Turn Your Flow Face into a Show Face

Turn Your Flow Face into a Show Face

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Featured Image: Seth Hill and Jozette Gordon of Fire Magick

Let’s face it (har har), when people hire you for a fire show, contact juggling act or any other flow arts performance, they want to see skillful exciting presentation, but they also want the show to be done by performers who look the part.  What it means to look the part varies a lot from situation to situation, whether it be exotic and sexy or more circusy and playful, and with the right tools, your face makeup, in turn, can convey countless moods and themes. 

Just like professional costuming, I think makeup heightens the experience for the client, adds to the magic and makes them feel like they’re getting more for their money.  I’ve definitely had clients get excited just by my makeup even before I’ve started performing (“oh, well I see my job here is done.  Have a great night!”).

There have been times when my performing partner and I were doing gigs where the audience was going to be far enough away from us to make any makeup we could do almost imperceptible, but even in those situations we still opt to do makeup just for any close-up interactions we might have before or after the gig with the client or audience.  We live in an age where everything is about photo-ops, and everybody wants to take a picture with the performer after the show, especially if they look unique and intriguing.

While I am definitely not a makeup expert, I have played with a lot of different styles over the years that I’ve been a performing flow artist, and I’ve also paid pretty close attention to what I’ve seen other performers do, so I’m excited to share all of that with you.  I’m going to be including a bunch of photos both in the article and in links, so be sure to check those out.  I have no doubt that a picture is worth at least a million of my words when it comes to this topic.  There are also three, count them THREE, makeup tutorials in here made for you by actual real live flow artists, so don’t miss those!  


Being able to do effective stage makeup is a combination of makeup application skills (which can definitely be practiced as with any flow art!), inspiration, creativity, and having the right tools for the job.  Not every look I’ll talk about here calls for a ton of different supplies, but some of them do require a decent arsenal.  In terms of stocking up, your two best friends in my experience are going to be the online face painting store Silly Farm Supplies Inc. and Michaels, the arts and crafts store.  Most supplies you’ll need can be purchased from either of these two businesses or your local convenience store.  I would also recommend investing in a good makeup case to organize all your stuffs.  This one by Shany is a pretty good one.    It’s a little awkward to use the mirror in it, but it can be used in a pinch when you don’t have a full-length one.  


Sometimes you just have to use whatever mirror is available. This was my most recent “green room.” Subject: Liz Knights. Photographer: Laura Lola Matta.

I’ll be linking to various types of cosmetics and face paint throughout this, but across the board you’ll need tools for applying the makeup.  You can purchase a wide variety of brushes from Silly Farm Supplies or from the makeup aisle of CVS or Rite Aid.  You’ll also want makeup wedges which you can get from CVS as well.    

The Eyes Have It 

Your main focus in creating a face paint design will generally be your eyes.  Anything that draws the audience towards your eyes will help you to keep a connection with them.  There are varying levels of complexity for these looks and even within one style the complexity can vary a lot, but I’m going to start with relatively easier styles, leading into more difficult ones.  

Also, for almost all of these looks, I recommend starting out with a layer of foundation to even your skin tone.  I’ve been resistant to wearing foundation, but it honestly just makes everything look more crisp and polished.       

The Basics

California-based flow artist, Zaylaa Van Hoops, and Missouri-based flow artist, Ivory Rigney, were generous enough to make tutorials demonstrating how they do their makeup for gigs.

If you want to add more color to this basic look, you can pick out some bright eyeshadow and add one color below your lower eyelid and another on your eyelid, sweeping the top color out and up a bit.  Extending your eyeliner up towards your temple will also make you look a bit more dramatic.  This is a style that my fellow performer and sometimes doppelgänger, Ember Flynne, uses, and it always looks gorgeous.  

Subject: Ember Flynne. Photographer: Ember Flynne.

Subject: Ember Flynne. Photographer: Ember Flynne.


You’ve probably seen people at festivals with dots of paint around their eyes or what I’m going to dub the “pointillism look”.  This is a really easy look to achieve.  You can follow the curve of your eyes or emanate out from your eyes almost like rays of sunshine.  I most often see people using white for this look, but any color that stands out against your skin tone would be good as in this rainbow design.  I use Mehron liquid makeup and a round pointed brush or a smudge brush for this.  Play around with the size of the dots to create different looks such as curves over the eyebrows with decreasing size as the eyebrow slims.  Heres another fun design incorporating dots.  This look can also be incredibly intricate and detailed.  Anyone who has seen flow and makeup artist, Piyali Smriti’s, work can attest to this.

