KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Like many 23-year-old women, Elsa Rhae Pageler of Overland Park, Kan., occasionally stations herself in front of a mirror and fiddles with her makeup.
Unlike those others, she often emerges from the process looking like some kind of monster — which, as it happens, is exactly what she’s going for.
Armed with little more than some face paint, a 120-color palette of eye shadow and a handful of makeup brushes, Pageler captures the attention of geeks and gamers across the country as she transforms her face into vivid renditions of television, movie and video game characters.
Her Facebook page boasts a large collection of her handiwork. There she is as a White Walker, straight from the Sunday-night HBO world of “Game of Thrones.” There she is as Baraka from “Mortal Kombat” and as Captain Planet, in honor of Earth Day. There she is, too, as a grimacing Grinch.
“I couldn’t do any of this stuff a year ago,” Pageler says on a recent afternoon at her one-bedroom Overland Park apartment, which also houses a new puppy, a 3-foot lizard and a nocturnal gecko. “It’s just been growing as I practice.”
Pageler, a freelance video editor and producer and makeup artist, makes it clear she didn’t set out to make a name for herself as a face painter — though it eventually worked out that way.
She needed an elective to graduate from the University of Kansas with a film and media studies major, and a theater makeup class seemed easy enough.
In the end, the class proved rather dull for her tastes — “just learning how to shade and highlight and stuff, and I already knew that from doing my own makeup” — but it did spark an interest in face painting.
When Pageler started toying with the art in her free time, it was mostly for friends and family. She would watch tutorials on YouTube, essentially teaching herself the intricate work.
But a few weeks ago, a friend asked if he could post a link to her work online and within hours her painted face was showing up in all corners of the Web.
Huffington Post wrote about her ability to transform her face into the spitting images of various characters. Pageler caught fire on Reddit. Ashton Kutcher linked to her website, which was particularly cool.
Since then there has been a burst of attention. Her Facebook page, Elsa Rhae Creations, has received more than 22,000 “likes.” Fans of her work have sent suggestions for characters she should try. A contact lens company has offered free, unusually colored contact lenses, she said, so she’ll include them in her photos and videos.
“Which is nice,” Pageler said, “because I’ve never been able to afford contacts.”
The attraction of people to the work is obvious, says Paul Crabtree, the friend who originally posted her work on the website Imgur.
“A big part of it is her immense ability,” Crabtree says. “She draws off herself, she doesn’t use a model. I can barely draw a stick figure on a piece of paper, let alone my own face.”
As her talents have become more refined, so, too, have her ambitions. She keeps a mental list of characters she’d like to try, and when inspiration hits, she goes upstairs. There a desk holds a laptop computer and a makeup mirror, among other things, and she goes to work.
Videos on her YouTube page show versions of the process in fast forward, but in reality it can take between 30 minutes and 3 1/2 hours. The more elaborate the project, the more time it takes Pageler to complete.
Her boyfriend, Barron Link, says that the attention Pageler’s work gets is “not very surprising. Because anything that she touches that’s even mildly artistic, she just kills.”
At the moment she’s putting the finishing touches on a project.
She spreads some blue across her face, changes brushes, touches up small details around the cheeks, the nose, the forehead. And soon enough she’s a spitting image of Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique from the “X-Men” movie series.
As for the future, she’s not sure what will become of her face painting. While the idea of doing makeup for TV or movies sounds appealing, she also enjoys the freedom she has to produce work that no one has done.
“I’ll just continue doing it,” she says as she works, “as long as people continue liking it.”