PAINT IN MAY.
If there's one thing we love here at the Art Olympics, it's people finding ways to bring classical skills into their day-to-day lives. This month, we've been inspired by people using PAINT in places other than the canvas - makeup artists, graffiti artists, handmade signwriting, even beautifully executed paintwork in interior design (we're indulging wild fantasies involving buying a house, painting every room a different colour and making all the ceilings gold).
Let us know if you've found a way to wield a paintbrush in a new way this month! Follow us on Twitter and Instagram for a regular stream of painterly inspiration, and use the hashtag #artolympics to share your own masterpieces with the world!
Now put your feet up and head into our interview with the extraordinary Sarah Masson, who started using spray paint a mere couple of months ago, and who is already getting a significant name for herself on the Melbourne streets. She talks finding her calling, painting fierce women, crash course skills acquisition and why everyone should try putting their art out in public. She even painted a work for us while we were visiting!
THE ART OLYMPICS heads to a Brunswick sharehouse for a chat with painter and street artist SARAH MASSON.
10:51 am, two sofas, two cups of tea.
Art Olympics: So, if you want to just do a quick intro into who you are and what you do, and especially into what you’ve been doing over the last couple of months.
Sarah Masson: Sure. I’m Sarah Masson. I’m an artist, I’m a designer, I do a bit of photography. But primarily an artist, working on street art at the moment. Lots of spray paint. I used to do brush work – I started painting two years ago, and I started playing with spray paint two or three months ago. And I love it. I’m obsessed with it. I can’t stop doing it.
AO: So you only started painting at all two years ago?
SM: Yeah. I’ve always drawn, but I was kind of scared of paint. I just didn’t really understand it.
AO: So did you do any training, or did you just pick up a brush one day and think, ‘Oh, this is actually perfect.’
SM: I did some training, which I came to in a very roundabout way. I had a studio back at my parents’ house. My mum’s a ceramicist, and a woman came to my studio and said ‘Whose art is that?’ and I got a job teaching life drawing in a community sort of thing in Doncaster, and then I got a free painting class. It was like a studio bring-your-painting setup, the teacher would walk around and talk about it and be like ‘Do this, change that, this is shit.’
SM: She would never say that because everyone’s really old and proper hobby artists.
SM: So yeah, I learnt there, but it was kind of a studio self-taught situation. And that was just a six week course. It was great, though. I really loved it. Then I just kept doing it.
AO: That’s amazing. It’s incredible, because you’ve come so into prominence in that period of time. I feel like you are very present in the Australian art scene. Which is great.
SM: It is cool. It's still a bit weird!
AO: So when you used to draw, where you still drawing similar stuff to what you’re painting?
SM: Yeah, I’ve always drawn faces. I like doing hands as well. I don’t really do a lot of hands these days. A lot of faces and figures, mostly women. I was never sure why, but I kind of psychoanalysed that, and it’s partly because I’m a woman and I relate, but I draw a lot of powerful looking women. I think it’s important to represent that.
AO: Yeah, a lot of the women you produce feel very aware of the viewer. And I feel like so much of female nudity in painting is this voyeuristic thing where it’s like men painting women as though they don’t know that they’re being viewed.
AO: I think it’s nice that you’ve got that reaction against that. It’s like ‘No, I’m here, and I’m naked, and I’m babein’, and it’s fine.’
SM: Yeah, yeah! Women are usually painted looking off into the distance, looking really vulnerable and whimsical. Almost every single painting I’ve done just stares right at you. It’s really freaky at night-time in my room, to have so many paintings, because the room never really fully gets pitch black, because of the light from the neighbours, so sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and get a bit ‘Oh my god!’
SM: It’s happened so many times. And it’s like ‘No, it’s my own painting, you psycho. It’s not that scary.’ It’s hilarious.
AO: So when it comes to doing graffiti stuff, is spray paint very different to use than brush and paint?
SM: Yeah, I think that spray paint is a lot more similar to drawing – using a pencil, or like charcoal, in the effects that you can get when you build it up. It’s really different, because you’re not actually touching the surface. Well, sometimes you can. I learnt that trick!
SM: If you want a really thin line, you just touch the wall!
AO: I feel like in my life, I’ve handled a spray paint can so few times, and it’s always been to, like, spray paint drawers. And I’m just so fascinated by the clarity of line that you can get.
SM: So am I.
AO: You see work done by people who specialise in airbrushing things, and I actually don’t understand how that happens. And I think it’s because everything I’ve ever spray painted is like ‘Hold the thing 30 cm away from where you’re spray painting’, so there’s always that really broad spray of paint.
SM: And that sort of paint that you get from Bunnings just has a general – I was going to say beam spread. I work in lighting a lot. I don’t even know what it is. Paint spread.
AO: So the paint that you get to do spray painting tends to be different?
SM: Well, you could use the same paint – it’s more about the caps. So there’s all different lines that you can get, and softness. Different sorts of shapes.
