“Pinch me Wendy, we’re going to China”, said Donna as they boarded an 18 hour flight to Shanghai. The face painting team of Donna Nowak, Wendy Fisher and Annette Abramson joined Alenka Peternel from Slovenia in accepting the mission to teach 125 college students over 2 weeks the art of production face painting and airbrush tattoos. The following four weeks, students and teachers together were to entertain and paint in the biggest international clown festival in China’s history inside of a city of 18 million people. Oh and by the way, it had been during their national holiday!
The team arrived equipped to teach and outfit 125 students: 1,875 makeup cakes, 2,000 sponges, 675 brushes, 125 containers, numerous airbrushes, airbrush stencils, airbrush makeup, fantasy makeup, glitters and more. While strategizing with U.S. producers on location, the team soon found out that china had made different plans. This was to be the first of many surprises during their visit that became known as the “change of the day”. The student count doubled to 250 spanning three colleges in various locations. Each location was to get three days of training, 2 hours per day. Ouch! “No problem” thought Donna, “we’ll divide and conquer”. So two teams of two instructors each was formed. This enabled them to cover more ground, and limit class sizes to 40-70 students each.
News flash – word came in that Chinese Customs was holding 80 percent of the supplies for an extra week! When it rains it pours; next we discovered that a typhoon was coming to Shanghai and the city was to be closed for a few days. Yikes – Take cover!
This mission was in jeopardy. The frustration was building. But a couple weeks with limited materials and a lot of rain made no impact on the energized students. Everyone was greeted with hugs and waves and everything from the essentials of handling the equipment to elaborate face painting designs and airbrush tattoos were taught. There was no time to waste. To overcome the language barrier, pictures with step-by-step instructions were used. Swirls, flowers, dragons, butterflies and even full-face spider men were created. They loved Spidie! The Chinese are recognized for their ability to understand quickly and copy the things they learn; indeed they did.
Following training came opening week: confusion, no water, no tables, no chairs, chaos, and kids everywhere! Does it get any better than this? The KimTom International Clown Festival was on a raucous start. It was time for the U.S. producers to set their 25-year expertise to the test. Oh no – in comes the “change of the day” and the Chinese, without having experience, will run the show. Brace yourselves!
The opening ceremony was spectacular. The U.S. troop was greeted with bands, crowds and Chinese performances. Excitement everywhere as 87 performing artists stood on the stage holding friendship doves to be released into the air while people watched on national T.V. It was show time and off to Central park.
Feeling like rock stars, the face painting team showed up for the festival to discover there was 10 face painting stations with eight or more students each spread across 10 acres. How in the heck were four artists to supervise all these kids? Traveling by golf cart it was amazing to see that some stations had no tables or chairs, newly trained face painting artists were sitting on the grassy plains in direct sunlight, and some were without water! Where’s the union when you need them? Cultural differences caused frustrations when dealing with difficult situations. Where lecture failed to get points across, leading by example proved most effective. After a week of chaos the instructors broke rank and set up their face painting stations properly with tables, chairs, translators and barrier ropes. Barrier ropes posed a new challenge; the Chinese people are not used to waiting in lines. Small riots broke out frequently. This was a case where the teachers learned a lesson. Changing 3,000-year-old customs doesn’t happen overnight. The ropes dropped and people battled for position like ants on breadcrumbs.
Midway with the 30-day festival, students were finally suited with proper workstations. The Chinese loved the magic of fantasy makeup and airbrush painting but not so much on their faces. Early on, many arms were painted as faces are traditionally left unadorned. But in time, everyone wanted his or her face painted. And airbrush tattoos were a massive hit. Just when everything was going well, another typhoon rolled in and blew one of three performance stages into the lake. Ugh!
In time the students were performing wonderfully and creating unique designs of their own. Drawn in by all the excitement, even college professors took part in the act by showcasing their Chinese opera mask skills using cake makeup rather then traditional grease paints.
Eventually it was Mission Accomplished! Fantasy face painting and airbrush tattoos were so well received that Chinese institutions planned to offer it as a brand new curriculum. As well, the U.S. troop was invited to return to China for later events.
In over a decade in operation, Donna Nowak of ShowOffs Body Art has come to learn that adventure lies around every turn in the airbrush face painting and airbrush tattooing business. Experiences like this don’t come around every day, and sometimes you have to dig a little to find them. But they do exist! The biggest lesson learned from this adventure is that you should always plan ahead, and be prepared for plans to change. To handle massive crowds like those encountered in China, Donna invented and markets a line of airbrush face painting stencils, known around the world as StencilEyes. To read more about adventures in airbrush face painting and airbrush tattoos, or to explore the many airbrush makeup, fantasy makeup, airbrush stencils, and various other airbrush equipment products available through ShowOffs, visit them at http://showoffsba.com.