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Sam Bryant Jean Paul Gaultier
courtesy of Instagram/@sambryantmakeup

Capturing the absurd with make-up artist Sam Bryant

TextAlex Peters

We caught up with the make-up artist to chat everything from her early infatuation with the Avon lady to how she's watched the industry evolve over the years

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.

It was the extravagant, heady styles of the 80s music scene that first sparked make-up artist Sam Bryant’s interest in beauty. “I religiously watched Top of the Pops on a Thursday night literally giddy with excitement,” she tells us. “I‘d try to recreate the looks on myself and my friends – it's amazing what you can do with a bag of lipsticks, a kid’s watercolour paint set, a can of harmony Hairspray, a clothes iron in lieu of hair straighteners and loads of enthusiasm.”

While Bryant may have graduated onto more sophisticated materials over the years, that love for the theatrical has remained strong and still shines through in the signature bold looks that make her the in-demand make-up artist she is today. Moving with ease between the most vaudeville of looks (see any collaboration with photographer Tim Walker where Bryant’s creativity is allowed to be at its most unrestrained) to the dewy naturalness that has made her Simone Rocha’s go-to make-up artist, Bryant’s talents span the full spectrum of beauty.

We caught up with Bryant to chat about everything from her early infatuation with the Avon lady to how she's watched the industry evolve over the years.

Do you remember the first time you were conscious of your appearance?
Sam Bryant: My sister Emma and I are twins and I think we were always very aware of being compared. I had to wear glasses from the age of four and a patch on my eye, so I was always “the specky one,” then I was “the spotty one.”

Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty and identity and the way you presented yourself visually?
Sam Bryant: When I think about my first ideas of beauty I think of late 70’s American TV shows like Charlie's Angels and Wonder Woman. Farrah Fawcett, Jacqueline Smith, Lynda Carter (I swear I still reference her lip gloss all the time!) were just so soft focus and gorgeous. But it was the eighties music scene that took my interest in fashion and make-up to the next level.

I became an image junkie looking for any pictures of my favourite bands to give me a fix. I religiously watched Top of the Pops on a Thursday night literally giddy with excitement as the Led Zeppelin theme tune came on. Smash Hits magazine was my bible, I would read it over and over until I could recite every page and I regularly loitered around the music section of Woolworths, obsessing over the artwork on the front and back of the records in the TOP 40, whilst stuffing my face with a handful of Pick ‘n’ Mix and trying to get a Heather Shimmer lipstick from Rimmel up my sleeve!

I‘d try to recreate the looks on myself and my friends, it's amazing what you can do with a bag of lipsticks, a kid’s water paint set, a can of harmony Hairspray, a clothes iron in lieu of hair straighteners and loads of enthusiasm. As I got older I heard about magazines like The Face and i-D and ordered them in at the local newsagent. It was a fun time to be a teenager, so creative, I just loved it.

Why are you a make-up artist? What made you want to become one?
Sam Bryant:
So my initial infatuation started with the Avon Lady when I was really young. She would come around our house with loads of testers and a copy of the Avon catalogue that I would pour over for hours. I knew the names of literally all the lipsticks. Mum always wore an orangey/red one called Mexicana and Rumba nail varnish on her toes.

How did you actually get into it?
Sam Bryant: I didn't really think about make-up as a career until I was about 13 and I landed the part in a BBC production that was being shot in the Forest of Dean. Every morning I'd turn up to have my hair and make-up done by these exciting people from London and a light bulb went off in my head, I could 'do make-up’ for a job!

I remember a few years later sitting with career advisors and I'd say "I want to be a make-up artist” and they’d say “so you want to be a beautician?” and I was like “noooo!” Through hard work, determination and loads of luck, I got into The London College of Fashion and I’d say it's those things that got me where I am now.

Tell us a bit about your creative process.
Sam Bryant: You know, I try not to overthink anything. I mean you can research your ass off but ultimately it's when you're surrounded by other creatives, and you inspire each other, that lovely things happen.

What is your relationship to “beauty” (whatever that word means to you)?
Sam Bryant: I think I have always liked the word ‘interesting’ more.

How would you describe your aesthetic?
Sam Bryant: Angela Carter meets Lynda Carter.

What was the moment that “made” you?
Sam Bryant:
‘Made’ it must mean different things to different people, right? I feel like I've made it when I’ve got the balance.

How do you stay motivated? Where does your inspiration come from?
Sam Bryant:
People interest me...I get inspired by other people, characters. I always love a good character.

What is it that elevates a good make-up look into an amazing one? When standards are so high, what is it that sets certain people apart?
Sam Bryant: Well, that's a good question, it's not about being the best make-up artist, the neatest, the most perfect, it's about the “thing” you bring, your own bit of magic.

To what extent do you work with someone’s face when creating a look? How much do you use their structure and how much do you just project the look onto it?
Sam Bryant: That totally depends on the job. Sometimes it's about creating a totally different character, sometimes it’s about nothing at all.

How do you use make-up to convey emotions or tell a story?
Sam Bryant: Depends on what the story is.

How do you think the industry has evolved since you first started out?
Sam Bryant: It's changed so much. I can remember a time when people actually chatted to each other and didn’t have their heads buried in screens. It was also much easier to do make-up without a phone wedged between my brush and a person’s face!

How do you think our understanding of beauty has shifted with the evolution of technology
Sam Bryant: I don't think about stuff like that!

What advice would you give to young artists hoping to get into the industry?
Sam Bryant: Work hard, be yourself and good luck.

What is the future of beauty?
Sam Bryant: Who knows, who cares, it’s beautiful now.

What are you currently working on?
Sam Bryant: Right now I'm trying to master a 'rock to fakie' on my skateboard.

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