AO: So do you get caps separately and replace them on the cans?
SM: Yeah. So if you wanted to do a painting with just the one colour, you can build it up and just use different caps. You’d probably want to use at least two colours, though. It’s the trick. That’s another thing – when I heard that, I was like ‘Oh, shit, I can do that! I can figure that out!’ I just thought they were really skilled. And they are –
AO: But they’re helped out by good tools.
AO: I’m so naïve about all this. Painting is one of those things that I’ve never really done, and I’m just like ‘It’s so magical, and I just have no in to that world.’ I used to draw as a kid, and obviously I photograph, but painting is just so immediate and large-scale, and I just don’t understand it.
SM: I know! I was exactly the same, even though I did drawing. I just did not get it. I didn’t understand how it all worked. But if you strip a painting back the way you would a drawing, just building things up and layers anyway, it’s all the same.
AO: So you’ve done a bunch of work in Hosier Lane of late. Is there some sort of system of getting to work in there? Or do you just rock up and do it, no matter who you are?
SM: I’m pretty sure you just rock up, because that’s what I’ve been doing, and it’d be really awkward if you don’t.
SM: But either way, nobody’s tried to say ‘Stop.’
AO: The turnover of work there is obviously really high, and it has the potential to literally be a matter of as soon as the paint is dry on one work, someone paints over it, right?
SM: Yeah! Actually, yesterday I went back to look at my piece a few hours later, and I saw a guy just slightly trimming the surface of my painting, and I was just like ‘Shit, I just did that, man! I just did it!’ And I thought ‘I’ve got to let it go.’ It was a really weird moment, I was just like ‘Oh. This has never happened. Okay. Right. There’s nothing I can do, this is public space.’ But then I looked at it online, because someone had tagged me in a photo, and I noticed that in that top corner, he was just going over his piece, because I’d trimmed his piece! So he was just coming back to fix it up and make sure that his name was there. I thought, ‘Oh, that’s really funny.’ So I kind of dissed him by going over his stuff by accident!
AO: It’s interesting, painting is traditionally so long-term. You make an artwork, and the art stays and becomes a revered object. Whereas graffiti is so temporal.
SM: Yeah! That’s what I like about it. Because I’ve done lots of fine art and put it in galleries and had exhibitions. It puts the art up on a pedestal, with the white walls and everything. But I like street work. Because I’m pretty prolific, I just like to do a lot of painting. And also, I’ll love it, and then I’ll hate it a few weeks later, and then a few months later, I’ll be like ‘Oh, that was the best thing I ever did’, and then I’ll hate it again. So if someone can just come and just go over my work, I don’t have to look at it, it’s had its time. I just really like it. I should have done it years ago. Should have done it in high school. A lot of my friends at high school used to go out graphing, but I never did.
AO: I’m interested by the way that people deal with pieces by people like Banksy, which are street art, it’s designed to be a space for a certain period of time and then disappear, but everyone kind of gets really protective about it.
SM: Oh, people do!
AO: And when people paint over them, and you know, there’s always a café that’s like ‘Oh, we thought we’d just paint that wall’ and everyone’s like ‘What? You ruined a piece that was worth millions of dollars!’ That I find interesting, that people can point to a public wall and say ‘That spray paint on it is worth x amount of money.’ I don’t know how you monetise that.
SM: I don’t know how you do it. I don’t understand. But Banksy has painted in Hosier Lane a few times, and I think there is a very, very small stencil there still. But a council worker painted over his stuff recently. That’s the thing, the ignorance of street art. I’m pretty ignorant towards it. I know a couple of names, of my favourite artists, but otherwise, you just have to see the work and be like ‘Okay, can I do better? Yes.’ and then just go over it.
SM: You know, though. If something is quality, you’re just not going to want to touch it, unless you can do better than it.
AO: With Hosier Lane, do people very often come in and just do really shit work?
AO: I feel like I’ve never really seen anything terrible there.
SM: It’s because you’re looking at the really good stuff. You just kind of walk past the shit stuff. It’s mostly good quality stuff. I think that people work up to it for a while, and then go ‘Okay, I’m going to do this piece.’ They’ll do one piece a couple of different times in different colours, and then they’ll go back. This is all speculating, I don’t actually know. Rutledge Lane, which is just behind Hosier Lane, I’m pretty sure that’s more of a practising lane – it’s a lot of tags. A lot. Sometimes there are character pieces, but most of the time, it looks like it’s more for practice, and Hosier is when you’re ready, you get down there and do your big piece.
AO: What’s your relationship with tagging?
SM: I don’t have one.
SM: I might have tagged a toilet wall, once. I’m just not interested in it. But if I did, it would probably be a line drawing, a really quick throw-up piece like the stuff I do anyway. It’d probably be a face or a body. I’m not a writer.
