What if you had the opportunity to represent one of the world’s biggest beauty brands? That’s exactly what happened to Toronto-based makeup artist Patricia Lee. After deciding to enter shu uemura’s North American makeup competition in 2011, the young artist was selected (along with 20 other contestants) to design three makeup looks—voted on by viewers on Facebook and YouTube! In the end, five finalists were selected to compete in a live competition judged by a panel of experts, including shu uemura’s own international artistic director Kakuyasu Uchiide. Ultimately, Patricia’s level of artistry and technique caught the judges’ eyes, and she was dubbed the brand's official North American makeup artist, in charge of education and artistry in the US and Canada. We caught up with Patricia to chat about the strategy in entering a beauty competition, what it was like working with Mr. Shu Uemura’s protégé at Paris Fashion Week, and how to stay positive in the world of makeup and social media.
B: What originally sparked your interest in makeup?
It actually started more with art than makeup. I drew a lot as a kid, and my mom put me through art classes—printmaking, sculpture, drawing. But I used to do my friends makeup when we went out, and eventually decided to take makeup courses—I like learning, and it was a new medium for me. Each person's face is different, so it's a bigger challenge than painting on a flat canvas. You have to use the face you're given, and sculpt with makeup. The course wasn't long, but the skills I learned kind of came naturally. I experimented on my own a lot, too—believe it or not, I actually learned a lot from watching YouTube videos.
B: What led you to enter shu uemura’s online competition?
I've known about the brand for a while—my older sister used their products for as long as I can remember. My aunt randomly saw an ad in a magazine and sent it to me. It was less than a week before the deadline! Luckily, my photographer friend helped me out. The overall theme of the competition was nature, so my first submission was inspired by a snowflake. It’s in line with shu's style—a clean and creative kind of beauty. I sent in my submission thinking I wouldn't get chosen.
B: Why is that?
When I first entered the competition, I honestly didn't think it would lead anywhere. I loved the positive reactions on Facebook and the support on YouTube, but I was still weary.
B: Putting yourself out there online is tough—how did you navigate the negativity?
You just have to understand that everything has its ups and downs. You get a lot of encouragement, but there's always negativity—faceless words. Just don't acknowledge it. Focus on the positive feedback and appreciation of your art form. Not everyone is going to like the same thing,—just like we all have different taste in music and clothing—and I choose to focus on the positive.
B: Three more rounds of online competition later...
Each look was so fun to create! I approached all my designs—Cherry Blossom, Mystic Jungle, and Birds of Paradise—with creativity, softness, and wearability in mind. Very in line with the brand. The most exciting part for me was exploring all the new textures.
B: You finally made it to the final (live!) challenge. What was going through your head at that moment?
It was the most nerve-wracking moment of my life. Any normal look you plan takes hours to execute—with no audience. Here I was—cameras in my face, judges walking around with clipboards, and no information on the look or the tools. They gave contestants two minutes to observe our stations, and we weren't allowed to touch anything. Strategy-wise, I tried to choose a look that other contestants might not choose—colors that were more difficult to work with. The theme was nature, and the lashes gave me my inspiration—they had a lot of yellow-orange tones, which made me think of sunsets and gradations. Not necessarily something strong, but a technical mastery of blending.
B: And after you finished?
I still wasn't sure. Once my model stepped away, I realized how subtle my look was compared to others. But the judges were looking critically at the brush technique and an aesthetic that aligned with shu uemura.
B: So you won, and flew off to Paris? Sounds like a dream.
Yes, Paris Fashion Week! Working with Kakuyasu Uchiide has been a dream. I mean, he was trained under Mr. Shu Uemura himself! We did the shows at Tsumori Chisato and Jean-Charles De Castelbajac. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
B: Hello makeup royalty—what's it like working with Uchiide?
Meaningful. He has such a warm spirit. He's a mentor by nature, so he took the time to watch and correct me backstage. He even invited me to an editorial shoot to watch him work—no one gets invited to those shoots! It's a very rare occasion to learn from him. Having a mentor and guide has been so important in building my confidence and skills.
B: Tell us about the makeup in Paris.
Tsumori Chisato was very ski resort. For the look, we used a lot of blush and rectangular eye liner—it was supposed to look like the shape of ski tracks! Jean-Charles De Castelbajac's show was surreal, set in a protestant temple. The line was inspired by black eagles. He wanted something heavy and rocker. The brand's style is quite soft, so we interpreted the look into this dark, smoldering, and feathered effect.
B: And it was your first time backstage! What’s it like?
Usually a makeup artist works on two to three models, which is how many I did. It can be quite hectic depending on the personalities, but Uchiide is very calm. After the makeup is done, you're always thinking what you could've done to make it better.
B: Your must-own shu products are...?
I cannot live without their cleansing oil, and I love their hard-formula pencil—it doesn't budge. Their brushes are on a whole other level. They use flat brushes to gradate, not blend. It's kind of what you do in painting—you don't just take a brush and fluff the pigment out. It needs precision.
B: Seems like a makeup match made in heaven. Any advice to those seeking a similar connection with a brand they love?
It's so essential to learn as much about a brand beforehand. Learn about the products, and most importantly, about the tools! Every brand has their own unique techniques, so you have to be flexible and adjust yours accordingly.