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Nicola Brittin makeup artist London creative
via @nicolabrittin, photography Tom Johnson

Nicola Brittin’s childlike splendour breathes life into beautiful make-up

We speak to the London-based creative about honing her aesthetic in lockdown and how the industry is going to change in future

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

For many people, quarantine allowed a creative freedom that led to an outpour of make-up innovations across Tik Tok and Instagram. This was the case for Nicola Brittin, a London-based make-up artist who quickly discovered that this was the perfect time to hone her aesthetic while staying home with her children. Despite training in a time where artists were boxed into beautiful, fashion make-up or its potentially gruesome and undeniably more fun counterpart, the mother of two has frequently found herself at the intersection of both styles. 

However, after studying the former and being trained in the latter under the renowned beauty artist, Alex Box, both elements are seamlessly intertwined in Nicola’s work. Scrolling across her Instagram account, you’ll find images with ethereal glowing skin and splattered make-up alongside colourful flowers drawn on the face of her four-year-old daughter. Recently inspired by 70s psychedelica, there’s an array of bright colours and fun drawings that reflect an adolescent joy she has been training her daughter in.

“I gave her three pencils and said draw whatever you want on my face. The only condition was don’t take the pencil off my face, so it's just continuous lines,” she explains. ”She created amazing pieces, because she doesn’t overthink it. That made me do the same and it’s really changed me, I’ve enjoyed it a lot.” Using this experience as an opportunity to develop new aspirational skills, the mother-of-two doesn’t show any signs of slowing down her output once make-up artists return back to working on sets again.

Here, we speak to Nicola about COVID-19, building a sustainable future, and the changing narrative of beauty.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how your background shaped you growing up?

Nicola Brittin: Growing up in Richmond, I was really into drama so I went to Stagecoach, Italia Conti, and did all the big jazz hands stuff. It was great but I realised I wasn’t cut out for it. One day, one of the drama teachers hadn’t turned up so they pulled one of the make-up artists and they showed us how to do slit wrists, bullet holes and casualty makeup. 

I was probably about 10, so I had never really thought about it before, because I didn’t really watch those things. It really stuck with me, and I’ve remembered that ever since. By the end of college, I knew that I really wanted to do make-up. I looked at some schools, but I was too young and didn’t have enough money to go to the big make-up schools. So I ended up going to uni and travelling. Eventually, I got a loan out and went to Glauca Rossi

What did you learn studying there?

Nicola Brittin: I loved Glauca’s. She was a big make-up artist in the 60s, so she teaches you how to do make-up without any retouching. She believes just because there is retouching now doesn’t mean you should use it. She should be in her 80s now, but she still comes in like a fierce Italian – she’ll shout at you to tell you what’s wrong, but you learn precision. 

It’s not just all glam and brows, you also do decade make-up. You go through the different decades and look over the similarities and how they evolved into one another. It’s a fabulous school and that’s why many make-up artists like Hannah Riley and Charlotte Tilbury went there as well.

You previously worked with Alex Box, what is some of the best advice she gave you? 

Nicola Brittin: One of the first things she taught me was never to label. Just because it says eyeshadow doesn’t mean it’s eyeshadow – it’s just a pigment. Just because it says something on it’s label, it doesn’t matter. She would create work with a stick or a straw. Mentally, she taught me not to take everything so seriously. 

The fashion industry can really get to you sometimes: just wanting to be the best and worrying what other people think of you. She tried to get that thinking out of my head. She did a lot of good for me, It really opened my eyes and let me take my own route that wasn’t the hard and fast, proper route but it was the right one for me for sure.

What do you enjoy the most about being a make-up artist?

Nicola Brittin: I could choose a million things but being creative everyday is probably number one. I would go dark if it wasn’t for being creative which is why I’ve been doing this over this time because I would get very depressed. Also, meeting new people every day, never having to go to an office, travelling. I adore it because it’s fun.

What's your process of creating a look from the initial idea to taking the final image?

