Prep Like a Pro

19th April 2019

A makeup artist takes months, even years to train, and to perfect the skills required to keep their client’s makeup immaculate throughout any occasion. But, says Lisa Botwright, there are lots of ways we can all up our game, teach ourselves how to get a more flawless finish and…

Take your time:
This one’s a biggie. We shouldn’t feel guilty or too self-indulgent to set aside time to get our look just right. A makeup artist (MUA) generally takes around an hour to apply a full face of colour, so a five minute dab with a few products is never going to cut it. Spending a little while more in the morning, or before a big event, means saving time in the long run, since getting it right to start with means no need for fiddly top-ups later. Plus, the confidence that comes with feeling well-groomed will carry us through our day or night with aplomb. Call it an opportunity for mindfulness or ‘me-time’ – and enjoy the process.

Get the light right:
Applying your makeup in the right light can make all the difference – as anyone who’s ever done a rushed job in a dim shadowy mirror (hotel lighting is notoriously awful), only to be greeted with a terrifying clown face when they finally see themselves in the light, will know. In an ideal world, you’ll have a huge mirror perfectly positioned in a bedroom or bathroom that’s flooded in natural light; if not, maybe it’s time to improvise. I know someone who gets ready in their dining room, and keeps all their makeup in the dresser alongside the cutlery, for just this reason. Natural sunlight is the best for ensuring your makeup looks natural, with even, warm white LED light the next best thing for the evening. Treat yourself to an illuminated mirror – John Lewis have a great range. Be warned that fluorescent lighting makes us look washed out, which means we might be tempted to compensate with too much colour; while warm, rosy light is wonderfully flattering – a good thing – but likely lead you into a blush-foregoing false sense of élan.

Prep like a pro:
Skincare and makeup application shouldn’t be seen in isolation: they work hand in hand for the best results. “Your makeup will look better if you prep the skin first”, says Caroline Barnes, makeup artist and Max Factor UK ambassador. “I never start with makeup straightaway; first you need to exfoliate and hydrate.” It’s all about creating as smooth and as even a surface as possible for your base. If it’s a special occasion, saturate dry or mature faces with a skin-plumping mask – Charlotte Tilbury’s Revolutionary Instant Magic’s dry facial sheet mask is perfect since it doesn’t leave too product residue ( £18). Congested skin will be smoothed and de-shined by the oil-absorbing properties of Glamglow’s cult mud mask ( £42).

To prime or not to prime:
According to Vogue’s Beauty Editor Lisa Niven-Phillips, who regularly works with the world’s best MAUs on photo shoots, “the best primer formulas do for your skin what great lingerie does for your figure – they smooth, flatter, conceal and hold things in place, so that everything you put on top of them looks immediately better.” There are primers to mattify and minimise shine, and ones to boost luminosity and hydration. Fine lines and enlarged pores can be blurred with the right products and primers ensure makeup stays put for hours longer. Apply and wait a few moment for the product to absorb (while ensuring it still remains ‘tacky’ when it’s time for you to put your foundation on top) or, easier still, mix a pea size amount in with your base.

It’s all about the base:
The aim is to even out your skin tone and create the perfect canvas. Some people are nervous of looking too ‘made-up’ and will opt for too light a texture for their base, a tinted moisturiser instead of foundation, for example. But developments in light-diffusing technology mean that you can achieve a natural look, without compromising on full, long-lasting coverage. Choose the right foundation for your skin type, and check the shade carefully (back to the importance of natural light). Clinique’s Even Better Glow ( £28.50) gives superb luminosity and is suitable for all but the oiliest of skin. Apply product to the centre of your face and continue to work outwards. A traditional foundation brush is tapered, so you’ll find yourself applying foundation with painterly strokes, but some pros opt to use a flat-top buffing brush to ‘push’ the makeup into the face using a stippling effect. Some – cue sharp intake of breath –  believe fingers are best since they’re our most natural tool to use for greatest precision, plus the heat from our hands allows for better blending. “One of the best benefits of applying foundation with your hands is the ability to warm up the formula so that it spreads easily, virtually becoming second skin,” says Dior Makeup Artist Ricky Wilson. “[And] the downside of using brushes are that some can layer excess product, resulting in too much of a full coverage finish.” Whichever method you use, ensure you build up product in the sheerest of layers, and blend carefully.

Invest in the right tools:
It may be under debate whether to use a brush for foundation, but for everything else they’re essential. MUAs have tens, even hundreds, of brushes at their disposal; but in reality a minimum collection of around eight or so is fine. You’ll need a large powder/bronzer brush, a smaller one for blusher; that optional foundation brush; several eye makeup applicators, a large one for covering the eye in a neutral shade, then a couple more for contouring and blending; a comb brush to tame brows and a very small brush for applying concealer. If you wear deep or bright shades, a specialist lip brush can help with accuracy. The bristles should feel soft to the touch, not sharp or scratchy, and while you don’t need to spend a fortune, the brushes need to be well made enough to ensure that the fibres stay put. (It’s not a good look to be picking out stray hairs from your cheeks.) Then there’s the choice between natural or synthetic bristles: natural are softer, and are made from real animal hair. They’re a better choice for powders overall, but tend to be much more costlier, especially if you want to make an ethical choice. Nude By Nature do a beautiful synthetic nine-piece Brush Set at a very reasonable £50 ( Remember to keep them all scrupulously clean.

Experiment with colour
Once you’ve got the basics in place, it’s time to add colour – and this is where it really helps if you understand which shades suit you, and whether you’re on the ‘warm’ or ‘cool’ spectrum. Almost everyone can rock a red lip, say, but if you’re warm you’ll suit an orange undertone to your red – think bright corals or brick-red terracottas; while ‘cool’ tones suit a true red (pillar box red) or pinkier variants. Similarly with eyeshadow: some people look amazing in warm browns, golds and russets, while other look brighter and better in cooler greys, charcoals and blues. Once you understand which palette to go for, you can be confidently bolder and more adventurous in your choices. (To find a local colour consultant visit

Add the finishing touches
Once you’ve made up your eyes and lips, a hint of blush will balance the two, and draw your look together. With a large brush, swirl some semi-matte bronzer onto your face in the shape of a large ‘three’ from your temples, back around your eyes and onto your cheekbones, then back again and lightly along your jawline. Find a shade just a shade or two darker than your own skin – you’re not looking to add colour at this stage, just a little warmth. To avoid making it obvious that you’re wearing bronzer, celebrity makeup artist Hung Vanngo recommends, rolling the sides of a tapered, fluffy brush over the bronzer. “Since you usually only use the sides to swipe on the product anyway, this trick distributes the bronzer more evenly all over your face,” he says. A pop of colour onto your cheeks – choose pink or peach – will make you look awake and glowing and will bring a flattering lift to your makeup. Finally, very subtly, dab some highlighter into the corners of your eyes – a pro trick that really makes them sparkle, and you’re good to go; looking groomed and gorgeous, of course…

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