AO: I remember being in high school and all my friends coming up with what their tags would be if they were cool enough to actually spray paint on walls. There’s something I find really interesting about it, which is kind of about reacting to public space and proving that you exist. There’s something that feels really profoundly teenage about it. ‘Yeah, I did something a bit bad and I proved that I was here!’
SM: It is! It is a bit teenage. And sometimes I feel a bit weird being in that world. But the art I’m doing, I’d do on a canvas anyway. But it’s interesting, what you said about responding to the space, because I really like art that is site-specific, that might wrap around some corners or turn a shape into something else. Like, there are those Telstra boxes, people are making them into giant graffiti cans by putting a cap on them. I really like that sort of stuff. I don’t do heaps of it, but I’ve been starting to do more. Like, I’ll do a face that wraps around a building, and then you add an extra nose to make magic eye sort of things. I just think it’s more interesting. If you’ve got a space, you might as well use the shape of it.
AO: And respond to the 3D-ness of it, as opposed to the canvas. So you were doing some work on Chapel St recently as a commission, yes?
SM: Yeah, at 56 Bricks. That was really cool. That was an amazing job, actually. They were so good. I can’t talk them up more. Because they met me on Hosier Lane and just said ‘We love your colours, we love what you do, we love your faces, just do whatever you want’ –
AO: So they literally just came up to you on the street?
AO: That’s amazing!
SM: It was amazing! It was really fucking awesome! Because clients, they might say something like that, but they don’t really mean it. They want to see sketches, and all that stuff, and that’s where the design aspect comes in. That’s why I can do it, I can combine art and design and do commission work. But with these guys, I rocked up, I said ‘Oh, can I use your printer?’ and printed out a few things from Pinterest and just got going. They didn’t even ask to look at the images! It was amazing!
SM: And then afterwards, they were like ‘This is exactly what we wanted.’ And I was like ‘That’s crazy, because I didn’t know what you wanted! I didn’t even know what I wanted!’ So, yeah, I did two different pieces. One’s a bit more abstract and one’s a bit more realistic, just to show my range, because why not?
AO: That’s great. That’s so rare. So, you talked before about choosing a colour palette for your work – how does that work?
SM: Well, blue is always the last resort when I’m painting.
SM: I’ve got this random, massive blue painting here, but I usually never paint with blue.
AO: I suppose it’s a colour that isn’t super present in skin tones, except as an undertone.
SM: I like pinks. I like to make artwork that looks a bit happy.
SM: At least recently. Because, if any of these were blue or purple, they’d probably look a little bit scary. Especially lately, because there’s been lots of real close ups. It might look nice, but it might also look a little bit intimidating.
AO: I feel like there’s a colour theory idea that blue recedes in the vision and reds and warm colours pop out. So there’s something really in-your-face and bubblegum-aggressive about them, which I like.
So because you’re so new on the scene, do you find that the learning curve has been really steep?
SM: Yeah, I’m still learning about all this stuff. I only just learned that transparency existed like a week or two ago.
AO: What does that mean?
SM: It’s really thinned-down paint, so you can layer things up. So you might get a black transparency and it just probably has about 20% of the colour in there, so instead of having a full colour, like if you painted with black, you’d have a big black line. But if you’re doing transparency, you’d fade things out and just make things look way more real. So that’s another trick that I’ve learnt, and, oh my god, it’s changing everything. It’s amazing.
AO: In terms of learning, do you have people who are mentoring you, or is it via the internet?
SM: It’s not via the internet. I’ve met a few people – not many, I don’t have very many painter friends. I’ve got one in particular who’s great. We’ve only painted together once, and it was really far away from each other. It was at the Powerhouse. His writer name is Rides. He’s really cool. He’s been doing it for a million years. He’s from New Zealand, the Gold Coast, everywhere. He’s given me a few tips, so that’s pretty cool, and I’m looking forward to painting with him this week. He’s just got back from Europe. And I met this other artist, Dukey Grimo, he’s one of the oldest graffiti artists in Melbourne. He’s insane. I buy most of my paint from him, and literally with a five or ten minute tutorial, he just gave me tips. Like how to use the nozzles and stuff. And that probably would have taken me months. I’m a really quick learner, that’s definitely true, but he just gave me a couple of tips and I just went with it.
AO: That’s so generous.
SM: It was really amazing! He’s incredible, actually. People should look him up. Really abstract stuff. Almost a bit Dali of the graffiti world. It’s all style pieces, like giant tag pieces, but you can’t even tell that it’s words, because it’s just so intricate and insane. I do not understand how he does it. But it’s just really cool to see someone really pushing the boundaries there. You know, some people think that there’s only so much that you can do with letters, but just with spray paint, there’s so much that you can do with experimenting. It doesn’t get boring. For now. It’s only been two months.
AO: Do you have a street name that you use when you’re working?
