Nose-to-Palette: 17 Lessons I Learned from Makeup

The beauty industry thrives on people’s insecurities. If tomorrow, all women woke up and decided they didn’t need fancy skincare and makeup to make themselves feel worthy, this 500+ billion dollar industry would collapse before you can say BB cream.  I don’t judge people who wear make up—heck, I wear it all the time, being a former showgirl: being backstage was one of the best times of that phase of my life.

Yes, it’s ok to be a feminist and also spend $50 on a Christian Dior lipstick. Telling women they should wear make up is the same as telling them they shouldn’t—in the end, it’s telling them what (and what not) to do. If a woman wants to wear crazy fake lashes, don a dark tan and paint rouge on her lips so red you can see it from the moon, then power to her. No one can tell her what she should wear to feel good about herself. Well, only her.

I want to feel beautiful like most, if not all women: it’s our nature. But makeup is used as a tool to make you feel good, not as a source of making you feel good. Alot of us confuse the distinction, present company included. I picked up on that notion when I was 11. One day before school, instead of putting up my hair in the usual ponytail, I decided to let my hair down. I noticed guys looked at me a little longer, one tapped me on the shoulder and another flat out flirted. And I remember thinking, all of this attention just because I let my hair down? I was too young to understand all of it, but I intuitively knew that attention was conditional based on my looks. Beauty is not meant to be the only way I am judged, I thought—such a cruel world it was.

I digress. As I got older, my affinity for make up stopped being about making me feel beautiful. Ok, to a certain degree it may have been. Glowy, dewy skin, mesmerizing eyes and sculpted cheeks that hide my round face make me feel beautiful (though nothing is wrong with a round face. Occasionally, I like to look like a chiseled Goddess. Ahem Ahem.).  What fascinated me about makeup was the creativity, the art, and the various looks I could put together. Be bold, I say.

In the age of social media, beauty influencers have a loud voice in the game. Cosmetics companies have identified a more personal approach to getting people to buy their products. In addition to magazines, commercials, and other traditional media channels, people can now hear about products from an actual consumer, just like themselves. It’s fucking genius, because it’s relatable, and people trust said influencers. The beauty industry has severely benefitted from this new form of marketing: enter the beauty haul.

What is a beauty haul? For those who don’t follow the beauty industry, a haul is when a beauty blogger/vlogger reviews products he/she just bought. They describe and then recommend whether to buy (or not buy) a product and because they are (usually) honest and have to disclose if they’re sponsored, there’s a certain level of trust.

I love beauty hauls, makeup and skincare. I indulge but I don’t think my consumption is at a dangerous level (see my post on my relationship with money). I am a consumer of beauty information and I tell ya, I could not get enough of this circus show of goodness.  I wasn’t born yesterday—I know that someone at some level is trying to take my money, but I enjoy the entertainment value of it. It’s where I let my YouTube rabbit hole travel on nights when I don’t want to work on this blog.

As a creative, I think of makeup artists (MUAs) as, well, artists. They work with colour, shape, texture, lighting, and many other variables.  What’s even more fascinating, is that MUAs also work with an unstable canvas—the skin. A live, breathing form, the largest organ in your body can make a vivid jade green liquid eyeshadow look different from one skin type and tone to another. It can look dull in one, shiny in another, and flaky on the next. An industry that builds products catering to different canvases works damn hard to take your money, so they deliver. It’s also a reason why it can take years of trying different products until you find the right one: a tall, expensive and often wasteful undertaking.

I recently watched a YouTube video with Scott Barnes, one of the most sought-after celebrity makeup artists on the planet. First, let me tell you that this guy is just straight up INSPIRING. He is known as the creator of that inner glow look on JLo and has products on the market that could make us all look like sun-kissed, bronzed, bionic women.

Scott’s background is actually in fine art. He wanted to be a painter when he moved to New York in the 1980s. Recently, while he was doing makeup on Tati–a major beauty influencer–on her YouTube channel, he was reminiscing about how when he was transitioning to make up early in his career, he had to go to the beauty counters for guidance because he didn’t understand all of it. He was also talking about how he doesn’t necessarily use things as marketed. For example, a lip product might be used as blush or a deep bronzer can be used a dark tone for contouring. You get the gist.

