April 29, 2015
With over 3,000 Instagram followers, television and magazine appearances, and numerous awards at makeup competitions, Samantha White is a makeup artist with a constant social presence and a lot of style. Besides running her own business, Beauty by Samantha White, she collaborates with other makeup artists, hair stylists, and photographers, doing work that often pushes the boundaries of what it means to be beautiful, and a woman. The artist has surpassed my expectations of what makeup can do, and I am constantly inspired by her use of visual references, historical elements, and contemporary pop culture. It’s the reason that I chose her for this rendition of 282: artists in conversation.
Jose Hernandez (JH): I must confess that I had never heard of makeup artists before you, so my misconceptions of makeup as an art form have really been changed. It is because of this that I have been humbled and wish to further what you do. I see a lot of depth in your work. Why do you think we don’t often hear of makeup artists?
Samantha White (SW): I actually think makeup artists are more heard of now than even 5 years ago. Thanks to social media such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. The term makeup artist is more prevalent. I think the main reason most people don’t really think about makeup is because it is usually associated with celebrities and film and television. I believe it was only recently that “normal” people started hiring makeup artists for a date night or things like Prom and other special events, before it was only a thing to do for weddings or celebrities.
(JH): What are some of the ways you have been challenged as a woman and an artist of Mexican and Caucasian descent?
SW: I feel very fortunate to live in this day and age, because I haven’t really encountered any major challenges. I feel the most challenging thing in my journey to becoming a makeup artist was developing my skills. I think being mixed race has actually been a benefit because I can see things from multiple perspectives.
JH: What is different about making art on skin, versus making art on canvas? Do you like your work being temporal?
SW: Skin has always been my only medium so I can’t really say that I know the difference, all I can say is that I love all the facets of the body and how every human body “canvas” will be unique. I know a canvas has only one side to show, whereas the human body can move and change to a different view at a moment’s notice, for me it’s all about the ability to transform. Having my art be only temporal is both beautiful and sad to me. I know that I can never create the same thing again and it can only live on through pictures and video. But with all that said, it is also special, and that means that everything I create is one of a kind. There will always be a different “canvas” and different design and it can never be duplicated. Every piece I do is like a birth and death in just a short amount of time. I am overjoyed it got to live and I created something but also so sad to see it washed away.
JH: In one of your look statements you say, “Makeup doesn’t always have to be glamorous and pretty, it can be edgy and grungy and abstract, and that can be awesome!” Can you tell me of different ways you adapt your makeup to different situations?
SW: In my opinion, the only way to be a successful, well rounded makeup artist is to be adaptable. In makeup artistry, if you are not evolving you are dead. Keeping up with trends and trailblazing new trends and new looks is what drives my industry. I have a different client or associate or collaborator for almost every “art piece” I create. I have to meld myself to each situation because Person A will not want the same things as Person G and so on and so forth, so I have to make it work. For instance a high fashion photographer is not going to want traditional bridal makeup on his super model rocking haute couture. I have to know the theme or vibe of the shoot, what works best for the location we are shooting, what colors look best on the model, how her hair is going to look, the outfit, the accessories, all of that before I can even come up with a concept for makeup. Now, a bride, all she says is to make her look beautiful. To create a look for her I need to know where is the location, what she is wearing, what style is her dress, what style is the wedding… day or night? What about the veil, colors of the wedding, is she going to cry?! (I have to make everything waterproof). What color are her eyes, what type of skin does she have, all sorts of things to create the perfect look for her. And this series of questions runs through my mind for every creation.
JH: How does wearing your art change the way you feel?
SW: Honestly, makeup for me is much more than covering my flaws and imperfections or a “necessity.” Wearing my art, is being who I am. With a naked face I feel beautiful and I love myself, but when I wear makeup I feel like that is who I truly am. It is just like coloring my hair or when people get tattoos. We want to change our look to represent our true selves. I feel like when I am wearing my makeup, no matter how minimal or how eccentric, that it is just another facet of my personality and how I want to represent myself.
JH: Your look constantly changes and keeps me involved. You remind me a lot of Lady Gaga, and I find many similarities in the both of you. You are both career-minded women who question female beauty standards, are super passionate about what you do, and constantly engage with your audience via social media sites. She has also done a beauty campaign with a cosmetic brand in Japan that reminds me a lot of your selfies. Are you familiar with Lady Gaga, or is this a comparison you’d be fond of?
