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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Once and Future Makeup Artist

The photo shoot I had over the weekend gave me a magnificent opportunity to practice my developing photographic skills with a gorgeous, willing and effervescent model, but also to dip back into my recent past as a professional makeup artist.

I had not realized until then how much I missed doing makeup on someone else.

Like any profession, once you're in it, you get used to things that at first struck you as incredibly exciting and wonderful.

And like any profession, you find that it calls for a wider range of skills than you initally imagined it would.


In many instances, a makeup artist is a confessor, confidant, advisor, therapist. When you gently cup someone's face in your hands to smooth on a primer or thoughtfully gaze at the face before you, thinking about what technique or color you will choose next, the effect on the person in your makeup chair can be extraordinary.

Not only do you develop an eye to paint and sculpt the features, but you develop an ear and a sensitivity: to the Other sitting right in front of you. Their insecurities, their hopes, their heartbreak, their desires. Being both a witness and creator of their transformation brings out their need to explain, to wish, to share. Not all the time, but it happens. Sometimes that was a nice part of the job, sometimes it was a burden.

There are two kinds of faces: the ones that barely need the touch of a brush or a whisper of lipstick and they are done, perfect. And there are the other faces, where you look for the beauty and plan your work as a surveyor would gaze out to the horizon, mapping the terrain. Those faces have the eyes that look to you with a mixture of admiration and trepidation. They already feel incomplete, and expect to be disappointed. But it is for those faces that you pull out all the stops, to make them realize they are so much more in reality than the jumble of brushes and products.

That it's not a fluke that they are worth noticing.


All those little memories came flooding back as I did the makeup for the shoot, as my brain started to remember the process and the details of technique. Not that she needed much to enhance her loveliness. It was just touching a face again, looking at beautiful eyes (always my favorite) that made me realize how much I missed my old world.


Another thing about the world of makeup artists is the sense of family and comaraderie. There can be fierce competition, to be sure, because makeup artistry can also be as much about the ego as it is about giving to someone else. The performance and cult of the artist is definitely part and parcel of this business.

But there is also the other side, the understanding and sisterhood (and brotherhood) that develops between artists who enjoy each other's work. Through blogging, I have made the acquaintance of a very talented and generous makeup artist whose love of makeup and all things vintage mirrors my own: Katie of Old Hollywood Glamour. I encourage you to check out her blog, and if you're in the New York area, perhaps you'll be lucky to have her create her magic on you.

The day before my photo shoot, I came home to a large envelope that had arrived the mail. In it was a stockpile of goodies: pristine, new-in-the-box bronzer, blush, lipgloss, lipsticks, eye shadow. (You don't know what the sight of brand new product does to a makeup artist. We get all fluttery and weak in the knees.) All perfect shades and products that could be used for the next day's photos, and enclosed with a sweet note and a heart, to boot.

How did she know? Ah, the wisdom of the makeup artist. To provide the unexpected, with a flourish.

Thank you, Miss Katie. You were the cherry on my Sunday sundae!


Phivos Nicolaides June 24, 2008 at 1:32 PM  

It seems you are a great makeup artist and a great great photographer.

Anonymous June 24, 2008 at 1:41 PM  

Oh TB - I can just see our dream weekend: restaurant hopping for exotic and delicious tidbits, make-up session with the Artiste, reciprocal photo session, followed by a milonga outing to show off newly purchased shoes...

I'd better start saving up now.

Relyn June 24, 2008 at 1:52 PM  

I love the way your post captured the gifts that makeup artists often bestow. It made me remember the time I had a makeover and discovered that I have really beautiful lips. Not too pouty or in any way funky - just really nicely shaped and proportioned lips with a perfect bow. That makeup artist gave me my lips, more confidence, and lots of pleasure. She also bestowed a lifelong quest for the perfect red (or cranberry or burgundy-ish) lipstick. No neutral lips for me. ;^)

Maryam in Marrakesh June 24, 2008 at 1:56 PM  

Sigh. I so desperately need your skills:-( Not to mention the skills of a stylist. sigh.

Tina June 24, 2008 at 2:14 PM  

Great, so when are ya gonna come down to Buenos Aires and do my face and take pictures of me? heehee ;-)

Christina June 24, 2008 at 3:18 PM  

I once had a make up artist tell me (after applying eye shadow to my lids) that if he wanted to he could paint a picture on them : ) Uhem... that was a long time ago. lol

I stay out of Sephora because I admit, I am quite the make up lover.

What a beautiful post.

Yoli June 24, 2008 at 4:03 PM  

You are wonderful photographer and a girl of many talents. Wow, I wish I knew how to apply my make up without looking like bozo the clown.

Thank you for stopping by my blog. My fencing picture on that post is by my photographer crush, Eugenio Recuenco.

TheElementary June 24, 2008 at 5:06 PM  

I really liked the way you brought such depth to this profession I admit to knowing nothing about: not just about faces and physical characteristics but how to draw out the best in people through the medium you use. It's about really seeing something, which is a topic dear to my heart- how we see things, whether we are really looking and how we perceive what's in front of us...
"Being both a witness and creator of their transformation brings out their need to explain, to wish, to share."
Wow. I just love that line. More, more!

