Saturday, May 26, 2018

What Does "Good at Makeup" Mean to You?

I recently had a realization that I've been pondering ever since: I've been passionate about beauty for seven years, and I've had a beauty blog for four of those years, but I've never considered myself particularly good at makeup. Believe me, I'm not fishing for compliments; I'm simply stating the truth as I see it. I'm decent at makeup. I can put together a passable face in 15 minutes. I can do a simple look for daytime and a smokier one for my rare nights out. Overall, I'd give my skills a B, and I'm fairly satisfied with that grade.

At the same time, I feel slightly absurd calling myself a "beauty blogger" when I'm seldom impressed with my own creations. Granted, I've never claimed to be a makeup artist or a guru or whatever; this blog is a chronicle of my life as a makeup consumer, hobbyist, and overthinker. But starting a single-topic blog implies a certain level of expertise. And when I come across posts like this one, or editorials like this one, I'm reminded just how far I have to go. I don't feel that I'm in a position to offer tips or advice, and I doubt I've inspired many people with my artistry. That sounds like impostor syndrome, but it really isn't. I know that I'll probably always be an enthusiastic amateur, and that people visit my blog mainly for the writing, and I'm fine with that. But I want to get better. I want to look in the mirror after the final swipe of lipstick and think "Wow," not "Well, that's probably good enough, and I certainly don't have time to wipe it all off and start again."

But simply resolving to "get better" isn't good enough. What does "better" really mean? What, exactly, am I trying to improve? Which brings me to the title of this post: what does it mean to be "good at makeup"? After some thought, I've isolated four criteria that I've been using all along, albeit unconsciously, to decide whether someone is good at makeup: creativityversatilityadaptability, and consistency. (I told you this blog was a chronicle of overthinking.)

1. Creativity

To me, "creativity" means the ability to put together looks that make people say "Why didn't I think of that?" It means having a large repertoire of inspirations: historical decades, fashion designers, fiction, mythology, global trends. It also means bravery: the willingness to take risks on your own face, to play with unorthodox color combinations and makeup placements. When I think of creativity in the beauty realm, I think of Pat McGrath's work for Dior in the 2000s:

Dior F/W 2009 (source)

Obviously, this sort of look isn't viable for your average workplace. But creativity on a smaller, subtler scale can be just as compelling.

2. Versatility

If creativity is the theory, versatility is the practice. You might be able to think up ambitious concepts, but how well can you execute them? I'm sure we can all name at least one YouTube guru who has attracted criticism for creating the same look over and over with different products, or who has announced that they were going to do something "totally out of my comfort zone, you guys," only to end up with the same old warm-toned eye and glossy nude lip. Needless to say, there's nothing inherently wrong with having a comfort zone and a signature look. Personally, I feel most like myself with a subtle, neutral eye and a bold lip, and I doubt that will change in the near future. But I'd like to have the ability to alter my look significantly on the rare occasions when I feel like a change, and that ability eludes me much of the time.

3. Adaptability

How good are you at adapting common techniques to your own features? How well do you know the shape of your face? If you see a beautiful editorial look on a face very different from your own, can you adjust the placement and colors to make the look work for you? If you're using a color that doesn't usually flatter you, can you blend it with other colors to make it more flattering? Why am I asking so many questions?

4. Consistency

In scientific terms, this means that given the same products and tools, you can reproduce your results on a different day. Your liquid lipstick generally stays inside the lines; you generally don't end up with clown cheeks unless you're trying to. This criterion is my true Achilles heel, especially where eyeshadow is concerned. About 75% of my attempts to construct an eye look with more than three shadows end with muttered curses and a vigorous application of micellar water. Yesterday, for instance, I wanted to do a muted coral look with a touch of glitter. After 30 minutes of blending and patting and scrutinizing and blending some more, I ended up with this:

I know I still need to review Glossier Boy Brow in Clear. Suffice to say that it doesn't hold recalcitrant brow hairs as firmly as I'd like.

