In our darkest moments, if we treat them as a gestational period; if we know that in every breakdown, there is a breakthrough waiting on the other side, we will not get pulled down for long.
We will rise stronger and with new perspective. That is how pain creates a path to beauty…and that’s the story I want to tell now.
For me, pain has often been a great friend and has caused openings of inspiration. Driving forward through pain to insist on something more beautiful is actually a large part of how I got here as a makeup artist, green beauty educator, and now as I reveal yet another addition to my creative repertoire.
How I really became a makeup artist
I could tell you about all the studying, practicing and banging on doors, but that’s only one portion of the story. What I’m about to share is the side I’ve never talked about much publicly until now, and it’s probably the most important.
At the age of 26 I was working as a CFO and HR Director at a music company (that’s a tale for another time) and secretly I just wanted to be a “real” makeup artist in fashion, and where I was in life was not bringing me any closer to that dream.
15 days before my 27th birthday I fell down an entire story of icy stairs, having narrowly missed death and paralysis according to the ER doctor. It took half a year to fully recover.
It was the beginning of a series of events that took place over 8 months when everything stable crashed around me. (Those of you who are into astrology recognize that was my Saturn’s Return beginning, but I didn’t find that out until much later.)
My job, my relationship (with a country singer in Nashville), and two important friendships all dramatically fell apart one-by-one.
It wasn’t until I was totally broken feeling that I finally summoned the courage to do the one thing I’d been circling around, but had been afraid to do as a real career – be a makeup artist.
Hitting my rock bottom made me think, “things can’t really get much worse than this, so if I fail at my dream of being an international makeup artist, then it won’t have been much of a loss.”
I knew that if I didn’t try then I might never again, and I would regret it for the rest of my life. I truly felt I had nothing to lose. Everything I depended on previously cracked open to make room for something new – and that’s what got me to take the risk.
Some of my friends and family thought I was nuts – and some supported me in ways I will never forget.
I had an amazing therapist at the time who pulled the dream out of me, even when I was scared to speak it out loud just in her office. I didn’t have a clue how I was going to pull it off, but I started with belief, vision boards, meditation and I took action steps.
Many of you know how that part of the story ends, even if you don’t know the details of how I worked three part time jobs for a year, while trying to drum up makeup work, taking Italian every Friday night and falling asleep during the lessons because I was so exhausted, and how I sold half of what I owned, including my car, and used all my air miles to get myself a ticket so I could live in Milan, Italy…with no clue where I was going to live when I got there.
Now I’ve got almost 20 seasons of Fashion Week shows around the world under my belt. If you can name a top makeup artist in fashion or a designer, chances are I’ve worked with them – a lot. Doing the faces of top models, celebrities, actors, VIPs, socialites, musicians, and more all over the world was a dream come true…one day I may just have to write a book about that.
People often say to me, “you’re so lucky.”
My friends, luck plays a part, but as Ernest Hemmingway said, “You create your own luck.”
Allowing heartache to create art
That’s what happened this last summer.
During the breakup of my relationship, I left my home for six weeks to live elsewhere while the dust settled. Sleeping on a mattress on the floor of my friend’s home office for two of those weeks while construction went on to renovate part of the house, and then another two weeks in the renovated empty bedroom waiting to be filled with a long-term housemate. Along with some scattered days and nights spent in guest bedrooms of other friends.
At the time I didn’t have a car of my own. Not a problem in NYC, but trickier on the west coast where jobs are often in locations away from public transport.
The point is, things were rough. I was displaced in heart and home, and trying to earn a living while piecing life back together.
About the 3rd week into this time period, the quiet urge to start taking portraits of models got loud. The urge had been there for years, I just had a lot of reasons for ignoring it.
In one of the most painful periods of my life for a long time, for some reason I wanted to create more art. Not to give myself another job or receive praise. It was just a deep longing to capture the face as I saw it.
I didn’t know if I’d be good at it. I didn’t have a proper camera or lights or anyone to photograph, but I took action anyway.
My friend lent me a camera (I didn’t have a clue how to really use) and an agency who’s seen my career unfold over the past 10 years believed in me enough to lend me a couple of models.
The lead agent said as I was walking out of our meeting, “We are so excited to see what you create!” and I replied, “Just expect it to be poop, and that way if it’s better, then everyone will be happy!” We laughed – but I meant it – and yes, I actually said, “poop”.
So here is the first in a series of portraits I took. No assistance, no lighting equipment – all shot in the house I was staying in.
My friend set up a makeup and hair station for me using a card table and a sarong as a tablecloth. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was everything I needed right then.
I’m not building all of this up so you like the work more, feel pity for me or anything else like that.
I’m telling you the real story behind it all because it highlights the point I’m trying to make.
I don’t think we should actively try to create pain to push us, but when pain shows up, I believe we can call forth something greater for ourselves.
We can let adversity be a great motivator of inspired action to do what we otherwise were too complacent before to try.
Even the Model Had Something to Teach Me About Pain
Alyda, my subject for this series was 15 years old at the time we shot. She had just come off a year of study as a ballerina at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia.
She described the punitive, disciplined conditions of being a ballerina, that she often felt discriminated against for being non-Russian, and the general industry “encouragement” regarding unhealthy body weight.
This young woman knows a thing or two about working through pain, and I honor her for that. I asked if her mom was pushing her to follow this grueling path. Incredulously she said it was totally of her own will, and even though it was lonely, removed from normal teenage life and her family while studying in Russia, she would go back because she loves what she gets out of it.
She seemed to have the wisdom of person far older saying that when she felt it was truly not good for her anymore, she would back off.
Alyda took direction like no model I’ve ever seen. I said “turn your head” and bam! it was turned instantly.
Spending the day with that old soul in a young body, was a true pleasure, and I think the photos we got out of it, truly reflect that.
I was nervous to release this work early for criticism from my colleagues in the industry before I felt ready because it was intimate and fragile. Egos and opinions can be so brutal to such a seedling of a creative expression.
So I carefully chose a very small group of those I trusted most, for their exceptional experience in image creation and their long-term friendship to help edit my work. It was a true honor to have people of such high caliber offer their mentorship. I’m still slightly in disbelief at their willingness to do so.
We all need people who we can trust in our lives that will respond to us with truthful, constructive, loving criticism when we have precious dreams – it’s important not to just let anyone have at them.
I’ll be curious to know which photos in this series speak to you most.
There’s one in there that neither the agency nor my mentor loved, but I just had to include because I loved it. So far it’s been the favorite of everyone else I’ve shown it to. Can you guess which it is?
Natural Skin, Makeup and Hair Products Used
Honestly I can’t remember every single shade and product I used for these looks. I am an artist and mix like crazy, so here are the items that I remember using:
- Desert Essence Balancing Face Oil
- CV Skinlabs Restorative Skin Balm on lips
- Innersense Organics Whipped Cream Texturizer
- Antonin .B Ceramides Enriched Desert Serum
- Gressa Foundation
- W3LL People Narcissist Foundation
- Hynt Beauty Concealer
- RMS Beauty Living Luminizer
- Alima Pure Contour
- Various Sappho Eyeshadows
Alyda is represented by Option Model and Talent.
Photography, Makeup, Hair and Styling all by me, Kristen Arnett.
Post production and (minimal) retouching by Juan Camilo Mora.