Wednesday, July 13, 2011

This is what Sacrifice looks like.

As a growing artist, your ability to generate a consistent body of work is the lifeblood behind the compelling urge to create it. Many would describe it as an addiction, one fueled by paint, clay, ink, and rock. You need to paint, draw, sketch, sculpt, whatever it takes to be ahead and get noticed. For me, my artwork has always been a way to express the thoughts in my mind that tend to overflow into my dreams and subconscious. I try the best I can; with the talent of my hands and the materials at my disposal. It's an expunging of thoughts, ideas, beliefs and other nonsense that I then force onto the world to contend with instead of me. It's truly a purging that is met with odd feelings of merit and appreciation when some seem to enjoy the things I craft. Rarely does this work in conjunction with the way I want my ideas to form my mind's eye, but it's the pursuit to create the vision that is almost as strong as any addiction. And with anything in life, practice is the only way to get better at anything. And the only way to be somebody is to do something well.

I know I need to build up the body of work represented in my F/X make-up portfolio and the only way to do that is to take on more jobs which always want to see a reel and portfolio of work. It's a Catch-22 my landlord used to love to hear, "I can pay you in Indie film cred...right?". I took it upon myself to try my hand at several different styles of make-up and photograph them to truly see how the work is reflected on camera. I wanted to attempt some iconic looks and experiment with some styles that had been circling around my mind. I wanted to mix the world of John Waters to Tom Savini, combining and remixing some of my pulp favorites with cult classics into a low brow beauty that you can't ignore. I also wanted to challenge myself by placing certain time limits to create each look, just like the professionals do it, that's how I train. I had set timers and when they went off, that was it. Brushes down, walk away and that was that.

Eva Cox was kind enough to serve as my model and what follows is one last fun collaboration. She has served with me before which you can check out by clicking here. She has been my girlfriend and best friend for almost 9 years. She's seen me at the height of my good intentions, and the bottom of my failures. Unfortunately, our partnership is no more and this is the sadly the last project that brought us together. What follows is several different looks of iconic and cinematic make-up we agreed on. Changed, altered, and augmented, these looks & styles are meant to reflect something that also stuck with me from one of Eva's art professors. He had described her work as "grotesquely beautiful". The phrasing struck a chord that resonated within me. I wanted to push that aesthetic even further into my own work, specifically my make-up and F/X work. I wanted to see how far I could forge ahead with my limited materials in my tiny New York apartment after Eva & I both had worked full days and wanted nothing more than a hot meal and a cold beer, but these are the sacrifices you make to follow your heart. I wanted to capture super-stylized looks and add my own flare; bits of nostalgia and pop culture.I wanted to create a series of looks that could stand alone, for their time and place. I'm not a seasoned photographer or make-up artist, I'm just a guy that likes to play with paint and probably watches too many movies. All it takes is the will to try and experiment; the worst anyone can ever do is tell you NO.

I knew I needed to start learning/teaching myself glamour make-up. As a heterosexual male, I've never had much opportunity, but I release that is simply a stigma that holds back creativity and stifles imagination. I wanted to experiment with what I was raised and conditioned from society and advertising to view as "beautiful" and "desirable". I always find it most intriguing to see how nostalgia factors in on the creation of certain styles that are held in regard as being specifically unique. I hope to get better at the "smokey eye" - the ladies have given me tips on how not to go overboard and make it look like a porno shoot, but most guys think I'm referring to a BBQ accident. I needed and wanted to see how far I could stretch the same make-up product in creating such radically different looks, though I tried not to hold back and deliver the goods with my interpretations. The natural look is almost Kung Fu level restraint with Jedi like prowess. Albert Einstein once said, "Imagination is far more important than knowledge." Here I hope to show how I pushed my talent and utilized my influences to create something unique, rather than just something weird to look at.

I wish Eva all the best of luck in her future endeavors and encourage you to check out some of her work via
her Tumblr blog, Making Things, and follow her on Twitter as FattySnacks. She has shared so much with me over the years, encouraged my artistic endeavors, is a walking encyclopedia of art history, always explored museums & exhibitions together, and has always been a fountain of inspiration that has sadly run dry to me. I thank you for her patience with me and letting a mad scientist experiment upon her face.

For costumes we ran about with the same abandon 8 old's reserve for slumber parties and games of dress-up. I attempted some minimal lighting (or lack there of, with my Nikon Quikshot) evidenced in photographing with normal overhead lighting and table lamps. The photography is quick snapshots, with hands dripping with paint and latex. Another condition was that Eva would be able to completely remove each application and have no residue, which I had to factor in with colors and materials. I wanted to capture the expressions of the moment as it happened and tried not to stage too many of the poses. But you work with what you got and go from there.