Is this terrible? No. Would I have attracted pitying glances if I'd worn it out of the house? Probably not. But I've seen thousands of images of great eyeshadow, and I'm self-aware enough to know that this didn't measure up. So I wiped it off and slid back into my comfort zone, producing a simpler look with two shadows and a pencil liner. I added a bold lipstick (ColourPop Dream Easy) and went about my day, feeling comfortable but a little disappointed in myself.

Really, I wrote this post because I'm very curious how other people define "good at makeup." (I almost posted in r/muacjdiscussion before remembering I HAVE A GODDAMN BLOG.) So let me ask: do you consider yourself good at makeup? And what does the concept mean to you?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Lip Liner: An Overdue Appreciation

It will surprise none of my regular readers to learn that if I could wear only one category of makeup for the rest of my life, it would be lipstick. (I could probably use nude lipstick as undereye concealer, right?...right?) I wear lipstick every single day. I've tried almost every color category of lipstick. I created a lipstick taxonomy, for God's sake. But despite my passion for lipstick, a passion that has lasted the better part of a decade, I didn't use lip liner until fairly recently. The reason will sound a little neurotic, because it is: I wanted to experience each of my lipsticks in its "purest" form, without adulteration. If I bought a lipstick, it was because I loved that particular mixture of pigments and respected the craftsmanship behind it. I didn't want anything to alter the delicate balance of warm and cool tones in NARS Mysterious Red or the subtle dustiness of Urban Decay Backtalk.

But tastes change, and sometimes it takes me a while to figure out how unflattering a lipstick truly is. That happened last year when I was trying to use up Urban Decay Revolution Lipstick in Streak, a slightly sheer pinkish peach. I realized that Streak had a white base that clashed with my cool olive undertones, and that I'd be better served by a muted peach. But I was so close to finishing the tube; I couldn't give up now! Enter lip liner. A layer of Milani Color Statement Lip Pencil in Nude, a deep MLBB shade, neutralized Streak's white base and produced a more flattering brownish peach.

Around the same time, I discovered that liquid lipsticks looked less wonky when I took the time to outline my lips with liner in a similar shade. That was the period when I was falling in love with the Wet n Wild Liquid Catsuits, and I ended up buying lip liners to go with Missy & Fierce and Nice to Fuchsia. I took to outlining my lips with a pencil, smudging that line inward, and then applying the liquid lipstick just to the inside of the line; or else applying the lipstick first, then penciling in a line to clean up the edges.

I present all these methods as if they're glorious revelations, but they're literally how you use lip liner; I was just too stubborn and lazy to learn. Now, a year later, I have a respectable collection of seven lip liners, one in almost every color category. And what better way to express my newfound appreciation of lip liner than with a post featuring the whole family? From left to right, we have NYX Slim Lip Pencils in Pumpkin, Mauve, Cabaret, and Bloom; Milani Color Statement Lipliners in Nude and True Red; and Barry M Lip Liner in Plum.
Lip liner: not the most photogenic beauty product.

(Even within this tiny sample size, there's disagreement over whether "lip[]liner" is one or two words. Personally, I incline toward "lip liner," but then I run into the awkwardness of having to hyphenate the phrase when I use it adjectivally, as in "lip-liner collection." That looks pretentious, but it's correct, damn it.)

Swatches, top to bottom: NYX Pumpkin, Milani True Red, NYX Bloom, NYX Cabaret, NYX Mauve, Milani Nude, Barry M Plum:

These three formulas are quite distinct from each other, which is convenient for review purposes. I've tried just the one shade from Barry M (£2.99), and I'd say it has the driest formula of the three. It's a very traditional lip pencil: good for outlining, but a bit too dry and patchy to use all over the lips. The Milani liners ($3-$5) lie at the other end of the texture range: they're very soft and creamy, which makes them good for filling in lips but less good for outlining. As you can see from the photo of Nude above, it's almost impossible to sharpen these liners into fine points. Finally, the NYX liners ($3-4-ish) are somewhere in the middle: fairly creamy and opaque, yet hard enough to retain a fine point and sticky enough to hold lipstick in place. (Note: these are the Slim Lip Pencils, not the slightly pricier Suede Matte Lip Liners, which are terrible.) The only other formula I've tried is the ColourPop Lippie Pencil (cringe). Frenchie didn't impress me much, but I have another shade, 951, on the way as we speak. Now that ColourPop has had three years to tweak its formulas, I'm hoping the lip pencils have improved. Review to come! Probably!

