Face-painting business has pivoted to virtual team-building through art (with help from Hispanic chamber)

Laura Hoyos always knew the effect of her business on her customers — it was written all over their face. But, when FaceTime was as close to face-to-face as health officials recommended people get, a face painting operation like hers was flipped on its head.

A virtual class taught by Laura Hoyos.

Even among the mostly hard-hit restaurant and hospitality businesses that comprise the 120,000-member Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, the novel coronavirus had an unparalleled impact on her one-of-a-kind business.

But the entrepreneur did a similarly unique about-face.

Her business, Paint 2 Smile, thrived on face and body painting at parties, private events, corporate events, baby showers, weddings, street fairs, school events — basically, anything that’s no longer happening after March ushered in efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Hoyos also did instructional “paint night” events, which haven’t been held, either.

With a little help from the state’s Hispanic chamber, Hoyos replaced that lost business with what turned out to be a highly sustainable alternative during the pandemic: virtual painting activities for organizations as large as Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.

Through Paint 2 Smile, Hoyos runs 90-minute classes for that organization, which in late April wanted to introduce wellness and team-building programs for employees working remotely. Hoyos said it gives the workers an opportunity to “decompress, be creative and even do something fun with family in this uncertain time.”

Laura Hoyos’ Paint 2 Smile normally specializes in face and body painting.

Aside from the learning curve that came with delivering art materials sometimes even outside the tri-state area, Hoyos feels fortunate to have been able to make a smooth transition into virtual platforms and have made herself home on this new canvas for business.

Of course, it’s a different, sometimes more impersonal experience online. But, mostly, Hoyos feels lucky to be doing what she loves still: instilling a love for art in others.

“And that’s more than creating a pretty picture,” she said. “Art can really be a tool to connect people, families and communities.”

Hoyos is a former art teacher, graphic designer and makeup artist who was inspired by her father, who was in the fine arts in Colombia. She came to the United States from Colombia at the age of 9 with her mother. It was in those early years she found a love for painting, and came to the conclusion — a doctrine she’d like to share with others — that “art is a way of celebrating life.”

The chamber organization she credits with the foundation — and, now, continuation — of her business doesn’t feature many businesses like hers, even if face painting is a common theme in Hispanic cultures.

“And, in this industry overall, there’s not a lot of artists who are Latinos or speak Spanish,” Hoyos said. “I’ve had people hire me because I can speak Spanish and communicate with the community they served.”

Even if most events have been wiped off the calendar for the remainder of the year, Hoyos is getting more creative with video-conferencing tools. She recently started sending art materials to families that want to have Zoom-hosted activities during birthday parties.

Not everything can be replicated in the virtual environment. Regardless, Hoyos, an endless reservoir of cheerfulness, vows to “keep strategizing new ways to keep people smiling.”