Hi, everyone! Today I’m introducing a new series. Semi-regularly, I’ll be publishing an interview with someone about their makeup habits and style and favourite products.
There is a mixture of lighter, fluffier questions, and ones that are designed to be a bit more thought-provoking. I love hearing about people’s routines and products, but I am also intensely interested in what makeup means to people, their experiences, and their sense of self.
The first interviewee is my friend Ashley, a user experience designer and artist living and working in Boston. She artblogs and has links to her work at ashleymcquaid.tumblr.com.
Also, as a note of housekeeping, I will be in Ireland from Wednesday to Saturday so this will be the only post this week.
Now, on to the interview!
How would you describe your style of makeup?
I like classical conventions, and then I like to goose them. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy looking slightly like a doll. Is that cute or is it unsettling? Is it both? I DON’T KNOW.
Why do you wear makeup? What is it that you like best about makeup? Do you feel that your makeup helps to convey your personality, or is a way in which you can visually and aesthetically construct a sense of self?
That makeup is a way I can visually and aesthetically construct a sense of self is exactly why I wear it and love it. Aside from the general artistry of it, it’s an important daily ritual for me. I have anxiety disorders and dysthymia, which have a tendency to bounce off each other and make one another flare up, and as a consequence I frequently experience dissociation. For me it manifests as a sense that I’m somewhat separate from my body, or that I don’t fit inside of it. Putting on makeup, studying and touching my face, is a way to say “hey, look, you’re here! and also you look fantastic!” and helps me feel more like I fit my edges.
(I want to put a quick disclaimer here that dissociation functions on a continuum and, like most symptoms of mental illnesses, is different for every person that experiences it my own symptoms are on the lower end of the spectrum.)
I’m trying to think of how to phrase this without it being cheesy, but it’s probably impossible so let’s just go with it - not that I don’t like how I look on my own, but using makeup gives me the sense that I’m more accurately reflecting an inner vibrant and imaginative self. I think my style of application is in tune with my personality and the sense of myself I want to convey, and coupled with its ritual sense of grounding it makes me feel as if I’m presenting a nice complete picture to the world when I leave the house in the morning.
Describe a makeup look that you would consider “classic” you.
Smooth, shiny texture leaning towards porcelain. Lightly contoured cheeks, lips with some shine, heavily emphasized lashes, and use of pinks and reds throughout.
When did you first start wearing makeup regularly? When did it become an interest for you, i.e. something you actively wanted to talk about, read about, etc?
I started wearing makeup regularly about six, sevenish years ago, going into my first year of college. A lot of it was me being a complete twerp. I was part of a dorm group of art students, and we had a tendency to want to REMIND YOU CONSTANTLY and VERY LOUDLY that they are ART STUDENTS!! AND ARE VERY DIFFERENT FROM EVERYONE ELSE HAHA WE’RE SO RANDOM!! I’d wear like, hot pink and lime green eyeshadow without blending any of it and draw stars on the tops of my cheeks with liquid liner, and “cat eyes” that were so thick and poorly executed that they took up my entire lid. Obviously, people should do what they want, but I was totally doing it to get people to look at me weird, so I could be like “HAHA EVERYONE THINKS WE ARE SO WEIRD!” I toned it down around my junior year and usually just stuck to eyeliner, although I added lipstick occasionally after dumping this guy who I’d dated who hated lipstick.
In about the last year and a half is when it’s become a proper hobby for me, as far as experimenting with products, developing my technique, and learning about it not just on an application basis but on a sociopolitical basis as well. I love discussing makeup politics and the development of personal aesthetics.
(It’s also been in the last year and a half that I’ve actually started liking wearing lipstick.)
What is the most recent product that you bought? What’s your most recent makeup discovery that you’re excited about?
I think the most recent product I bought was the Tarte Amazonian Clay blush in Dazzled, but that was a few months ago so… don’t hold me to that. I LOVE Dazzled. It’s shimmery in the palette so it looks like it’s going to look goofy on your face, but it has this beautiful translucency and is my absolute favorite color to contour with. I’ve recently worked on my blush and highlighter blending technique and that’s been my favorite addition to my routine in probably ever. It results in such a fun glowy, blurry look that I can play up or down depending on the blush color and the amount of highlighter I use.
What are your 3 holy grail products?
This is actually super difficult! While my makeup collection is probably more extensive than the average makeup user, I’m very much a product minimalist (except for lipstick… but even then, I could be worse), and have spent a lot of time and research finding just the right product for me in each category. So there’s really nothing I have that I wouldn’t consider holy grail! But picking based on what I find most intrinsic to my look and the most fun to use, I would say the Urban Decay Vice 3 palette, Benefit High Beam, and the Urban Decay Subversion / Perversion primer / mascara combo.
