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Makeup for Professional Artists, Fashionistas and Makeup Junkies

I had the joy of apprenticing with Vancouver makeup artist Rob Walters some years ago and I learned so much from this modern makeup master. Rob isn’t someone you find easily and he doesn’t promote himself with Likes and shots of his beauty work. Rob humbly works in theatre, film and beauty and is also a master of hair and wigs. You can find him if you search really hard but his teachings live on in the many hundreds of students who have worked with him on Vancouver productions over the years.


For theatre, we use Kryolan panstick foundation, applied with as sponge. It must be softened first on a pallette with a pallette knife and then it flows on like butter. Rob would always chide me for using my foundation brush on actors, he felt it gave a fake surface that wasnt clean. Instead Rob insisted that you get the best results with the flat end of a sponge, detailing the coverage. For women we used a more fair foundation, and for men we used an olive tone. The same foundation was used on all the actors, the only difference being that of gender. This powder was set with Ben Stein powder with a firm, pressing motion, almost lightly hitting the face, what drag queens call, beating face. Its not uncomfortable, but sets the powder in for hours without a touchup.


Theatrical eye makeup was a great specialty of Robs and I don’t feel right disclosing all of his secrets, but here are a couple of gems. The eye was prepped with a layer of Kryolan panstick, then a solid layer of Ben Nye luminous white was used first. The reason he did this was ingenious, when stage lighting filters through the eye pigments, it then hits the luminous surface and reflects back toward the audience, causing the eye to pop. In a large venue, the eyes convey much of the actor’s expressions and without this step, the eyes disappear in strong lighting, regressing into two tiny beads.

One other tip Rob uses is very strong creases which are drawn on the front of the browbone, rather then in the crease itself. This enlarges the eye makeup and produces strong contrast from a distance. If you draw a crease regular style for theatre, no one will see it. Rob used to say, if you look like a clown backstage, you are perfect for theatre.

I won’t give away any more of his eye makeup secrets here, but there are many. You cannot use “going out to dinner makeup” for theatre and this applies to eye color choices. I will leave you guessing, we need to think bright and we need to think about the many color filters that stage lighting uses. We want to create a character who is memorable, a living, breathing presence on the stage from any distance in the venue, and it takes alot of good judgement and color theory to pull this off. No one could do it like Rob could. I might be tempted to share some of his looks with you if you ask nicely and he agrees.


The treatment of cheeks and facial contouring is a speciaty for theatre, first pioneered by the master Hermann Buchmann. They used different colors of foundation to blend into a shadow, primary and secondary highlight base. This base could then be used to create any set of features you desire. Today’s contouring, promoted for beauty shoots and such, are a mere fragment of this repository of knowledge. Suffice it to say that contouring for a bridal party is just adding some shadows and lines. Contouring for theatre is a craft in itself. Unless you can make your subject look either thin, obese, old, or young, or  like they are made of tiles, with foundation, you cannot contour. You are simply shading, as they say in drawing.

I will give one tidbit on contouring to get you excited to learn more about the real art of contour. We would use a grey eyeshadow under the cheekbone, with a strong rose on the surface of the cheek, extending the rose up toward the outer part of the eye. Next, we surround both the blush line and the under cheek shadow with a matte white Ben Nye eyeshadow to block out the cheek. This surround simply makes the cheekbones explode off the face and projects a long distance. Since the cheekbones define the character more than any other part of the face, they shape the face at distance, mastery of this design is crucial. Again, this is just a teaser, a way to make you want to go out and rescue the lost art of character creation from the bin.

There is much more I can say about theatrical makeup and we are teaching a course in it at Theatrix School of Makeup at the end of April. Groups of theatre students are taking the course and much of what I learned along the way will be imparted there. It seems as though we must rely upon a few dozen high school students to carry on these traditions, as they are all but lost in modern beauty and print. And digital effects make them all the more redundant for film, and the larger theatre venues are now using giant screens for those far away. I have even heard it said by some modern theatre artists that we should just do regular beauty makeup for theatre, since the distance factor is less important.

To this I say, nonsense! Theatre is not about conveying a plot with regular looking people. It is about something much bigger, about creating a character that is more than human, like the ancient Greeks who immortalized themselves with classical makeup for stage. If we want to see a 2 hour story, we have television makeup.

For those who dare to dream big, who long to see what we can be in our imaginations, and attend theatre, opera and ballet to be swept away to a fantastic land and to shed tears at the final curtain, Rob Walters has taught me to bring each actor to life, larger than life, for stage.

As William Shakespeare said in As It Happens…”I would not change it”.

Stay tuned for more Spring inspirations from the bench….


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