Let’s take a moment to appreciate Kim Kardashian’s face. It’s an oval; it’s preternaturally smooth; it has chiseled cheekbone hollows. In large part, this is thanks to genetics — but it’s also thanks to contouring, a technique used by makeup artists to make a person’s bone structure look especially sculpted. More complicated than simply dusting on some bronzer or blush, contouring involves color-shading techniques and no fewer than three different foundation shades.
To learn more about how contouring works, and what he thinks of the Cut spoke to Kim Kardashian’s makeup artist (one of three in her constant rotation) at a recent Tweezerman event.
Has contouring always been a tool in your arsenal?
It’s a technique I’ve known about and used, especially for photo shoots. I started my career in Miami and models would come in and want to look a certain way, so I’d have to figure out ways to correct certain features, or enhance them. Photographers were always like, “Oh, we want this kind of look.” And I would look at her thinking, Oh my God, she doesn’t look like that! I didn’t really know the terms for it back then, they weren’t in my vocabulary. Now that it is more mainstream, it’s funny to me because I just think of it as second nature.
It’s fun. It’s definitely an alternative to other things, like surgery, because you can wash it off. Not that I’m against surgery. It’s an easy way to create, define, and enhance your features. You really need to be able to blend well and have good brushes.
So, contouring is not the kind of thing someone can do with their hands?
I think [brushes] just make it easier. I don’t know how you would do it without brushes. You could use your fingers, but it could be a hot mess. I like the because they are the perfect synthetic brush. Most synthetic brushes feel very plastic and hard, and these emulate real hair. They feel like hair and pick up product like a natural-hair brush.
How does the concept of contouring work?
You start off with [what] your skin tone is. Then you define, contour, enhance, and highlight. The contour would be a shade or two darker than your natural skin tone. The highlight shade would be a shade or two lighter [not an actual highlighter or luminizer] so you’re creating that depth in the space. Then it’s the art of the blending it together so it graduates — or has an ombré effect, where it goes from light to dark but looks seamless. It should look really smooth and blended, not like there are chunks of lines everywhere.
If you’re really enhancing, you don’t have to follow exactly the bones of your face. You can create any shape you want. But for the average girl out there who’s not really going to understand that, I would say to follow the natural shape of your face as a guide. But you can create so many different looks. If you maybe had a bump on the side of your nose or it was wide, you could shade the areas to make them look smaller.
When you are contouring, what is the ideal result? What are you contouring toward?
The ideal result varies from person to person. Contouring is correctional makeup, so the point is to take whatever is there or not there and make it something else. It’s not a one-size- fits-all technique like other makeup applications.
Some critics of contouring say that after contouring, “everyone looks the same.” Do you think that contouring can erase individuality?
Because of the way contouring is being portrayed in the media, critics are not too off base. The public is learning about contouring from a very limited amount of sources and contouring should not be taught like that. There is a huge misconception about contouring in general. It is not for everyone, as not everyone needs it. Everyone can benefit from it, but it doesn’t mean using it on all ten parts of your face. This is where individuality can be lost. Everyone needs to work with whatever issue they might have and focus just on that issue. Contouring should be customized to the individual.
Others say it’s too much makeup and looks like a mask.
I don’t disagree with them. There’s a time and place for it. If I’m doing a photo shoot where the lighting is controlled, you have more freedom to do looks that are not going to look good on the street. On the street, people are less forgiving because there’s also this idea that natural is beautiful — which it is — but for girls who love makeup, it’s hard for them to find that place in that situation.
If you can rock it, and you want to do it, then do it. And be proud of it! That’s who you are. Or if you’re the opposite, where you don’t wear makeup and you’re just not part of that game, then that’s also okay. Just don’t knock other people who do like it. Just do you! But both are right!
To me, makeup is like an extension of fashion. For me, for work I’m more professional. But on a Saturday afternoon, I’m in my sweats lounging around and I don’t care. Or maybe I’m dressed in drag one night, I don’t give a shit, I just want to look cute and I’m wearing so much contour and three pairs of lashes — it’s just having fun! It should be about having fun, in my opinion. If you get too serious with it, it’s not for me — I don’t care to think about those people. I think that everyone should be allowed to play.
This interview has been condensed and edited.