Stepping into Annette Murry's face painting booth is like stepping into a shaded forest woodland populated by fairies, nymphs and other fanciful creatures.
Most festivals, fairs and kids' gathering generally have at least one face painting booth. What sets Annette apart is the attention to detail she puts into creating a fantasyland where imagination takes flight. The "roof" and "walls" of the booth are draped in green fabric and adorned with big green leaves. To elevate the kids' experience, Annette wears elf ears and dresses in costume. Some people liken the setting to Alice in Wonderland; others think of Mario when they see the red and white toadstools scattered inside and out of the booth. The toadstools, which double as seating, have become so closely associated with Annette's venture that she recently adopted the name "Toadstool Face Painting by Murry Arts."
"That's how kids know me," says Annette. "Everybody knows me as the toadstool lady.
"What's really fun and rewarding is when parents come up to me at the end of the festival and say, 'You know, she looks for the toadstool every time we go to a fair.' "
Another longstanding feature of Annette's booth is "Esmeralda," discovered in a storage locker Annette bought when she owned Grandma Jo's Attic in Hotchkiss. She plays up the fantasy angle by spinning tales about Esmeralda. "She was on my doorstep one night and she looked so cold, I brought her in," she tells the kids. The mystery deepens when Annette quietly confides, "You know, sometimes when I wake up in the morning, she's in a different spot."
It's no surprise that her favorite literary genre is fantasy with a touch of magic. Likewise, her artwork draws on those themes. "I draw in pencil and if I don't like what I've got, I erase it and start over. Everything I know, I learned on my own."
She and her husband have been residents of Delta County since 1995, when they moved from the Front Range. They now live on a five-acre parcel at the foot of Land's End.
Annette first began face painting to help raise funds for the Needlerock Ladies' Club. "They convinced me I had enough artistic ability to go out there and paint on kids' faces."
After volunteering her services for two years, and searching in vain for a job, she asked to do the face painting for a profit. Club members agreed.
When she first started applying designs to kids' faces, Annette worked with acrylic paints, but she has since transitioned to professional grade face paints that are hypoallergenic and water soluble. Some shades are a bit harder to wash off, and in those cases Annette recommends the use of baby oil or makeup remover.
Kids choose their design from a book filled with illustrations of animals, monsters, superheroes, fairies, butterflies and pretty designs. The finishing touch is glittery fairy dust -- or for the boys, monster dust.
The price range reflects the intricacy of the design and the amount of time it will take to finish the painting. Based on the recommendation of an acquaintance with carnival experience, she's shooting for $1 a minute.
She said 99.9 percent of kids will find a design they like in the book, but every once in a while someone comes to the booth with a special request. Annette complies with those requests, but cautions painting can take a big longer and cost a little more. That can mean a longer wait for the kids in line, but Annette says those kids will watch and wait -- sometimes for an hour or two -- with amazing patience. "They have all the patience in the world," she said. "It's the parents who are ready to move on."
Because wait lines are fairly common, she tries to make her booth as comfortable as possible, with seating and ample shade. Being located close to restrooms is very helpful, she said.
While fairs and festivals primarily take place in the summer months, Annette books birthday parties, company get-togethers and wedding receptions year-round. Between engagements, she enjoys painting, sewing costumes and curtains, and is committed to staying physically fit as she ages.
An optimist, she often sees opportunities where others see obstacles.
"I truly believe that we create our own realities, down to even the most minute detail, by just the thoughts we think and the words we speak and our attitude toward the whole world."
Pretty down-to-earth thinking for a woman who values the occasional flight of fancy.