SM: I don’t. I don’t have a street name, because my style is so obvious. People know. If I did just do illegal stuff, I probably wouldn’t need to put my name on it, because it’d be so obvious. I’ve got a little signature that I put on all my paintings anyway. But, no, I don’t. I just write my actual name. But also, a lot of street artists, when they get serious anyway, they end up kind of mentioning their actual name in the media. It’s like, if you’re reclaiming your own name, what’s the point of having a secret one? Because it’s not a secret. But at the same time, Sarah Masson’s pretty long, so if I could shorten that, that’d be cool. Maybe I should make a name. But I don’t really see the point. Because I do commercial jobs anyway, and that’s kind of what I like doing.
AO: Yeah, I feel like if you’re working in a way that you want to remain really enigmatic and secretive, then it’s fine, but if your approach is ‘Hey, hire me!’ it’s good to just use your name.
SM: I think there’s real beauty in that, being really secretive. I think that’s really cool, and I might end up doing it in a few months or a few years, just go out at night time. But I really like live art. That’s almost half my art form. I like creating art and people asking me ‘Oh, what are you doing there?’ and ‘Maybe change that’, or I’ll be like ‘What do you think of this? Should I change it? Yeah!’ to some random person on the street, and they’ll be like ‘Yeah, sort that out!’
SM: It’s just really good! I think that’s how you get better. My sister’s really good, my younger sister. She’ll tell me. I’ve done a few festivals, and she’ll usually come along and be my “assistant”, and she’ll just be like ‘Yeah, I reckon you should fix that up.’ There’s been a few occasions where she’ll just grab a paintbrush and just fix my stuff.
AO: Is she an artist?
AO: That’s great!
SM: I like it because the majority of people want to be positive and say ‘That’s good’ and stuff. But ‘good’ doesn’t really help me. It’s cool, thanks for being nice, but I’m not learning anything. Constructive criticism is more interesting.
AO: I think it’s probably helpful that you’ve come into it so recently, because I think when people have been working on stuff for ages, and it’s been very isolated, working in a studio by yourself, you just come out and go ‘This is what I do, don’t tell me how to do it.’ I think it’s lovely that you can just be like ‘Hey, so, this is on the street, it’s designed for public consumption, so you don’t need to know what you’re talking about – how do you respond to it?’
SM: Yeah, exactly! You don’t at all.
AO: Are there other people inspiring you at the moment who aren't necessarily graffiti artists?
SM: I've got a bit of a creative girl gang love affair going on with two women - Heidi Valkenburg, who's a visual artist and actor, and Diorella Mirsaol, who's a writer and director. Check them out, we're all exploring similar themes in our work.
AO: So I’ve been asking people to provide a challenge for the people doing the Art Olympics – did anything pop into mind?
SM: Yeah, it did. I think that everyone should try to put their art in public somehow. Even if it’s something tiny, like tagging a public toilet or something. Or even making a little postcard-sized thing and putting it in a bus stop. Or doing a massive piece and challenging yourself. Whether it’s paintbrush, Poscas, whatever, there are some many things you can do. Or do a paste-up. Do a drawing and paste it up somewhere. Or put it in your office and don’t say who it is! I just think it’s a real thrill to put things in public and watch people respond to it. It’s just so different. I love having exhibitions and shows, but I’ve got a bit over it, because it’s nice to have a party, but that’s kind of all it is. So you’ve got to put it in public. Because artists keep it to themselves, like you were saying. People keep their artwork to themselves. And you’re not going to get any better if you do that. You’re just not. Or you might, and who cares, because no-one will see it anyway! So you might not be the best artist, but if you start showing it, you know, everyone’s got a bit of an ego and a bit of pride. So I’ve got to make stuff that’s better, each time I do a piece in public, or at home, it has to be better.
AO: Awesome. Thank you very much.
SM: Thanks for having me!
PAINT IN MAY.
From cave paintings to graffiti cans, making our mark seems to be a basic human instinct, and so this month's Art Olympics theme is PAINT.
Whether you stock up on oil paints and palette knives or get your kindergarten on with some good old fashioned finger painting, this month is all about getting colour onto paper (or canvas, or wood). Now is the perfect time to revisit a little basic colour theory that you probably haven't thought about much since primary school. This site has a simple introduction to colour wheels, primary, secondary and tertiary colours, and ways to combine them for aesthetic effect. Just don't forget the lesson we all learnt at some point in art class - eventually, if you combine too many colours, you just end up with brown.
Now settle in with our first interview with makeup artist Kate Murphy, who started out painting canvases and moved on to painting faces. She tells us about juggling beauty and gore, Instagram eyebrows and making an artistic bucket list.
THE ART OLYMPICS pulls up a seat in a North Melbourne cafe for a natter with makeup artist KATE MURPHY.
12:44 pm, two baguettes, one hot chocolate, one peppermint tea.
Art Olympics: So, Kate, if you can give us a quick blurb about you.
