Nia Lee is a freelance makeup artist based in Toronto. BLSH interviews her about her favourite products to use on clients, working in the industry and editorial makeup for black faces.
How did you get involved in the industry and makeup?
Yes. I was not always into makeup. When I got into high school time, I started wearing mascara, but I was still doing a little bit of it. Trying to do the green eye shadow, really trying to do the most. Lots of mascara, 'cause my lashes seem to be a big focal point in my makeup journey. Then I wasn't really into it too much. I think I did a little bit of brows, but I was actually scrolling through some of my old photos recently and I realized what I was doing before. I really thought I was cute, but no. So when I actually started getting into ... I think university time, I was still dabbling with a little bit of makeup, still trying here and there, but I never really got fully into it until maybe two to three years ago. I got a job at NYX cosmetics, and that, allowed me to branch out into doing more looks, trying out different makeup, trying out eyeshadows, liner, lips, just going full throttle with the whole thing about it. It was cool 'cause I had all this make up at my disposal pretty much, and it was great because they would encourage us to wear NYX stuff. The amount of selection that NYX has is phenomenal, so just I just went ham and explored myself through that way.
I was just trying to do what I thought was cool, not really paying attention to too many trends or trying to do too much at the same time, just trying to figure out what looks the best on me. In that kind of learning about foundation and concealer, and I've gone through different brow styles myself. Coming full circle into what I am now, I just realize I draw a lot of inspiration from what I see.
Now, just kind of like paying attention to what's going on in the industry, but also find a way for me to put my own flare on it. I try to include a make up look, while creating a story at the exact time. That's the most important thing for me right now. How I got started became very me being interested into it. I'm not a professional by any means, but I just try to make whatever I do beautiful in that right, and try to draw inspiration from a lot of people. See what other people are doing, but at the same time try to make it my own and just try to be different and bring something different to the industry.
Do you consider yourself a freelancer, or just breaking into the makeup industry?
Yes. You know what, I really don't know, and that's the honest answer I can give, because I started out being really passionate about makeup, especially when I was at NYX. When I left there, I was still into make up and everything like that, and I realized maybe seven, eight months ago, around that time, that I decided if I ever wanted to do this professionally or in the freelance setting, I needed the opportunity for people to see what I was doing, and see different styles that I could do, and this that. So I decided to do my own portfolio, and that's how I kind of got into it. I also say to myself now, I don't know if I want a career in makeup. Genuinely, I don't know if I want to be doing it on people for my entire career. Doing it on myself is great and I also like doing it on other people, but I think I just like the industry, and if I could work in it in a very behind the scene's realm, that's something I'd be interested in. Also, having that background of knowing how to do make up on people and what looks good, and everything like that as well.
Do you have a favourite look that you've done?
Favourite look I've ever done has been on this girl, her name is Ashley, shout out to Ashley. She was really dope. She had really great skin and this was probably one of the best times I did something and I was hella proud of what I did. Not to say I haven't been proud of the stuff I did before, but when I did that, it was like, wow, this is stunning. It wasn't anything hard. She had flawless skin to begin with, so it was like, thank the skin gods for you today. But at the same time, I did a very green, shimmery lid, and I used this NYX pigment that I love, they're super pigmented and they don't need any glue or anything like that. You just apply it on the brush, apply it on the eye, and it's stunning. I just did it on her, and did a really nice kind of deep purply cranberry lip on her. Also, I did a really nice blush and she's actually dark skinned. I learned in that moment when it comes to doing make up on dark skinned women, the idea of contouring is a completely different game because the idea of using a contour doesn't really work. Like a contour shade.
The idea of reverse contouring comes into play and I realized how much that is actually a pivotal thing when it comes to make up anyways. Doing that with foundation and concealers, but also doing it with blush. I realized how much blush was a pivotal part of make up. Even if it's a very natural looking blush, it can be the best thing to add dimension to the face, and I was doing that before. I realize now, that's another way to add dimension and when I did it on her, it just looked absolutely stunning. Her cheekbones popped out. This is such a good feeling. My most favourite look. Just 'cause it looked really good on her skin too and it just like ... The photos came out really dope and I was like, this is stunning.