Using products for different purposes really resonated with me because I found that the rules on the packaging made me feel restricted (creative block enforced). It goes without saying that cosmetics companies are responsible for guiding you on how to use their products, but that’s what they are: just guides. With makeup, the sky really is the limit in terms of possibilities of what these little pretty nuggets of powders and liquids can do. And listening to him, someone who has made it in the industry and had a background of using paint brushes on canvas, experimenting with colours, shades, shapes and sizes made me realize that I am the one who has creative control and can break all the rules through experimentation. #CreativePower

As a blocked creative I was afraid of makeup—not in an I-need-to-go-to-a-psychologist-and-deal-with-a-phobia kind of way. I was afraid because I didn’t know what to do with it. Scott went to the beauty counters, I kept watching YouTube videos and felt stuck. Many women go to a counter and feel intimidated, like a fitness newbie if they had to go to the gym and use weight machines for the first time. I did a quick, simple survey through Survey Monkey, and talked to a bunch of cosmetics counter reps who confirmed this. Cosmetics companies are also notoriously guilty of conveying the message that you need multiple products (same shiz, different packaging) to create a perfect look, which is not true. It’s wonderful how you can do so much with so little. It’s just about sales. Lots of sales. I noticed that because of my late night beauty haul video addiction, I had a bunch of makeup sitting in my drawer just gathering dust.

Anyway, back to my (false) fear. The idea of making a mistake, even though it was literally erasable, made me not want to even take my products out of my drawer. I had alot of cute packets of goodness: eyeshadow palettes in different colour schemes, contouring sets, foundations for different seasons, you name it. But I would only wear them on special occasions, which were rare at best.

Since I was on a journey to demolish my creative block, in a burst of inspiration and motivation after I made the decision to move to Toronto, I decided to embark on a month-long journey of using makeup everyday. For makeup aficionados, this is no problem at all–many could do it easily. But for a blocked creative, it was a daunting challenge.

The rule was, at the bare minimum, I would create a full eye-look. At most, a full face: foundation, eyes, lips, the whole bagel (yes, I say bagel because of my round disposition). I also set the goal to use all my products at least once during the one-month period.

I called it my “Nose to Palette” campaign. For July 2019, this was my goal. I wanted to get to know my products, toss out the ones that didn’t work or were old, crusty and dry, and engage in intense learning of what they (and I) can do together. I also wanted to challenge myself to see if I was capable of working with makeup everyday, since I’ve been half considering going to makeup school.

July came and went. Did I use make up everyday? Yes, all days except for 2 (because I slept at a friend’s house once, and had a horrible travel day for the other). Did I learn a lot? Hell yeah. I learned not only a lot about makeup, but also about how to deal with creative failure, fixing minor snips, second chances, and thinking outside the box.

Without further ado, I give you my bullet points of learnings:

