Roller Derby Face Paint: How to Create a Killer Look

Published in the Spring 2013 issue of Five on Five magazine. Originally written and posted June 2012 for ACRD’s website.

“They’re gonna eat you alive.”

That’s what my seven-year-old son said when I joined Apple City Roller Derby (ACRD) in Wenatchee. I would never admit it to my kid, but he had a point. I’m a mommy. I worked in customer service. Moreover, with my braces and pigtails, I was the furthest thing from intimidating. I thought about all the skaters I admired, those women who were larger than life. Skaters like Betty Ford Galaxy (BFG) of the Rat City Roller Girls in Seattle, WA.

With my family after a game. My son is on the far right. 2013 JP Portrait Studio.
With my family after a game. My son is on the far right. 2013 JP Portrait Studio.

I watched BFG in the documentary Blood on the Flat Track. During interviews, she was poised and polite, but on the track, with her face painted like Ace Frehley from the band Kiss, she was this vibrant, crazy, rock star. “I like it because I like feeling like a superhero,” BFG told me recently. I started playing around with facepaint and developing a derby persona of my own. For me, wearing face paint helps to get my head in the game. As Hooky Helraiser of the Snake Pit Derby Dames in Coeur d’Alene, ID put it, “wearing my face paint takes all the pressure off the crowd. With my makeup, you can’t tell if I’m smiling or not, plus it adds to the intimidation factor which in roller derby is always a fun add-on.”

Practicing my scary face with BFG in 2012.
Practicing my scary face with BFG in 2012.

The Look

Find your inspiration. Inspiration can come from your derby name. My skater name is Gory B. Movie. At ACRD’s last two bouts, I painted my face up to look like Jason Voorhees, my favorite gory b-movie villain. Skull-faced Hooky Helraiser said of her look, “my derby look has changed so much since the beginning. I used to wear all the socks, fishnets, and regular face makeup. As I got my derby name and began getting a persona to fit me all around that’s when I started to paint my face and my name Hooky Helraiser is what gave me the idea.”

Inspiration can come from your team. Ameless and Smith N’ Messin of ACRD’s Hydro Elektras paint lightning bolts on their faces to show their Hydro Pride. There is also inspiration found in pop culture—especially music like BFG’s Kiss make-up. Few derby girls find their perfect derby look right away; many discover it through experimenting with a few different ideas.

My season one look inspired by Jason Voorhees of the Friday the 13th films. Photo by Danny Knightmare
My season one look inspired by Jason Voorhees of the Friday the 13th films.

When I started, I was inspired by rocker Alice Cooper’s eye makeup and then added fake blood around my mouth to put the gory in Gory B Movie. One of the most talented and versatile derby face painters I’ve seen is Frak Attak of the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls in Denver, CO. She said, “My inspiration varies from bout to bout. If it’s a themed bout, I try to stick to that theme specifically, such as zombies. But, I often find my inspiration the day of depending on how I feel and what I want to try out. I have a hard time sticking to one look since I enjoy trying every look I can think of. Even then, my looks change as I’m doing them, especially if my initial idea doesn’t work out. It’s a lot about trial and error.”

My original derby look: just a bit of blood around the mouth. It's come a long way since then.
My original derby look: just a bit of blood around the mouth. It’s come a long way since then.

The Makeup

Roller derby is a sweaty, contact sport. Face painters need high-quality theater makeup to meet the challenge. I wear Mehron Paradise AQ cake makeup in white and Ben Nye MagiCake Aqua Paint in hot pink and black. Cake paints need to be activated by water before application. Instead of water, I use Ben Nye Liquiset, which helps the makeup hold up to sweat and the occasional shoulder to the face. You can find all the supplies you need online at Makeup Mania.

“It’s the main way of calming my nerves and helping me to relax,” said Frak Attak. “Doing my makeup requires a lot of precision, so having a steady hand is very important, which means I have to focus on what I’m doing and not worry about anything else going on around me. It helps to clear my head so I can maintain focus on the track.”

With my husband, mascot Danny Knightmare during a game. 2013 Wenatchee World.
With my husband, mascot Danny Knightmare during a game. 2013 Wenatchee World.

Before applying face paint, I wash my face and moisturize. Well-hydrated skin sweats less. I then apply a primer, which smoothes skin and helps makeup to go on evenly and last longer. I use e.l.f.’s Studio Mineral Infused Face Primer. Then I dip a flat brush into the Liquiset and mix it into the cake makeup until I get the right consistency. I make sure to brush any drippy run-off onto my palette before applying the makeup to my face. “The more liquid you have, the easier brush strokes show up,” said Frak Attak. I take my time and apply a light base coat to start. I let that dry completely while I take care of other pre-bout necessities like making sure I have all my gear in my bag and checking my wheels. Then I apply a second coat once the first layer is dry. It has to be dry or the brush will pull up the existing paint. Applying face paint in layers helps to hide brush strokes and prevent flaking.

Hayley Knighten aka Gory B. Movie
My season two look inspired by Billy the Puppet from the Saw films. 2012 JP Portrait Studio.

Finally, I set my look with Ben Nye setting powder and polish it off with Final Seal setting spray. The spray has a nice minty scent, which I like. Amytiville of the Classic City Rollergirls in Athens, GA uses Mehron Barrier Spray. She said, “It has done really well thus far, allowing my face to still sweat without making any color run.”

During the bout, my makeup holds up very well. My helmet rubs the makeup off my forehead a bit, so I try not to paint to close to my hairline. I wear a bandana to help absorb sweat. The other place my makeup wears off is on my lips and around my mouth. Instead of reapplying the cake makeup during a bout, I use Ka’Oir cosmetics lipstick. Ka’Oir makes lipstick in every color from white to black and every color in between, like green, blue, and yellow. After the bout (or the after party), most of my makeup comes off easily with regular facial cleanser and cold cream. If that doesn’t work for you, try Ben Nye’s Hydra Cleanse designed for removing theater makeup.

Derby face paint may sound like a lot of work, but once you’ve done it a few times the application process doesn’t take long at all. Well-applied face paint also requires very little maintenance. Once I’m at the bout, I don’t stress about my makeup. It feels like it’s a part of me. It’s quite literally my game face and when I wear it, I evolve into an extreme, mean, more confident version of myself: my own derby superhero.

Gory B. Movie fan art by Phillip Bedard.
Gory B. Movie logo by Phillip Bedard.
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