This is amazing.
So far all the looks I've done, I've really, really liked. Specifically on black women, any time I've done a look, I'm just like, "Damn, this is like, amazing, we need to keep this going." Bright colours, good skin, yeah, just love it.
do you work with a lot of women of colour?
I definitely say yes because, don't get me wrong, doing make up I want to be able to do makeup on everybody. But at the same time, I feel like when it comes to black women even in today's society where there are still ... You definitely see ... Especially on my timeline, I see a lot of black women having their makeup done beautifully and a lot of black makeup artists that are doing make up stunningly, and that makes me really happy and makes me really encouraged. I want to bring more of that into the world. At the same time, I do work on people of all colours, but i also feel like it's very important to allow black women or any type of women of colour, Asian, Indian, to also bring in that realm of being able to do all different types of beauty. Editorial beauty you see that happens on a lot of white women, I definitely want to be the one to bring that over. And not that I'm the only one that does it, but at least in what I do, I want to be able to bring that editorial. Really, just dope vibes and allowing people to know, yes, women of colour can wear colour.
We can wear the oranges, we can do the greens, the blues, the pink lips with the blue eyes, and make it stunning, and make it beautiful. I love working on women of colour, I love working on black women. Like I said, any time I do make up on black women, it always comes out really good and maybe that's just me being aware, "Yes, I know what this is going to look like on her and I want it to look fly," and I know in my head this is going to look amazing, so let me just put this out and hopefully they really like it. Usually it's because I feel like we've been taught in the beauty industry not to go towards those kinds of editorial looks. To stay away from the blues and the bright purples and the yellows and stuff like that, when in all honesty, those are the best things that look the best on our skin. We just have to learn how to embrace that and just go full throttle with it. I feel like I grew up loving editorial looks, but then not seeing it done on a lot of black women.
The ashy colour foundation and just a regular pink lip and you know gold eyeshadow and call it a day. Don't get me wrong, that look is stunning on black women, but we need to allow ourselves to say no. We can do the glossy blue eye with the pink lip. I mean, what is Fenty Beauty if not for the amazing colours. That was the thing I noticed more than anything. Rihanna did not do anything insanely revolutionary, there's been companies that came out with all these lip colours. It's just she opened the avenue for women of colour to say, "Yeah, I can wear a bright ass purple lip, and I look fly." You know what I mean? I love that and I feel like we need to be more in that. If we want to wear something really bright and purple, we should be able to do that. If we want to wear something kind of green and evergreen, we can do that and it looks good on our skin. It does look good on our skin. I love to wear those kinds of colours.
I love to wear the reds, I love to wear the greens, the yellows. Don't get me wrong, love a good gold, copper eye, but if I can put some blue eyeshadow on myself, I will do it. I will do a smokey eye at 9 am in the morning. I do not care. I do not care. I love that I'm able to do that on other women of colour, and they're like, "Wow, I never thought I'd do this look," and yes girl, you can do this look. You can wear the bright pink and it doesn't matter if it's in summer or in spring or anything like that. You can do that now and people are going to be like, "Wow that colour looks really good," just yes, trust the process.
Trust the process.
What are some of your favourite products to use either on others or on yourself?
Favourite products to use. Setting spray, just to start my makeup, to allow a really nice base and also to spray in between what I'm doing. I don't know who taught me this trick, I don't know where I saw it, maybe it was Jackie Aina, I don't know. It was somebody. I don't know who did it, but the importance of setting spray and allowing your make up to look beautifully melted at all steps. I did not know that was a thing to make everything come together.
Setting spray is huge.
