What Does “Good at Makeup” Mean to You?

I recently had a realization that I’ve been pondering ever since: I’ve been passionate about beauty for seven years, and I’ve had a beauty blog for four of those years, but I’ve never considered myself particularly good at makeup. Believe me, I’m not fishing for compliments; I’m simply stating the truth as I see it. I’m decent at makeup. I can put together a passable face in 15 minutes. I can do a simple look for daytime and a smokier one for my rare nights out. Overall, I’d give my skills a B, and I’m fairly satisfied with that grade.

At the same time, I feel slightly absurd calling myself a “beauty blogger” when I’m seldom impressed with my own creations. Granted, I’ve never claimed to be a makeup artist or a guru or whatever; this blog is a chronicle of my life as a makeup consumer, hobbyist, and overthinker. But starting a single-topic blog implies a certain level of expertise. And when I come across posts like this one, or editorials like this one, I’m reminded just how far I have to go. I don’t feel that I’m in a position to offer tips or advice, and I doubt I’ve inspired many people with my artistry. That sounds like impostor syndrome, but it really isn’t. I know that I’ll probably always be an enthusiastic amateur, and that people visit my blog mainly for the writing, and I’m fine with that. But I want to get better. I want to look in the mirror after the final swipe of lipstick and think “Wow,” not “Well, that’s probably good enough, and I certainly don’t have time to wipe it all off and start again.”

But simply resolving to “get better” isn’t good enough. What does “better” really mean? What, exactly, am I trying to improve? Which brings me to the title of this post: what does it mean to be “good at makeup”? After some thought, I’ve isolated four criteria that I’ve been using all along, albeit unconsciously, to decide whether someone is good at makeup: creativity, versatility, adaptability, and consistency. (I told you this blog was a chronicle of overthinking.)

1. Creativity

To me, “creativity” means the ability to put together looks that make people say “Why didn’t I think of that?” It means having a large repertoire of inspirations: historical decades, fashion designers, fiction, mythology, global trends. It also means bravery: the willingness to take risks on your own face, to play with unorthodox color combinations and makeup placements. When I think of creativity in the beauty realm, I think of Pat McGrath’s work for Dior in the 2000s:

Dior F/W 2009 (source)

Obviously, this sort of look isn’t viable for your average workplace. But creativity on a smaller, subtler scale can be just as compelling.

2. Versatility

If creativity is the theory, versatility is the practice. You might be able to think up ambitious concepts, but how well can you execute them? I’m sure we can all name at least one YouTube guru who has attracted criticism for creating the same look over and over with different products, or who has announced that they were going to do something “totally out of my comfort zone, you guys,” only to end up with the same old warm-toned eye and glossy nude lip. Needless to say, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having a comfort zone and a signature look. Personally, I feel most like myself with a subtle, neutral eye and a bold lip, and I doubt that will change in the near future. But I’d like to have the ability to alter my look significantly on the rare occasions when I feel like a change, and that ability eludes me much of the time.

3. Adaptability

How good are you at adapting common techniques to your own features? How well do you know the shape of your face? If you see a beautiful editorial look on a face very different from your own, can you adjust the placement and colors to make the look work for you? If you’re using a color that doesn’t usually flatter you, can you blend it with other colors to make it more flattering? Why am I asking so many questions?

4. Consistency

In scientific terms, this means that given the same products and tools, you can reproduce your results on a different day. Your liquid lipstick generally stays inside the lines; you generally don’t end up with clown cheeks unless you’re trying to. This criterion is my true Achilles heel, especially where eyeshadow is concerned. About 75% of my attempts to construct an eye look with more than three shadows end with muttered curses and a vigorous application of micellar water. Yesterday, for instance, I wanted to do a muted coral look with a touch of glitter. After 30 minutes of blending and patting and scrutinizing and blending some more, I ended up with this:

I know I still need to review Glossier Boy Brow in Clear. Suffice to say that it doesn’t hold recalcitrant brow hairs as firmly as I’d like.

Is this terrible? No. Would I have attracted pitying glances if I’d worn it out of the house? Probably not. But I’ve seen thousands of images of great eyeshadow, and I’m self-aware enough to know that this didn’t measure up. So I wiped it off and slid back into my comfort zone, producing a simpler look with two shadows and a pencil liner. I added a bold lipstick (ColourPop Dream Easy) and went about my day, feeling comfortable but a little disappointed in myself.

