For one Astoria artist, your face is her canvas.
Lenore Koppelman, 39, is the owner and artist behind The Cheeky Chipmunk, where she has turned face and body painting into living, breathing art.
Born in Queens and raised in New Orleans, La., Koppelman recalls that it was a tradition for her and her family to go to the French Quarter every Sunday after breakfast and get their faces painted. Koppelman said that every Sunday morning she would talk about what she would get painted on her face that day.
As she grew up, she went to college for interior design, and her inner knack for art and creativity followed her throughout the years.
Having lived in Forest Hills from when she was 3 to 6 years old, Koppelman decided to return to Queens eight years ago, and she made the move to Astoria. But her decision to make a career change did not happen until just last year.
While on a walk by Astoria Park with one of her best friends, Pamela Bob, Koppelman pondered over what her true calling was. Realizing that she loved art and loved working with people, she put the two together.
“We both realized at that moment [the face painting business] was going to happen. So I just felt this wave of calm come over me, like I had finally figured out what I was here to do,” Koppelman said. “I got goosebumps and said, ‘I am going to be a face painter.’”
She began painting her friend’s children’s faces for free and realized that something was missing.
“I was terrible. I was really bad. I had no idea how difficult face painting was. I think a lot of parents think, ‘How hard can it be?’” she said. “I then said, if I’m going to really do this, I’m going to have to learn how to do this.”
She began practicing, on herself and others, and reached out to the face painting industry. Koppelman said she was surprised to see the unity in the face and body painting community and she began attending workshops, and meeting other face painters at “jams.”
Koppelman also signed up for an online community called FABA (Face and Body Art) TV, where instructors from around the world share tutorials and tricks on design ideas. She also attended a workshop called Face Painting University and got to learn from professionals in the industry who had appeared in shows such as Skin Wars and Face Off.
“It really took wanting this so badly in order for me to really commit to learning it. This was a whole other level of passion and want. And aside from my little boy and husband, I couldn’t think of anything else I’m more passionate about,” Koppelman said.
Since taking the classes and becoming involved in the community, Koppelman said she felt an increase in confidence. Since September, she has been starting to book more gigs painting faces and bodies, and she even dabbles in maternity belly paintings.
The decision to name the business The Cheeky Chipmunk came from a childhood nickname given to her by her parents and her love for alliteration. She’s now busy offering face and body painting for almost any occasion, from birthdays to corporate events.
Koppelman has also spent her time volunteering for different organizations and events, most recently at a fundraiser held at an Astoria bar called The Quays for a local boy suffering from a rare blood disorder.
She said her favorite moment is the reveal—the moment when a child or adult opens their eyes after sitting patiently through the painting process just trusting her.
Although she is constantly learning and changing designs to meet the latest fads, Koppelman said she still can’t believe she is finally doing what she loves as a career. She hopes to one day publish a book with all her paintings done on her own face and start doing paintings on things in New York she would like to celebrate.
“It’s all about having fun and getting in touch with something inside of you that is magical and youthful and free,” Koppelman said. “Nothing horrible will come of it; it’s paint, it washes off, and it’s a good time. I would love to see more people find that kid inside that just wants to be free. Let the glitter fly free.”