It begins with a feeling. A few disconnected ideas strung together by pieces of scrap. How should I describe it? It’s like ripping off a section of lined paper where a raw, unrefined doodle was drawn, or nibbling on the breadcrumbs before biting from the sandwich. Then I unfold the ripped page and examine the casual fiddles of pen. I always draw a face. The features are platonic. It is a scrawl of colorless design that is added to a hidden collection of other doodles, which would eventually serve as the preliminary sketches for a grand photoshoot.
Why is this so important to me?
Why, as a child, did I spend hours arguing with my parents just to defend my little cardboard box from being thrown away? I firmly believed my container of textured buttons, glossy gift wrappers, colored ribbons, abandoned watercolor paints, and shiny rocks were fallen gems that accumulated to become necessary tools of some big artistic endeavor. I didn’t know how to explain that gut feeling, which showed me that in the future, these seemingly useless parts would unify for a purpose. But at that particular moment, I could not find clarity in describing what I envisioned, nor did I have the skills to complete these proposed apparitions. Needless to say, these repeated, heated debates about whether anything should be considered ‘garbage’ never got anywhere. That is, until I learned how to create accessories from the contents of cardboard box to complement my makeup art.
Now I can articulate my thought process.
I want to live in the present. But I am constantly engaged in conversations about what the past has taught me and what the future beholds. What will benefit my distant self, years from now? How may I overcome all possibilities of failure, avoid regrets and outsmart potential mistakes? I had to understand the trajectory of action very early on. I was taught that my behavior must be calculated so that I am granted with success. All this time, I’ve been running through the motions, thinking that this is how to enjoy the present. But my mind has a hidden agenda. It was trained like a professional to tap an algorithm into the system and automatically spew an analysis of pros, cons, threats and opportunities, short and long-term, yeses and nos.
This was the case, until I discovered a specific type of art. Because of the age gap between my sisters and I, I am used to playing the part of an only child. My playmates were mister pen and paper. I would draw disproportional figures of humans on blank pieces of paper, dampening the corners with my little sweaty palms. I talked out loud in what I thought would be the voices of these characters as I drew them. I became more and more enveloped in the fantasy that was their lives. When the paper no longer had any space, I would simply ball up their world in my small fists, crumple up the hour’s work and dispose of it without second thought.
These were the times when I wanted to be a writer. It gave me the same thrill to come up with stories with characters as interesting as the ones I once drew. A decade later, I found the same pattern of flow in doing makeup with its accommodating costumes and graphic designing. Throughout the one to three hours it took to finish a look, I lost myself in the magic of creation. I no longer threw away my doodles, as they soon became primitive versions of bigger dreams.
At the point of pure focus, I found myself enjoying these moments most. I felt present. My head was clear, time became absent and my hands became mechanical extensions of a body that provided a heartbeat. This continued through the process of editing later on. The most soothing environment, besides bath time of course, was to be sitting on a leather rolling chair, or a velvet sofa, computer in my lap, lounge jazz music softly audible in the background and a flavored latte in my vicinity (pumpkin spice for autumn, gingerbread for winter and cinnamon for spring, with whipped cream and the occasional sprinkle of caramel syrup or cocoa powder). With this and the white noise of chatter surrounding me, I can go for an average of six to eight hours, tweaking the finest detail on editing software. Erasing a stray hair from the model’s head, or adjusting, for the thousandth time, the luminosity of each hue in the photo—these are the things that I strangely find pleasure in, no matter how frustrating it gets to undo and redo things (or the frequent case of forgetting where I had saved my work from the other night).
Finding the right filter is like choosing candy. Innovating a tailored preset (a set of photoshop actions to auto-edit a collection of photos) is like baking homemade cookies on a wintry evening (forgive my clichés, I’m having a moment). When I’m done, I show my models the photos before anyone else, to garner some opinion, which is usually (but not always) positive. It is understandable that due to the nature of my aesthetic, my models get a bit weary of the outcome of the shoot as I do their makeup in production, because at times it is borderline…alien. Quite frankly, I think some of my best works have come out of allowing improvisation to take its course and I divested so much from my initial sketches that I created a completely different look. So it is rewarding to see the remarkable reactions of my models after they go through the processed photographs of themselves.
Often, they start off pleasantly surprised, followed by a humbled expression such as, “Oh, is that really me?” “I actually look like a model!” and “I can’t believe how good this looks.” My theory of where this gratitude comes from can be explained with an analogy. For a girl who walks around day to day without makeup, the one morning she decides to put on some eyeliner and lipstick, people take notice of the accentuation on her features. Sometimes this helps increase her self-confidence and sometimes it doesn’t make a difference. Then the one-day I decide to go to the extreme and paint on her face, does she finally notice something different about herself. How her cheekbones are defined, how her eyelashes frame the eyes better than falsies do, or how the shape of her face presents a stunning profile when photographed from an awkward angle. We stare at the mirror everyday, blind to the details in our faces that make us unique and wonderful. Words can’t always show us that these little things exist. We have to discover it ourselves.
Now, I must admit the many flaws in my work. I will tell you that I cannot, for my life, draw symmetrically on a face, or on paper for that matter. I failed when I tried to practice ambidexterity in order to get better at painting myself. I will confess that I don’t know everything about creams and powders as a makeup artist is expected to. My photoshop skills save my amateurish photography skills. I’m just lucky I have a nice camera. Sure, through practice, I can look at a photo and know what looks good, what angles to avoid in modeling, how to hide the fat rolls, the double chin and how to crop, adjust or cover blemishes that I couldn’t hide with makeup. From the editing process, I can pull together a professional editorial with my favorite avant-garde style makeup (or full-blown non-fashion-related body art) inspired by paradoxical, abstract and/or literal concepts. But I compensate where I can for the lack of skills, which many self-taught artists experience. I am still learning the techniques and experimenting on my own. However the biggest benefit gained from all this is learning how to appreciate living in the ‘now’ and finding meditation in what I love to do.