(That’s technically four products I cheated but you can totally buy Subversion and Perversion together in a single box SO)
What product do you think is worth the high price tag, and what product that you can find at the drugstore do you think is awesome?
The Urban Decay Vice 3 palette is probably the best investment I have made in my lifetime. That is only sort of hyperbole. I also think Tarte’s blushes are well worth their cost.
Most people, including me really, would say that if you’re going to splurge on one thing, it should be your base makeup, since that’s something you’re going to be using all the time. But I’m totally in love with Almay’s CC cream. It’s 35 SPF, and I’m a big proponent of the fact that daily SPF is critical. The CC cream lets me do makeup and sunblock in one step (remember kids, if your makeup has SPF, it has to be a full even coat over your face or the SPF doesn’t count!). I also love Maybelline’s FitMe concealer. And REVLON LIP PRODUCTS, forever and ever, especially the balm stains and lacquer balms. I have them in daily rotation. Honestly, I own a few higher-end lipsticks from MAC and Kat Von D that I really do love, but 99 times out of 100 I’m wearing a Revlon balm. The color payoff is gorgeous and honestly their staying power is second to none. Paired with lipliner, they regularly survive tacos without needing touchups. I will sing their praises forever.
About how long does your normal makeup routine take? Do you do anything else while you do your makeup, like drink your morning coffee or watch TV?
I’ve never timed it without also doing my hair, which takes a bit because I like to braid and I’m clumsy - but all told I think it takes me about 30-40 minutes to do my preferred full-face routine.
I always listen to a favorite album while I do my makeup. For the past few months, it’s been either Taylor Swift’s 1989 or In This Moment’s Black Widow. Obviously they’re on complete opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of genre and the way I’m feeling on a given day will influence which of the two I’ll pick, but both Taylor and ITM’s frontwoman Maria Brink are idols of mine, both in aesthetics and as great people. They are both unapologetically feminine, seek to own their art, and vocally lift up other women; they’ve also got some of the best fan engagement I’ve ever seen and you can just feel the love pouring out of both of them when they interact with their audiences.
Maria is also open about her experiences with mental illness and uses them as themes in her work. My absolute favorite track of hers right now is Big Bad Wolf, which takes the view of the little pig being the ugly illnesses that try to own her and the big bad wolf being her strong, unchainable side. It touches on themes of personal power and becoming the animal you choose to feed and is very important to me sometimes I just leave it on repeat by itself while I’m getting ready, and then I’m subsequently ready to squish the world under my heel. Or rude commuters on the subway, either or.
Whichever one I listen to tends to subtly influence how my makeup looks that day. Based on the singles I’ve heard so far, I think Marina and the Diamonds’ upcoming Froot is going to be entering the rotation too, so I’m looking forward to seeing what colorful looks I can get out of that!
You have a background in theatre, which typically utilizes much more dramatic and heavy makeup in order to make features visible from far away. Do you think this has had any impact on how you do your makeup today - for instance, does that sort of theatricality of colour have anything to do with your experience with theatre?
Absolutely - it’s funny because none of the characters I’ve played have involved particularly crazy colors themselves (or well, nothing beyond the oompa loompa foundation and the blue shadow), but the people I’ve played alongside, the experience of creating a beautiful set, are definitely influences. Getting into your character for your first full dress rehearsal is one of the best parts of being involved in a production, and I think that sense also relates to how I like to think of makeup.
Where do you get makeup inspiration from? Are there any websites or YouTube channels you visit regularly? Any celebrities whose makeup your might draw inspiration from?
I actually don’t watch tutorials or visit beauty blogs or similar all that often. I mostly look to the high fashion industry lots and lots of runway and editorial looks. I like to look at color combinations and techniques and think about ways I can translate them into something more “wearable.” Aside from looking at actual faces, looking at textures, patterns, and colors in runway clothing is a great source of inspiration; I like thinking about how to recreate a certain mood.
I also take a lot of inspiration from the visuals of fairy tales and fantasy stories. Honestly, some mornings I feel like I’m trying to will myself into an elf. Like, use half my bottle of High Beam and channel Galadriel all day. But there’s multiple parts of the spectrum I love and subsequently pull ideas from. There’s the delicate and classic types from Victorian era fairy tales, there’s your Tolkien creatures, and your Fair Folk from Gaelic folklore. The Fair Folk are mischievous and incredibly dangerous, often malicious. Contrary to popular depictions of fairies, I see the Fair Folk as eschewing gender norms and traditional aesthetics and embodying wild combinations of color and texture.
