Familiar Faces: Face painter, balloon artist a regular at festivals

By: Menka Belgal, Telegraph Correspondent
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Judi Peterson, also known as PonyTails, calls herself a professional “Smile Maker” and has been for the past 10 years. If you take a look at her website (, you’ll know why. Filled with photos of creative balloon twisting sculptures and amazing face and body painting, she makes her clients very happy. Seen at many celebrations from Christmas parties to birthday parties, on land and on the ocean, Judi has brought smiles and joy to people around the world.

What were you doing before you began face painting and balloon twisting?
Before I got involved in entertaining I owned Judi’s Window Painting Inc. since 1984. We painted thousands of bright window ads, walls, logos, and murals all over northern California. Our youngest son Garrett still runs this business but I retired four years ago.

How did you get involved in face painting?
In the year 2000 at a church family camp someone who knew I painted windows asked if I could paint faces. I said I would try. I loved the reaction of the children and their parents. I was hooked. I wanted to do this from then on. At last I had a canvas that could smile back at me.
When I first saw a twisted balloon, I was amazed. I wanted to try it so I purchased a pump and a bag of 100 twisting balloons. I was terrible at it. I popped 40 of the balloons trying to make a teddy bear. Every time I would twist the ears it would pop. I never gave up though. It was now becoming a challenge. I bought more balloons and kept trying. The more I practiced the more I found I could make out of balloons. I love sculpting almost anything. I have done a ton of crazy balloons now. It is so fun.

What unique assignments have you had?
With my face painting business I have had some unusual requests. Two die hard Forty-Niner fans have hired me to transform them into The Helmet Heads for every San Francisco home game. They shave their heads and I paint realistic San Francisco helmets on them. Good Day Sacramento even featured us on television doing this last January.

Do you entertain outside of California?
Last year we got to go on the Royal Caribbean’s biggest ship, the Allure of the Sea. I got to twist balloons in the Eastern and western Caribbean on two cruises. This year we got to go back and do it again. This time I was their face painter for two more cruises. In September we went to Italy, Spain and France on the Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas. I face painted a lot of the guests. More adults in Europe wanted to be painted. It was a blast.

Tell us about your family.
My husband DJ Peterson and I have been married 42 years. We met in 1969 and helped start the original D.A.R.E. program at U.C.L.A. DJ now writes grants for the El Dorado Hills Community Vision Coalition and is the Executive Director. We work together in the entertainment business because he is a great magician and balloon twister too. Many know him as Howdy Do Dat. We have three grown children. Our youngest son who runs Judi’s Window Painting, also helps the homeless and feeds the hungry. Together with his wife, he bought 10 water wells through Operation Blessing and donated them to people in Africa so that they could have safe drinking water.
Our daughter owns Mission Bowling Club in San Francisco. They won an award for the best bowling alley in the city and were also featured in Sunset Magazine and other print publications.
Our oldest son has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. He lives with others who have mental disorders. We bought two apartments in Sacramento for the sole purpose of renting them out to people with mental disorders.

What hobbies do you have?
Here in El Dorado Hills I enjoy gardening. We have a half acre yard and every inch is planted by me. It is a jungle out there.
My other joy is our little granddaughter Ella. She is only six and is already learning how to twist balloons and comes to lots of parties with us.

Do you give back to the community?
Several times a year we volunteer our services for free to give back to the community for worthy causes. I give discounted rates during the week and have volunteered with special needs kids.

What are your goals?
I really love my life. My goal is to add joy every day to some ones special occasion. Every day is an adventure. I continue growing in my artistic skills by attending conventions all over the United States.
This last month I have been rebuilding my website. It has been extremely challenging for me because I am not a high tech person. I wanted to include way too many pictures which slowed it down. We are still doing a few changes to make it fun and fast.
We have so many valued friends and clients that have us back to their homes and businesses over and over again. I just want to say thank you for allowing us in on your special celebrations. We love to put the “art” in party.