Nicola Brittin: I need inspiration. I’m not a make-up artist who can just be given three products and a brush, and told to create something. I need references and ideas from books I’ve read or things I’ve watched. If someone says escapism to me, I decide where I want to go with that. Over lockdown it was 70s psychedelia so I looked at 70s wallpaper, old artists like The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine and found what I love about those. 

From there I can be a bit more fast and loose. I like the looseness of your hand for using eyeshadow on the edge of a flower, when it’s not perfectly at the edge, that’s fine with me. That probably brings the childlike fun to my work. I get detail at the beginning with inspiration of where I’m going to go, but once I’m actually creating the look and applying it to the face, it’s not detailed.

What do you think the concept of beauty is? Is it something you try to convey through your work? 

Nicola Brittin: Beauty has changed so much, especially over the last few years. I’m not a fan of the big IG eyebrows, and highlighted end of the nose – it makes no sense to me at all piling it on. I like raw skin, and I like people’s personalities so I try to capture it. 

If someone says to do beautiful, natural make-up, there would be as little as possible on that face because that’s what I think is beautiful. I believe beauty is in the skin; I love baby skin that’s got that little redness underneath, I love skin where you can just clean off the cheek and redness comes through it. I love darkness under their eyes and a vein here and there. I think that’s the most gorgeous thing. 

That’s what I love when I see a photo or do a shot of just the skin, and the lighting is just in the right place. The little twinkle that’s in the eyes, and the glossiness of the lip balm on the lips is insane. That’s what I love about beauty – if I go further, it will get more and more weird and abstract.

“If someone says to do beautiful, natural make-up, there would be as little as possible on that face because that’s what I think is beautiful. I believe beauty is in the skin, that’s the most gorgeous thing” – Nicola Brittin 

What advice would you give to make-up artists looking to be more sustainable through their work? 

Nicola Brittin: You just have to do the research. I don’t think anyone is doing it perfectly and I don’t think it can be done yet. People can’t create great make-up, make it vegan in every colour and texture, not in plastic and not travelling across the world. I would advise make-up artists to decide what they care about most and start there.

Is it vegan? Is it plastic? Because if it’s one of those two, wicked. You chose a brand that does that but no one does it perfectly, that’s what I’ve learnt so far. People are getting there, skincare might be on top of it a bit more. They can package more stuff in glass, and things like that. Whereas make-up uses pigments that need animal products so that’s a bit more tricky. 

As make-up artists, our jobs are to create beautiful things and the texture and consistency has to be right. This is why I don’t want to tell people somebody is making this great lipstick if it’s not, just because it’s got all the right things in it. We need it to be good as well, that’s it. It has to be the best of the batch for our work.

What kind of advice would you give to upcoming make-up artists who want to get into the industry?

Nicola Brittin: It’s a very strange time for a new make-up artist. This could be the end of assistants for a couple of years at least. So, I would say not to give up if it’s a true dream – not just an Instagram win. Study and do it. We will need more make-up artists. 

They will need to find other avenues to show people what they can do: if it’s Instagram or social media, if it’s knocking doors down or going through other ways of getting in other ways. For a while I did some nail assisting, just so I met the right people. It’s about finding other doors to come in through. 

Dazed Beauty brings this together beautifully, but what I thought of as two different avenues – movie make-up and fashion make-up – isn’t anymore. You can bring them all together. So, I would absolutely study both if you can afford to and you love prosthetics and beautiful make-up. Put them all together, you might be bringing in the new thing.

What do you think the future of beauty is?

Nicola Brittin: What a time to ask this question! I hope the future is more caring to people and the environment. Black Lives Matter definitely asked some pretty ugly questions to some of the big brands and I hope that pressure is going to keep rising on them, but I’m excited to see what that brings. 

I hope people are just more creative and keep being as creative as they are. It’s so exciting to see what people can come up with in their own heads, put it on instagram and suddenly, it’s huge because no one else has done it. I hope no one ever stops doing that and that’s when you make the passes for creatives who can lead the line there.