Tonawanda News — Skyler Sullivan, 4, quietly asked Canal Fest facepainter, Sheila Reigh, for a kitty Monday.
“Do you want to be a kitty or do you want to have a kitty on your cheek?” Reigh asked the girl.
A few minutes later the timid girl had transformed into a black kitty with claws and pink nose, stalking off to check out the midway with a hiss. Skyler wanted to be like Catwoman and, minus a tail, she was.
“It is so rewarding to see the smile on every kid’s face when they look in the mirror,” said Reigh, a City of Tonawanda resident who has been painting faces at Canal Fest for 15 years.
And while about two-thirds of her professional painting career consists of making little kids into kitties and Batmans, Reigh is a serious artist who has taught watercolor, drawing and calligraphy classes throughout Western New York.
Reigh has taught at the Ensminger Senior Citizen Center in the town and at Michael’s craft stores, and for the first time will be teaching at Partners in Art in North Tonawanda in the fall.
“I love teaching, especially adults,” Reigh said. “The people who join my classes, they want to be there. Art is such a fun and surprising medium to work in.”
Reigh has always had an interest in the arts, but chose to study to become an elementary school teacher.
“As an elementary teacher, I was always doing artsy-craftsy, cartoony things,” she said. “I started face painting just when it became popular at the school I was teaching in and people kept saying I was pretty good and I should look into making” it a career.
About 10 years ago, Reigh quit her teaching job and started working full time as an art teacher and face painter. She paints faces at private family and company parties, in addition to numerous festivals throughout Western New York.
“I face paint at Texas Roadhouse every Monday night for kids night, Kenmore Days, the Boulevard Mall, Southgate Plaza, St. Jude’s Carnival ... ,” she listed. “I’m thrilled! To get paid for something you love to do is a dream.”
Reigh offers more than 300 designs at her face-painting booth and uses only FDA-approved professional paints. She said she can paint about 20 faces each hour at events like Canal Fest and though another little girl, Abigail Dryjia, 5, asked to be a cat shortly after Skyler left, Reigh said there’s not one particular design that’s more popular than the others.
From a simple black and yellow smiley face on a cheek, to more intricate paintings of animals and flowers with subtle shading and variations in color, Reigh can handle just about any design kids and adults alike might want.
Joan Horn, co-owner of Partners in Art where Reigh will be teaching in September, said her skills as a watercolor artist make her stand out as a face painter.
“If she wasn’t a painter you might not see those subtleties” in her face painting, Horn said. “Her ability to paint in watercolor I think helps bring those qualities to face painting.”
Reigh has been taking classes at Partners in Art for years, but now she’ll be sitting on the other side of the easels, teaching an introductory watercolor class beginning in mid-September.
“She started off as a student and then she branched out,” Horn said. “Now she’s coming home.”
Depending on student interest, the classes will be held on Tuesday evenings and/or Wednesday afternoons at the Partners in Art classrooms, 77 Webster St. Reight will hold free 90-minute demonstrations for interested students at 6:30 p.m. July 31 and 1:30 p.m. Aug. 1, with registration required by July 28. Those interested in the demonstrations or classes should call 692-2141.
In the meantime, Reigh is available to paint Spidermans, rainbows and flowers each remaining day of Canal Fest at the corner of Webster and Sweeney streets.Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.