Classic Kevyn Aucoin Makeup Lesson #1: Contouring

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Gwyneth Paltrow as Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (from Face Forward, 2000, Little, Brown and Company)

In this exclusive series, we're celebrating the work and life of one of the most celebrated makeup artists of all time, the late Kevyn Aucoin. Kevyn was known for making application techniques accessible to everyone, perhaps nowhere more so than in his two most famous how-to books, Making Faces and Face Forward. From those tomes, we've adapted four basic makeup lessons. 

Follow along with part 1 to learn secrets and tricks for contouring, in Kevyn's own words. 

Contouring 101

The face is made up of areas that protrude and recede. By playing with foundation colors noticeably or subtly darker or lighter than your own natural skin tone, you can create startling and dramatic results. A nose can be sharpened, a brow can be lifted, a cheek can be carved out, all by carefully placing and—most importantly—blending, makeup products.

Dark colors shade and make areas of the face recede. Light colors highlight and make features come forward. This photo is really an illustration of the contours of the face. The application is exaggerated, and not to be taken too literally. It’s meant to show how highlighting and contouring, when carefully applied and blended, can add definition to the face.

Before you begin, close your eyes and feel your face for the structure and placement of the bones underneath. Once you have a good idea of what you are working with physically, it becomes much easier to enhance your overall appearance.

The art of makeup is blending. Failing to merge one color into another will cause the makeup to look like a paint-by-numbers painting. The most wonderful makeup application can be completely ruined by the sight of a “tide line,” where foundation ends and the true color of the skin begins.

An example of contouring, before and after, on Kevyn's sister Carla (from Making Faces, 1999, Little, Brown and Company)

Read more about Kevyn's life here and see some of his most famous work here