A really good brow gel is important to me as well too because I do my brows in a very feathered way and I love having a really good brow gel and I use the NYX one 'cause it's very cheap. I heard the essence one is also really good too. But just allowing my brows to be feathery and beautiful and that's just how I love them. The Sephora beauty blender for like $18 is the best thing in the world. I didn't think I could love a sponge so much, and I was a brush bitch for a while. You could not tell me I couldn't apply my foundation with a flat top kabuki brush, I don't want to hear it.
Beauty blenders? I don't want it. Then I was watching a couple make up artists and I saw how they use beauty blenders to allow make up to come out beautifully on the skin. I was like, okay, maybe I'll dabble in this. I tried a couple stuff, tried a Real Techniques one, broke on me, tried a couple others, and then I went to Sephora one day and I just randomly picked up this sponge. It came with a case too. Phenomenal. I don't want to do my make up with any other sponge and on other people too it is great. It has a really nice flat side so you can cut and it's really good setting under the eyes. I also love my foundation powder that I use as a contour/bronzer I used to get it from the beauty supply store near my house, a BSW.
What do you use on clients?
A favourite that I've used on a client I've also used on myself, the physician's formula butter highlights. End of story, stop what you're doing, forget it. I had a Laura Mercier highlighter that I bought for $70 and when I realized I saw that one, the physicians formula for like 14 bucks, they were the exact same texture, did the exact same thing. Went the next day to Sephora and returned and got my $70 because those butter highlights, not only are they soft, they're a part of that butter bronzer, butter blush line, they're beautifully glittery but in a very subtle way. I also learned the value of layering highlights and what that does. Layering a cream, layering a powder, then layering another powder on top. A powder with a slight glitter on top. Phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal. I will be using that on Sunday. That's all I got to say.
what advice do you have for someone who wants to get into makeup?
Things that you're seeing, like ... I think one everybody is trying to be like everybody. That's when we need to take a step back and just like try to find our own self when it comes to makeup. The amount of tutorials and stuff I see about trying to look like Kim Kardashian, trying to look like Kylie, trying to look like this, trying to look like that. It's like, why not try to look like ourselves? Why don't we just embrace the features and the qualities and the stuff that we have and just try to just do that, because when it comes down to it, I don't want to watch 50 million Kylie Jenner tutorials. I don't want to see it. I don't want to see it. I don't even want to see her half the time, but I have to 'cause there's always somebody wanting to make some sort of video about them. I just feel like when it comes down to it, we all just need to find our identity and just stop trying to be like everybody else and trying to jump on too many things that everybody else is doing. I think when it comes down to it, we all need to just find our individuality when it comes to our makeup and what we can do.
That also means exploring different things and not always jumping on the things that are hot at the moment. You know what I mean? There are so many indie brands, there are so many people that never get the recognition or get the day of light 'cause they don't have this and they don't have that and they're not popular and this that. People make dope stuff every day. Everybody makes dope stuff every day. There's so many people coming out and I feel like we need to celebrate a lot more people that are doing amazing things and not just focus on the same five to ten people that keep doing the same Kylie Jenner tutorials. You know what I mean? There are so many of those and I think even myself personally, I've never ever wanted to do my makeup like anybody else. I've never wanted to do anything similar to anybody. I've always just wanted to find what works best on me and I even said that when I used to work retail in that makeup industry. You have to understand, what looks good on me, might not look good on you.
You also need to find what looks good on you. I can sit here and tell you, "Oh, you'd look phenomenal with a pink lip," but if you don't believe that, then you've lived in this little bubble of what you think your make up or whatever that needs to look like, and I think we need to step out of those bubbles and step out of the norms. Specifically black women more than anything, we need to step out of this ... Don't get me wrong, I love a nude lip, I think they work on everybody. But I think at the end of the day, we need to be more like, let's do the pink lip, let's do the purple lip, let's do the green eyeshadow, you know? Let's do the glitter brows, let's do the insane yellow orange blush. You know what I mean? Obviously have it look good, but at the same time, just try out different things and not look to always wanting to just go towards whatever trend or what everybody else is doing.