May 23, 2011

Monday Beauty Blog- Contouring, essential element to fashion makeup

I was talking to Jonathan Joseph Peters (extraordinary designer, Project Runway alumni, and Creative Director for StyleWeek Providence) the other day. We were talking about my blog and how the look we did for his show, although really amazing, is not exactly a look many women are going to sport in real life.
Photo by Tracy Aiguier

We both agreed that instead I should write about contouring. Contouring has played a key role in both shows I have done with Jonathan, as well as pretty much every shoot he and I have worked on together. He loves a well sculpted face. And a dramatically contoured face photographs so beautifully!
Photo by Tracy Aiguier
from a Martin & Ricci campaign I did with Jonathan. Kate's face is contoured within an inch of her life.

Contouring is something that when done well can absolutely transform a face; literally. You can sculpt cheekbones, strengthen a jaw line, shorten a long face or large forehead, or slender a broad nose. It is a technique that has been used pretty much since the dawn of makeup. And once you are made aware of contouring, you will start to notice it in every photo shoot, every movie (especially classic movies), and every album cover. Because stage and set lighting washes out most features, it is essential for makeup artists to contour the subjects features so that they actually stand up to the bright lights. It is why we talk about how stage makeup being so much more dramatic than every day makeup.
Ava Gardner notice the contouring along her nose, jaw and cheekbones.

Rita Hayworth contouring along her forehead, cheekbones and chin. Rita was actually Mexican. Hollywood stylists went to great lengths to make her features more European, including electrolysis to her hair line and lots of contouring.

Marilyn Monroe lots of contouring on her nose cheekbones, and hair line. This shot is from Gentleman Prefer Blondes. Jane Russell is contoured beautifully in this movie as well. Also one of the funniest movies ever.

 Basically when you contour, you are deepening shadows and increasing highlight. It is the makeup equivalent of boosting the contrat to your face. Contouring is a technique that when done well, is undetectable in photos. It is at least slightly detectable in person, even when done brilliantly, so if you are not posing for pictures this is not a technique one rolls out for brunch; unless perhaps you are having brunch with the Jackson family.

No family has ever been more contoured than the Jacksons

If I want someone to have very subtle contouring (brides for instance want to look natural but must photograph perfectly), I will prime their skin. Then I will contour with a very creamy dark concealer (on anyone midtone to very light I will use a concealer made for African American skin, on African American skin I will use a black cream pigment). I will also highlight the high planes of the face with a creamy concealer or shimmer cream (if using a concealer I will go about three shades lighter than the client’s skin). Then I will stipple on a lightweight sheer foundation over the highlighting and contouring. If after applying the foundation I feel there needs to be additional contouring I will than use a cool tone, matte bronzer and add more to freshly powdered skin. The skin must be well powdered to make everything blend perfectly, otherwise it can look stripey.

 Kevyn Aucoin created possibly the single greatest example of highlighting and contouring. I have yet to see a better diagram ever. Examine it thoroughly to learn classic contouring placement. Laura Mercier also has some great examples in her book The New Beauty Secrets. Her examples are great at explaining how to adjust specific features.
Kevyn Aucoin's famous contouring example from his must have book Face Forward

Laura Mercier's examples of corrective contouring from her fantastic book New Beauty Secrets

An important note, if you decide to contour your face, make a point to look at your makeup in a number of different lights, especially in bright day light. Bad contouring is never pretty. But a beautifully contoured face can be breathtaking. Once you are happy with how your makeup looks venture out knowing that you have cheekbones that are so perfectly sculpted they could cut glass! Playing with contouring is a lot of fun. At the very least it will give you a better understanding of how light and shadow play with our features.

Next week I will be writing about essential summer makeup. Send your questions to

1 comment:

  1. Side note: Rita Hayworth was NOT Mexican. Her father was a Spaniard from Seville, Spain and her mother an Irish-American.