Really, I wrote this post because I’m very curious how other people define “good at makeup.” (I almost posted in r/muacjdiscussion before remembering I HAVE A GODDAMN BLOG.) So let me ask: do you consider yourself good at makeup? And what does the concept mean to you?

21 thoughts on “What Does “Good at Makeup” Mean to You?

  1. I think I'm probably better at the things I focus on makeup-wise than the average person. I don't think I'm good at makeup. Mostly because I define being good at makeup as something that involves some skill and creativity and I associate a lot of that with eyeshadow…and I don't wear eyeshadow very much, nor do I have an interest in eyeshadow. Even when I did, I wasn't very skilled at it. I can reliably reproduce looks – but again, I don't think any of my looks are anything special to look at, and without eyeshadow, it's pretty damn easy to do.


  2. Hm, I consider myself good at makeup, just because I can create a look that I really like with pretty much whatever product that gets into my hands. (Color product, lol. Some foundations are impossible to work with.) When I started doing makeup, I rarely liked the results (there was a looooot of frustration), but I've improved. Now, it's been a long time since I was disappointed in a look of mine. Photos, however, are a perpetual source of disappointment. I consider myself pretty, but not photogenic. Especially when I try to smile, it looks like a sad smile or a scowl. Of your criteria, I have versatility, adaptability, and consistency. Creativity–not so much. I tend to be inspired by other people who do makeup, not by films, art, etc. Another thing I can't do is \”put together a face in 15 minutes.\” I don't understand how people do that. I always apply my makeup very slowly and meticulously.


  3. I actually like that you have “above average / pretty good” skills. I don’t want to know what instafamous people think of certain products, not in the least because they receive it by the boatload for free on their doorstep. I consider myself quite good, but in a certain area: makeup that makes people look beautiful. I’m not the most creative but I know my basics and I can work on different people. I did go to makeup school in evening classes for one year so I kind of know what’s what.However, makeup is not my day job and I usually only allow myself 15-20 minutes max each morning to do my makeup before work. Hence, I don’t want to know what a professional would make of a product, I like to know how it works for the average person who just wants to look nice and a little more polished than when they rolled out of bed. And that average person also has time constraints.I want to be more creative but alas my face doesn’t always lend itself to that. So I try to be creative by switching up products I already know will look good 😉 or by reproducing certain looks I already know with slightly different colours or texture.


  4. I can put a face together in 15 limites and the secrets are: practice, know in which order to do what and how (I.e. wet foundation either needs time to set or if you don’t have time, set the powder but gently padding or pressing it in instead of wiping) I have pretty good skin so not too much time is lost on spot concealing, I don’t contour because I think it’s B.S. for average days, my brows are easy too, I use idiot proof cream eyeshadows on average days and call it a day. I don’t go in with 4 colours that need to be blended perfectly, I keep that for when I have more time. My work colleagues won’t see the difference just as they can’t distinguish Russian red from ruby woo.I have stopped to try smiling in pics which means I usually have testing bitch face ��


  5. To clarify- I also use blush and highlighter and such but the points above are only related to areas that I cut down a lot of time.


  6. I don't wear a lot of eyeshadow either, mostly because I don't want to over-emphasize my already prominent eyes or overpower my favorite part of my makeup (lipstick, obv). But part of the reason I'm not passionate about eyeshadow is that I don't think I'm very good at it, so it's become a catch-22 situation. I think I'm fine at the looks I prefer wearing (i.e. very simple ones), but I'd like to be able to create more colorful, elaborate looks at will, and I'm not quite there yet.


  7. It's funny, when I was writing this post, I was thinking of you as one of the most creative makeup bloggers I follow! You're very daring in the color schemes you put together, and a huge part of creativity (as I see it) is just having the ovaries to wear an all-purple face or a sunset eye out of the house.I don't consider myself particularly photogenic, either. I've got a very Eastern European combination of features (heart-shaped face, high/prominent cheekbones, chubby cheeks, deep-set eyes), and I think those features look good in person but a little odd in photos, especially when I smile. I can look completely different in two photos taken five minutes apart; in fact, the face-recognition tool on my iPhone thinks I'm seven different people…


