Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Give Your Make-up the Brush!

My Grandfather, George, started out as a stage actor. To all appearances, George had everything going for him. He was tall and slender, had matinee idol good looks, a mellifluous voice, and he moved with grace and self assurance on stage. There was just one teeny, weeny problem. He could never remember his lines. Worse yet, instead of just waiting for the prompter in the wings to throw him the line, he would make one up to the annoyance of the Director and the exasperation of his fellow actors.

Eventually, however, George found his true calling in the theater. He became a very successful make-up artist.

There were five huge steamer trunks in our basement, most of which held my grandparents’ theatrical costumes and my mother’s evening gowns. But one trunk held everything George needed to turn an ordinary actress into a ravishing Desdemona or a handsome young actor into a wizened Richard III.

On hot summer days, my brother and I would sneak down to the basement, delighting in the cool flagstone floor on our bare feet, and open my Grandfather’s magical trunk. The musty odor of spirit gum and Stein’s grease paint would almost knock us over, but we loved it. This was how the theater smelled.

I was very young when George died, but my memories of him are still vivid. When my grandparents went out for a special evening, George always did Marie’s make-up. She wore only Max Factor off stage. I would watch as he chose a particular brush. Some of her brushes he had fashioned himself, trimming here, reshaping there. “You need the right tool for the right job,” he would say. “It’s all in the brush and the stroke.”

My Grandfather would have been delighted at the amazing array of make-up brushes available today on and off the stage, although I have no doubt he would have snipped a bit here and there to suit himself. Still, it’s pretty clear that, like make-up itself, make-up brushes have come a long way, Baby.

So, how do you select the right tool (i.e., brush) for the right job? Well, here are a few things you need to know before you buy a make-up brush.

There are basically three types of make-up brushes:

1) Natural bristle;
2) Synthetic bristle; and
3) A combination of natural and synthetic bristles.

Did I lose you yet? Hope not. Here’s where it all gets demystified.

1) Natural bristle brushes work best with powdered make-up (face powders and blushes and eye shadows);

2) Synthetic bristle brushes work best with creamy make-up (concealers, cream blushes, and cream eye shadows); and

3) Combination bristles work best with liquid make-up (foundation).

Have I lost you yet? Good. Here’s where it all gets useful. These are the make-up brushes you need for your face. (We’ll talk about lips and eyes next time.)

If you wear liquid or cream foundation, this synthetic brush with graduated bristles and an arched top from Sephora works beautifully. The arched top makes it easier to get into all those little nooks and crannies around your eyes, nose and mouth.

Because synthetic bristles do not absorb as much product as natural bristles, you will find that you waste less product than using sponges or fingers and it will go on evenly and without streaking.

And clean up is a breeze.

Smaller versions of this brush are perfect for applying your concealer.

This natural bristle brush with graduated bristles and a rounded top from Laura Mercier is perfect for applying translucent loose powder. If you are wearing foundation or tinted moisturizer, powder is essential for setting your make-up.

Natural bristles are perfect for loose or compact face powder. I dip my brush in the powder, tap on the side and press the powder into my face. Then, I take the clean side and lightly brush it over my face to remove any excess. Voilà! A sheer, light finish.

Here’s something I bet you didn’t know. Moisture is added to loose powder to turn it into pressed compact powder. So, if you have dry skin, you might prefer using pressed powder rather than loose powder. It doesn’t have quite the staying power, but it may look less dry and more dewy on your skin and it’s much easier to carry around for touch ups.

This brush or a smaller version of it also works beautifully for powdered blush.

This Kabuki brush from Sephora, a natural bristle brush, is the perfect way to apply your bronzer for an overall sun-kissed effect.

It also can be used to apply powdered blush.
The denseness of its graduated bristles allows it to pick up a fair amount of color and distribute it over a wide area.

Apply your bronzer with a light touch on areas that would naturally be touched by the sun – forehead, bridge of nose, chin – building color for effect.

A word of caution to those of us with fair skin: too much bronzer can look like dirty smudges on your face. Apply with great care, if at all. Although I love the look on others, I never wear it for that reason.

And so, Ladies, I hope I have helped to shed a little light on the subject of how to choose the right tool for the right job -- the all important job of creating your perfect face.

As my Grandfather George would say, “It’s all in the brush and the stroke.”

Next time – eyes and lips. Stay tuned.


  1. Grandfather George is smiling down on you Marie-Therese! Thanks for a beautiful article!

  2. I love reading the back story - your brother George was in my thoughts the other day as I looked at your photos from our friendship on the other site - and how interesting about your Grandfather, or should I say, how grand! Very recently, I snipped the ends of a paintbrush because it was too thick for my needs and wondered if it was "ok" (Do the pros do this?). Now I know, they do! And I am happy to say, I have many of those brushes for my make-up. One needs the right tools to perfect one's "art"!

  3. Amy, what a lovely thought. I hope Grandfather George has a heavenly smile on his face after reading it.

  4. Cynthia, you would have loved Grandfather George. He was quite a colorful character. I think he'd love knowing that every time to you snip a brush you think of him. How wonderful!

    It was my late brother, Paul, who carried on the theatrical tradition in the family. I like to think it all started with us going through George's trunks when we were kids.


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