The effects of aging

A transformative makeup experience can provide a glimpse into the future

Makeup artist Jessie Walsh has honed her skills in both special effects and beauty makeup.
Makeup artist Jessie Walsh has honed her skills in both special effects and beauty makeup.
Blogs editor Jessica Chong before and after her age transformation with special effects makeup.
Blogs editor Jessica Chong before and after her age transformation with special effects makeup.

Special effects makeup often creates drastic results — and for me, it was a surreal experience.

Refusing to look at the mirror until the process was complete, I wanted a full transformation, adding a few decades and wrinkles onto my face.

Kingston-based makeup artist Jessie Walsh said one of the highlights of the job is the look on her clients’ face, the joy and confidence they gain from their new appearance.

“What I really love about makeup artistry is that each client is going to be different, and you never know where exactly you’re going to end up,” she said. “I like that today I did the old age makeup on you, but next week I’ll probably be doing beauty shoots.”

To determine where my natural wrinkles would lie, Walsh prompted me to make a lot of faces — squinting, frowning, looking surprised — in order to properly create pronounced wrinkles on my forehead, eyes, mouth, lips and chin.

Unlike conventional beauty makeup application, where the client is asked to relax their face, these prompts proved to be entertaining.

“I do both — I like making someone gory like a skeleton or zombie and like making someone feel pretty,” Walsh said.

Walsh said special effects makeup, like conventional makeup application, follows a procedure.

“You always start at the top and work your way down,” she said. “It’s all in order so you’re not smudging anything” After 30 minutes of leisurely application, I had aged profusely. It was hideous.

I was intrigued by what some contouring with darker skin shades could do to create the appearance of wrinkles. “The only thing really is knowing where the wrinkles go and how to apply it,” she said, “so [having] you make those crazy faces to go with the natural lines in your face.”

Old age isn’t something we tend to embrace as a society. The crow’s feet, wrinkles near my eyes, and sagging creases near my mouth, nasolabial folds, Walsh explained, made me gain a greater appreciation for my youthful skin.

Walsh said we weren’t finished yet — she offered me blue eyeshadow and pink lipstick to complete the “granny” look.

She explained in the 80s, it was trendy to wear bright blue or pink eyeshadow, or both.

“That was what was in during [our grandparents’] day and they just haven’t modernized their makeup,” Walsh said.

Like wrinkling contours, she said, bruise effects involve more than applying darker shades of makeup.

“To look more [realistic], you use baby wipes and sponges to give [the bruises] the right texture,” Walsh said.

Burns also need added texture and dimension to create a realistic look. The different stages of burns, she said, was something she practiced creating at beauty school.

“There are different products you can put on the burn to give it that shiny texture, you know when you freshly burn yourself,” she said.

Aside from hiring a makeup artist for a few special occasions like prom, I’ve never personally encountered special effects makeup.

Yet, exposure to makeup, even from a young age, can cultivate a desire to be creative.

Walsh remembers being surrounded by makeup since childhood.

“I was always that kid that was into the makeup bags when I shouldn’t have been,” she said.

It was an act that sparked her career aspirations and prompted her to pursue makeup training at the Canadian Beauty College in Mississauga, a drastic change from her small hometown.

“It gave us a good chance to stay within our comfort zone,” Walsh said, “but go all out of your comfort zone at the same time.”

Walsh, a recent graduate of the program, explains special effects makeup was one of the most fun and challenging aspects.

“My teacher switched it around so that [the special effects training] was around Halloween,” she said, “everything from the old age makeup to wounds and cuts.”

Walsh said era makeup, revisiting and learning about trends of past decades — the good and bad — was another lesson learned at beauty school.

“Like 1920s, for instance it was a lot of grey colour on the lids with a lot of eyeliner,” she said. “Their lipstick went beyond their lips and was bright red and you’d have learn why it was like that.”

Tracing these beauty trends linked to certain historic eras like the Great Depression, where hardly anyone could afford makeup, is important to understanding today’s trends, Walsh said.

“[The] ’50s was a lot of pinup girls. That was what was in — the winged eyeliner with the beige lid and bright red cherry lipstick,” she said.

Walsh, having helped to remove my makeup and return me to a more youthful appearance, shows that special effects knowledge can help makeup artists become more than a one-trick pony.

“Even gory movies, because of all the blood and action, all the bruising and seatbelt burns,” she said. “That’s all makeup and you don’t even think about it until you go to school for it and realize how much is actually out there.”

Seasoned makeup artist and Kingston native Jess Bird graduated from the St. Lawrence College program in makeup artistry and from a private beauty school, Complexions International. She had her first taste of special effects makeup with the Discovery Channel in Toronto.

“It was very unique — there were only two places in Toronto that offered the course I took,” she said.

Unlike regular beauty makeup, which involves highlighting natural facial features, special effects makeup is often a masking of one’s true appearance, explained Bird.

“Every week we’d do an episode which was filmed in a different time era,” Bird said. “So we started in 1910 and worked our way up to 1990.”

Bird, who worked as a makeup artist in Toronto for five years, said that while special effects makeup knowledge may be an asset in larger cities like Toronto, it doesn’t give someone such a competitive edge in a smaller city like Kingston.

“Kingston has a very, very limited clientele base,” she said.

“If you were looking to be a makeup artist and specialize in special effects, you’d definitely want to go to British Columbia or Toronto.”

Bird said that she specializes in bridal makeup because that is Kingston’s main clientele.

Comparatively, working on a set or in a theatre, it would be an asset to have both regular and special effects makeup skills.

“In Canada you have to have a broad perspective of special effects and beauty makeup,” she said.

Bird said that while she specializes in bridal makeup now, prosthetics, especially creating a mask from scratch that fit the mold of the client’s face, was always one of the most fascinating lessons learned at beauty school.

“Doing prosthetics is extremely fun because we’re basically creating a story,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I love being a makeup artist. You’re kind of put to the test and you have to come up with the best story for the script.”

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