SW: Thank you so much for your kind words about me and Miss Gaga! Gaga is personal inspiration for me and she lives her life the way I want to live. She is always evolving and along with that she is a voice for human rights and feminism. I have a favorite quote of Lady Gaga that I literally live my life by: “Some women choose to follow men, and some women choose to follow their dreams. If you’re wondering which way to go, remember that your career will never wake up and tell you that it doesn’t love you anymore.” This is my mantra! I feel like I am a woman with modern day views and ideals. There is nothing wrong with having a marriage and kids, but it is not the only option for women anymore. I feel like for the first time there are many women role models for the modern woman. They tell us to love ourselves and live our dreams no matter what “society” thinks or how it “should be.”
JH: How has your social media presence connected you to your audience?
SW: I absolutely love social media, for every negative thing that might happen, there are far more advantages and things to love about it. For one, it has connected me with so many like-minded individuals, who share the love for makeup and art in general. Another thing is, it has allowed my work to be on display all over the world. Whoever has the Instagram app can see my art. Same with Facebook and any other site that can possibly share my work. Instagram is my personal favorite social media site/app to use. By hash-tagging relevant tags to my pictures, I know that anyone who is searching for that specific thing can find my art. This allows me to branch out way beyond the Central Valley and even the United States. Also, Instagram lets me be interactive with my audience. I can ask their opinions and what they would like to see from me, and that is amazing! They constantly push me to create new things and our relationship is beautiful. Their love and support drives me to continue pursuing my dreams.
JH: I’m going to ask you of specific projects you’ve done. In one of my favorites, you transform yourself into a man. So, you play with sex and gender. Can you tell me more of that experience? How did people react?
SW: Playing with gender and sex in my art is just another way to push boundaries and blaze new trails for creative concepts. When I did my female to male makeup transformation, I purely did it to challenge myself, to see if I could make myself “passable” as a male. It was pretty challenging. I had to study pictures of men and try to find the differences between their faces and my feminine face, and what I had to alter on my face to look more masculine. In the end, I really like how it turned out. Through pictures and video, I feel like I look, for lack of a better word, like a dude, and that was my goal. I only had positive reactions! People were impressed and also laughed at my attempt at a guy voice and pick up lines.
JH: You do a lot of exploration in your work. Some of your looks are very theatrical, with references to nature, fashion, pop culture, even historical accounts. One that I wanted to ask you about was your Cleopatra look. It stood out to me as significant because she’s one of the few female, historical figures of power that we hear about. How do you relate to Cleopatra? Do you consider yourself a feminist?
SW: The “character” of Cleopatra has always fascinated me. It started with Liz Taylor portraying her in the movie of the same name. It wasn’t until I was older that I fully understood the movie and her significance. Cleopatra was a brave and strong woman who didn’t take any “crap” from the men in power around her. Her only downfall, though, was her love for Antony. It was her demise. Beyond being a strong woman, Cleopatra and I connect on another level: our love for beauty and looking and feeling beautiful. I am a feminist. I believe that it is time for women to be equal to men. Like I stated earlier, it is the modern age. The old traditions and ways of life of our parents and grandparents are different now. Women don’t have to stay home and rear children and keep the house clean, only if that is what they truly want. There are many more options now. Women can go and be corporate CEOs and soldiers in the military. The time for equality is now!
JH: In one of your latest pieces, you work together with a model to recreate the mythical figure of a mermaid. You’d previously done a project called Cursed Mermaid, which is about a mermaid morphing into a fish. Can you tell me more about the concept behind these?
SW: Let me start by saying I have always loved fantasy makeup. The more whimsical and mystical the better! The whole concept of the mermaid and cursed mermaid came along when I met my model. To make fantasy makeups come to life you need a lot of elements: you need wardrobe, accessories, a location or scenery, props and other things, to have it all come together. You are trying to create a fake world within the reality of our world. One day when I was talking to my model friend Jessica, I remembered she had a mermaid tail. I thought how fun it would be to bring this fictional character to life, so we teamed up and created some wardrobe and accessories to go with her mermaid tail. Once all the pieces were complete, we were able to shoot and got some really awesome images from it.
JH: Can you share some words of wisdom for aspiring makeup artists, or artists in general?
SW: BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! That is the most important thing. Believe in your abilities, believe in your talent, believe you can achieve your goals and aspirations, and believe that what you are creating is important! Remember that not everyone is going to like, love, appreciate, understand, accept what you do and create, and that doesn’t make what you are doing bad or ugly or any other negative feeling or thought. Just like beauty, art is in the eye of the beholder. Don’t be afraid to push yourself: push your boundaries, push the gender norms, push your abilities, push past your doubts, push yourself to reach your goals, push your art into the world, just push…. Don’t ever stop, because once you stop pushing, you’re not moving forward. Then you become stuck, and then other people are going to come… and push past you!
Learn more about Samantha by following her on Instagram: SamanthaWhiteMUA