Photo by Marcy Stamper Darla Hussey applied a gray outline to the twitching pink nose of Mole (Hazel Culpsmith), one of the main characters in Wind in the Willows.

Photo by Marcy Stamper

Darla Hussey applied a gray outline to the twitching pink nose of Mole (Hazel Culpsmith), one of the main characters in Wind in the Willows.

Face painter Darla Hussey creates on a ‘moving canvas’

By Marcy Stamper

The whiskers, glistening noses, stripes and spots that transform the human actors in The Wind in the Willows into mice, hedgehogs and ferrets are the handiwork of face painter Darla Hussey, who adds animated expressions and furry features to 18 young actors in the play.

Photo by Marcy StamperFor some of the characters, Hussey developed special stencils to help speed the process along. Toad, played by Ilo Curtis, benefited from a custom stencil for his spots.

Photo by Marcy Stamper
For some of the characters, Hussey developed special stencils to help speed the process along. Toad, played by Ilo Curtis, benefited from a custom stencil for his spots.

Hussey, who has painted murals and decorative furniture for years, said painting faces is much more fun. “Painting faces is more challenging, but also more entertaining. It’s more forgiving, but harder — dressers don’t try to walk away,” she said.

“It’s also hard because even when kids swallow, their whole face moves. If they laugh, it changes their forehead. It’s always done on a moving canvas,” said Hussey.

While Hussey’s day job is artistic — she is the designer at the Methow Valley News — she began applying her talents to faces just within the past year. Once she acquired the equipment and started painting flowers, tattoos and vampire teeth on her own kids and on friends’ kids, face painting just snowballed, she said.

But painting the cast of The Wind in the Willows is Hussey’s first time transforming faces for theater, which adds another set of considerations. She found that she had to make whiskers unnaturally thick so they are visible from the back of the theater, and has had to refine her designs based on the shape or natural coloration of each child’s face.

Hussey consulted photos of real animals, along with clip art and examples of face painting, to design the characters. But she had to simplify the designs to be able to paint each child actor in about three minutes. She’s also on hand to touch up lips, cheeks and brows during the show.

Some characters — such as Toad — required customized stencils for the pattern of mottled, scaly spots. After unsuccessfully trying several shades of green and brown, Hussey met a Utah face painter through Facebook who was happy to send her an olive green that was perfect for a toad.

Photo by Marcy StamperMuch like their bouncy counterparts, the girls who played the rabbits had a hard time staying still long enough to get painted.

Photo by Marcy Stamper
Despite their bouncy tendencies, the rabbits were quick characters to paint because they could be done assembly-line fashion. 

Another challenge is making the painted features symmetrical. “Mouse ears have to be the same size from side to side,” said Hussey. Since the mice are played by the youngest actors in the show, “It’s tricky, because mice don’t hold still,” she said.

When The Wind in the Willows ends its run, Hussey hopes to continue plying her craft at parties, arts festivals and for Halloween. “It’s entertaining — it’s so different from my other work,” she said.

Hussey can paint just about anything, from animals and superheroes to floral and abstract designs and graffiti. She’s done Chinese characters, paw prints and gory special effects. The paint washes off with soap and water.

For more information, or to be transformed into a weasel or Wonder Woman, contact Hussey at darlahussey@yahoo.com.