Sunday, July 10, 2016


Believe me- that jawline, cheekbones ( and my cleavage) were NOT given to me by Mother Nature...just sayin'!
 Photo by Maryann Bates

Contouring has always been around, but suddenly it seems to be all the rage. The shading and highlighting techniques that were once the sole realm of  high fashion  photo shoots- or drag queens- have practically gone viral- suddenly; everyone is chiseling, shaping and molding their features as part of their every day makeup application. All the major cosmetic lines have introduced contouring kits, and every inexpensive drug store or knock-off brand has followed suit.

With the right colors and  a little practice, we all can have higher cheekbones, a defined jawline and a longer- or shorter, or narrower nose.

But contouring for the stage is a very different animal than just adding a little boost to the face that your gene pool gave you.

 To begin with, you must understand - and most of you already do- that strong, bright stage lighting will erase every one of your features. Seriously, if you’re thinking of wearing daytime (or even party-time/clubbing make up) on stage, your face will appear blank and washed out in performance.

 You need to pile on everything from lashes to lip color…and even then, it might not be enough! Trust me: when done properly, stage makeup contouring will look downright horrifying up close, but under the hot lights, you’ll look like a perfect Grecian statue.

Though it’s always fun to get new make up, you really don’t need any special contouring kits for this. Often, you can find the perfect shades among the cosmetics you already own!  Go ahead and splurge on Mac, Anastasia Of Beverly Hills  or Kat Von D if you want to, but it’s totally not necessary to get the look you’re after. It really doesn’t matter at all if you’re using an eye shadow to sculpt your cheeks- it’s only the color that counts!  

However, I will say that while cream formulas work fine for every day contouring,  for  the stage you’ll probably want to use powders or pressed pigments - they stay better, last longer, and are much easier to work with when building your performance look.

 First, you’ll highlight areas you want to bring forward, like the planes of your cheekbones, the tip of your nose, the jawline, and the inside corners of your eyes. For day-to-day make up, depending on your skin color, you’d be using a matte ivory or maybe a very light rose gold, or  bronze color for darker skins.

 Onstage, you can use matte shades to highlight, but frosty shades look much better, because they attract and refract light. What might look over-the-top and…yeah, kind of…crazy... in real life will be just right for a large stage!  Depending on your skin tone- and the effect you want to project in performance- you can use any color for your highlights, from bright pearly white to lavender, light pink (or even baby blue) to metallics like bronze, silver or gold. With a fluffy brush, get a load of pigment on your brush, and tap or blow off the excess. Then go to work on any features you’d like to bring forward.

I used a light blue highlight on my temples and  cheekbones 
 Swirl the frosty highlight color on the tops of your cheekbones, working it all the way into your temples. Dust a faint line down the center of your nose, and lightly around your jawline- not underneath it, but right along the jawbone itself. Blend all of these areas a little but not too much-remember, you’re doing this for the stage, not every day life! Onstage, we want our features to pop, in order for them to look “natural”.

 With a fine-tipped brush, use the same frosty shade to draw a thin pearly area just under your eyebrow and the brow bone itself.  Dab in some “eyelights” at the inside corner of each eye. This will give a gorgeous, wide-eyed affect, really opening up your eyes-no matter what size they are. To do this, use a Q-tip, placing it just above your tear-ducts and slightly into the side of your nose. Just load the cotton swab with pigment, blow or tap off the excess, and place a precise dot of highlighter at the inside corner.  This doesn’t even need to be blended. It will look quite odd up-close but the illusion onstage will look fantastic.  If you want to exaggerate the wide-set, doe-eye look, bring the color up the inside of the eye to the eyebrow, blending it into your eye shadow.

For all the areas you want to recede, you will use a matte color.  Do not use pearly or frosty cosmetics for shading, because they attract light, and you’ll be using your contouring colors on the specific areas you want to appear to be shadowed. Once again, there’s a wide range of colors that can be used for shading, depending on skin tone.  Pick out colors that are about two  shades darker than your own complexion.  Darker skinned gals can use anything from a matte medium brown to chocolate brown; olive-skinned dancers should use a taupe or dark beige, and a slightly rosy brown or even a brick tone will work well for those with fair skin.

  Use the same size brush (or a slightly smaller one) than the one you used for highlighting to dust on a darker contouring shade to the places you want to recede. The shadowed areas will usually be just under the places you’ve highlighted, such as underneath the natural cheekbones, and under the jawline, from ear to ear. When working on the jawline, make sure to dust the contour shade all the way from the center of the neck to past your earlobes, and all the way to the bottom part of the tip of your chin.   To make a wide nose appear narrower, apply a thin line of the shading tone up each side of the bridge, blended well. To make a long nose appear shorter, dust some of the contour shade under the tip of your nose, again blended thoroughly.   With a clean dome brush, make sure you buff out and blend the shadowy parts- because you want to look like a chiseled goddess, not a trashy 1980’s Mall Rat!

 If you want to make your lips look fuller, you can contour  them, too. This time, you’ll be using your lipstick and lip pencils. To give the illusion of a pouty lip, use a darker lipstick on the top lip, and fill in the lower lip with  a color in the same family, but one or two shades lighter.  If you want your lips to look lush and bee-stung,  start out by lining them with a flesh tone or white  pencil.  This will bring out your natural lip-line and make it look more pronounced and prominent. Next, use  just one  shade for the top and bottom lips- a true red with blue undertones works best  and has the added bonus of  making your teeth look whiter, too. After you’ve applied the color, blot it, apply a second coat, and  take a finger full of frosty white, light pink or gold powder and smudge it into the  center of the lower lip. Bingo- better than having “work” done and your lipstick will stay put through your performance without smudging!

These same face contouring techniques can be used to highlight your body, especially when wearing costumes that show a lot of skin, to accentuate your muscles and curves. It’s a pretty simple process: whatever body part is lighter will stand out, and those that are darker will recede.

With a full, fluffy brush, apply a thin-ish stripe of pearly white, pinkish bronze or golden highlighting powder down the center of the arms and legs to make them look longer. While you’re at it, dust some of the same powder around the curves of your shoulders, and lightly across the tops of the breasts to make them appear fuller and more prominent. Drawing a soft, smudged line in the center of your cleavage will accentuate it and make it seem deeper. Make sure the actual line isn’t visible- blend it very well- you can even dust on a coat of translucent powder over the highlighter and contour colors instead of blending it. Since your arms, legs and torso are much larger areas than your face, you don’t need to be quite as careful with the blending.

 Play around and experiment with these applications, and with the colors you use, then snap a selfie or two to see what looks best on you.  With a little practice, you’ll get these looks down to a science!


 For even more make up tips, purchase my instructional  how-to stage make up DVD  “Bombshell: Dramatic Looks For The Stage, Photos and Glamorous Occasions or  “The Belly Dance Handbook here:

 Bombshell: Dramatic Makeup For The Stage, Photos And Glamorous Ocsaisions,  instructional stage makeup DVD
Photo by Dusti Cunningham

 August 1, 2016 I'm teaching a 1970's retro stage makeup look as part of  the "LA Legends Of Belly Dance" intensive. Info here:

Come say hi to me on the Inter-Webs!


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