“Oh no! We don’t have her shade!”
Someone in the crowd shouts and I briefly look up from the eyeshadow I was blending on my model’s face and grinned a little when I found my colleague frantically searching through her kit. I shout back, “Hey Farah, what shade do you need?”
“The cool beige one?” she says.
I nod, “Take a look in my bag; I might have a sample in there.”
Farah beams at me as she walks up to my kit and looks through its contents. She finally stumbles upon the small glass bottle of said shade and grins in victory, “Thank you so much! Coffee on me when we break!”
I nod and laugh before returning to the task at hand. The model is a young girl of nineteen and she’s such a professional already, sitting quietly in her chair and patiently waiting for me to finish her makeup. As soon as I am done, she will be pushed into the other section where the designer’s assistants will dress her. I am currently in the backstage of a fashion show in Milan. If I say the backstage is busy, it would be an understatement.
Fashion show backstages are usually teeming with noises and filled with the scent of glue, foundation, setting spray, hairspray, and cigarette smoke. This wasn’t any different. And honestly, I love this atmosphere; love the sheer creative energy that fills the space. To think that I wasn’t always a part of this, that even a year ago, I was somewhere else entirely…
When I was young, like perhaps nine or ten, my mother enrolled me in art classes because she was tired of me sketching on her official documents. I always had an artistic side and I started with drawing animals on walls with crayons first. Finally, my mom had enough. And let me tell you, that art class was fun.
The teacher was kind and gentle with the kids. I learned how to draw scenery first, then humans, then animals, and soon, I moved to watercolors. By the time I was thirteen, I painted my first canvas with acrylic colors and my parents loved it so much, they hung it on the living room wall! So, when we had guests and they would fawn over it, my chest probably expanded from ten times its original size.
Needless to say, my passion for art was ignited at a fairly young age and since my parents supported me wholeheartedly, I was free to pursue it. I got through school and then, I obviously went to an art college. Life in college was shocking, to say the least. You know how they say that when you are in school, you feel like the smartest but when you are in college, it’s the exact opposite? I finally understood it.
There were so many kids there who were so much more talented than I was. I remember this boy who was so good at manga-style drawing; or that girl who was such an expert in ink. I felt like an absolute loser among them. I still managed to make it through all four semesters and got good grades and made many good friends—but that crippling insecurity that I felt didn’t go away.
After graduation, job security became an issue. Since my medium was mostly classical and acrylics, finding a job became an uphill task. After a lukewarm art exhibition I participated in, I finally managed a job at this high school teaching art. At first, I was really ecstatic. Art was a lifelong passion, and if I can get to teach it to others, that sounds like a dream job. But how wrong I was…
The first three months went as fine as you can expect. I was only twenty-three, hardly that older from my students, so getting them to respect me was difficult. And then, there was absolute disinterest in the subject itself. The kids were just taking the classes because it was compulsory and would add to their overall grades. I had comfort in the knowledge that I wasn’t the only one—the choir teacher was facing the same disinterest from her students (music too was under that compulsory-for-overall-grades class moniker). But I couldn’t go very long like this.
I hit my burnout in the tenth month. After a small incident in class, I just broke down. I shouted at the hapless boy, who had only knocked over a table and spilled the contents on the floor, and dismissed the class. I remember just locking the door and crying over my desk. I quit my job that day and returned to live with my parents a week later.
My parents were sympathetic, but I knew they wouldn’t understand entirely. They thought I loved art, that it was my passion. They thought this was temporary and I would pick myself up again. But after a month of doing nothing—not even looking for the next job—they started to show concern. I lied, assuring them I will be fine, but honestly, I was terrified.
I had only known art all my life. As I went through my old sketchbooks, I could feel the love for it still there but we were separated like married couples. We couldn’t get divorced, and we couldn’t stay together either. I was so lost, so tired that I couldn’t even cry.
Then one day, my friend called me over to her house to hang out. She had noticed my morose state and wanted to cheer me up. It was a typical girls’ night in. We donned our worst-looking pajamas, ordered pizza, opened a bottle of red wine, parked ourselves on the bed, and the laptop opened to Netflix. However, before we could choose a show or a movie to watch, a notification from YouTube popped on its screen. She squealed, “Oh my god, my favorite YouTuber just uploaded a video! Do you want to watch it with me? I swear she’s so good!”
I nodded, thinking what the hell could possibly go wrong. And nothing did, except the makeup tutorial my friend played sparked an interest. I saw the woman on the screen blend her eyeshadow and it reminded me of how I blended acrylics on canvas. My friend sighed, “I wish I could do makeup like her.”
I suddenly quipped, “Why don’t we try right now?”
Okay, a confession: I was not good at makeup back then. I could draw a wing on my eye and manage to color my lips within the line, but beyond that, I was hopeless. But that night, as my friend and I played with her eyeshadow palettes, highlighter, blush, and contour, something inside me shifted. Makeup was art too, right? So, I started looking at all the liquids and powders as paint and the face as my canvas. My first try on my friend’s face went well.
After I returned home the next day, I started tinkering with my and my mother’s makeup collection. I first tried a few looks on myself and then, on my mother. I put some photos up on Instagram, later some videos. I gained followers and some strange brands contacted me for collaborations (this brand that promised clear skin in a week contacted me and I had to say no because no skincare works that fast). Soon, people who wanted portfolios done contacted me and I bought my first professional makeup artist kit.
One model turned to another, one free shout-out turned to paid work slowly, and then within a year, I was working backstage at fashion shows and fashion shoots. They all liked my work because they found it every editorial, that is, simple but still eye-catching (my look of orange, teal, and purple eyeliners still has the record for the most likes on my Instagram account!). Finally, after a year, I moved out of my parents’ house and started to save up for a house of my own.
Today, I travel the world, meet wonderful, creative people, and work for big designers. Now, no one sitting outside this backstage or buying the magazine would know my name, but I am fine with that. Leaving behind traditional art was hard but putting colors on a face and drawing symmetrical lines is an art in itself. So, in a way, looking back, maybe I needed that experience for my life to turn up like this.
When I am done putting on the light wash of pink on my model’s eyes, the girl takes a glance at the mirror and smiles, “Wow, you’re so good. I never thought I’d look this good in pink eyes!”
I just smile. “Thank you so much, dear.”
Crafted with brevity for select stories to make certain you see what others don't; sent every Friday
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