I was painting at this Artfest and a woman said to her son— “oh look, your photo is in her book—it’s the tiger she painted for you two years ago!” Then she reminded me of the time I painted her son at WR Carnation Fest. Oh how time flies! This boy wanted a Tiger again. It always touches my heart when I see my work is remembered and feels meaningful for children and their families.
I wrote this short personal essay about face painting at Carnation Festival this year, the sensations and the atmosphere towards the end of the night, and all the feels. Please enjoy!
The KISS cover band turns their amp "up to 11," and you're so tired from face painting for seven hours straight, you can only sit there in your booth on the midway, staring into the meandering crowd. 11pm at night, your fingers in your ears, passersby smile and nod in recognition of your effort to protect your ear drums. You try not to laugh, but you can't help it, even though every part of you hurts from painting a million butterflies, tigers, unicorns, day of the dead skulls on children's faces. The guitars screeching, and the brightly lit up "KISS" logo onstage makes you feel as if you've entered a wormhole back into the 1970's, and you laugh to yourself noticing the older man at the Rotary Club booth also has his fingers in his ears, as well. At least someone could fart loudly and not be heard because of the immense amount of noise, you think. And that thought makes you laugh even more.
There is a lull in the music, and then fake KISS starts to sing "I want to rock 'n roll all night, and party every day" over and over, and the crowd near the stage goes nuts, crying out as though just being born-- and you won't get that song out of your head for a week, even after the band leaves the stage and you've cleaned up your booth, and stumble toward the recycle bin across the way, to throw out all the trash customers left behind, including a half drunk "Strawberry beer-rita" which spills down the leg of your cute new jumpsuit. And after you've thrown out all the trash, you're walking through the crowd by the stage and see the lead singer off-stage now, in full Kabuki style makeup and fright wig, platform shoes, and someone says to him-- "Great show, Greg." And it sounds like it could be his Dad or uncle, so your heart softens a moment, and this 'Gene Simmons' apparent double' says "Thanks for coming out, Tracy. I love you guys."
And the carnival is fading. The paper raffle tickets blow down the deserted street where parents and children spent their money in the hot sun, holding on to the last rays of summer freedom and joy, riding the ferris wheel, paying for gizmos that light up, watching fireworks.
I think of Anderson park, where it all takes place (the insanity known as the Carnation Festival), and when I walked into the adjoining Anderson Building to use the rec center restroom while my face painting customers grudgingly waited five minutes for me to use the bathroom-- my heart sank like a heavy stone; I was transported backwards in time... my first best friend and I, going to the swimming pool at the Anderson Building, barely school age. I can almost feel her ghost with me, which makes me wonder why am I here and why is she gone. Addiction is a horrible thing, the things that were done to her were horrible. People used to joke about someone giving handjobs for $20 outside Carnation Fest. I used to laugh at those jokes, but it hits me how desperate one would have to be to do that. The KISS cover band is pretending to be something... just as we all pretend. But what is behind the mask? Anything at all? Just ghosts of summer days when we were terribly young and still saw the world unfiltered, fresh, acute, tender, and terrible. I miss my friend in a way that one misses a person who is gone forever. A longing for a growing thing that never quite bloomed.
Face Painting Denver made the front page of the Wheat Ridge Transcript, celebrating 50 years of the Carnation Festival!
The day before The Rolling Stones played in Denver this lady in my line asks for The Rolling Stones mouth with the tongue sticking out—“oh I’ll have whatever you can do for six bucks. Oh and just write their name above the logo.”
Surely she’s joking, or drunk, or both.
So I just try to get the painting over with, as quickly as humanly possible.
As I paint her arm, the tall, burly man with her sways a bit close, also having drunk too much
“I feel dumb,” he slurs. “Can you take this butterfly off my face?”
“But I just painted it, and it’s what you asked for,” I tell him. “Maybe you can just try to forget it’s there?,”I tell him— “that’s what I do when I paint my own face.” I go back to concentrating on the lady’s arm.
“I’m seeing the Stones tomorrow,” she tells me. “I want to wear this to the concert. Can I keep it on that long?”
I wrack my brain for ideas— all I have is some fixative that isn’t super strong, which I’ll use, of course. “Saran Wrap and surgical tape might do the trick,” I tell her. “And you can hold your arm outside the shower, maybe spray some hairspray on it?”
She keeps repeating that she wants it to last for the concert. I try to be supportive, but there are limits on what I can offer.
When I’m finished I hold up the mirror for her to get a better look.
She’s shocked. Her eyes widen. “Wow, you actually did a good job. It’s amazing.” Her voice sounds surprised. I guess she wasn’t expecting much.
Her friend throws a wrinkled $5 bill on my table to supplement the $6 she was “planning to pay me.”
She tells me two things— first that she’s paying $1200 to see the Stones ‘cause it was on her bucket list. I don’t know what to say, so I just mutter, “wow.” I suppose I respect anyone so hellbent on achieving their dream, whatever that might be.
Second— she tells me that I have a steady hand, and that my work is “fantastic.” Have I ever detailed a motorcycle?, she asks. (I say no, since I haven’t). So she says, in a low voice— go to (something) Dog’s biker bar and tell ‘em Shelley sent ya. (I ask her to repeat the name— a Heart cover band is playing loudly, so I can’t hear her very well. Did she say Salty Dog’s? Hot Dog’s? What type of dog/dawg did she mean??). She continues...”There are a lot of Hell’s Angels who would pay good money for this. I swear, you’ll make a million dollars. Tell ‘me Shelley sent you.”
Is this some kind of hidden calling I’ve been missing out on all this time?? 😅 What if I mess up when painting a Hell's Angel hog— what could possibly go wrong???
(Post script: a trusted friend, who’s father owned a biker bar, has just warned me not to get involved with biker gangs!)