  8. I'm glad you don't mind that my makeup skills aren't perfect! Like you, I enjoy following people who are just hobbyists, who have normal lives and jobs and incomes. I've learned a lot more about makeup from non-pro bloggers than from YouTube personalities. I do kind of wish I'd taken makeup classes, though. I've taught myself all the basics over the years, but it would have been nice if someone had sat me down five years ago and said \”okay, THIS is how you blend two eyeshadows together.\”


  9. Wow, thank you! Yes, I like wearing colorful or gothic looks around–I feel self-conscious at first, but then I forget it. I call it \”doing my part to keep San Francisco weird.\” I bet most people think I am a Sephora sales associate. I've never thought about this link about Eastern European features and photogenicity, but it makes sense for me, as I am 100% Eastern European and look accordingly! And as for beauty blogging, I don't expect a beauty blogger to have perfect skills and creativity in every single area, nor do I expect them to give \”tips.\” Beauty blogging is whatever you make it to be… I've always associated your blog with amazing taste in lipsticks, and I never once thought \”I wish she had more eyeshadow tutorials\” or something. (Of course, if you want to do eyeshadow tutorials in the future, I am sure they will be great!) I really resent this view of beauty blogger as some kind of \”service provider,\” I think we hobbyist beauty bloggers should write whatever we want.


  10. I much enjoyed reading this – thanks for another thought-provoking post!I consider myself good at \”everyday look\” that would be appropriate for most occasions. Recently though, I've found myself quite \”ignorant\” of certain types of makeup and \”not good\” at doing such looks. This revelation came from a very practical need while I was in a low-budget video production (not beauty related). The practical answer's clear in this case – a long lasting heavy coverage. At the same time, I'd be creative trying to find flattering colors and shapes for myself. To me, the ideal makeup is a happy medium of practicality and creativity. That would make the subject even more subjective, I guess.


  11. You're right, practicality is a really important concern. I think it falls under \”adaptability\” for me: can I adapt my favorite colors and looks for contexts in which they wouldn't necessarily be welcome?


  12. FWIW, I consider your blog to be one of only a few actual, real beauty blogs and not a continuous parade of commercials for crap the author got for free. Your writing is always interesting, your reviews are honest, and I like that you are a fellow academic with an actual life outside of beauty.I'm terrible at eyeshadow, and also don't care about it and I feel like somehow no matter what colors I wear, it always looks the same on me (most likely due to fairly hooded eyes).


  13. For me, being \”good at makeup\” means blending and making my face look natural – too often, I find that I've gone overboard with blush or bronzer, or that my foundation doesn't match my skin tone according to whatever season we're in (I freckle and tan easily), or that my eyeshadow doesn't look as seamless across the different colors as I'd like. But what I appreciate about your blog, in addition to what others have mentioned here, is that you demonstrate a trial-and-error process that so many of us who are \”normal\” makeup lovers go through. I like to play around with a look before I wear it out of the house or to a place where I need to look professional (although as a full-time grad student and mom, those places are few and far between). Sometimes things look wack AF, other times they will actually come together pretty nicely. And playing with makeup makes for a fun and relaxing break in between writing my dissertation and freaking out about writing my dissertation. The other thing I like about your approach to beauty is that you tend to go for looks that work with your own features, rather than simply following an instagram/youtube trend. That philosophy resonates a lot with me, since I have hooded monolid eyes and chubby cheeks so doing an elaborate eye look with dramatic creases, eyeliner wings, glitter corners, etc. won't work, despite how cool it looks on beauty influencers. So when I see you going for eye looks that contrast nicely with your eye color, or bring out the depth in your crease, for instance, it makes me happy to see how relatively simple eye makeup can play up features that are striking and beautiful on their own.


  14. I swear, I think you read my mind for this post. I've been watching makeup videos since 2009, and I still don't consider myself \”good\” at makeup. I'm honestly not even sure what I would qualify as good. I can tell you if I see someone's makeup and I like it, but I'm not sure about the commonalities between those looks. You've given me something to think about. Thanks for the wonderful post!