I found it a bit difficult to go through these old images and see a love that once was, one that sought to encourage my endeavors by volunteering their time, body, and spirit. For that I can be eternally grateful. At times these photos seem like I'm looking at a lost friend, somewhere lost in the ether that I wish I could reach out and touch one more time. That dream of future gallery shows and joint projects is to never be realized and only time can blur the memories I used to hold so dear. We've since parted ways, on what I hope was happier terms, all things considered. I truly do hope you enjoy the results of our one last adventure.

First Up: ELVIRA, Mistress of the Dark

I knew I had to take a stab at the lady that put the boob in "boob tube", and I hope I did it a bit of justice. I didn't have access to the classic bee hive style wig, but Eva pulled out one she purchased for her Bettie Page costume this past Halloween and it seemed to work, but gave it an odd crossover. And honestly, who doesn't love real stockings with red heels? I think the zebra print Snuggie over the couch really brings it home and adds that certain touch of class.

Above the eyes are streaked with a bright pink eye shadow sandwiched around a almost robin's blue. These are difficult to maintain and have to be done at the right angle to match on both sides. Screw this up and the whole look goes wonky. A heavy application in a straight line ensures that the color stays for those that love to blink.

I used a thick, THICK application of black liquid eye liner around the eyes (it's like Sharpie for the face!) and used it to literally draw past her tear ducts to form the panther look Elvira is know to flash which are achieved with false eyelashes. I have to say that working with false eye leashes is about as enjoyable as sanding Bond-O. Just be sure to take your time and be delicate. The points on each end can't reach past to the bridge of the nose, AND must also face in the same direction. I used a fine point brush and white cream to paint in the points, which is tricky to do because you don't want to mix and have grey. It's like a geometric plane. I used the liquid eye line for the mole under her eye and made sure that each eye on the the outside had the same degree of upturn without going past the eye brows.

The cheeks got a light dusting of burgundy rouge, but I do wish I would've started with a paler base of white and added more rouge to those deep cheek bones for that dramatic look from all those late night horror shows. The lips I painted with a fire engine red to pop, which makes me wish for that lighter base even more. But with the combination of the outfit and how outspoken the eyes turned out, I think that here stands a quality representation of one of my favorite females in Horror.

Next Up: A GHOUL

I wanted to go for an old school look with a ghoul, not a zombie, but someone you'd find lurking in a graveyard way too late or some late night public access show that shows PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. I decided that this was all going to be a paint-on using Ben Nye creams, all out of kit. I wanted to see if I accomplish a significant look in 20 minutes, so I had to make some quick decisions. Given Eva's skin tone, I decided to go with browns and darker creams and use her natural pigmentation for highlighting. I had the great idea of using purple from my Bruise Wheel as a way of add some really funky shadow.

I started along the brow, over-pronouncing the for head and temples. This really helped add to the look of not necessarily sunken flesh, but more malnutrition and sleep deprivation.

I made sure to darken under the eyes and the bottom lids but not go too much into the sockets, otherwise it would appear to decaying. Eva has some amazing clavicles (learn your anatomy) and I made sure to shadow with a blend of color along the neck and shoulders applying away with my darker colors. This was all applied with two half-torn make-up sponges. The details are to balance the nooks and crannies of how the neck will move and take on light with a lessening degree of what was applied to the face.

I ruffled up Eva's hair as best I could and made her swing about a small cap of Ben Nye's Mint flavored fake blood. This stuff is really great, especially for actors/models who don't wanna put icky things in their mouths. I made her swish it around in her mouth and then just naturally dribble out of her chin. I particularly like how it sticks to the gum-line and drips to her chest.

I think the look came off well. I hit my 15 minute mark with stride and here was someone still very obviously human, but very, very off. Obviously, I would've gone for crazier wardrobe and maybe something more with the hair, but this was a hot, late night and I'm surprised Eva let me paint her face at all. Next time, raw meat props.


I've had these dreams before where my skin falls off, usually my tattoos first in a very slow, methodical fashion, like cold molasses dripping off of a spoon. I decided to push the extremes of beauty and gore by combining the key elements of each aesthetic from this dream. I knew I wanted the over-blown robin-egg blue lips from the eyes and bright red lips and heavily blackened eye make-up, just like the mothers I would see as a child leaving Tupper-Ware parties and Sunday shopping. But these were also the same women that Vargas found everyday beauty in for his pin-ups. I also wanted to combine a bit of prosthetic, but didn't have time to build anything, so I went with my old trusty friend Liquid Latex to build up several layers on Eva's face and go from there. What began to take shape was something similar to Freddy Krueger so I knew I had to pull back to keep the femininity of it all. I was looking more for PINK FLAMINGOS meets THEY LIVE.

