One Stroke Face Painting: Techniques and Tips

Kelli Zermeño — 09 August 2020 —


While the technique of double loading color on a paintbrush has been done for centuries on pottery, furniture, and canvas alike… we can thank American acrylic paint artist Donna Dewberry for popularizing it and introducing it to the world. It wasn’t long before face painters realized the potential of the technique and began employing it on their designs.

With a few brush strokes and an outline, you can create a myriad of complex-looking designs in a fraction of the time it would take if working with single colors. I remember, when I first began face painting as a hobby, how perplexed I was at how these artists created these amazing, perfectly blended, multi-toned designs. When I discovered the split cake, my little amateur mind was blown away and my work would never be the same!

We’ve packed this article full of tips, tutorials, and information to help you improve your one stroke game and ensure your designs are cleaner and multi-dimensional.

Tip: Are you new to face painting? ✅ Do yourself a favor and find top designs, fast and easy face painting, and great video tutorials all in one place on our Ultimate Face Painting Ideas Guide!

Proper Loading Technique

Any painter can tell you that creating one stroke designs looks crazy simple… there is, however, a lot of technique involved in achieving those vibrant color gradients. Observe how Olga uses to create a clean brush load and use it to paint vibrant designs.

Olga’s One Stroke Loading Technique
(taken from our Professional’s Guide to Face Painting)

  1. Spritz your split-cake with water — 1-2 spritzes is enough.
    Be very accurate with how much water you use! Usually, one to two spritzes is enough to moisten the paint surface, which needs to become glossy, but there should be no extra water. Ensure you are using a fine mist sprayer and hold it 8-12 inches (20-25 cms) away from the cake.
  2. Dip the tip of your brush in water and slide it over the edge of the water receptacle to remove the excess. You may also do this by dabbing your brush on a clean towel.
  3. Place your brush across the paint stripes and then slide it over the entire surface of the split cake, moving it back and forth; make sure you move your brush in identical moves, so as to avoid muddying your colors.
  4. The brush should easily glide on the surface you are painting. If you feel resistance, it means that you need to add a touch more water. Dip only the tip of your brush!
  5. If you find your colors are running and looking muddy, then you have used too much water.
    Not to worry! Simply tilt your split cake with the lighter colors running off the corner of the darkest corner, so as not to contaminate your light colors. The excess paint should empty out. If your colors still look muddy, go over your cake a few times with a clean, damp brush, a sponge, or with a few swipes of a wet wipe.

The main thing to keep in mind here is to use only a minimal amount of water and load your brush well. The initial loading of color will take quite a few strokes. You want the paint to load heavily and cleanly, high up into the bristles. This will help you paint several strokes with a single load.

To be the best, we have to continually practice. Our instructors are amazingly talented and they have years of painting experience, accolades, and awards under their painty belts; nevertheless, they are constantly practicing! Here, Kristin Olsson uses her Sally Ann Lynch boards to up her one stroke game.

In the meantime, our students are achieving impressive results thanks to the training at the School. Check out some of them:

Painting with Your Split Cake

Painting with multiple colors on your brush takes a bit of practice. You want to ensure that the colors stay clean and bright. Make smooth, even strokes with your brush.

Be intentional with your strokes. Practice will be supremely important as you train your hand to create a flow that will not only look pleasing to the eye but will keep your strokes bright and vibrant, instead of muddied and dull.

Some of the most stunning one-stroke designs are roses. View this one-stroke rose tutorial by Rosie Lieberman for detailed instruction and a video tutorial on Olga’s favorite one-stroke rose technique! You will be amazed at how quickly and easily you can create gorgeous flowers with this powerful tool.

Choose Wisely

Not all split cakes are created equal. I’ve bought a few that looked like they would be beautiful, but once I tried to use them, the colors blended and became muddy.

Not necessarily because my technique was lacking (although that can definitely affect the outcome of a design… practice makes perfect!), but because the color scheme chosen for the cake was not a harmonious one.