  15. Thank you! ❤ I have no real interest in the opinions of beauty bloggers and influencers who blog and influence (??) for a living. Sometimes I enjoy them as entertainment, but I'm far more inclined to trust the recommendations of someone who has a life outside of posting FOTDs on Instagram. That's why I love Kimberly Clark's "What Happened to Your Face?" series–it's really helpful to see how makeup wears during the course of a normal day or night (even if my normal days and nights don't involve drag performances…).I doubt I'll ever be great at eyeshadow, either. I think I do a decent job considering my handicaps (deep-set eyes, very foldy eyelids), but I just don't have a smooth canvas on which to practice.


  16. I'm glad enjoy like reading about my trial-and-error process, because I enjoy writing about it! I get so annoyed when YouTube beauty gurus say \”I'm going to do my other eye off camera,\” and then the video cuts to a finished eye look with liner and lashes. I want to see the process! I want to see people screw up! Not for the sake of schadenfreude, but because looking at the final product teaches me almost nothing. And yes, I'm glad to see the Instaglam trend fading. Not just because I'm not into that aesthetic, but also because it's designed for people with a specific set of features that I (and many others!) don't have: smooth eyelids, lots of browbone space, and eyes that aren't deep-set or hooded. Plus, the usual color placement (dark outer corner, bright lid) makes my eyes look even farther apart than they already are. It's a look that resists adaptability, and I just don't have the patience to force it to work for me.


  17. Ha, I am of course the person saying no, I don't consider myself REMOTELY good at makeup. I don't take a lot of risks because things that make me look less like \”myself\” are hard for me to warm up to; so moderately-to-brightly colored lipstick is okay, because that just registers in the mirror as \”me with lipstick on,\” but significantly darkening my brows seems like an actual change to my face–the kind of thing where if someone drew a picture of me with heavier brows I'd be tempted to say \”that's not what I look like.\” (And really the reason I finally bought some brow gel, all of two months ago, and started applying it very, very carefully, was that putting on other makeup often managed to make my brows nearly invisible, so putting gel on them is an attempt to get them back.) So overall my repertory is small, though I'm competent at using the products I've got. That said, it's possible this continuity in my idea of what-I-look-like is only continuous from my perspective. I have a grad school acquaintance who for a while I kept running into at events, and who visibly struggled to remember who I was every time; she eventually said to me \”Every time I see you you look different!\” I think it was because I was showing up to things wearing a variety of hats. On the rare occasion that I don't want to have my own face on I am decent at coming up with something else; once for Halloween I used a green eyeliner pencil to draw leaves all over my face, and that was both creative and surprisingly flattering. Maybe if I dressed up like a kook more often I'd consider myself *very* good at makeup.


  18. I think I'm better at makeup than the average person, but I definitely don't overestimate my skills. I basically do the same makeup every day with different colours, so I don't consider myself creative or versatile. People I encounter in real life seem to think I have better makeup skills than I do, and I think it's because I do my one thing reasonably well and play to my strengths. But I don't come up with anything outside of the box, I'm not sure I could execute an eyeshadow look with more than three or four shades, and forget about any type of fancy eyeliner. I'm (reasonably) good at doing MY specific makeup style on MY face and that's it.It's fun to read blogs written by people who definitively are good at makeup, because who doesn't like looking at beautiful, impressive things? But it's also nice to read blogs that are more relatable. You don't have to be a world-class makeup artist to have an opinion on a product, and the layperson's experience of a product is closer to mine than Lisa Eldridge's ever will be, you know? Obviously I follow a lot of people who are quite aspirational, but overall I like being a part of whatever community this is because it feels like a bunch of people who all share an interest. Personality, writing style, and genuine enthusiasm for makeup will always be more important to me than technical skills.


  19. Very well worded. Your criteria for “good makeup application” is more thorough and concise than mine. I am god-freaking awful at makeup and I will own up to that. I would say on a good day I am a solid B, otherwise I am in the C/C+ range for a makeup enthusiast, or B/B+ for a serf who just discovered makeup at the age of 28. It downtown help that I was further handicapped by a job that only let us start wearing makeup within the past year. I think consistency, self awareness and an occasional sense of daring are requisite qualities of being good at makeup. Like you said, how often can you reproduce results. In my case the answer is never. Self awareness is akin to dressing for your body type. I still have not mastered this category because of my defeat in the face of eyeliner for hooded eyes, specifically the cat eye. I lack any and all daring. I have a nice comfortable box that I live in and am quite anxious about ever stepping out of. Doesn’t stop me from trying, it just stops me from leaving the house.


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