To the sure sound of November rain and 6 p.m. traffic, Palo Alto High School junior Ellen Song speaks with her hands. Her fingers spell out warmth in fluttering strokes, sweeping gold shimmer over an eyelid, coaxing lashes into inky focus. She works under a silver halo of light bulbs, above the shiny white floor of salon Parasol Beauty Atelier, whose employees have lent her the front room to demonstrate her skills on her friend.
“You want to make sure that you thin and blur the edges really well,” she says, as her brushes punctuate the air with shouts of black and whispers of pink.
Song doesn’t want these colors to look caked on. She wants her composition to look seamless — a subtle blend of flesh and fantasy.
Most high school students don’t speak the language of makeup as seriously as Song does. But the number of enthusiasts seems to be growing thanks to makeup’s entrance into the Internet, bringing the contents of Vogue editorials to beauty blogs and YouTube videos. With the realm of cosmetics at its most accessible, Paly makeup enthusiasts like Song utilize their passion for beauty in a variety of ways, from online videos to stage tech, elevating lipstick and eyeshadow to a means of transformation.
NOT YOUR MOM’S LIPSTICK
Junior Julia Hong, another makeup enthusiast, can’t name the exact moment she got interested in makeup. Hong remembers experimenting with it as a little girl sitting playing with her mother’s cosmetics on the bathroom counter. Nowadays a large part of her beauty endeavors take place online, in the form of her YouTube channel.
“I think just being a part of the YouTube beauty community is one of the best parts of all of this,” she says. “Yes, girls who put themselves on the Internet talking about girly things into a camera does seem weird to some people and we do get teased a lot, but at the end of the day, we are doing what we love, and we are making money off of it.”
Hong’s channel boasts over 14,000 views, with videos ranging from celebrity -inspired makeup tutorials to other beauty related topics. The money, Hong says, comes from beauty company advertisements and the YouTube partner program, which allows users to monetize their videos by displaying advertisements.
Paly senior Kaelyn Apple Grace also displays her beauty skills on YouTube, and spends around five to six hours a week working on or watching videos centered on various beauty-related topics. Her number one viewed video, she says, has around 9,000 hits.
“I think that social media has definitely broadened the spectrum of how much people are exposed to makeup wise,” Grace says.
TEN TIMES THICK
As members of the stage tech crew, both Song and Grace have taken their love for makeup from the web to the Haymarket Theater, helping design and create the makeup looks of Paly actors.
“The makeup’s going to be really awesome since it’s kind of like a twisted fairy tale,” Song says, regarding “Into the Woods,” the next musical being put on by Paly theater.
The process requires a lot of trial and error, according to Song. Before they lay product to skin, makeup artists spend time in the theater meeting with the actors and brainstorming, and then finalizing their designs.
“When it’s closer to the play’s opening night I almost live there,” Song says.
According to Grace, stage makeup differs dramatically from makeup in its other forms. Whereas for a photo shoot a makeup artist might go two steps further than an everyday look, theater makeup might need 10 times as much product, she says.
“Theater makeup is a lot different due to the lighting and such,” Grace says. “There’s a lot of contouring you have to do, and it’s a lot of work making sure that the actor or actress doesn’t look washed out.”
The theater calls for a more unusual repertoire of looks. For instance, “The Crucible,” the most recent Paly production, involved a lot of age makeup, Grace says. Song also experiments with the theatrical by playing with Halloween makeup.
“I love wound makeup, like really creepy zombie stuff,” she says. “It doesn’t even have to be glamorizing, you know?”
MAKE IT OR BREAK IT
In addition to her work online and on stage, Grace has dabbled in business as a professional makeup consultant.
“My grandma works as a fashion consultant so I kind of knew how you’re supposed to work with clients,” Grace says. “I just kind of started telling people that I knew how to do makeup and such and then they would just kind of give me a call or e-mail me whenever they would want makeup done.”
Grace says her favorite looks are the one she creates for photo shoots, including ones that she’s modeled for — she says she tends to be more creative when working on herself. Her makeup collection, which she says is enough to fill an entire bookcase, includes a portable kit for makeup freelancing.
Although Song says her makeup collection still needs work, she has also gained professional makeup experience by interning at the salon Parasol Beauty Atelier last summer. In addition to folding towels and working the front desk, Song offered her makeup skills as a complimentary addition to beauty and skin care treatments. She had e-mailed numerous salons, Song says, and Parasol was the only one to e-mail back.
“[Makeup is] such a competitive industry,” she says. “It’s kind of like make it or break it.”
Unlike Grace, who ultimately aspires to be a horse trainer or competitive horseback rider, Song hopes to pursue makeup as a career. Song describes herself as creatively inclined, but otherwise can’t state an exact reason for why she wants to be a makeup artist — it just feels right.
“It’s one thing to be good at something, but this is what I could feel like I could see myself doing for the rest of my life,” she says.
Back at the salon, the rain outside ceases and every reflection seems brighter
compared to the darkening sky. Song leans over a red-framed mirror and layers a color named “vixen” on her lips.
She doesn’t wear this dramatic of a lip on a daily basis. In fact, Song doesn’t believe in always putting on a full face of make-up, saying she prefers to live a simple life. The girl behind the mirror is someone beyond the everyday, a small step into a different reality.
“I like that fact that you can work with someone and they’ll look totally different after,” Song says, of applying makeup on others. “Or not totally different. Just enhanced.”