For the record, lip liner is one of the beauty products, along with mascara and lip gloss, for which I refuse to pay non-drugstore prices. I've heard great things about Kevyn Aucoin's Flesh Tone Lip Pencils and Charlotte Tilbury's Lip Cheats, but I'm not going to drop $25 on a lip pencil when $3 NYX pencils do the job just as beautifully and come in a wider array of shades. (I say this now, but check back with me in six months.)

And now for some individual reviews, in alphabetical order! To give a better idea of the colors, I've applied each liner all over my lips, but I don't wear most of them that way. I'm assessing these lip liners as lip liners, not as lipsticks, so it's not a dealbreaker if they're not perfectly opaque in the swatches below.

1. Barry M Plum

Color Description: Dark purple.
Favorite Pairings: Wet n Wild Goth Topic. It also works decently for MAC Antique Velvet, but isn't quite brown enough.

2. Milani Color Statement Lipliner in Nude

Color Description: Pinkish beige.
Favorite Pairings: Revlon Rosy Future, Wet n Wild Nudist Peach.
Notes: This is by far my most-used liner, though its creaminess makes it better for all-over coverage than for precise outlining. When I wear it under gloss, my lips look...pretty. They look almost sensual. And, as the owner of smallish WASPy lips that (to the best of my knowledge) have never once been described as "sensual," I need all the help I can get. Where Nude really comes in handy, though, is for muting too-bright coral lipsticks. Below, we have a creepy triptych of Nudist Peach on its own (top), Nude on its own (middle), and Nudist Peach layered over Nude (bottom). If you wear one "nude" lip product over another one, do your lips become extra-nude, or do the two nudes cancel each other out?  I could probably get a Nobel Prize for figuring out that one.

And a full face with Nudist Peach over Nude:

3. Milani Color Statement Lipliner in True Red

Color Description: Bright blue-based red.
Favorite Pairing: Wet n Wild Missy and Fierce.
Notes: This is another creamy liner that could work as a lipstick in a pinch, though it feels too thick and waxy to wear that way.

4. NYX Slim Lip Pencil in Bloom

Color Description: Bright magenta.
Favorite Pairing: Wet n Wild Nice to Fuchsia.

5. NYX Slim Lip Pencil in Cabaret

Color Description: Muted berry red.
Favorite Pairings: Maybelline Smoking Red, MAC D for Danger, MAC Eugenie.
Notes: This is my second-favorite lip liner, with the chameleonic ability to adapt to most colors I pair it with. I always want to call it "Cabernet" instead of "Cabaret," though. Doesn't that make more sense?

6. NYX Slim Lip Pencil in Mauve

Color Description: Brownish pink with a hint of taupe. Cooler-toned than Milani Nude. Not mauve. I'm not sure there are more than five people currently working in the beauty industry who know what mauve is.
Favorite Pairings: Pat McGrath Madame Greige, Urban Decay Backtalk.

7. NYX Slim Lip Pencil in Pumpkin

Color Description: Red-orange with gold pearl.
Favorite Pairing: No idea.
Notes: I've owned this for three years (original review here), and have literally never worn it out of the house. I'm not even sure what prompted me to buy it in the first place.

And that's it! Let's talk about lip liner. Do you use it? Do you write it as one or two words? Do you think high-end liners really are worth it (ladies of The Beauty Blackout, I'm looking at you)?