Contouring 101

Written by Dorothy Petersen, Pro Makeup Artist


 Have you always wanted to try contouring but afraid that you'll end up looking like a contestant on RuPaul’s “Drag Race”? Most women are!

The art of defining bone structure was epitomized in early film and debuted in black and white.  While you couldn't see a starlet’s blue eyes or red lips, contouring and highlighting were a way to showcase the symmetry and features of a woman's face.  Lighting and makeup were all the smoke and mirrors that an actress needed.... o Botox or fillers, the natural beauty of yesteryear was only the chiseled features created through the magic and the talent of the makeup artist.  Transitioning your favorite big screen, red carpet, and drag-contour looks to your everyday routine are easier than you think.  Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind while achieving your customized contour for your face shape.  Remember these are is art and art is subjective.

      First things first:  Pick a powder contour color that is cool in undertone and about two shades deeper than your natural skin tone.  A shadow is always cool in color so while using bronzer isn't “wrong”, warm sun-kissed skin will give you a different look than the desired outcome of correct contouring.  While other mediums for contour exist, I find that powder is the most foolproof for beginners. Stores like Sephora have made choosing the right shade for your complexion easier than ever.

    Next is placement of color:  The cheeks, jawline and forehead are the main features that can be altered slightly while making the biggest impact. Look in the mirror and make a fish face by sucking in your cheeks. Using either a large fluffy eyeshadow brush or a small blush brush, start at the top of your ear and apply color from the hairline into the hollow you’ve created, ending approximately 2 inches from the edge of your nostril.  I like to use windshield wiper strokes back and forth and then in circular motions.  This way you will always have a blended contour and no streaks.

    To minimize a double chin or define a jaw, (with the same cheek contour brush) apply from under the chin and blend out towards your ear in the same back and forth, then circular motions, which will soften the color down your neck.  Most women’s necks are lighter than their face and decollate, so blending is very important, especially in this region.

      If you have a five head (vs a forehead) like me, proper contouring places emphasis on your eyes, not on your hairline.  To create the optical illusion of a smaller forehead, shadow your hairline from temple to temple, stopping at the tail of each eyebrow and in circular motions.  Again, this will vary according to the size and shape of your face.

Remember that the point of contouring is to enhance some features and subdue others.  You should never see a definitive line ANYWHERE on your face.  Application of your makeup is also ideal near a naturally sunlight window. Mother Nature never lies.  If you’ve gone a little heavy handed with your contour color, you can soften it with all over translucent face powder.  

If after all of my words of wisdom you still manage to resemble David Bowie circa 1987, it may be necessary to call in the big guns.  A pro makeup artist can come to you.  You can visit a beauty bar or try a department or retail store. There are plenty of qualified beauty consultants that are able to help you master the art of contour.

Photo Credit: Zachary James

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