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Lessons on Creativity from Makeup


At one point, I thought of going to makeup school.   Makeup artists (MUAs) work with colour, shape, texture, lighting and other variables.  The most fascinating fact is all of it is on 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 tone to another. It can look dull in one, shiny in another, and flaky on the next.

The ironic caveat though, was I 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. If you’re like me, going to a counter feels intimidating, like a fitness newbie at a gym and using weight machines for the first time.

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 lots of cute packets of goodness: eyeshadow palettes in different colour schemes, contouring sets, and foundations. But I would only wear them on special occasions–rare at best.

Since I was on a journey to demolish my creative block, I decided to embark on a month-long journey of using makeup every day. For makeup aficionados, this is no problem at all. But to me, the discomfort made it a daunting challenge.

Rules for Makeup Challenge

To alleviate my anxiety of venturing into the unknown, I set a few guidelines for myself. Structure helps me when I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing.

  1. At the bare minimum, I would create a full eye-look. At most, a full face: foundation, eyes, lips.
  2. Use all my products at least once during the one-month period.

I called it my “Nose to Palette” campaign. 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. Also, I wanted to challenge myself to see if I was capable of working with makeup everyday, since well, I thought of going to makeup school.

Photo by Becerra Govea Photo:

What I Learned

Thirty-one days of daily paint on my face was fun! It taught me some discipline and I found out that the world of makeup is of endless possibilities. I also learned about how to deal with creative failure, fixing minor snips, second chances, and discovering what a product can do beyond what’s written on the packaging. 

What did I learn?

  1. Not all my products expired as per package information. Yes, 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 lasts a while. 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 (just don’t get moisture on the actual palette, because bacteria can grow on it).
  2. Most makeup (especially eyeshadow palettes) isn’t used until it’s finished (we call this hitting pan). Ask anyone who owns makeup: they’ve thrown at least one thing out that probably still had more than half of the product left. But it helps to have more of something when you’re experimenting. When you’re practicing a technique, the more product you have the better. Then you’re not operating from a place of scarcity. 
  3. I mastered techniques faster because I practiced them every day. Fail fast—you’ll get closer to success that way. I was SHIT at applying foundation but I have to admit that by the end, my bases looked fabulous!
  4. I rediscovered 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!
  5. My shitty products were used for something other than advertised. For example, a bag of poor-performing sponges became a pattern for pushing in setting spray instead of using to apply foundation. 
  6. I washed 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. It was so smooth! I be rockin’ a porcelain look mommas.
  7. My blending skills improved. Any makeup user will tell you blending is HARD, especially with liquid eyeshadow. There are great tools that can make it easier, but technique is critical. Learning to control fluffiness and density is practically a science.  
  8. I experimented with different looks 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 various approaches. After I consciously chose to try something new, I busted out of a looming creative rut. Problem solved!
  9. Brushes are my friends—if I used the right ones. There are thousands of makeup brushes on the market. I had no idea what half of them can do. YouTube. YouTube. Oh, and YouTube.
  10. I had wild colours in my collection I was too afraid to wear because they seemed so out there. Unless it was a costume, the thought of wearing bright yellow eyeshadow 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. 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.
  11. I normalized making mistakes—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.
  12. 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 my essence. My eyes were more expressive, my lips felt livelier and my skin lit up in places it should. Ironically, it helped me show myself more as opposed to hide my imperfections.
  13. 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 (make sure you’re not allergic to detergent).
  14. The people at the makeup counter are face-paint geniuses. They really know their shiz. 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. I had a bunch of nude lipsticks that washed me out and made me look pale, but after talking to the MUA at a MAC, counter 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.
  15. You can always try again. I had a few shitty makeup days. My work got patchy (I had some serious dalmation looks), 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 songs to chill out, came back, wiped it off and got right back to it.
  16. Cluster a few products together for a few consecutive days to see how they mesh together. That way the products’ capabilities remain in recent memory. When you have a huge makeup collection, you tend to play with too many products and can forget what each of them can do.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
Photo by AdoreBeautyNZ


After my nose-to-palette campaign, I stepped away from makeup for a few weeks. When I picked up a brush again, I found my learnings came back to me pretty quickly—and I performed better. They say 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 uneasiness around makeup. I faced (pun intended) 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!

I didn’t keep up the habit of applying a full face every day, but at the very least, I use liquid eyeliner–initially my most unforgiving makeup product. After all, my cat-eye look makes me feel fierce!

Do I still want to go to makeup school? Not really. I love makeup, but not enough to make it my profession. This one-month experiment helped me figure that out. I’m considering doing a six-week course but just for fun, since I want to learn new techniques and discover cool products.

How about you? Is there a creative endeavour you’d like to try for a month? If so, what is it? If you’ve done it before, share your experience below.



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