At the International Face Painting School, we learn that opposing colors on the color wheel (complementary colors), when placed next to each other, create a powerful impact, as the colors really enhance each other. That is why you need to choose your split cakes wisely.

If complementary colors are placed directly next to each other in the cake, they can blend to create muddy brown or gray tones when applied.

Red and green, purple and yellow, blue and orange… these color combos are examples of colors that should not be placed side by side.

There is, however, a trick to putting these colors together in such a way that you can achieve a beautiful color combination:

A strip of white or a neutral color placed between opposing colors will create a sort of safe zone, allowing you to combine these colors for maximum visual impact, as long as you load your brush carefully.

When choosing your split cakes, look for those with complementary color schemes (we study each of them in detail in the International Face Painting School’s curriculum).

  • Monochromatic: similar shades (such as violet, medium purple, magenta, and dark purple, for example);
  • Analogous: 2-4 colors placed next to each other on the color wheel (such as teal, blue and green, for instance);
  • Split-Analogous: 2 or more colors, choosing every other color on the color wheel (such as red, orange and yellow);
  • Complementary: opposing colors on the color wheel, ensuring a strip of white separates the two;
  • Triad: uses 3 colors in a pattern of every 4th color on the wheel (like red, yellow and blue)
  • Tetrad: uses 4 colors in a pattern of every 3rd color on the wheel (like orange, yellow, light blue and purple).
Tip: Read the Professional’s Guide to Face Painting for even more tips to help you establish a profitable face painting business.


When using multiple split cakes to create designs like butterflies, remember that some split cakes pair better than others. Test color combos ahead of time, or swatch them on your arm to decide whether your combination is successful.
Now that you understand the basic concept of using and choosing your splits, let’s put them to work.

Tip: Clean outlines can make or break a beautiful design. Check out 5 Tips for Crisp Lines in Face Painting to keep your linework on point.

Best Brushes

Flat brushes come in a variety of sizes and are great for split cakes. Olga, for instance, loves the brushes from Facepaint Stuff. I personally use a mixture of brushes from The Face Painting Shop, Prima Barton, and Nat’s gold-tipped brushes.

Check out our Best Face Painting Brushes for Easy, Beautiful Designs guide to help you decide on the best option for purchasing your brushes.

Best Face Painting Brushes

Artist Sally Ann Lynch, famous for her exclusive use of one stroke and her vibrant bespoke one stroke palettes, uses short angle brushes to create her signature roses and flowing designs; she is currently working on her own line of brushes.

One of the greatest things about using one stroke is the ability to create intricate-looking designs in a fraction of the time. Don’t feel limited to using only flat and angled brushes. Artists like Brierley Thorpe and Marcela Bustamante often use dagger and round brushes in their designs as well.

Filbert brushes and even sponges can also be used to create your designs. Experiment, explore your options and find out what suits you best!

Tip: A good selection of professional quality brushes is very important in creating flawless designs. Taking care of your investment is even more important!
Our Brush Care article will help you learn to maintain and repair your precious tools in order to keep them in tip-top shape for years to come!

Deceptively Intricate Designs

Take a look at these ideas to add to your quick design board, so that you can bust through those lines like a BOSS. These designs are shockingly fast, with maximum impact. Use these, with or without outlining, to make money at the speed of light.

Quick Design Tutorials to try:

One Stroke Dragon


The Good Dinosaur


Easy Realistic Snake



Want to use one-stroke to paint flowers that aren’t roses? If you’re ready for some variety, you are going to love this floral eye design for women that features a colorful mix of wild flowers.


Tip: Be sure to read In a Flash for even more speedy designs to incorporate into your one stroke repertoire!


Full Face

Yes, you can create a full face design using one stroke! Butterflies, skulls, superheroes… the possibilities are limited only by your skill and imagination! If your designs aren’t working the way you envisioned them, don’t give up!

Practice truly will make perfect. Simply painting designs over and over helps develop proper loading, placement and stroke techniques. You’ll find that many artists post “then and now” photos of their work, showing how their skills have developed over time.