Kate Murphy: So, my name’s Kate Murphy. I’m a makeup artist. I’ve been working since 2012 on a freelance basis. I studied at the Academy of Makeup in South Yarra, just off Chapel St, opposite the old Jam Factory. I was in teaching previously.
AO: Oh, really? What did you teach?
KM: I taught art. In high school. But not everybody can be a teacher.
KM: I loved the kids, but it’s probably more the structure of school that didn’t suit me. Pretty much every day that I was teaching, I was sitting there Googling, fantasising about doing makeup. And I sort of thought, ‘Well, if that’s where my subconscious is heading, then I really need to follow my heart and do that sort of thing.‘ I teach my own private lessons as well for people, so that keeps the whole teaching cycle kind of going.
AO: So your background is in painting and sculpture, yeah? So did you train in those fields?
KM: I did. I went and did a Bachelor degree up at Latrobe –
AO: Oh, you made a better decision than me.
KM: And look! Extra chocolate!
AO: Just in case.
KM: So I studied a Bachelor of Visual Art, painting and drawing, up in Bendigo for three years. I kind of thought from there ‘Well, what do we do for a job?’, and pretty much everyone I studied with went ‘You’ve kind of got to become a teacher or a curator.’
AO: It’s depressing, isn’t it? You study for three years, and it’s generally acknowledged that you can’t get work in the field you studied in.
KM: Yeah. You’re not going to be rich, I don’t think. You do it because you love it. Same with doing makeup, really. I did the teaching thing, but it wasn’t enough, I guess.
AO: Do you still do traditional painting and sculpture, or do you just funnel all of that energy into doing makeup now?
KM: I have a little bit of a love/hate relationship with painting, oddly enough. At the moment, I’m working on a commission for a gentleman of a racehorse, so I do still do traditional painting, and I like portraiture and things like that. But I do tend to throw most of it into painting my face for makeup, and coming up with weird and wonderful ideas. I sort of just transferred canvas to face.
AO: I find it interesting that makeup artists are expected to have a very broad set of skills. Like a lot of the stuff that you’ve done for film is gory, special effects makeup, and on the other hand, you’ve got this gorgeous, natural wedding-style makeup. There’s a lot of different skills required there. I’ve often heard people say that doing natural makeup is actually the hardest thing to do. Is that the truth?
KM: To do it well, I think. I suppose knowing where the line is between making skin look flawless and making skin look like it’s covered in makeup. People will often say to me, brides especially, ‘Oh, I’m always worried about bridal makeup, because it’s really heavy.’ That’s one way of doing it, it’s not how I like to do it. You can conceal blemishes and pigmentation without caking it on. It’s the products you use and the way you go about it. That also applies to film, you’ve got to do high definition makeup, because they don’t want to see thick stage makeup onscreen. You won’t get work if you do that. So airbrushing is a really good way to layer up without getting that thick look – it looks like skin. There are also a lot of high definition foundations out there that do the same thing. So it can be hard – but I think everything’s hard!
KM: Doing everything well takes a lot of work and a lot of training. And you can never turn around and say that you know everything. There’s always going to be someone who’s got a new skill or a new technique, who’s had more time to learn it.
AO: In terms of makeup generally, and I’m talking more specifically about day-to-day makeup rather than special effects, what are the trends that you’ve been aware of recently? I feel like people have really discovered contouring in the last few years.
KM: Contouring, and the Instagram Eyebrow.
KM: I think we’ve all seen it. A lot of that’s coming from the online Youtube bloggers. Everyone’s entitled to do whatever makeup they like on their own face, and if that’s what you like, then more power to you. I don’t have a problem with it. But a lot of it, especially the eyebrow and the contouring, is what you’d do in a photoshoot sense, to highlight cheekbones and all the different things like that. Not necessarily for film, and not necessarily for walking down the street. I mean, I can do those things as well, but I don’t tend to as much. And trends come and go. Look back at the nineties, when it was big, dark smoky everything, and your 90s supermodels with the big, bushy brows. Trends do change, and I think we’ll look back at some of the trends currently, and we’ll probably giggle like we do looking back ten, twenty years ago. But I think, try everything! Especially if you’re a makeup artist, or a painter. If you can use those in your own work, go for it!
AO: I find it quite interesting that over the last few years, especially with the rise of Instagram and Youtube, I think conversation about makeup has become a lot more open. I feel like for a long time, it was kind of this secret thing that you were meant to know how to do, and you felt like an outsider if you didn’t. And there’s this real celebration now of the fact that you’re wearing makeup. People being like ‘Look at this amazing contouring I did! Look at this amazing eyebrow work I did!’ instead of just being like ‘Oh, I woke up like this.’ Which I appreciate.