And like I mentioned before, moods of music are definitely influential. I’m a big metalhead, so the aesthetics of that culture are fun to play with and try to work in on a more “day-to-day” basis in subtle ways. As far as celebrities, the one directly off the top of my head that I pull inspiration from is FKA Twigs, I love everything she does. I’ve been absolutely loving Rihanna’s looks lately too.
Does your job put any constraints on your makeup? Do you do your makeup differently for work than for weekends or other non-work contexts?
It doesn’t! I mean, I would not go into the office with a full metal face, but I don’t have to stick to neutrals. My one personal rule is I do NOT experiment with new products or color combinations if I have an in-person or video client meeting that day, because a) I have a horrible habit of trying out new products when I’m doing my makeup for the day rather than, you know, doing it on a weekend or after work, and b) I rarely leave myself enough time to fix anything that looks ridiculous and I don’t want it to reflect poorly on my skill level or something. Other than that I’ve definitely gone to work with a lipstick that was too dark or too neon before, but my coworkers have been gracious enough not to say anything, ha. I once had a fiasco with some Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick the first time I wore it, when I didn’t know that you need to wipe off the applicator pretty thoroughly before you put it on, and had like, a centimeter thick of dark purple on my mouth that dried and cracked. Not cute.
I pretty much keep my makeup routine the same in all contexts, although on the weekends since I rarely go out I might just slap on some CC cream, brows, and lashes in five minutes if I’m only going to run errands and save the fuller face only for going out with friends. The only time other than photography projects I get particularly theatrical with it is when I’m going to a metal show, which is a lot of fun but takes a long time.
You use a lot of colours or colour combinations that could look quite dramatic, editorial, or costumey but manage to make your looks interesting but still wearable for a general daily context - for example, you like using magenta on your eyes. How do you do this? Do you have any tips for people looking to experiment with colour in a wearable way?
Obvious disclaimer before I go into this: DO WHAT YOU WANT ALWAYS. But I’m going to make these recommendations based on wanting to work colors into a look that doesn’t necessarily shriek. Another disclaimer, my eyes are pretty grey, so not a lot of colors clash with them; your mileage may vary depending on your own color, but I think all these recommendations should be pretty applicable to anyone.
First and foremost, wear it like you mean it. If you act self conscious of what you’re wearing all day, it’s harder to pull off. But you can get away with basically anything if you act like you mean it.
Even base makeup goes a long way towards setting off brighter colors, especially if you want to wear warm colors, and particularly reds, on your eyes. Red patches risk making your color application look blotchy even if it’s not. I know the pain, my acne is terrible, and I have combination skin that loves to go to both extremes at once. It’s taken a lot of trial and error to figure out what works both in terms of makeup and skincare. So be patient with yourself!
For eyeshadows, blushes, contours, start light and blend absolutely everything. If you overblend, you can always add more, but it’s basically impossible to take away once you’ve added too much.
When you’re creating an eye look, I find it useful to do a few things. Use a base color that’s just a tad lighter than your natural skin tone (mine is usually Truth from the Vice 3 palette or Virgin from the Naked palette, but I’m a sheet, so do some experimenting yourself), rather than something too stark white, so that you have a soft contrast with your colors. Apply this base over your whole lid up to your brow bone before you do anything else. Next, I rarely if ever cover my whole lid with a funky color. I usually let the neutral base be the color for at least the inner third of my lid, if not the whole thing. Most of my colors happen in the crease. Pick a color or two for your crease, and something a tad darker for your outer corner, again being careful about contrast. When I do darker eye looks, I usually go for grey or dark brown rather than black as it’s softer. The less harsh the contrast, I think the more color you can get away with. Finally, don’t bring the color up too high or out too far. I pretty much keep the outer corner color just to the lid, and I only bring the crease color just high enough to have a small peek above my lashes when my eyes are open.
TL;DR: soft contrast.
Ditching eyeliner goes a long way to keeping colors from seeming garish. My eyes are huge and my lashes are pretty naturally long, so once I put on mascara, I really don’t need any extra definition unless I’m trying to go for something more theatrical. If you still want to use liner for a bit more definition, I would recommend tightlining. Basically, the colors are going to be drawing enough attention that you don’t need to do too much more.
Balance your lips and your eyes; if I go for a more dramatic eye, I will usually opt for a softer pink or lighter fuchsia lip. If I go for a darker lip, I usually go for a more neutral eye, but I’ll give my brows a little more definition than usual so my face isn’t bottom-heavy.
Finally, ALWAYS LINE YOUR LIPS. Or at least, if you don’t line your lips, be careful… If your lines aren’t clean when you’re wearing a bright lip color, it really stands out, and especially if you’re wearing bright eyeshadows too. And anyway, lipliner is critical for taco-eating survival, which is a critical life skill.
Thank you so much to Ashley for being my first interview subject and providing such interesting answers!
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