While tutorials and lessons will help you learn proper execution, learning the technique and developing muscle memory is all on you and all it requires is time and practice. Annoying, I know, but I SWEAR it’s true!

Invest in a practice board, our School instructor Kristin Olsson swears by them! Practice on your neighbors, yourself, your kids… if they haven’t revolted and refuse to let you paint them yet…

Tip: Elaine Goh is an IntFPS graduate and a rising star in the community. Check out the before and after work of some of our other amazing graduates in The Payoff blog post!


Try out these amazing full-face options using one stroke:

Rainbow Heart Princess


Captain America


One stroke outlining adds incredible depth really easily! This fancy Fox face paint tutorial on our blog is a great way to master this technique!

Easy Skull Face Paint Tutorial

One Stroke Butterfly

Full Face Layered Design w/ Leanne’s Palette

Tip: These super cool masks by School instructor Annabel Hoogeveen were created by using one stroke! Check out the tiger tutorial she created for the blog, as well as this great cat mask!

Proper One Stroke Execution with Prima Barton

This Aussie artist is well known for her whimsically colorful tribal-inspired designs and creative use of one stroke. Teaching classes at FABAIC and conventions worldwide, she’s quickly become a face painting force to be reckoned with!

We want to know, what advice can you share for our IntFPS students and blog readers on properly using one stroke?

You can use any brush with a flat surface like Filbert, Flat Angle, Flat, Flora, Whisp, or even a large round brush to be able to do a blended one stroke. The base ingredients of face paint (i.e. wax or glycerin) will tell you how to load and how much water to use.

When using Wax-based (eg Face Paints Australia, Diamond FX, etc) use only a small amount of water on the tip of your brush, then wipe the excess water off the edge of the water tub once. Load your brush, swiping from one side to the other twice, then re-dip in a tiny bit of water.

Once again, reload with your paint. You will repeat this process up to three times to get a perfect load.

When using a glycerin base (ie Global, Fusion, Superstar, FAB) the paint needs a bit more water as some, like Global, are very thirsty paints. Load the same as you would a wax paint, however, use a bit more water than you would for wax loading.

This example shows a clean color blend of the rainbow and clean “cloudy” butterfly strokes. This technique requires brush-driving discipline to keep a clear color spread.

I never spritz water on my one stroke cakes. I’ve found it ruins the cake, especially if it’s glycerin-based, as it creates a bleed of colors underneath the cake.

Grab your model or your practice board and load those Prima brushes to recreate this beautiful one stroke butterfly. Nailing this design will surely step up your one stroke game and not only help you create stellar butterflies, but the techniques used here will help you understand elements in other one stroke designs as well.

Remember, one stroke is not “cheat painting”, it is a SKILL that is quicker to learn if taught properly. It speeds up artwork on the job and gives the WOW factor in an instant. In saying this, I am still an old school painter who loves picking up individual colors and blending when given time.

Have a Happy Painting!


Prima teaches one stroke, airbrush, and other techniques in workshops all over the world, so be sure to follow her on Facebook and Instagram, to see where she’ll be popping up next! She has also created a bespoke line of Australian-themed one stroke colors for FPA that you can find at The Looney Bin and many other retailers, as well as her new line of beautiful brushes, available for purchase at your favorite face paint shop (we love Jest Paint).


Many people don’t realize the time, money and effort that goes into making these potted rainbows at a commercial level.

And although we’ve packed quite a bit of information into this article, our Split Cake Module in the International Face Painting School curriculum is fully-loaded with even more details to help you come up with the perfect color combination for making your own split cakes, how to shop for the best split cakes and using them correctly and, finally, creating spectacular designs using your split cakes.

You’ll learn this and so much more when you enroll…

Are you ready to take your face painting business to the next level?

Take a class today and see how you can improve your skills and take your business further.

Take a Class at the International Face Painting School

 — Kelli Zermeño

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