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Living - July 24, 2009

Let's Face It

Face painter Dori Sanchez says the form has evolved

by John A. Barry

A canvas is flat, pallid, passive, awaiting passes of the artist's brush. What if that canvas is plastic, topographic, impassioned? That's the challenge confronting Dori Sanchez every time she applies her palette to the "canvas" of the human face.

When I met with her recently, she was about to transform six-year-old Garrett McKinney into a tiger, after first warming him up with a cheek design of a fire-breathing dragon.

Sanchez was just an East Bay kid herself when she first heard her artistic calling. "In kindergarten, I loved painting on an easel." That love took her to an advanced art class in eighth grade and eventually to sketching and drawing classes at Diablo Valley College. She subsequently taught preschool for a while, which "brought out my love of art."

Drawing, however, did not capture her imagination the way color did. "I was good with color. Face painting is all about color, not sketching; that's why I like it," she explains. "I get impatient with sketching," she continues. "If I see something, I can work with it with color." In the case of face painting, "the face is the 'canvas.'" Unlike a canvas, however, a human face is not as flat as a Midwestern accent. So Sanchez works with the contours that present themselves.

Clowning Around

Prior to starting her current business, Spunky Entertainment, Sanchez sold handmade photo-embellished greeting cards at art boutiques. After attending a six-week course at the Concord School of Clownology, she started her own entertainment business. Part of that involved face makeup (a key component of clowning as well), "which I enjoyed the most."

The art of face painting, Sanchez says, is three-tiered. There is the painting itself, which is temporary; the enjoyment; and the photographic record. "It starts with the experience. Children get one-on-one attention, I can chat with them, they have first chance at being a 'model.' Parents love it when I match colors to kids' outfits."

Sanchez explains that most of her "canvases" are kids' faces. But she also works on adults, notably when Mardi Gras and Halloween roll around.

The Medium Is the Visage

Face paint is water-based—dry until it is hydrated—making for easy application but also, if care is not taken, for easy smudging. Some of it, Sanchez notes, is "basically eye shadow" that she uses mainly around the eyes. "It's easy, soft, and smooth," applied with a Q-tip. For the paint, she employs watercolor brushes and sponges, the latter for larger areas. A damp sponge dragged across three or four colors, for example, and then applied to facial contours can create a rainbow effect. She uses glitter for accentuation. Images can also be rendered in henna, which lasts longer and is the medium for temporary tattoos.

Sanchez buys her paints from online stores and then cuts the paints and assembles her own kits. Several online vendors offer generic designs from which painters can work, but Sanchez says that she is starting to create her own. Some of the time, though, she creates images on the fly. Full-body face painting is often applied via airbrush. Sanchez says that Austria is a hotbed of such artistic expression.

According to Sanchez, face-painting is an "expanding business." She wrote, "Face painting has evolved over the past ten years. Then, I was painting small cheek designs on faces. Now, the kids want more detailed artwork, from half-face to full-face designs that transform their faces."

International conventions may draw several hundred people, but "that's not even close to the total number of face painters." She meets periodically with East Bay face painters (she knows of five) to critique each other's work.

Sanchez will soon be practicing her craft (or art, depending on your perspective) on an international basis. She applied and was accepted to do face painting on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. No canvas sails, but plenty of potential contoured canvases.

Anne Appel of Alamo responded to my "what is art?" column with a definition of her own. "Art is intentional visual language expressed with some skill (the intention and skill are essential, in my opinion)."

Some other thoughts I have picked up:

*Not all visual communication is art—content is key and must be of lasting value.—Julian Spalding, The Eclipse of Art

*Art as a collection of ideas that are continually reinterpreted.—DeYoung Museum

*Art as the language of vision.—Wayne Thiebaud

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