KM: I think it’s great. I think it’s great as well that up-and-coming makeup artists, and people in general, can Youtube something and try something on themselves without having to spend ridiculous amounts of money. A lot of them do product reviews as well, which even myself I find helpful, because I can’t go out and buy every single product on the market, because it’s astronomical money. So I think that they have the right place at the right time. It’s not something I do personally, because I’m a bit of a technophobe. I do face work on Instagram, but that’s about as far as it goes. But a lot of their work is the online thing. And they make really good businesses out of it, which is really wonderful. Myself as a kid, I didn’t even know being a makeup artist was a job. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it wasn’t until I was 21 and a friend of mine that I studied my Bachelor with, the art degree, she mentioned me doing effects makeup, sculpting and stuff. And I kind of had this epiphany that you could do that as a job. What?
KM: And I sort of became a bit obsessed about looking at jobs and things that you could get in the area, and a lot of behind-the-scenes footage on films as well, ‘Star Trek’ and everything like that, all the makeup artists that worked on it. I loved that. I’m a massive film geek. I just know myself that I didn’t have any exposure to any of that growing up. And I probably would have got into doing makeup a lot sooner had I known that.
AO: Do you find that the painting skills that you used when you were a painter mean that you work differently to people who’ve only ever worked on skin?
KM: I do think that when I was studying, I wasn’t afraid to try things, because I knew how to handle brushes, and colour theory and layering. Knowing the chemicals that are in the makeup, and different products is a huge help as well. I did a bit of chemistry in school, so that definitely plays along, especially with the effects makeup. Measurements and all that stuff, which I find fascinating, because I’m a bit of a geek. I guess it definitely helped. I think, too, having done a visual arts degree and teaching, for my business, I kind of came out with a bit more of a grown-up point of view when it came to dealing with people. You’re always going to come across the occasional difficult person, and my dad’s always said that how you deal with that is going to reflect on your business and yourself as a person. All your experiences play a role, I think.
AO: I really like how, on your Facebook and Instagram, you’ll regularly spend five hours just turning yourself into a painting, just to try it out.
KM: It’s because my partner won’t let me do it to him.
KM: You have to be very patient. Even with painting, it must be that side of the brain, for artists, when you sit there and you’re really into something, I can be there for eight hours and not realise that time’s past, except for the fact that you get hungry.
KM: It’s also, too, that I like to try things on myself so that I know what the model’s going to experience. I don’t think you should be putting anything on anybody that you haven’t tried on yourself. You’ve also got to see whether they’ve got any allergies, by doing spot tests on a wrist or the neck, or somewhere like that, to look for reactions. Because there are so many chemicals in everything that we use that we don’t know about, and perhaps if we did know exactly what’s in things, we might not use them so much. It’s the way it is. Using myself, I don’t complain.
AO: So what’s the biggest, most time and effort-intensive makeup you’ve done on someone over the last couple of years?
KM: I’ve done a really awesome project with a director called Todd Farley, a dark comedy which had a zombie character in it. That took us about four hours each morning, to get him ready. He was an absolute trooper of an actor. Sat very patiently for the whole five days, and put up with us doing that to him.
AO: Did you create all those prosthetics as well?
KM: We did, yeah. So we took a head cast of Kyle, the actor, and on top of that, you make a clay positive, and on top of that you sculpt your bone structure and your wounds and everything. Then you bake it in a foam, which takes about three hours per piece, and then you stick it on him and colour it. You should actually colour it beforehand, which I know now, to make it quicker. Poor darling. So it’s a bit of a big process, but the overall effect is quite cool.
AO: With all the wound makeup, did you learn how to do that as part of your training, or was it self-taught?
KM: A bit of both. A lot of my training was beauty based, but it did have a section of effects makeup which was mostly out of kit, which means any materials you’ve got in your small kit, you can make wounds and things. I quite like the challenge of that, because you’re sculpting as you go, and colouring as you go. It does take a bit longer. But I’ve also done workshops and things since then, and obviously online, books, teaching yourself. A lot of it, regardless of studying at school, you’re going to self-teach, because there’s such a massive amount of techniques and everything out there that you can’t learn it in twelve months. It takes a lifetime to learn those things, and you learn through different people that you work with. I’ve been assisting a really awesome effects artist, Liz Jenkins, for just over a year now. She does brilliant spatter effects and everything like that. She’s good fun to work with. And she has no problem explaining something to you, or showing you things. She’s a really great teacher, and I love working with people like that. Like you were saying earlier, how it felt like a really closed-off little niche world where no-one can know anything outside it – I feel like the information is there and people are going to find it if they want it, and you explaining something to someone isn’t going to mean that they’re going to take your job. In any way. Because you get your jobs through the people you know. I think that attitude is changing a bit these days, especially with all the Youtube kids that are out there, teaching themselves. I think it’s really inspiring. They teach me things. I’ll be like ‘Oh, I didn’t think of mixing that! Awesome! I’ll have a go.’
AO: I find all these gore special effects really interesting, because things that look good to the eye often don’t look good to the camera. And I feel like learning that must be such a tedious, frustrating experience, of being like ‘Yeah, I crushed it!’ and then looking at it through the split and being like ‘Oh, it looks rubbish.’
