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Professional face painter Valerie Daft, right, shows off the devil/skull themed painting on the face of her daughter, Tamsyn Lampkin, in their Dublin, Calif., home on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013. (Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group)

As Halloween approaches, plenty of little would-be ghouls and princesses -- and big ones, too -- look forward to having their faces painted for a night of make-believe.

For those who do the painting professionally, it's another chance to marvel at how a little facial artwork can alter children's perception of themselves -- or even be used in medical therapy.

"When I do face painting, the fact that it's disposable is a joy; you can be a little crazy and do it safely," said artist and professional face painter Valerie Daft, owner of Limelight Faces in Dublin. "You can have a shy child who wants to be a tiger; shy children want to be brave things

Professional face painter Valerie Daft,  right, shows off the devil/skull themed painting on the face of her daughter, Tamsyn Lampkin, in their Dublin,
Professional face painter Valerie Daft, right, shows off the devil/skull themed painting on the face of her daughter, Tamsyn Lampkin, in their Dublin, Calif., home on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013. (Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group)

or superheroes, and girls want to be beautiful. You're kind of entering their world, and you get a feel for what their dreams are."

Scotland native Daft has a fine arts degree and is an oil painter. When a friend years ago asked her to help at an event doing face painting, she initially declined, then thought better of it.

"I went to an event, saw someone face painting and thought 'I actually could do that," she recalled. "I like to communicate with children and explore their imaginations."

Daft began accepting painting gigs, then took her first month's wages, stocked up on paint and joined a professional association. She now has 14 years of face painting under her brush, nearly four of them in America. She has taught seminars in locations including the United Kingdom, Chicago and at the world face painting convention in Orlando, Fla. She has also done commercial work and events for companies including Google, Apple, Zynga, Yahoo and eBay.

She estimates about 10 percent of her work is with adults, and the themes they request don't often vary much from children.

"The women want to look glamorous, high-impact, avant-garde," she said. "They want highlights on the cheekbones, shading below the cheekbones and graceful lines that flatter the face.

The men like attention on the jaw line -- half skulls, tigers ... dragons are perennially popular with men, as are the new favorites -- zombies.

"Zombies are all year round now," she said with a laugh. "The zombies have long since walked out of Halloween. They're no longer contained."

In Castro Valley, professional face painter Sandra Leathley has been transforming faces for 15 years with her company Sandra and Friends. Her clients include the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco Giants, where she has painted faces for parties in the luxury boxes. She has done corporate parties for companies including Genentech and Marriott and was asked to put costumes on and paint two living models for the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco's recent exhibit of China's Terracotta Warriors. She also provided cover art for the Klutz Face Painting book. Her favorite moment, however, comes when a child first gets a glimpse of a new face.

Professional face painter Valerie Daft, works on a devil/skull themed painting on the face of her daughter, Tamsyn Lampkin, in their Dublin, Calif., home
Professional face painter Valerie Daft, works on a devil/skull themed painting on the face of her daughter, Tamsyn Lampkin, in their Dublin, Calif., home on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013. (Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group)

"The highlight of my life is when you paint them and they look in the mirror and their face lights up like a Christmas tree," she said. "When you make a little boy Spiderman, and he is Spiderman -- holy moley ... they almost faint with joy.

"Even painting for the Raiders men -- I get these big, burly men, and they love it. They like the scary stuff -- rough, half-face monsters, skulls, Star Wars stuff, pirates.

"But," she added, "I get guys who walk up and want to be Pretty Pretty Princess and girls who want to be hideously ugly zombies. You can't tell about people."

Leathley and Daft have participated at the Harvest Festival at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in San Francisco, where some of the sickest children can only have their faces painted in bed. In a place where uncomfortable procedures are a daily reality, the simple art of face painting becomes a much-needed diversion for seriously ill children, said Teresa Fagan McDonald, a child life specialist at the facility.

"The face painters are so lovely," she said. "Being in the hospital is different; you don't feel so well, and they're a little frightened of strangers. If the child doesn't want his face painted, they will do a hand or an arm if that's all the kids can tolerate. The activity is so normal for children, and that's what we try to do -- provide activities that are normal."

With the approach of Halloween, parents can, with a little practice, help their children enjoy an evening of transformation.

"Paint your child yourself and enter their world," Daft suggested. "Share that little world with your child ... it's a bit of exploring for them, and you get to join in."

"A smudge here or there doesn't alter the illusion for a youngster," she added.

"What a child sees in the mirror," she said, "Is that they are Spiderman."

Halloween events
Here are a few costume events in the Tri-Valley:
Livermore's fifth annual Downtown Halloween Carnival: Hosted by the Livermore Downtown Association, it will be held 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday. There will be no trick-or-treating, but families with elementary-age children and younger can enjoy a costume contest, a screaming contest, face painting, carnival games and surprise entertainment.
The costume contest will be from 3 to 5 p.m. in front of the Bankhead Theater at 2400 First St. Tickets, at $5, will allow children to play all games. There also will be vendors.
Danville Fall Crafts Festival: It will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in downtown Danville. There will be a costume parade at 10 a.m. Saturday. Children should meet in front of Faz Restaurant, 600 Hartz Ave. There will be trick-or-treating both days at participating merchants.
Pleasanton's annual Halloween Brew Crawl: It is set for 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday in the city's downtown. Sponsored by the Pleasanton Downtown Association, it features breweries teaming up with local restaurants to offer beer-and-food samplings at more than 20 tasting stations. Each ticket, at $35, includes a commemorative glass and all tastings. Advance tickets are sold at Main Street Brewery, 830 Main St.; Redcoats Pub, 336 St. Mary St., or online at http://instagift.com/pda. Any remaining tickets will be sold for cash at the event.

face painting tips
  • Use only water-based dry paint approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for cosmetic use. A small amount of water is added to make a thick liquid that dries quickly with no stickiness. Glitter used on faces should be labeled as cosmetic glitter. Craft glitter can cause serious eye injuries.
  • Water-based dry paint and cosmetic glitter can be found online and at some craft stores. Save money by buying a baby bath sponge and cutting it into pieces to make application sponges. Face painting brushes and sponges should not be reused for other purposes.
  • If you're concerned about a skin reaction, test a small amount of paint on your child's skin at least an hour before the face painting.
  • Know your child's tolerance level, and don't overdo. Some youngsters can be intimidated by frightening images, particularly at Halloween. Practice painting your arm to polish your technique and to determine the correct amount of water to add to dry paint.
  • For ideas and tips, check out the Klutz publication "Face Painting" or go online to www.snazaroo.us/photos.htm.
    -- Valerie Daft