Subject: Celester Cruz. Artist: Piyali Smriti. Photographer: Maxine Nienow

Subject: Celester Cruz. Artist: Piyali Smriti. Photographer: Maxine Nienow

You can also substitute crystals in for any of these pointillism looks.  Imho, there is no shame in bedazzling the bejeezus out of your face.  Just use eyelash glue or spirit gum to apply rhinestones.  If you use spirit gum, you’ll want to get spirit gum remover as well so you can get it off your face once you pull the gems off.  If you’re putting gems really close to your eyes, the eyelash glue can be better because the alcohol (or “spirit”) part of spirit gum can irritate them.  However, eyelash glue doesn’t feel as secure to me, and it tends to cake on the gems making them less reusable.  As far as designs go, you can go for very simple and just put one on the inner and outer corners of each eye.  Zaylaa demonstrates a look like this in her tutorial.  I like using them to follow along just over the upper line of one eye brow or make an “S” shape tracing from over one eyebrow to underneath the other eye.  You can really do whatever you want.  I like how DC-based performer, Spinnabel Lee, uses them.  You can see in the picture of her below that she really barely needs any other makeup to look fabulous.  Another example of the crystals being a complete look can be seen here.  Also, I mentioned in my article on costuming for guys that you can, alternatively, just use shimmery nail polish instead of gems.  It still has a 3-D effect and is ultimately less expensive.

Subject: Spinnabel Lee.  Photographer: Devon Rowland.

Subject: Spinnabel Lee. Photographer: Devon Rowland.


To build on the pointillist look, you can also add in simple lines of face paint.  Straight, curved, blurred lines, it’s up to you.  Mixing and matching with dots and lines can create an infinite number of looks.   

Subject: Heather Phoi. Photographer: Marcus Adkins

Heather Phoi with nested curved lines below one eye and above the other. Photographer: Marcus Adkins of Marcus Adkins Photography


This look isn’t too terribly difficult because you’re basically just drawing shapes on your face whether they be hearts, diamonds, stars, etc.  The diamond over one eye always looks great, and you can even add some gems to the points of it.  For outlining shapes in black, you can use eyeliner, and then fill in with Lumiere Creme.   In keeping with the shapes motif, you can create a heart design on the center of your lips.  You’ll still want to put a lighter lipstick shade on first underneath the darker color you’re using for the heart.  Here are some examples and instructions.     

Dark Circus

For this look, think carnival but twisted.  You might still have diamond shapes on your eyes, but now they’ll be black and usually with thinner lines.  To create that look, you will need black eyeliner and then a dark eyeshadow for the actual eyelids.  This looks great with black or bright red lipstick and a pale or even white foundation.   There’s also the harlequin look.


Tribal-style face makeup can also be good for some gigs and lends itself to all-over body paint almost becoming a costume as well.  I’ve used Mehron liquid makeup for this but you can also use Lumiere creme color and apply with fingers or a brush.  If you’re going to be performing in a setting with UV lights, by all means, definitely take advantage of this and get yourself some UV-reactive body paint. 

Subject: Nicole Leland. Artist: Adam Canvas Giangregorio. Photographer: Liam Carleton-Photography

Subject: Nicole Leland. Artist: Adam Canvas Giangregorio. Photographer: Liam Carleton-Photography


Cirque makeup refers to a style of makeup worn by performers in the internationally renowned circus company, Cirque du Soleil.  It is generally a more involved look and will therefore take longer to create than some of the others, but, from what I hear, Cirque performers tend to do their own makeup rather than having it done by a makeup artist, so, I mean, if a Cirque du Soleil acrobat can do it, why can’t we?  Right?

The Cirque style usually employs bright dramatic colors often on a white base to create an almost other-worldly countenance. You’ll need something like Ben Nye Clown White  for the white background.  For the parts of these designs that require larger sections of color, I’ve been told that a creme makeup like Ben Nye’s Lumiere Creme Color works best.

Here are a couple of Cirque-style tutorials I’ve found that are particularly evocative of fire:  tutorial by MadeULook and Worlds Away-inspired tutorial.

If you want a fiery look without committing so much of your face to that design, here’s a cool one that comes with a little photo gallery/tutorial.  

I recently learned a Cirque-style makeup design from flow artist and performer, Ellen May, which I teach in detail in the following video.

