Gretchen Fleener’s love of face painting started early. When she was 15, the Mound resident began face painting at Valleyfair during her summer vacations. Since then, she’s built her own business selling face painting supplies, written books on face painting and spoken at conferences as far away as Belgium.
“I have always been an artist,” Fleener says. “I come from an artistic family. My sister did caricatures, which is how I heard about face painting.”
Fleener went to school for graphic and industrial design, which led to a career designing retail fixtures for Best Buy before she decided to pursue face painting full time. “It is a great way to do what I love and make money at it,” Fleener says. “It’s been a way to stay home with my boys and have a nice flexible schedule.”
Fleener’s sons, who are 8 and 10, are willing participants when it comes to her craft. One of her sons let her paint an entire ugly Christmas sweater on his chest, which ended up being the Christmas card for Fleener’s business, Paintertainment.
“I started my little online store in 2005. I had so many people calling me up [who had been] asked to volunteer at school and church, and they had no idea what paint to use or where to start,” Fleener says. “I put together a kit of basic supplies so they’d have something professional and safe.” Fleener ships orders directly from her house.
Along with running her online store, Fleener is busy with face painting events all over the Twin Cities. “I do a lot of birthday parties. I’ve even done weddings, corporate picnics and holiday parties,” Fleener says. “I’ve done country club events, and church and school events. It’s really across the board.”
Fleener has a booth at the Carver County Fair each year, but is mostly hired to do hourly parties.
She always tries to come prepared with designs related to that child’s interest. These days, some of her most popular designs are unicorns, rainbows, sharks and dinosaurs.
But occasionally requests tend toward the weird. “Some unique requests I’ve had recently include the giant words ‘you are here,’ with an arrow pointing to the kid’s nose; specific dog breeds and colors to match their pet; and an eyeball on the back of a bald man’s head,” Fleener says with a laugh. “I painted a dragonfly on a real alligator’s nose once. He was part of a petting zoo at the party.”
And Fleener doesn’t just paint faces or alligator noses. “I do a lot of arm painting, especially on really little kids who are nervous and haven’t had it done before,” she says. “I paint pregnant bellies, too, which is really fun. The last one I did was a Finding Nemo theme. They make for fun pictures for baby books.”
Fleener is part of a large community of face painters in the Twin Cities. She hosts “paint jams” once a month with other artists, where they share their tips and tricks. She’s also the editor of a quarterly face and body art magazine, Wet Paint Magazine. “I’ve taught workshops in New Jersey, Belgium and here in Minnesota,” Fleener says. “I have also spoken at local business conferences for entertainers.”
Along with her art, Fleener is passionate about helping people hire reputable professional entertainers. “There are a lot of artists out there who use unsafe products, those who don’t carry insurance and those who back out at the last minute and leave you hanging. I get a lot of calls from hysterical party planners who lost their artist at the last minute. Cheap does not mean a good deal in those cases,” Fleener says.
So she’s created an entire guide for hiring party entertainers, which can be found at paintertainment.com.