  1. Not all my products expired as I thought they did. Products like mascara should be tossed after three to six months, but if you store your foundation properly, or make sure your eyeshadow palette doesn’t accumulate moisture, it can last hella long. One of my eyeshadow palettes is about 5 years old. It’s a little dry, but works ok if I spray some setting spray on the brush before application. People throw out products not even half-used. But, when you’re practicing your technique, the more of the product you have the better. Then you’re not operating from a place of scarcity.
  2. I mastered techniques faster because I practiced them everyday. Fail fast—you’ll get closer to success that way. I was SHIT at applying foundation but I have to admit that by July 31, my skills were lookin’ refined!
  3. I rediscovered certain products I wrote off as crappy. The first time I tried them I gave up because they didn’t do what I wanted them to do. But it was coz I didn’t take the time to learn to use them properly. One foundation, which I wrote off, was better when I used a brush, as opposed to a Beauty Blender sponge for it. Another matte liquid lipstick didn’t work well the first time because I didn’t use a proper hydrating primer to go with it. Experiment experiment!
  4. My shitty products took on other roles in my process. For example, a bag of poor-performing sponges became a patter for pushing in setting spray instead of using to apply foundation. Echoing Scott Barnes, makeup guru, you can use a makeup product however you want. It’s makeup, it’s personal, and if you can find multiple uses for that bronzer, power to you and more money in your bank account!
  5. I cleaned my face more, and it looked and felt cleaner! We all get lazy and don’t wash our face, some, ok most nights, for me. But because I had to take gunk off my face, I cleansed and gently exfoliated as well. It was so smooth! I be rockin’ a porcelain look bitches.
  6. My blending skills really improved. Let me tell you that blending is HARD, especially with liquid eyeshadow. There are great tools that can make it easier, but technique is critical. And I mean cri-ti-cal. Learning to control fluffiness and density practically became a science.  
  7. I experimented to avoid boredom with the same look. For a few days in the middle of my challenge I started to feel unenthused. It was because I wasn’t pushing myself to try different approaches. After I consciously chose to try something new, I busted out of a looming creative rut. Problem solved!
  8. Brushes are my friends—if I used the right ones. There are thousands of makeup brushes on the market. And while I consider myself an intermediate, perhaps even advanced user of makeup, I have no idea what half of them can fucking do. Youtube. YouTube. Oh, and YouTube.
  9. I had wild colours in my collection I was too afraid to wear because they seemed so out there. In our ageist society, the thought of wearing bright yellow eyeshadow in my mid-30s didn’t seem appropriate. But I got over it when I realized those pretty colours—which I paid good coin for–would go to waste if I didn’t use them. Also, screw society. I wore gold and red shimmers to a baseball game and created a block-colour look with some striking browns and beiges for a garden party. I wish I’d taken a photo!
  10. I became ok with fucking up—cakey foundation? Screwed up fake eyelash application? Used the wrong brush? Bring it! This was probably the best lesson I learned—because the more I screwed up, the more I learned.
  11. I used to hide my authentic self. My makeup helped enhance it. While you can use makeup to create a different persona, or allow a different aspect of you to come out, when done right they were used to enhance me. My eyes looked more expressive, my lips felt livelier and my skin lit up in places it should. Ironically, it helped me show myself more to the world, and I didn’t use makeup as a tool to hide my imperfections.
  12. Clean your brushes! Maintenance is key. All my makeup started to look patchy after a week or so of using dirty brushes to apply them. There are fancy brush cleaners like the ones at Mac but if you wanna McGyver it, dishwashing liquid works just fine (just make sure you’re not allergic to detergent like my momma is).
  13. The people at the makeup counter are your face-grooming Jedis. They really know their shit. I research, I YouTube, I read magazines and blogs but that only goes so far. Those peeps can help you right then and there with your needs—and they know the products they work with to boot. I had a bunch of nude lipsticks that washed me out and made me look pale, but after talking to the MUA at MAC, she suggested a lip liner to use with the shades to neutralize the colour—worked wonders and I didn’t have to cry throwing out my $38 Estee Lauder lipstick. Total game-changer.
  14.  You can always try again. I had a few shitty makeup days. My work got patchy (I had some serious dalmation looks on this campaign), and I threw a brush in frustration after a horrible contouring episode (think muddy orange disaster). I read a quote once that said: “when you want to give up, simply rest, but don’t quit”. So I listened to some songs to chill out, came back, wiped it off and got right back to it!
  15.  I tried using the same products for a few consecutives days to see how they meshed together—so the products’ capabilities remained in my recent memory. When you have a huge make up collection, you tend to play with different products and forget what each of them can do. Cluster a few  together and use them often—you’ll learn a lot.
  16. I was terrified of liquid liner. It is so damn hard to get it right and I still mess it up to this day.  Yes, screwing it up can be super easy, but the more I did it, the less afraid I was.
  17. User-test in different environments. When I moved, the lighting sucked big time in my new apartment so I had to make do—but that meant paying more attention to what I was doing and re-adjusting my techniques. This forced me to adapt.

After my nose-to-palette campaign, I stepped away from makeup for a few weeks. When I picked up a brush again, I found that my learnings came back to me pretty quickly—and I performed better. They say that your brain turns information into knowledge (i.e. you learn) while you’re sleeping or go away for a bit. This rang true for me. I found it easier to manipulate my shadows with my brushes—something that would have taken me longer during the early days of my campaign, and I understood lighting better, and where it needed to hit.

A one-month commitment to this project definitely helped with my unblocking process. I faced discomfort that really only lived in my head. The more I forced myself to put my face on everyday, the easier it became. What you resist will persist and after about 4 or 5 days in, and succumbing to the dread of adding primer as a first step to my daily routine, I started to look forward to it!

As a blocked creative, I always used to watch makeup tutorials online but never really tried them—passivity is rampant in our age of information consumption. This may be fine and dandy but it’s more compelling to act it out. Pick up that brush I say!

Today, I don’t apply a full face everyday, but at the very least, I use liquid eye liner–initially my most unforgiving makeup product. After all, my cat-eye look makes me feel fierce!

How about you? Is there a creative endeavor you’d like to try out every month? If so, what is it? If you’ve done it before, share your experience below!

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