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A Makeup Artist Invents the Mixing Palette We’ve Been Wanting All Along

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They say necessity is the mother of invention. Crystal Hamilton, a makeup artist based in Santa Monica, California, saw a gap in the market for portable, ergonomic and hygienic makeup palettes. She developed the Paw Palette for herself, but their adorable shapes and ingenious design charmed beauty insiders and sparked a business. We spoke to the entrepreneur about how she came up with her brilliant product and how she balances her thriving company with her busy work as a makeup artist.

B: How did you come up with the Paw Palette?

I had always seen makeup artists on TV use the back of their hand to apply makeup, because it’s easier and faster [than traditional palettes]. But when I went to makeup school, they said, ‘You can’t do that, that’s a no-no.’ You can wash your hands and scrub them all you want, but when you’re working on different models you need to practice safe, sanitary habits. So I had to figure out a way to get that back. I figured there must be something like that out there, but I was searching and searching and I couldn’t find a palette like that anywhere.

I definitely took a lot of time to think about how I wanted the palette to work. I wanted it to suit me; the main reason I made it was for me. I’m very much into comfort and efficiency, and I wanted both of my hands free. One day I was at Home Depot and I saw this acrylic material and started playing with it. The palettes are made out of high-grade acrylic—a lightweight, non-porous material—and there’s an elastic strap so that it’s comfortable to wear for all sizes.

B: What were some of the early prototypes like?

I kept the very first one. You can see the professionalism go up from the first Paw Palette. I outsource the strap now, but I used to glue them on a regular elastic strap, and it was not pretty [laughs]. To disguise it, I covered the whole back with matte black paint, and I tried to pretty it up with sparkles.

When I first started making the palettes, the gallery I was working at would cut the acrylic for me. The first one was a square, but people suggested I make different shapes. The heart and lips were the first shapes, and the cutesiness of it really captured everyone’s eye. So now I’m always playing around with different shapes. After cutting I hand-sand, buff, and polish them so that they’re smooth and non-porous.

B: The paw palette is designed to be worn in many different ways; on the wrist, back of the hand, arm. What’s your style?

On set I’ll usually wear it on the back of my wrist like a watch or a bracelet. I use the small ones for beauty makeup and the larger ones for bodypainting. I like the magnetic version because I can have a different palette for each actor so I don’t have to waste any product. I can just put each one down and come back to it when I need to do touch-ups. It keeps me organized on set, and then at the end of the day I just throw my dirty brushes into a bag and the dirty palettes into another.

B: Can you tell us about the challenges you faced in starting the brand?

A lot of people don’t know that this product exists, so getting the product out there has been a challenge. I’m not a pushy salesperson, so being a makeup artist is great because I’m able to build awareness of the Paw Palette. When I’m wearing the different shapes and sizes on set, people say, “What is that? I like your bracelet.” It’s a great conversation starter.

B: Do you have any plans to branch out into any other projects?

Oh yes, I’m actually working on a stencil line right now! I do a lot of airbrush makeup. In fact, I started out doing airbrush in a T-shirt shop at a waterpark. I then apprenticed at an auto body shop, and I almost went into tattooing. I remember having the money to invest in either one, but I’d already invested so much in makeup. I definitely consider makeup an art.

B: How do you balance your makeup artistry business with your entrepreneurial ventures?

For me, it’s vital to have different occupations. I’m so passionate about art and creating things. Sometimes I feel like I’m wearing myself a little bit thin, but at the end of the day I really enjoy doing all these different things. I have lots of things in my brain, and I’m always itching to start the next project. My friends have to say, “Calm down. One thing at a time.”

B: Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs?

I had the idea for a long time before I actually started. You can’t procrastinate, you have to just start. You can fix the bugs as you go.