Eva suggested the white corset which significantly added to the appeal. The latex was peeled back and reapplied, allowed to dry and done again. This was a bit painful for her with the peeling and gluing and proved to be the longest of my make-up jobs, clocking in at a little over 2 hours. Always try to to be gentle and constantly check in with your model and their comfort level. I think that the blistering skin and the purplish abrasions generate a wonder of what exactly is this, and to be honest I'm not entirely sure myself. I do particularly enjoy the single strand of latex that seems to ooze from chin to chest.

I made sure to place coverage on the arms and color as well, to extend the look simply beyond the face and give a subconscious idea that whatever this is, it's spreading. I believe allowing the latex the time to dry and not forcing it with a blow dryer gave it the drip the foundation needed to add the believability that the skin is starting to slide off.

Despite all of this, the idea was to keep an appeal of sexual allure to the grotesqueness. This is your Stepford Wives left too close to the microwave.

One key element for the placement was the creating a pseudo triangle from the face to the shoulder to the wrist & hand. No matter which way Eva turns, you are confronted by this alien ailment in a tri-fold effect. 

Here is my favorite shot of the series that perfectly illustrates how a moment of repulsion can be one of desire. It lends itself to the story; what happens next? Is there something under the skin? Does it fall off? What next? Well, that I like to call job security.

The peel and removal was a bit difficult, and next time I hope to have some prosthetics in place to work with before hand. But for an out of kit design and execution, I'm very pleased with how it turned out.

Next Up: Betty Crocker

I really do appreciate that 1950-60s look of Middle America. I had Eva model an apron (just the apron) from the 60s thanks to a recent antique shop find. Here I went for the classic blue eyes, but softened them significantly with purple from darker inside to lighter outside to create a whole lid for optimum expression. The same classic red went to the lips and a small bit of black eye liner around the eyes as well as heavy duty mascara to truly make them stand out. Of course I had to add a brushing of burgundy rouge to accent the cheek bones.

Eva grabbed a few curlers and this created an instant look, one seen from DONNA REED to MAD MEN. It's a classic look that conjures up home and stability and yet feelings of being rushed and overwhelmed as a woman. But the curlers where also part of another challenge that I will go into after this.

Here a bit of environment can really sell the moment. I like how almost monochromatic everything turns out.

A close up of action can show how dramatic a simple look can be and utilized very quickly.

Well how quickly? I accomplished this in 15 minutes as part of a self-imposed challenge to create 2 completely separate looks within only 30 minutes. Ambitious yes, but if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

Immediately Next Up: GEISHA

From the Betty Crocker look I had Eva pull her curlers, put her hair back and immediately begin to cover her face in white paint as the clock was ticking. Fortunately Eva had a kimono as a gift and this was the perfect costume for this look.

I covered her face in white, but the mistake I made was using Ben Nye's white base paint and another white cream paint and they didn't quite jive together. I probably should have given her more time to clean her face off, but here's another lesson learned. Normally I would start over with one product, but I didn't have the time. Now I know to use one singular product for proper coverage and even distribution. I trudged forward with a heavy black eye liner, over-exaggerating the eyes.

I did the same classic red for the lips, but almost in that Betty Boop heart-shaped way. I would have loved to added rouge and blue highlights to the eyebrows, but the buzzer beat me and this was the final look.

Eva's choice in wardrobe really set it off and brought a sub-par look into something quite passable. It's amazing what wardrobe can add to make-up and vice-versa. I believe I achieved my goal from going to housewife to China Doll in 30 minutes. It just means I need to work a bit faster and get more comfortable with my eye work, but I feel comfortable that I am progressing rather than just getting by.

And Finally: WHY SO SERIOUS?

For one of the looks I wanted to take something that had reached an iconic status throughout America within a very short time. Heath Ledger's portrayal as the Joker was one that immediately captivated audiences, not just by his performance alone, but also largely in part to the make-up. His make-up was two-fold; him with his scars and him with his "war paint". I decided to attempt both looks myself and see if I could capture their essence while translating it to my subject; basically from male to female without losing its culpability. I also decided to turn this into the most Burlesque style shoot of the portfolio building, mean a bit more titillation, but a bit more focus on the subject at hand.

I wanted to started with the skin tone look, like the one you see at the assassination. I accomplished this by using Liquid Latex a couple times to literally roll Eva's cheeks together so that they would stick. This began to form a scar like bond that I paint lightly with browns and skin tones, wanting to go as natural as possible with the Glasgow smile. This technique is great for creating other scars without the use of appliances. This made the entire look a one shot deal, that could be replicated, but never perfectly duplicated. Now you know how she got these scars.

