Grim Visages – Face Painting for Grown-Ups

Some people let their inner child out at Christmas. I let mine out at Halloween.

And also when I’m drinking gin and eating chicken at 1am and I find out Psycho is on TV.
My delightful friend Al (follow her on Twitter @algriffs) took a jaunt to the British Library at the end of October for a special evening party celebrating their sensational exhibition Terror & Wonder: The Gothic Imagination.
Terror & Wonder: The Gothic Imagination, by British Library
Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination (Pic from The British Library)

The invitation was to The Sorting, and promised a funeral-inspired experience with actors, music, DJs, bar and a late night opening of the exhibition.
And there was more: “We invite you to be the guest of honour at an extraordinary funeral: your own! Do you dare to go on?
“An appointment at the funeral parlour with the local undertaker awaits before you discover your final fate. Will you be a saint or sinner? Angel or Devil? Join other travelling souls as they negotiate their way through the macabre afterlife in this fun and exciting experience created by award-wining theatre company, Les Enfants Terribles.
“Humility is key as we invite you to atone for your sins and purify your soul through the seven levels of purgatory.”
And one of my favourite bands – Tankus The Henge – were playing, and I was damned if I would miss out.
Before we could attend, we needed suitable attire. Al and I agreed to go with doll-like & dark fairy macabre outfits: black puff-ball skirts, boots and heels, big hair and Nanny Ogg style-tights. But clothes would not do alone. So we sought out a local expert – my sister Emily, face painter extraordinaire.
Em is an English teacher by day but also does traditional story-telling at kids’ parties and festivals in her spare time (as she is a very talented orator). To branch out, she started learning face painting and has become extremely good at it. This angers me, as I cannot draw for shit.
Here are some of her designs.

See? She also sings too, in a band called Curious Hour. It ain’t fair.

When Al and I arrived, Em was in the middle of her own Halloween party for her son Leo and his friends at her London home but she still made time for us.

Her son Leo is four in January so it’s sort of the first Halloween he can really appreciate. I’ll be honest, being at at the ones’ party…was fantastic. I love Halloween as it was our family’s favourite holiday when I was a youngster. We loved dressing up, we loved the darkness, we loved the games, the cackling, the scary music, the grim costumes. Above all, we were macabre – Em and I didn’t do cutesy stuff. We did ghost stories and horror films. To see Leo taking part in this family tradition filled my heart with joy.

Also Em and husband Andy instantly handed us a glass of wine when we entered, saying ‘trust us, you’ll need this’.
Time was not with us, so Em gave us a crash course in grim make up. She gave us both primer so the base would stay up for longer. I then applied my own base foundation (Bare Minerals) and very dark smokey eye make-up, before Em added a pale, ghostly base. 
So far so basic, but then came the blending. Using dark brown, she hollowed out my eyes, my cheek bones, my nose, and my clavical (a crucial addition I would not have thought of myself). She also shaded my forehead and hairline.

The Demon Gin, face painting, British Library gothic, halloween
The Demon Gin, face painting, British Library gothic, halloween
The Demon Gin, face painting, British Library gothic, halloweenThe Demon Gin, face painting, British Library gothic, halloweenThe Demon Gin, face painting, British Library gothic, halloween

This was the effect. Deathly, no?

The Demon Gin, face painting, British Library gothic, halloween

Then came the time for the stitches. Em had found a design for a Bride of Frankenstein look, which she whipped up in a lightening speed for the two of us. 
A red, angry line for the gash and silver white marks to represent the painful ‘pinch’ marks of the staples. 
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween

Masterful work.
During this time, Leo had found the candy stash. Em and Andy strictly limit his sugar on most days, so you can imagine the effect of having ten mini-chocolates in one go had on him. Imagine the sound of a downed helicopter with its blades still spinning while it occasionally puts on a Darth Maul mask and yells ‘together we can rule the galaxy!!!!!’

Still, we were ready for the horror ball.

The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween

We then journeyed to the exhibition, where photography was limited but I managed to grab some sneaky snaps. The set up was that we were all at a funeral, but had been plunged into purgatory. As we explored the exhibition, we would have to face and conquer the seven deadly sins to be in with a chance of getting into heaven…and avoiding falling to hell.

As you explored the library, there were various ‘stations’ were actors carried out games based around the seven deadly sins – there was gambling, drinking contests, fake confessions, burlesque and old-timey photo booths, all led by very creepy actors. Anyone who completed a task at each station got a stamp on their special name tag.

The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween, The Sorting
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween, The Sorting
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween, The Sorting

The Gothic exhibition itself was a joy – books, cuttings, images, footage and models celebrating all that is dark and unsettling in the world. Al is more of an authority on early Gothic literature, where as I am more familiar with the romantics and Gothic cinema, so we served as good mutual guides.
My cousin Jack and his wife Amy were also attending and in the middle of our exhibition browsing, Jack got dragged off by a freaky priest to confess his sins. Poor priest got more than he bargained for with Jack; so, so much porn to confess.

The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween, The Sorting

By the end of the night, the master of ceremonies called on the crowd to reveal if anyone had achieved seven stamps.
Just one man had succeeded, but even his great work was not enough to save us all. And we were left to the fate of Beelzebub…or Tankus The Henge. Cue the music!
A splendid night, with some expert assistance. And, of course, there was plenty of room for more photos…

The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween, The SortingThe Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween, The Sorting
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween, The Sorting
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween, The Sorting
The Demon Gin, adult face painting, British Library gothic, halloween, The Sorting
I SEE YOU
Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Exhibition is showing at the British Library until 20th January 2015.

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