I never really understood facepainting. I didn't see much of it around where I grew up in the Netherlands, nor did I pay much attention when I did start to see it happening at community events in the UK. I didn't think it was anything special.
That changed a few years ago when I was invited to provide a children's stall at a local event in Horsham Park and I said 'Yes.' I had no experience and neither did the Montessori colleague who was helping me that day. We got some basic equipment and, most importantly, some pictures of painted faces to copy. We got going and we kept going all day long. Much to our surprise the children were delighted, and so were their parents. Not bad for my first experience, at age 48! That same colleague and I did another facepainting stall at an event in Southwater this summer and the children were queuing up.
On the face of it, excuse the pun, facepainting is a common activity, simple and popular. Anyone can do it, but those who are creative tend to do well. I was not prepared, however, for its special magic.
To paint well, you have to get up close and personal to, in many cases, a complete stranger. For full-face designs this young stranger has to close their eyes and trust your stable hand. When you have just painted the area around the eyes and the child has sat still; when they then open their eyes and look at you, with such trust and vulnerability, that is a very special thing.
It reminded me how precious each child is and how lucky I am that I can give them this simple fleeting gift, enjoyed as much by its giver as by the child who receives it.