Here you can see the transformation the make-up takes. I used all cream based paint and sponges for the smeared look. The one thing to thoroughly consider is that some parts are worn away clean, so I used a Q-tip to take away the parts of the eyes, forehead and other areas where there would be wear and tear. This prevents it all from turning into one grey and pink hued mess.

Playing with angles, lighting, and your mood really brings this character to life. It's interesting to see how quickly some one's personality can change when in this role. I wanted this to be a balanced look. Sure, it's meant to look haphazardly applied, but it's also meant to seem as if the individual themselves is the one that applied it. Happy, sad, angry; these emotions emit quite a different than the other looks.

As comical as it is, I love how sinister the simplicity of how all the make-up and costuming comes together to give such a definitive look. I would've liked some green for Eva's hair, but she was quite particular about that and this was all done quite late at night.A tease and ruffle here and there gets the point across.

I did the white cream make-up first, applying a rough quick coat everywhere. I made Eva wrinkle her Forehead and other parts of her face to bring out the natural lines that would occur in over-wearing this type of costume.

I painted in the Latex smile with some browns for shadow, and then the fire engine red I've been so fond of throughout this project. The trick was to not rub it too much into the white and end up with a pink face, which means back to square one.

The black cream I used more on one side and then the other, covering the sockets and smearing about. I definitely went with the more chaotic look of the Joker from the film, but as pretty as my model is, I needed something to off-set that certain jean a say qua emitting from my model.

Eva and I had quite a fun time coming up with the costuming that we thought would be appropriate for a female Joker. I think for what was laying about in hand, I couldn't ask for much more.

The wardrobe also added a combination of colors to the make-up that made it pop in a way that wouldn't be the same in a black or grey suit.

Even when animal magnetism exists, it's a rare breed that can exercise the talents needed to not only survive, but turn it into a weapon. This look is almost like something out of a twisted Vaudeville act.

I particularly enjoy this shot as it is up to the viewer's interpretation of whether this is a classic Pin-Up pose or an arrest about to go bad. Is this a crime scene or a sex scene?

At moments, there seemed to be bits of tenderness in these series of photos, but as a fan of the comics and films, I know that the Joker simply plots and schemes. Here something that appears so genuine, yet his character counts on those to fall prey to this charm and take all those around it to a darker place. It's the black eyes that warn you there's something more there lurking; something evil, just don't dare call it crazy. Again I used a sponge to smear upward, but and here's critical, I never used the same sponge twice as to not spread or blend the colors outside of my intended area.

In the darkness, the mysteries are all just truths waiting to be manipulated into what we want them to be, what we need them to be. I love how the shadows play on this this and makes your eye truly focus on the subject and what the hell is going on, especially with that over the shoulder look.

Eva really gave quite a lot to this shoot. I demanded as much as I could get from this series, snapping photos and barking directions. At times the final look is playful, at others a bit dangerous, but there seems to be some underlying sense of arousal that seems worthy of exploration. Is it simply a little bare flesh or is it a predilection for violence and living within a fantasy world? My goal wasn't to generate my own version of Suicide Girls or anything like that, but to experiment with the female form in a way that media, advertising, and entertainment have been programmed into my brain to view the gender roles and social moires that exist around us. I wanted to see if I was able to recreate as well as reinterpret; titillate as well as educate. Some might consider this series a bit risque or perhaps almost inappropriate, but I think that focusing on those elements draw you away from the deeper issues I'm trying to address.

The Joker was one particular favorite characters to pull off because of how simple it is with materials, but how so many can easily screw it up and ruin it all with over-blending and not taking their time. It might seem a bit cliche to attempt this make-up, a been there/where's the challenge sorta thing, but it's always the simplest looks and projects that turn out to be the most difficult. I learned several valuable lessons from this series of characters, particularly how to stretch my make-up kit and how to get a better handle on my time & estimates. I think I definitely achieved what I set out to do; generate and exhibit some new work, experiment with some new techniques and start a series of iconic make-ups to reexamines and reinterpret.

Again a one last big thank you goes to Eva, for her time and patience through the years. Over roughly the course of 3 days, she had given birth to these 5 new looks as I learned what to do and most importantly what NOT to do.  We should all be so lucky to stumble across such a muse, even if for such short a period of time

Here is a very, very, very brief pseudo commercial I made using Windows Movie Maker and uploading it to You Tube. Hopefully this write up will explain a bit more than what you'll see way too quickly. I have plans for more make-up F/X, more designs & prosthetics, and hopefully more video to share with you for next time.

The music is "borrowed" with much appreciation from the feature film THE TAINT.

P.S. - Check out my review of this absurd and ground-breaking movie by clicking here. You won't regret it.

Thank you again, as this will probably be the last bit of work I will create in New York for the foreseeable future. I am now in the Cleveland, Ohio region and if you need a lotta help, all you gotta do is reach out a little.