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Courtesy of Malina Stearns

Malina Stearns: the make-up artist who morphed Doja into Choupette the cat

Malina Stearns is the Petra Collins and Cindy Sherman approved make-up and prosthetics artist disrupting the beauty industry with her gory aesthetic

This article was originally published 12 October 2018:

From digital artists to photographers, body sculptors and hair stylists to makeup and nail artists, in our Spotlight series we profile the creatives tearing up the rulebook in their respective industries.

Malina Stearns is a self-described “make-up artist freak queen” who likes to play with blood and generally make people look creepy. Growing up in Venice Beach, she’s always been attracted to all things dark and scary. “I have this memory from Halloween when I was about six or seven, my mom painted my face like a scary witch. We went to a party where my three best friends were all dressed and painted as pretty princesses. At first, I felt like an outsider but quickly realised that being unique is more desirable to me.”

The incident clearly stuck. Now 32, Malina is a fully fledged make-up artist who specialises in fantasy and horror. Working out of a makeshift FX lab she set up in her house, her gory, nightmarish looks and penchant for spooky prosthetics have seen her work with everyone from to Petra Collins to Princess Gollum in the Smashing Pumpkin video for “Solara”. She even recently sold some prosthetics to Cindy Sherman. Here we talk to Malina about her obsession with the occult, her personal relationship to beauty, and why she likes it when people are scared of her.

Where does your interest in horror come from?

Malina Stearns: Growing up I was always attracted to dark fantasies. By the time I was 10 or 11, I was worshiping the girls from The Craft and doing spells at sleepovers. By the time I was a teen I got into punk and was dying my hair hot pink. I think all the beauty inspiration I was influenced by as a child was pretty weird.

What is it about make-up that appeals to you?

Malina Stearns: I love the idea of transformation. I got into doing make-up early on. I remember being the only 12-year-old at camp wearing black eyeliner. I think I just always enjoyed the art in make-up. I never really used it as a tool to make myself feel pretty. I use it to create.

Where did you hone your craft? Is it something you learned or is it more instinctual?

Malina Stearns: I think the first time I really started to fully get into make-up was when I was living in Portland a couple of years ago. I was involved in the queer nightlife scene and always serving some crazy make-up looks. My friends that were musicians and DJs started asking me to paint their faces and I realised it was something I actually wanted to consider as a career. After I moved back to LA, I got a lot more serious about the idea and decided to go to school for it. I graduated from the Cinema Make-up School about two years ago. I really knew nothing about any special FX make-up before going there but any beauty make-up I did always felt very instinctual. The kind of beauty I do is always very avant-garde, nothing conventional.

Tell us a bit about your creative process. From initial idea to final image.

Malina Stearns: My creative process is different for every project. It really depends on what I’m doing. Sometimes I start with a prosthetic I want to use and create a look around it. Sometimes I’ve seen an image that inspires me and I want to create something around or about it. When it comes to my personal work I usually have a vague idea of what I want to do and I just sort of run with it. I get my final product by actually working through it rather than planning. My ideas are also constantly changing so if I don’t do something soon enough, there's a good chance I never will.

Is beauty something you try to capture in your work or something that you reject? What is your relationship to ‘beauty’?

Malina Stearns: I wouldn't say that beauty is what I'm trying to capture in my work. I think most of the time I'm trying to capture sadness. Sadness is one of the things I consider most beautiful in creatures. Maybe I just relate to sadness and my work is how I try to overcome it. My personal relationship to beauty is kind of confusing. I think some of my work has a kind of twisted beauty, but I don't expect others to see that. I would rather be feared than adored and I think I usually am. I get a lot of people telling me I’m scary.

How does your work engage with notions of gender and sexuality?

Malina Stearns: My work doesn’t always have something to do with gender or sexuality but I'm sure it often comes out that way. I feel extremely in touch with being a woman and an angry one at that. We should all be angry, most of us have been abused. Sometimes I'm trying to work through something and sometimes I'm just creating to create. I happen to be a sexual woman and that is often seen in my work.

What’s the most significant thing you’ve learned over the course of your career?

Malina Stearns: I think we all feel an enormous amount of fear, anxiety, and insecurity as artists. I know I often don’t feel worthy. Learning to overcome those thoughts, trying to just push through them long enough to keep creating instead of giving up can be really hard. I've always felt like such an outcast in the make-up world. I feel like I relate a lot better to the art world and it makes me doubt myself at times as a make-up artist. I just had to keep telling myself to just keep doing me and there is something special people will see. I would refuse beauty jobs and still do as a protest to wanting to make art with my craft.

What was the moment that ‘made’ you?

Malina Stearns: I wouldn’t say there has been anything that has ‘made’ me in my career just yet but I am starting to get to work with more people that I've been admiring for a while, people are starting to take more notice, and it's starting to put me on the map.

Your creations are often monstrous, very gory with lots of blood. Where do these come from? Why are you drawn to these dark looks?

Malina Stearns: I don’t like the idea of making something ‘pretty’. If it’s going to be pretty, it's going to be pretty in my sick demented way. I want to evoke something more than a beautiful thought. I want to make you feel or jump out of your seat and scream.

What is it about bodies that fascinate you, human or otherwise?

Malina Stearns: I suppose I enjoy distorting the human figure. It’s more interesting to me that way, hence all the prosthetics I've been making. I don't think my prosthetics are necessarily a commentary on anything. I’m much more of a visually stimulated person and I’m often just making art because that's what I need to do to keep going. I find it much more interesting to hear what other people think about it, rather than my initial intention. It’s often disgust and that's how I know I’m doing something right.

You recently collaborated with Petra Collins and Sarah Sitkin on a prosthetics shoot, how did that come about?

Malina Stearns: Sarah is a good friend. I remember idolising her for years before I met her and I still do. We became friends the second I moved back to LA and she has always been one of my biggest supporters. I have fortunately gotten to work with her many times. I really can't say enough about what a generous and immensely talented artist she is. I know she has been a fan of Petra and was super excited to work with her so I was more than happy to be a part of it. The experience was very laid back and adorable actually. Just a few weird ladies hanging out making art in a weird little house.

What is your dream project to work on?

Malina Stearns: I’m not one to idolise too many huge names but I guess there are a few, people like Guillermo del Toro. I would like to get into doing more horror films for sure. I would also love to collaborate with more pornographic artists. One of my favourites is @inside_flesh.

How do you think our understanding of beauty has shifted with the evolution of technology?

Malina Stearns: Our understanding of beauty has changed drastically with technology. With all the Photoshop and plastic surgery these days, it really makes it seem like no one can be as perfect as these pictures that are painted. I just try not to pay any attention to things like that and live in my own little freak world.

What advice would you give to young artists hoping to get into the industry?

Malina Stearns: I would tell younger artists getting into the industry to not give up.

What are you currently working on?

Malina Stearns: I’ve been super busy selling my prosthetics and trying to find time to create new ones. I started out by selling my prosthetic lips and realised drag queens were going crazy for them. Pearl has been a regular customer of mine lately and I even sold a few pairs to Cindy Sherman the other day.

Who would you like to shine a spotlight on next?

Malina Stearns: I would shine a spotlight on @blkarmstron. He is one of my current favourite artists and has been for a while. His work is incredibly beautiful and dark. He is an illustrator and make-up artist and everything he touches turns into creepy perfection.