BIG SMILES: Sahara Cook, 3 shows off her face painting from Kate Matthews of the Australian Face Painting School.
BIG SMILES: Sahara Cook, 3 shows off her face painting from Kate Matthews of the Australian Face Painting School. Adam Hourigan

Kate masters a new art

KATE Matthews isn't a regular slave to make-up. "If I venture into public and have time, I'll put some on," she says.

So as far as decorating faces goes, it certainly wasn't something the Lower Clarence mum of three expected her next career move to be.

Nor would she have believed it was going to consume her life just in a few short years, to the point she now operates two face painting businesses, including a training school.

Kate is a qualified journalist (you may remember her byline in The Daily Examiner) who has worked in the media and arts since 1992 across many platforms, from advertising and editorial, even a stint as a production assistant with the animated TV series Blinky Bill.

"My mum was into art so it was a big part of our lives growing up. She was always dragging us along to galleries and shows," Kate remembers.

But painting anything remotely decorative was far from her mind as an adult. That was, until she came across a YouTube clip.

Kate said she was watching a balloon twisting video when she accidentally stumbled across footage on face painting - and was fascinated by it.

"No one was doing that at the Yamba Markets so I thought maybe I could," she said.

Kate completed extensive video tutorials with renowned Californian face painter Lisa Joy and while on maternity leave from her job in 2011, began trading her newly acquired skills at the monthly coastal town's markets under the banner of Fun2Play face painting.

"Doing a three-month training course early on really helped me get a better understanding of the techniques involved," she said.

Kate invested in quality products from the start as she found they were far superior when it came to application and blending ability.

"Getting the right type early on in your practice really helps. It produces good results and you can hone your craft from there."

Of course, being the mother of three young boys meant she had guinea pigs to practise on at home.

"I wore them out," she said.

"Mali (now 11) won't let me do it to him any more. I started on him when he was six and seven, doing arms and legs. Lots of practice on the job too. You do a lot of the same designs over and over."

Spider-Man has proven a firm favourite with the boys, while the girls go for rainbows, butterflies, flowers and unicorns.

"Of course there are girls who want Spider-Man and boys that want butterflies - parents (of the boys) can get a bit concerned so I just make them dragonflies."

To help sell the quality aspect of her face painting, Kate set up her own online business, the Australian Face Painting School, in 2013 to sell high-end products and organise workshops for budding face painters.

She also brings internationally renowned artists out from the US - even Moldova - to tutor classes in the major cities and enjoys attending conventions where hundreds of face painters converge.

"It's a lot of fun. We have a really strong online community too. It's mostly women but there are a few men involved."

Her reputation for quality work saw Kate land her first big contract - with retail giant Officeworks.

In May and June she travelled to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane to teach her art to staff so they could conduct their own promotional sessions in-store.

"I hadn't done any teaching like that before but I'd learned from the world's best so I just tried to do the same. It was four hours in the morning and then another four in the afternoon, with a bit of balloon twisting at the end."

Kate said she was in the process of finalising her own online tutorial course, which will feature 15 children from the Clarence area canvassed by putting a call out on Facebook.

"They all got paid for their time and faces," she laughed.

And while working for a big corporation was nice financially, Kate said it was grass roots work like the markets that gave her the most satisfaction.

"It's always nice to be rewarded with smiles."


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