Anonymous June 25, 2008 at 3:04 AM  

Wonderful post, TB. The results of your artistry, both as makeup artist and photographer, are a delight to behold.

katie June 25, 2008 at 7:10 AM  

What a lovely post!! And you are so sweet, thanks. Next time I am in SF we WILL meet!

xo Katie

Elizabeth June 25, 2008 at 8:58 AM  

I think of you everytime I come home from a milonga and I look in the mirror and my eye makeup is perfect! That primer, and the Laura Mercier eye liner are a real find.

dutchbaby June 25, 2008 at 10:46 AM  

This is a beautiful essay that reveals what separates you from the pack. Your ability to submerge yourself into your subject's being is the secret to your success. Brava, TB!

tangobaby June 25, 2008 at 5:15 PM  

Hi Phivos,

Let's just say for right now that I know a heck of a lot more about makeup than I do about photography, but I'm really thrilled that I now have the opportunity to use both at the same time!

Hi Johanna,

Sounds like a date to me (except for the "reciprocal" photo session). I HATE having my picture taken. Hate it.

What city did you have in mind for our weekend? ;-)

Hi Relyn,

Thank you for seeing what I was trying to say. The truth is that you've had pretty lips your whole life, but up until now you hadn't noticed them. One of the regular joys of being a makeup artist is showing people how attractive they really are, regardless of what we put on them. It's hard for us to look at ourselves without a lot of baggage, and I think a good makeup artist can help remove some negative self-perceptions.

Hi Maryam,

I've seen photos of you, and I'm confident that you don't need me one bit. However, if you feel *really* strongly about it, maybe we can work out some sort of trade.

heh heh

Hi Tina,

Ya know, let's shoot for Italy! Why not! Wouldn't that be awesome?

Again, like I told Maryam, I've seen photos of you too and although I'd be over the moon to take your photo, I have a a feeling that the makeup part will go pretty quickly!

Hi Christina,

Yes, makeup artist LOOOVE large eyes because there's so much room for beautiful colors, if that's the look in mind. Me, I'm a stickler for eyeliner and fabulous lashes more than any particular colors. Although I am a big fan of the smoky eye, too.

Hi Yoli,

You are one of my blog crushes of late. I just think your blog is gorgeous. That photo makes me want to dig out my fencing gear (if the jacket still fits) and take classes again.

If you're ever in SF, I'll be happy to give you a makeup lesson. But the first rule is always LESS IS MORE. Then you avoid Bozo-dom.

See you again sometime?

Hi TheElementary,

I have to tell you that I didn't know much more than you do about being a makeup artist when I first started. How I got into this business is a whole other story for another time.

What I have realized through being a makeup artist is that people need more touching and connection than they realize.

I promise to write more makeup artist stories in the future and I think you will like them.


Hi upfromthedeep,

Thank you. That's very kind of you to say.

Hi Katie,

YES! Or if I am near you. My god, I would love to go to Bendels and Bergdorf's with you! You could be my East Coast makeup shopping guide!

Hi Elizabeth,

Hooray! I'm so glad to hear that. There's nothing better than recommending a favorite product and having someone else love it as much as you do. And if it's a little reminder of me to you, than that's certainly a bonus (for me).

Hi dutchbaby,

Being one of my more beautiful and fun faces to "play" with, I thank you for the compliment. Maybe we can have a sequel someday?


Alex aka Gypsy Girl June 26, 2008 at 12:50 PM  

Oh my! Catching up on your beautiful posts is a brethtaking journey through all art forms ~ writing, film, photography, dance, theater and now make up & styling! You are one multi talented neighbor :D I may have a make up job offer for you ~ xo

tangobaby June 27, 2008 at 10:46 AM  

Hi Alex,

I'm so glad you're enjoying my recent posts *blush*.

Let me know what else we can work on together. A makeup job with you sounds like a dream!

[a} June 28, 2008 at 2:53 AM  

Such exquisite writing.

tangobaby June 30, 2008 at 10:18 AM  

Hello [a},

Thank you for visiting my blog. I think I write better when I know what I'm talking about...


But thank you for the compliment!

msHedgehog July 3, 2008 at 2:59 PM  

You know, I'm completely crazy about the composition in your photographs. (Where is the post with the one in it that has a man's hand hanging down into a space on a sunny day, and all the geometric colours? I can't find it now.) I think you taught yourself to look as a makeup artist, the way painters have to teach themselves to look when they draw, to see what is there to see in terms of light, shade, and colour, without preconceiving the shape of the thing it might represent.

tangobaby July 3, 2008 at 4:29 PM  

Hi Ms. Hedgehog,

Thank you so much for the compliment but even more for the explanation!

I think you've expressed it perfectly, because that aspect of "looking" is exactly what you train yourself to do as a makeup artist. And now that I'm taking lots of photos, I am always "looking" for a certain angle, emphasis or presentation.

I hadn't thought about it that way until you said it for me. Thank you!

ps. I am not sure which photo in the post that you're referring to but now I have to figure it out. ;-)