One thing I neglected to mention in my tutorial is that you can set the white clown makeup with setting powder or even white eye shadow so it won’t run or smear.  


Often times clients will be hosting an event with a specific theme.  Youtube is a godsend for coming up with makeup ideas when it comes to fitting these themes.  Here’s a look I did for a recent holiday-themed gig and below, sugar skull makeup for Dia de Los Muertos.  You can also just adapt any of the other looks by choosing holiday-appropriate colors.

Dia de Los Muertos makeup on Liz Knights and Andrew Insect

Dia de Los Muertos makeup on Liz Knights and Andrew Insect



Airbrushing is another option for makeup that I hadn’t even considered until I saw New York flow artists Christine Geiger and Claire de Luxe using it for their Flow Show makeup.  I personally haven’t used it yet because it requires an even greater investment of money.  You will need the airbrush gun, makeup, stencils, and cleaning supplies. It does give an incredibly clean and professional look though.  This is a good example.   

The Guys Have It

Guys, a lot of the above looks will be good for you as well.  You too can have hearts and diamonds on your face!  Also, a lot of the female looks you might see out there can be adapted to look a bit more masculine (if that’s what you’re going for) by substituting straighter, harsher lines and edges where there might have been curves and curlicues.  A fairly basic look that I see guys doing quite frequently is just a line of a single color straight across their face.  This looks great in gold or silver, really in any lighter color, unless you want to really look like a masked bandit.  Mehron metallic powder works well for this.  You can even just apply with your finger.  

If you’re not super into doing the full face of makeup, at the very least, put on some guyliner.  It will make your eyes “pop,” as they say.  I find liquid eyeliner to be preferable as it’s less likely to smudge than pencil.  Plus, who doesn’t want to channel their inner Johnny Depp?

A Little Extra

Fake Eyelashes

There is a pretty amazing variety of fake eyelashes out there such that you can really match them to your costumes (e.g. red, white and blue for a 4th of July gig).  I’ve asked around a fair bit and have not gotten a definitive answer on the safety of wearing false eyelashes while fire performing.  If anything, you definitely want to wear ones that are made of human hair, but there’s still the strip of (probably synthetic) material that binds the lashes together as well as the glue you’re using, so if you want to be really safe, I would avoid using them in fire performance.  And anyone who’s done some serious buzzsawing knows that your eyelashes are not immune to getting burnt.  If you’re not sure how to apply them, I demonstrate this in my tutorial as does Zaylaa.  Putting mascara on before you apply the fake eyelashes can help give them something to kind of sit on.     

Little L Legume with heart-shaped false eyelashes.

Little L Legume with heart-shaped false eyelashes.


For adding glitter on top of other makeup, make sure to use something really fine rather than coarse.  If you have already applied something sticky to your face like a creme-based paint, then the glitter will likely stick without any extra medium.  Just use a blush brush for larger areas and a flat-edge brush for straighter lines.  You can also just apply with your finger.  A little bit of chapstick, lipgloss, or clear glitter gel on the tip of a brush or your finger can also be used to apply the glitter.   

Safety Issues

I personally have not had any issues with wearing all of the above makeup while fire performing (the exception being that I do not wear false eyelashes for fire shows).  That is purely anecdotal though.  To find out a little bit more about the safety of various makeup products, I knew my best bet was to talk to someone who does fire eating and breathing (neither of which I do) since that person would be well acquainted with having fire in and around his/her face.  I ended up talking with the talented performer, Laa, who had a couple of useful recommendations.  Her overall advice for fire breathers and eaters was to avoid anything that can stick to your skin or melt such as glitter or feather lashes and to never use any aerosol-based product like spray glitter.  She said that for fire eaters, it’s best to stick with water- or wax-based products and to avoid things that can cause chemical reactions, especially petroleum and oil-based products like lipsticks.  In lieu of lipstick, water-based lip stains can be used. She also pointed out that fire breathers might not want to even bother with too much makeup since they’ll be wiping their faces constantly anyway.  

I hope this article has given you some new ideas and inspired you to try out different styles.  If you have links to styles you enjoy doing, feel free to share them in the comments!  Also, any other information people have on the safety of various products they use is very welcomed.

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Elizabeth Knights

Liz is a circus performer and teacher. She works with numerous spinning props, specializing in poi, partner poi and fans. She manages a monthly column on performance in the flow arts called "The Art of Performance" for F.I.R.E. Magazine. Liz performs both LED and fire dancing at Cirque de Light