles together with your fairy or pirate Halloween costume.

And like what we mentioned earlier, face painting is also a popular activity for children’s birthday parties, or any parties and gatherings for that matter. Providing hours of fun and quality time to family and friends, face painting has the magic to make any “ordinary” days extraordinary.


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