Why Some Artists Think Color Theory is Unnecessary

Reporters/writers often fire off questions to us artists in interviews and like everyone else, artists typically say whatever first comes to mind when nervous. Most artists are self-taught and don’t know how to articulate what they do. Many keep layering colors until they get it right with no rhyme or reason or grasp of why something finally worked. And far more than you realize didn’t nail something with makeup but it was fixed with retouching, However, artists are often quoted in magazines, when they are really just flying by the seat of their pants. I’m not saying all artists don’t know what they are doing. But with thousands of artists becoming well known through magazines, Youtube, online blogs, etc. There is an awful lot of misinformation in our industry.

Some truth and facts. This won’t please some people. But those that know me, appreciate my no B.S. truths. Everyone has an opinion. Their opinions are formulated based on ones  personal preference as well as to the extent of whatever people have found that works for them. But the majority of society is satisfied with what they think is “good enough,” while some want to know and understand more details to become “really good” and some people strive to truly master their craft. Keep in mind that everyone “claims” to want to master their craft, and many that have been doing makeup for many years have convinced themselves that they have mastered their craft. But realistically, very few people are willing to put in the time, effort, training and hard work to put their newfound knowledge and wisdom into action that transforms their work and career into success. Those are the ones that I thrive on teaching and mentoring.

People that say you don’t have to know color theory to do makeup. I suppose that is true since most artists don’t know much more than green cancels red. But those are often the same people that own a green concealer but they don’t use it because when they tried it, they simply ended up with green zits instead of red zits. I have talked about this issue when I’ve spoken on stage at The Makeup Show LA, IMATS in London, Los Angeles and Sydney as well as The Australian Beauty Expo, International Congress of Esthetics and both of the Face & Body Expo’s. EVERYTIME with as many as 400+ people in the audience, over half the room raises their hand when I ask who owns a green concealer but stopped using it because you just ended up with green spots?! Think about it… THAT is just the ones that weren’t too embarrassed to admit it.

Color theory is SCIENCE. It is not my opinion or yours. It DOES work 100% of the time. However, when people try it and it doesn’t work. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, so they tend to say it’s lame, unnecessary or whatever makes them feel better. With everything in life that doesn’t work out. We’ve got 2 choices, claim we are over it and move on. Or continue to spend time trying things differently, analyzing the results until we figure it out/master it. The Science of Color Theory is TRUTH. For all those that have tried to utilize color theory to custom mix a color, to camouflage something, to enhance something, etc and it didn’t work… It’s most likely not the color that went wrong. It is one or more of the things you DON’T know about skin, product formulas, coverage, texture/finish, ingredients, tools and application techniques that screwed it up. I sincerely wish that more people understood that.

My heart literally aches each time an artist puts down color theory, says it’s not important or relative. But not for the person that claims such things, but for the thousands of aspiring artists that believe it and that will repeat it making the truth a distant memory at some point. Like I always say, “You don’t know what you don’t know until someone enlightens you to what you didn’t know.

What used to be believed and was taught 20-30 years ago is completely different than what we know today when it comes to skin tones. We used to think and teach that there were blue undertones. But there are not. The famous model that was posted earlier is Alek Wek, she is known as the darkest skin model there is… She is often referred to as having a blue undertone. This is an old myth that started with hair color. We used to say that hair was so dark it was blue-black. So people assume that if she is extremely dark, then we should call her that too. I have not worked with her myself but one of my grads that has worked on her several times at Paris & London Fashion week on Pat McGrath’s team. And additionally, famous, celebrity makeup artist Sam Fine, who is known for working on dark skin has worked with Alek Wek many times. I interviewed Sam Fine once for a magazine article I was writing called “Politically Correct Makeup for People of Color”. You can read that other celebrity artists were also interviewed including Kevyn Aucoin.

Here is my take on why so many women and even makeup artists are confused about color and foundation matching… Cosmetic brands are run by executives around a board table who typically know nothing about makeup. These brands often hire and trust makeup artists to consult and give advice on colors and sadly many brands are unknowingly given some very bad advice. (Have you seen the eye shadow palettes created for specific eye colors?! I’ve YET to see one that is accurate!) Unaware of the bad advice, many brands label things strangely which just adds to the confusion in the industry. Like Bobbi saying that 99% of people are yellow, Lauder saying that everyone is either Blue or Yellow, Prescriptives (another Lauder company) came out with Yellow/Orange, Red/Orange, Red/Blue, etc. No mention of us olive people anywhere. Hence why most brands don’t even make any olive colors and why so many olive people either don’t wear foundation or often look gray from wearing all the colors with pink in them. Which is all but yellow or olive. Such as coral, golden, warm or cool peach (or what ever you prefer to call them.) So on an olive skin, the little bit of pink in all of those colors above turns the little bit of green in an olive skin a little bit gray… Now if you disregard color theory, you are likely THIS makeup artist! Then MAC didn’t help with their C, W, NW, NC crap calling yellow cool and pink warm. and starting the “Neutral” craze that simply means a toned down, more muted color achieved by adding gray. The word neutral has ZERO to do with the actual color because everything is considered either a warm or a cool color. Not to be confused with the lightness or darkness of the color, which is an entirely different thing all together.

There is a HUGE difference in undertones and surface tones. We are born with our undertones and that never changes. However, as we age, we develop surface tones. Such as suntan, sunburn, redness, broken capillaries, freckles, self tanner, hyper-pigmentation, sun damage, etc.) Women typically only start to wear foundation once they’ve accumulates surface tones and their skin no longer looks like the even complexion they once had. So we start off wearing foundation to hide the surface tones and trying to still look youthful and healthy. Those that have not mastered color theory and instead, focus on MATCHING the skin with it’s surface tone problem are just taking peoples original undertones and now adding their surface tones together and spreading it out all over their face. I see it everyday is 90% of images posted on Facebook. Again… people don’t know what they don’t know.

Years ago a very famous makeup artist was interviewed in Allure for an article about determining best eye makeup colors for each eye color. This artist (who shall remain nameless) said that yellow is across from blue on the color wheel so to use yellow eye shadow on blue eyes… And also that women with brown eyes should wear silver eye shadow to enhance brown eyes. Fellow brown eye’s girls out there know that most of us look hideous with silver eye shadow. And the blue-eyed ladies know that yellow is not your friend. But because the artist is a big name, no one questioned it.

My best advice is this… Stop asking strangers for advice, especially when a large majority of those that reply don’t work as artists or industry professionals, or even have a portfolio, or at least a great one, or their last shoot was in 1992, or all of their images are photo-shopped so extreme that you aren’t sure if they do makeup or they are a cartoonist. Also, sorry to be the bearer of more bad news but, if you heard it on Youtube… It’s almost certainly NOT true or accurate at all.  Research is not asking for free advice in a Facebook group! If you want great training and you truly desire to master your craft, you need to do your research, enroll with the best, pay for training and then work hard to master your craft. There are 1,000’s of schools and artists that teach but very few have strong resumes, portfolios, stellar reputations, and success stories of those they’ve trained. A huge reason why so many aspiring artists are not working or making a living is because they didn’t do their research and instead enrolled at a school that is close to their house. Stop the madness. If you wish to learn what was necessary to do makeup for a living and especially those that desire to work with major magazines, celebrities, designers at NY, Paris, London, Milan Fashion Week, be signed by an agency and do major campaigns, etc. Then stop asking for free advice from strangers on a free social networking sites and spend your time doing research and working a second job if need be to achieve your goals.

Love and Wisdom