Each year I get the pleasure of traveling to Alaska to be part of Marky’s Face Painters at the Alaska State Fair. This wonderful gig came to me 8 years ago when Mark’s wife, P.J. Williams, called to invite me to work at the fair. I had never been to Alaska- so the answer was yes! It wasn’t as glamorous as I thought…. sometimes the weather got a little too cold for this Florida girl, and learning to work as a group has its challenges. We lost P.J. along the way to an unexpected illness, saw many painters come and go, but somehow we also managed to make all around improvements to the booth. This year we have a great team of 6 painters and painting hours that work for everyone. Most importantly, there’s good positive energy permeating the booth.
I am not a fair painter, meaning that I don’t travel the circuit like many do. But after seven years of painting at the fair, and being influential in making positive changes in the way the booth is run, I would like to share my insights on what makes the fair profitable and successful for all of us.
Booth, location, and visual impact
Everyone wants a prime spot at a fair, but these don’t come easy. Priority is given to big sponsors and long standing vendors. We are lucky that Mark has owned the same spot for 21 years. This year we were able to move our booth to the corner because the Popcorn vendor decided to retire. We can now be seen from three major trails, plus, we are close to one of the entrances. My first year at the fair, our booth consisted of an old tent that had paint splash everywhere as decoration. Today we have a small wooden house and professional signage. Our banners are attractive and the design boards are well organized. Every year we add something new to our overall presentation. Last year it was a set of giant brushes, this year we used beautiful big posters to promote the Bling. But more important than anything else is that all the painters are friendly and have a great attitude. This has helped with a large percentage of return customers who look forward to being painted by us year after year.
Each painter is provided with a table, 2 chairs and a shelf. Everything is out of my kit and placed on the table on top of a black towel. This year I separated my brushes by style in three separate containers to find the one I need faster. Under my table I keep a set of drawers with my jewels, sponges, extra glitter and tops for the paints. Because Mark knows that I like to change my water often, he installed a funnel where I can drain the water into the grass under the house. A small garbage sits next to my shelf and I keep my puppet and a blanket for cold days on a shelf nearby. Everything is within easy reach. On the other shelf there’s hand sanitizer, mouth wash, a hairbrush and toothpaste as well as Silly Farm and FABATv promotional materials in case someone asks. I always have my inspiration box close by me. Fair security does an excellent job of closing down the park safely each night, so there is no need to pack up at the end of the day.
We have two booth managers to handle the crowd, collect the money, and keep the line moving efficiently. We use poker chips in four different colors to represent the different cost levels of designs. Once the person has paid, the booth manager writes their name and chosen design on a pad. When a painter is open, the manager calls out the next name on the list and their desired design. When the person sits in front of us, we take the chip and place it inside our tip jar. We know by the chip color which design they paid for, as many deigns like the unicorns have $5, $10 and $15 dollar versions. At the end of the night we separate the chips by color and give the booth manager our total for the day. The owner of the booth keeps a percentage, and the next day he gives us our share in an envelope. Although this fair is very well attended, what we make mainly depends on the weather. On a busy day we paint an average of 150 faces. Slow days are great for practicing new designs.
We offer designs ranging from $5 cheek art to $25 for custom requests. The average is $15. Our board has a statement that reads: “Chose a design, step inside to pay for it and wait to be called by one of our professional artists to paint their own rendition of your chosen design.” Because we have been working with Mark for a long time, he knows our strengths and weaknesses, and therefore is able to effectively discern who is the best at painting a specific design. For example, he knows that Bling is my thing, monsters are Tatiana, Kristen paints great but takes her time, and Yuliya can paint any request.
A few more Tips & Tricks
Fair food tastes great, but too much can be unhealthy and slow you down. In a corner of the booth we have a refrigerator, microwave, sandwich maker and coffee machine. Before arriving at the fair we stop at a supermarket and get food for a couple days. My favorite are soups to warm me up on cold days and wraps cut into small bite pieces that I can munch on throughout the day.
A few years ago I suggested that we hang a black curtain to offer as a background for taking pictures and cover up the blank space inside the booth. We love this as much as the parents.
I set up my alarm to ring every hour on the dot to remind me to drink water. On long days it is super important to keep hydrated. At the same time I also take a moment to clean my hands with hand sanitizer. We do not get sick from kids sneezing on us, but by us touching them.
I bought two nice comfortable cushions for the chair that is provided for me and a heating pad for cold days. The kids sit on a small folding stool that is easy to move around.
My pocket magic is my secret weapon. Bubbles and a small puppet come in very handy during slow days. It helps pass the time, gets me better tips, and brings people to the booth if I choose to entertain by the entrance. I never leave home without these items.
I look forward to these two weeks at the fair every year. I get to meet some of the most happiest and friendliest children, practice my techniques and new designs, as well as catch up with old friends and repeat customers. If you have any questions or want to share your favorite fair tips I’d love to hear from you- Marcela@fabaic.com