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Vanessa Funes cut creaser hot glue gun makeup
Courtesy of Vanessa Funes

Hot glue guns are bringing digital make-up into the IRL

Previously a DIY crafting staple, the hot glue gun has become TikTok’s latest beauty craze

  1. THE LOOK: 3D makeup that emulates digital art. The shapes are constructed using a hot glue gun, first on a metal palette or parchment paper. It’s then embellished with everything and anything, from eyeshadow to glitter pigments, polished by cutting with scissors, and finally carefully stuck onto the face with eyelash glue.
  2. WHO’S DOING IT? At NYFW, models at the Head of State show had 3D tears (created by artist Kento Utsubo) streaming down their faces. But on TikTok, creators are taking this one step further by creating sculptural eyeliner and dimensional chrome blobs.
  3. HOW CAN I GET IT? Get crafty and DIY this look by playing around with a hot glue gun. Just make sure that you’re being safe! You can follow a step-by-step online tutorial. Spend some extra time on this one, as it does take practice to perfect.

The humble hot glue gun has found itself at the centre of the latest beauty craze. Usually reserved for crafting and cobbling together last-minute Halloween costumes, the DIY staple has been discovered by the make-up artists of TikTok, who are using it to create transgressive, futuristic 3D styles and bringing digital looks to life 

While the innovative shapes and creations might be new, the technique certainly isn’t. Artists have long used hot glue guns to create three-dimensional tears, which is how Vanessa Funes – better known as @cutcreaser – first discovered it. Now known for her 3D eyeliner looks created out of hot glue, she originally tested out the method in 2019 to create Euphoria-inspired fake tears

Funes cites French 3D make-up artist Ines Alpha as one of the biggest inspirations for her creations, and now the favour is being returned –after seeing Funes’ TikTok, she’s ready to expand her repertoire and has already ordered the same metal palette Funes uses to create her shapes. “When I saw her video, I was really excited because there’s a way to reproduce what I do in 3D so easily, so I want to try it too,” she says. “I’m definitely inspired to make an Aliexpress order right now.”

@blondetaki Hot glue + silver pigment = cutie space angel 🫧🐇🛸 saw @stella [they/them] do a look similar to this also! #experimentalmakeup #chromemakeup ♬ Kerosene - Crystal Castles

Alpha started creating fantastical and surreal 3D digital designs by experimenting with software and watching tutorials. She’s since collaborated with the likes of Dior and Charli XCX on otherworldly filters that defy gravity and the laws of physics. “When I create something in the digital world, it needs to be impossible to create in the physical world. Sometimes I create pieces that you wouldn’t be able to wear because it would slip or it wouldn’t stay on your face, or you couldn’t stick it on because it would be too heavy or uncomfortable,” she explains. “So that’s always something that I try to do on purpose to push the boundaries of make-up further. But actually,” she laughs, “people find a way to make it possible, so that’s pretty exciting.” 

While it might seem easy, however, creating make-up-worthy patterns with a hot glue gun is deceptively difficult. Reyna Ochoa, a make-up enthusiast from Tucson, Arizona, has never really been able to afford certain products or items like rhinestones. “So I get creative with things that I use for make-up,” she says. Her hot glue gun make-up tutorial on TikTok, which has garnered 290K views to date, blew up just as she was becoming discouraged from sharing her art online. The look is decidedly glam, featuring perfectly glossed lips, bold eyelashes and bright fern-coloured eyeshadow, but it’s perfected with globs of glue she slathers in iridescent mint pigment. When you see the perfectly imperfect shapes she creates, it seems simple enough, “but the hardest thing is trying to get an even steady flow out of the gun if you want to make a specific shape.” 

It can be a frustrating game of trial and error. “The first time I did this, it took me 75 tries,” Funes admitted on TikTok. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it right the first five times. While anyone can go on Amazon and have glue delivered in two days, it’s easy to burn yourself or melt a plastic palette – which Ochoa admits to doing – as you play around with it.

Make-up artist Ali Larson is another fan of the glue gun. A seasoned beauty creator at just 26, with over 250,000 followers on TikTok, she says that even the purposefully amoebic and contorted blobs take some time to achieve. “The hardest thing about the technique is making the glue pieces look organic, oddly enough. I think it’s important to make the shapes look natural, almost like they’re a living organism rather than a hunk of glue.” 

Larson’s hot glue gun look is in complete contrast to the flawless symmetrical liner Funes creates. Eschewing perfect long lines for a bounty of silver blobs that she describes as “flowing with the shape of the face,” Larson expertly spawned a metallic lava explosion across her eyelids, temple, and brows, like something ripped out of Alpha’s 3D make-up software. “Not everyone knows how to use a digital medium to create make-up,” Larson says, “but most people have access to some hot glue and pigments to create their own extraterrestrial vision.”

As we’ve seen time and again, recessions lead to bolder aesthetics as people crave more creativity and adopt a DIY aesthetic as the cost of living rises. And with the barrier to entry for hot glue guns being £16 and a little patience, most people can try it out. “I definitely think it’s a trend we’ll see more of in 2023,” Larson says. “The last couple of years have been heavily influenced by the clean girl aesthetic or other random trends like cold girl make-up, which are completely uninspiring to me. It’s refreshing to see a trend pop up that’s a little more experimental and different than looks that align with typical beauty standards.”

This trend isn’t just inspiring people tired of the monotony of slick eyebrows and no-make-up make-up. Alpha, who has spent years perfecting subversive digital renderings of make-up with powerful software, now wants to see if she can bring her work from URL to IRL. “If anyone reads this and wants to collaborate with me to produce my work as physical pieces, including mechanical things like robotics to make them move” just as they do when animated online, “that would be a dream.” In the meantime, she plans to carve out some time to experiment with her hot glue gun as she awaits her Aliexpress package to arrive in the mail.

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