The Naive Face Painter

children's face painting at a festival, Sandy Bennett-Haber

While my son was having his face painted at a festival the other day I told my sister-in law about the time he sat down with some face paints in our kitchen. He wanted to be spiderman and brushed off any attempts I made to help him. He also scowled at my offer of a mirror. I think he was nearly four, and sat for about half an hour carefully painting his face with the cheap face paints and stubby – equally cheap – brush.

I hovered around trying to help and he kept telling me he would do it himself. Eventually I listened and just watched on.

Needless to say he is not a face painting genius and his efforts were grubby and confused.

When he finished he went and had a look in the mirror and let out a disappointed ‘oh.’

I told the story as an amusing Rafa anecdote, in a kids do the darnedest things sort of way.

At the festival, with his face painted by the (slightly cigarette scented) fairy he ran off to play, and then every few minutes he came back and asked me if his face paint had smudged. Later on he realised he could use Aunty Laura’s sunglasses to check for himself.

It was good face paint and even several sessions on the bouncy castle saw the paint mostly undisturbed.


While he was painting his own face, Rafa had a clear vision of what he was creating, and in his mind his vision matched his creation. He knew that it was perfect and did not need me to reassure him.

Looking back at the moment of disappointment – where he had invested himself in creating something, which turned out not to be quite as good as he expected it to be. I feel a little grief. Not that I want all his endeavours to be flawless – I am a big believer in learning, failing, learning a bit more.

I think my after-the-fact grief is to do with the gap between that confident face painting boy and the one who needs to check on his face paint every few minutes. Where has that naïve face painter gone?

It gets said (by me amongst others) that there is a toddler in all of us. This is usually in the context of a tantrum. Tantrums happen. But in thinking about the erosion of the naive face painter I am wondering if that other element of toddlerhood survives?

I have to believe that it does.

As a creative I have moments of unfiltered confidence – the moments are small and usually smashed on the rocks of self doubt as quickly as they are born, but they have to flicker. Otherwise how else do you sit by yourself at the table with nothing but cheap face paints, doing your best to breath life into the greasy primary colours of your art?

From that first moment of intuitive inspiration an artist hopes to build something. A painting, a short story, a novel – whatever it is it needs to be born from a kernel of self belief.

The day Rafa attempted to paint his own face he came back to me and asked me to help him create Spiderman. I used what he had begun and together we created a Spiderman he was happy with. Perhaps it did not live up to his first awesome vision, but he was happy enough to wear it out into the world.

When I am writing I do something similar. I tug on my initial inspiration, but I ask for help as well – sometimes in the form of feedback, sometimes it is just going back to reading writers I look up to.

Still – having witnessed the diminishing of the naive face painter, I have to wonder how I might better nurture that facet of creativity in the children, and in myself?


Do you have any good suggestions for tapping into the naive face painter part of your  brain?

Or for helping kids hold onto it?

I found this great blog on maintaining ‘kid high levels of imagination’ by Nastasya Parker – Keeping the Daydream Alive

3 thoughts on “The Naive Face Painter

  1. This brought back memories of painting a banner – I was a bit older than Rafa – and how surprised and disappointed I was that it was so much harder than I expected to transfer what was in my mind to the cloth. Ended up with some of the letters all squashed up at the end. I don’t think I ever thought I could draw or paint in an artistic way but words always lined up so neatly in my mind’s eye I thought they’d do what I wanted somehow. A lovely post, Sandy.

    1. Thanks for sharing your memory Maria. Do you think your disappointment impacted on your creative output when you were little?

  2. Great post! I have the same experience all the time – an idea for a story that seems perfect, and then when it’s on the page I just don’t like it at all. What’s really important is not letting that get you before you’ve even finished, which has happened to me lately. That initial rush of creativity has to be seen through to the end, in order to then perfect and refine it. My nephew loves writing ‘books.’ They have pictures, ad breaks, and every time he is disappointed that it doesn’t look like the things he sees on the screen. Loved the post you shared, it’s so hard to keep that sense of enthusiasm when you don’t create the perfect thing you imagined.

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