KM: ‘That’s not real.’ That’s true. It depends on lighting, too. Sometimes, with blood for example, you’ve got to use a brighter blood for certain lighting, so you have to check with your gaffers and your DOPs and everybody, and ask ‘Okay, what colour lighting are we using? How are we shooting it?’ If you need something to splatter across the room, it’s got to be a different thickness and colour, again, because it’s flying through light, than what you’re going to put on the body. A lot of the ones you use for splattering around the place you can’t ingest, so anything you put on or near the mouth has to be edible. They do make those, which are often far too bright, but you can tone it down. You can make it yourself with food colouring – there’s a lot of recipes out there, but they stain like anything, so bear that in mind.
Even with the prosthetics that we’ll stick on, again, it looks good to the eye, but once you put it on camera, you tend to need to put a lot of red and pink tones in silicone prosthetics. You do that because in your own skin, you’ve got all the different colours underneath. Our skin is a little bit translucent – it’s not clear, obviously, or you’d see right through us. So you’re trying to mimic that. But I’ve done projects where I’m like ‘Yeah, it looks great to the eye,’ and you get it on camera and hit it with the lights and it stands out as this white piece, and you think ‘Right, I’ve got to go back in and lay more colour.’ So it might look too red to the naked eye, but things look funny through the camera. You can’t always predict it. You do your best, but it’s not an exact science, and it’s always talking with production teams, making sure they’ve got enough time allowed in case there is anything you need to change.
AO: I’ve seen on your Facebook, you’ve done quite a lot of blisters and burns and really quite revolting effects. When you’re researching that, is there a lot of looking at those actual wounds?
KM: There is, yeah. So those ones are mostly out of kit, because I like the challenge of trying to be made to do it there and then. There’s a few little Instagram medical accounts that I follow that put up, for education value, different wounds and interesting things like that. So I tend to find some of those and try to copy them as best as I can and gross people out, why not.
KM: A lot of that is for my own practice. If you don’t practice you lose it, same with art. Same with anything else. After a while, you can’t look at the research photos any more. You know, we’re all human. I can only disassociate for so long before it’s like ‘That’s enough, we’ll turn it off.’ But mostly, things are fine, because I tend to look at an injury more in terms of how I can make it as a makeup, so you’re kind of separating it in your mind. But if anyone looked at my phone, they’d think I was a fruit loop, because it’s just full of all these gory, cut-off fingers and goodness knows what else!
AO: In terms of day-to-day makeup, do you wear makeup most days?
KM: No. I wear makeup because I have to, to work. Like any kind of uniform. But day-to-do, I don’t bother. Probably the most I’d do is fill in my gappy eyebrows, put on some mascara, but I didn’t get into makeup because I liked wearing it. A lot of people do. But I got into makeup because I like creating things on other faces. It’s not about me. It might be why I don’t go too heavy on the makeup generally.
AO: When it comes to covering blemishes and imperfections, at what point does makeup stop being able to create a flawless look?
KM: Depends what it’s for. I mean, you use your basic colour theory – green cancels red, and orange cancels blue for the dark circles and things like that. And various concealers will cover things up. It’s probably more if anybody has anything like cystic acne, or scabs are difficult to cover up, and that’s more to do with a texture thing than necessarily a colour thing. So I can kill colour, I can even your skin out. But you’re going to get them under light on camera, so it’s still going to show. It’s probably more how they feel in themselves that matters. And a lot of the time when I’m working with a client it’s 50% makeup and 50% psychology and talking to people. Because basically, your job is to make people feel good. It should be, anyway. That should be your aim at the end of the day. It’s not about what I think looks good on somebody, it’s how they feel in themselves. So I’m always making sure people tell me honestly whether they want something changed before I go, because I don’t know how you like your face to look. And I’m not here to tell you how to look. Some people say ‘I trust you, do what you want.’ But I always ask ‘What colours do you normally wear? Do you like a heavy base?’ Because they might say that, but then say ‘I don’t like a heavy base, I like neutral colours.’ And if I’ve just gone a dark smoky eye with contouring and those eyebrows that you see on Instagram, you won’t pay me. Nobody would. You’d be scared. I’d be scared if someone did that to me.
KM: Sometimes people will also show you a photo and say ‘I want this.’ But that looks amazing on this model, with that face shape, and that colouring, in that lighting, that’s been edited to goodness knows what. And then you’re not dark-haired, you’re blonde. You’ve got blue eyes, not brown. And you’re not olive-skinned. So things are going to look different, and it’s probably more explaining that to people. And I always start lighter and go darker. It’s far easier to add more than to go black and then you can’t go back.
