By Phil Anastasia The Philadelphia Inquirer
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Face painting artist Stefanie Heron-Birl is used to being up close and personal as she uses a face as a canvas for her art. However, in the age of social distancing, she is branching out and so far the reception has been good.
Stefanie Heron-Birl will draw a pretty picture on your driveway.
Or your sidewalk.
Or the wall of your garage.
She would prefer to use your face as her canvas, especially if you are a giggling 8-year-old, but she has learned that the message matters more than the medium.
"My job used to be to bring a smile to someone's face," Heron-Birl said. "My job now is to bring a smile to someone's face."
Heron-Birl, of West Chester, is a once and future professional face painter. She used to work regularly at birthday parties, block gatherings, and festivals, with bookings that filled nearly every weekend and repeat gigs that carried over through the years.
"I think I've painted a unicorn on a little girl's face about 3,000 times," she said, without complaint. "I just love it."
But with face painting a lost art in an era of social distancing, Heron-Birl has taken to another method for spreading colorful tidings: chalk drawing.
She got the idea when a neighbor asked her to draw a birthday message on her driveway.
Now she endeavors to brighten up driveways, sidewalks, and the sides of garages with cheerful designs, mostly as a way to help locked-down folks celebrate birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, and other special occasions.
She drew a Cinco de Mayo-themed design for West Chester resident Slaten Fling-Grush, who turned 5 on May 5, with a picture of a Corona beer bottle, including a slice of lime, plus two tacos, one a food-filled tortilla, the other an image of the birthday boy's favorite stuffed animal, who is nicknamed Taco.
"It was just great," said Jennifer Fling-Grush, Slaten's mom. "He loved it. It was unique."
Both Fling-Grush and Justine Fetter, another client, discovered Heron-Birl through a Facebook page geared toward mothers.
"She's awesome," said Fetter, of Downingtown, who hired Heron-Birl to draw a birthday message to her stepfather in her driveway.
Heron-Birl drew "Happy Birthday Papa Steve", Fetter's son's nickname for his step-grandfather, with a Phillies logo and baseball.
"He's a Phillies fanatic, and he showed up wearing his Phillies hat and he just loved it," Fetter said. "It was just something different."
Heron-Birl usually draws from memory, although sometimes she will sketch out the design ahead of time. She has drawn cartoon characters such as Elmo and Sonic, a tropical island scene, and Temple University's Owl logo. Plus butterflies, flowers, and reproductions of her face-painting specialty: unicorns.
Heron-Birl graduated from West Chester University with a degree in art. She has been a face painter for about a decade, with a heavier focus on the business over the last three years.
"I was booked for most of my busy season, which is April through December," Heron-Birl said.
With the fear of infection during the global pandemic, she isn't confident that she will be doing much face painting for the rest of the year.
"I'm really not thinking (the practice will resume) until 2021," she said. Meantime, she has found a way to maintain her passion for drawing while having fun, bringing some good cheer, and making a few bucks. She usually charges $55 per standard drawing.
Of course, plans can go awry when it rains. Her new business is heavily dependent on the weather, since nothing ruins a good chalk drawing like a bad storm.
"I have another neighbor who studied meteorology, and now I have him on speed dial," Heron-Birl said.
She has been busy, often decorating close to a dozen driveways in a weekend. Although her tools have changed, she said, her task has stayed the same,
"It's just a quick way to make somebody smile," Heron-Birl said. "So many people are sad now that they can't celebrate the way they used to, can't get together the way they used to. They're stuck inside and feeling down."
The best part of what she's doing, she said, "is knowing, with the kids in particular, that something like this is making them happy, making their parents happy, knowing they brought a smile to their face." ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.