"We can do pretty much anything." That's a bold statement on any given day, even more so when in reference to creating a transformative Halloween look. But Ramona Potts, co-owner of Atomic Kitten Salon in downtown Bakersfield, is a woman of her word. Whether it's a Na'vi from "Avatar," a mermaid with scaled legs or an ethereal Corpse Bride, Potts and her team have made it happen.
In a process that took only about a half-hour on Monday, a young woman metamorphosed into a Tim Burton character, airbrushed with a blue-tinged skeletal face and body and oversized eyes painted on her eyelids. With a simple costume change, the look was party-ready, which is part of Potts' goal.
It will be a busy Saturday before Halloween for Atomic Kitten, as well as other local salons and makeup artists, with bustling brushes prepping clients for parties.
In her busiest week of the year, Jennifer Keller at Fantasy Frocks also will hustle to dress the rush of party-goers. Last year, Keller estimates she helped outfit hundreds, many among the growing number of adults headed to local fundraisers, church events and private soirees.
For those headed to Atomic Kitten, Potts enlisted airbrush artist Al Mendez, makeup magician Bonnie Forston and other staffers to work their holiday best. Prices vary depending on artist and requests, with a $25 to $80 range for face work to $100 to $150 for a full-body design. (For bashful folks, "full body" need only cover the extremities.)
And don't fret if your ideas veer toward the darker side of Halloween. This group cut its teeth, so to speak, working alongside Hollywood makeup artists at the long-running Chamber of Chills haunted attraction (which moved to Primm, Nev., this year).
"The makeup at the Chamber was incredible," said Mendez, an airbrush artist whom Potts invited to the haunt makeup team eight years ago. "Every year was something fun."
From demonic clowns and cracked-face dolls to snake men, looks veered toward the creative and creepy.
"I made a boy look like a snake. I put fishnet over his face, sprayed him, gave him the scales. In the maze, I knew where he was and what he was going to do but he still got me."
Creating frightening looks actually emboldens Forston, who likes to test her scare threshold.
"It (doing makeup) makes me less scared of haunted houses. Every time I try to top it to see if I can scare myself. We go to Knotts Scary Farm every year. They come up trying to scare me, but I'm looking at the details for their faces to try and do that myself."
Before Forston joined the fold, she was testing out looks on herself, as well as friends and family. One year she turned heads as the demonic child Regan from "The Exorcist."
"No one would talk to me. So the next year I was half Alice (in Wonderland), half Malice. I didn't want to be just pretty but I was tired of being scary and having no one talk to me."
Pretty or scary, the artists can bring your look to life -- with some tricks that you may not be able to manage at home.
"A lot of people do their own makeup now because of YouTube (tutorials)," Forstone noted. "YouTube is a great thing, but with a lot of the super-detailed work, like texture, is really hard to do on yourself. Also, it can be expensive, having to go out and buy brushes because you don't want to use your regular brushes."
And an airbrush machine, used for glamour as well as creative makeup, is a tool not available to most nonprofessionals, Potts said.
"It's more waterproof and sweatproof," she added, which ensures a look that will last through the night. But what about when the party's over?
"The acrylic fabric paint is great," Mendez said. "It's water-based, nontoxic, will stay on for hours, but washes off with soap and water."
Along with the tools, Potts said professional makeup guarantees an artist's touch.
"I like how creative you get to be, stretch your abilities. How much you get to use your imagination. We normally don't get to do that in the salon with prom and wedding makeup."
Dress the part
Floor to ceiling hooks packed with plastic bags, rows of scary masks and a wall of weapons that would please Hannibal Lecter. It's no wonder many people flock to Fantasy Frocks to bring their costume dreams -- or nightmares -- to life.
"I think people get really overwhelmed when they walk in," said Jennifer Keller, who owns the 17th Street shop chock-full of costumes.
And for a woman who's been meeting Bakersfield's costume needs for 32 years, Keller still can be surprised by requests.
"I have had three grown women in the last week ask me for Honey Boo Boo. That's a bit scary.
"We don't sell a packaged costume. They were piecing them together with wigs, some have rented dresses or are going to Goodwill. I think we convinced one woman to try something else because of the reaction in the store."
If you don't know what you'd like to dress as, Keller said you shouldn't worry.
"It's more typical that people come in without any ideas. The minority come in with a plan. They see something and change their minds.
"Oftentimes the difficult part is not their words, but seeing beyond that. Some of the people who are the most reticent, they put a costume on and can let loose a little bit. That's really fun for me. ... We try to make it fun for them in here."
Informative and opinionated, Keller and her crew can find customers a complete look or the right finishing touches. Of the assortment of wigs, glasses, masks and other detail items available, Keller admitted, "When it comes to accessories, I just have to get everything I like."
The businesswoman has also aimed to keep the hot costumes in stock, which this year includes The Avengers, superheroes in general, zombies and pirates ("no matter what else Johnny Depp does, he has still made pirates huge"). By mid-October, though, some hot picks sell out, such as printed morph suits, the full-body fitted costume.
"Morph suits are big. ... This year, there were printed ones, a flag and tuxedo. Those are a little more fun than the solid colors (where) every rumple dimple shows. But we have none of the printed ones left."
Unlike in previous years, Keller said vendors are struggling to fill some last-minute orders.
"They're running so far behind, indicating that their retailers have ordered really late so they're running late since they didn't realize the demand."
Political masks, always big in a presidential election year, have sold well, leaving one lonely Mitt Romney mask as of Tuesday. The presidential candidate's comment about PBS funding also led to a sellout of Big Bird costumes, Keller said.
Older presidential masks also remain popular, with groups of young men dressing as the bank robbing "ex-presidents" from the 1991 Keanu Reeves heist film, "Point Break."
Along with retail costumes, Fantasy Frocks does a good rental business, with thousands of costumes.
"I lost track at about 6,000. In addition to the store, my husband built a shop, 40 by 40, at home (for costumes)."
Keller said having Halloween fall on a Wednesday this year is great for anyone who rents costumes.
"It's our favorite day to have Halloween. You have time to rent the costumes for the weekend, get them back and clean them and rent again."
Prices for retail costumes can range from $20 to $200, with the average being around $40. Rentals average a bit higher at $45, with more elaborate looks going for about $65.
Keller said it's hard to determine numbers since so much of the business is in the last three days of the month. But she noted the economy still has an effect on spending.
"For the last four years we've noticed the average ticket price has dropped."
In light of that, Keller said she is glad for the Halloween season and all the plays, church functions and other local events that keep up demand.
"We're really grateful to our longtime customers who have allowed us to be here for 32 years. I owe my livelihood to everyone who walks through the door. And they should be treated that way."