AO: In terms of the stuff that you do for yourself, what are the things that you’re particularly interested in pursuing? Because obviously the work that you get paid to do is not always the stuff that really excites you, as an artist, generally. So if someone was like ‘Hey Kate, I’ve got this massive budget, and you’ve got access to all the equipment that you could need’, what would that job be?
KM: So many things. I want to make a prop alien. A friend of mine’s an engineer, and he’s got plans to do it, but neither of us have got the money. So we do just geek out and talk about it, but we want to make a rod puppet that’s around a third-sized alien guy. Really, it’d be great if that could be used in a film or something like that. I’m always fascinated by animatronics, but useless when it comes to that sort of stuff, so it’s probably more hanging out with people who are good at it, and coming up with some collaborative things. So yeah, that little alien pops into my head. I’ve got a whole list of things in my head that I want to do. I’m talking with a photographer, Sean, who I’ve done a lot of work with recently, and we were saying that we need to write down, similar to the 12 months of the Art Olympics, write everything down and just knock one off every month, to feel like we’re getting somewhere. Otherwise it’s just this massive bucket list. Maybe that’d be it, if I had lots of money. I’d just write the ideas out and get them done.
AO: Do you have an example of one of the ones that would be on that list?
KM: I’ve got a photoshoot idea I’d like to do, with almost making someone into a tree. But doing the four seasons. Mixing model, makeup, get a really good editor on board, throw in some leaves, some colour. It’s just floating around in my head. I haven’t put pencil to paper yet, which I probably should do. I think if I write it down, I have to do it, so I haven’t done it yet. I’m intimidated by the idea.
AO: Have you worked with anyone high profile? What have those relationships been like?
KM: I worked with Travis McMahon and Simone Buchanan earlier this year on a little film. It actually didn’t get finished unfortunately, but it was really wonderful to meet and work with people who have been doing it for a long time, and have had careers in the industry. And how incredibly professional and lovely they were was really great to see as well. I put a tattoo on Travis that I’d made, a tribal one on his hand, and I finished, and I said ‘What do you think?’, and he looked down and said ‘Fuck yeah!’ That was the best compliment I’ve ever had, I was like, ‘Yes!’ That felt like a win. And that’s it. That’s all you have to say to me the whole shoot, I’m happy.
KM: Those little things. I want to make the experience as good as I can for everybody. I love film, and it’s not an easy job, but you do it because you love it.
AO: So in terms of people who inspire you, who are people that you keep coming back to for inspiration?
KM: Lots of artists. It’s always been art. I guess that’s because it’s where my background is. There’s this guy, Marcello Castellani. And a lot of the time, I’ll come across people who’ve done artwork on old mannequins, which I find fascinating. There’s this one – they’d painted sand and stuff on a mannequin, and I thought ‘I’ll try to do this as a makeup.’ It’s weird, a lot of people don’t always understand what I’m doing. But it’s made of sugar. I just jumped in the shower and it all dissolved. But most of the creative stuff that I’ve done is probably inspired by an artwork. This one was a collaboration with Pat Fox, he’s a graphic designer who does a lot of bands in Melbourne. So this was a collab we did for a band called Gatherer a few months ago last year. He’d sent them a bunch of my just being weird makeups and they like all the creative weird-y stuff, and they saw this one, of me being a tropical fish, and they liked that, so we went off that. That one’s from nature, I suppose. I don’t really have a solid answer for you, because I get inspiration from everywhere. And nowhere – something just in your head, I suppose.
AO: And did you have a challenge for people this month?
KM: Yes. So, often with eye makeup, we stick to sultry black with our smokey eyes, or white or nude pencils to brighten our eyes. So I thought that people could be brave and try a bold pop of colour on their inner rim, the waterline, to see which brings out the colour of their eyes the most. I should say that most pencil and crayons eye liners will be safe for the water line but do read packaging carefully before you try it out. A good tip is to use a clean cotton tip to dry off your waterline before applying the liner. It means the colour will go on more opaque and last longer. Some bright colours to try are aqua blues, emerald greens, electric purples and bright oranges, or if you want something a little more subtle, try metallic – gold, silver or rose gold.
AO: That’s excellent. Thanks very much for that!
You can find Kate’s work at her website here, and on Instagram here
Kate has also put together a great list of educational books and cruelty-free brands for anyone interested in makeup artistry – check them out!
Rae Morris Books -
1. Timeless Makeup
2. Quick looks
3. Express Makeup
Napoleon Perdis -
4. Forever Flawless
Special Effects Makeup - FX Makeup:
1. Special Makeup Effects for Stage and Screen: Making and Applying Prosthetics, 2nd Edition by Todd Debreceni
2. A Complete Guide to Special Effects Makeup by Tokyo SFX Makeup Workshop
Cruelty-free cosmetics brands to check out:
Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics / OCC / Ship internationally
NYX / Now selling in Target
Australis Cosmetics / Priceline chemists
Tarte cosmetics / Vegan
For anyone in Sydney - Sephora have a list of their cruelty free items.