Professional makeup artists have been masters of the art of how to contour for decades. They deftly create light and darkness to a face to add shape and definition. But for us mere mortals, how to contour wasn’t something we were familiar with until Kim Kardashian famously posted a video with various products striped over her face to show how she faked cheekbones and distorted her features.
It was an intense process involving a lot of blending and ‘baking’ the finished result with what looked like an excessive amount of powder. And the ‘trend’ went stratospheric. Suddenly everyone was thinning their noses, angling their cheekbones and creating a new version of what their face looked like. But here’s the rub: it didn’t look that great in reality, it worked for social media but for doing your weekly shop in the supermarket? Not so much.
Thankfully contouring has moved on leaps and bounds. I met up with makeup artist Sir John , the man that Beyoncé, Karlie Kloss and Naomi Campbell have trusted with their faces to discover how he approaches contouring and most importantly his tips so we get it right.
When Get the Gloss Met Sir John (left). Sarah-Jane Corfield Smith (right)
The era of facial sculpting 2.0
Straight away, I notice Sir John rarely uses the word ‘contour’, he prefers ‘sculpt’. And he credits the pandemic for giving contouring a new look and feel.
“Pre-pandemic we were about to leap over a cliff of trying to alter ourselves and trying to look like other people," he says. "The pandemic made us strip everything back. Suddenly you didn't have to put concealer on every day, you didn’t have to do layers of foundation. You could put a lip or some mascara on for a Zoom if you wanted but 'skinimalism' took over and the need for 'coverage, coverage, coverage' lessened.”
He feels this new way of defining our faces is here to stay. “We’re now in the era of 'Sculpting 2.0'. It’s a softer, more diffused way of adding lift to your face - and we all want some extra lift, whether you’re 18 or 88. But most importantly there are no VCLs - Visible Contour Lines!”
He explains and demonstrates on my own face how 'Sculpting 2.0' is about slowly layering up products. There is no dedicated contour product involved per se, just a deft layering of foundation (cream) and bronzer (powder). He uses two cream foundations (one a couple of shades darker than your natural skin tone, the other just one shade darker) and a powder bronzer over bare skin. Layered together, they create a natural-looking sun-kissed effect while allowing your natural skin to shine through and create the contrast. The parts that have been warmed up create the effect of lift and sculpt.
Can anyone do it? It's easy to do yourself and a lot quicker than the contouring methods of old. “It’s important to me as a makeup artist to be able to save people time and space in their makeup bags. Sculpting your face in this way requires very few products, is easy to do and you really can’t get it wrong.”
How to sculpt like makeup artist Sir John
- Start with a cream foundation one or two shades deeper than your natural skin tone. Take a big fluffy brush and buff it in to bare skin. "Don’t apply the product straight onto your skin in stripes, get into the habit of applying your brush onto the product, buffing the excess off onto the back of your hand and then going onto the skin.”
- ”Buff it from your ear down onto your cheek. When you’re at the spot where the whites of your eyes start, stop with your sculpting. This is also the spot where you should stop with any shimmer or highlight too. Then buff the cream foundation under the jawline and along the hairline, but you’ll know where it needs to go as soon as you put it on the skin it’s a very intuitive process."
- Take your second shade of cream foundation. "Then take a slightly lighter shade of cream foundation - I always recommend having two shades in your makeup bag for this exact reason - and apply it in exactly the same places (under the cheekbones and jawline and along the hairline) but just above the darker tone so they blend seamlessly together. And don’t be afraid to use your fingers and move the product around. That’s the beauty of starting with a cream because it’s so much easier to manipulate and move.”
- Addconcealerwhere needed. Sir John adds some cream concealer under my tired eyes and along the bottom of my chin not only to conceal but to provide some lightness to counteract the warmth of the bronzer. I may be wearing two shades of foundation on my cheeks, but outside the contouring, my skin is 'minimal'.
- Set with a lighter coloured powder bronzer. ”Go over the top with a powder bronzer which will give your makeup amazing longevity. And the trick here is to not use too dark a shade. A powder is going to cling to any creams, foundation or moisturiser you already have on and will become darker. So choose a light shade, so that you’re not adding any ‘weight’ to your look.”
- Finish with a flush. “In the past contouring was all about creating quite an austere look that just used contour and highlighter. It was very 'cyber' and didn’t look realistic. I love to bring in some flush and blush by adding some cream blusher to the cheeks but then also taking it down onto the chest. That’s a tip I got from Charlotte Tilbury and it makes sense because whenever we have a rush of blood to our skin we don't just get it on our cheeks, it goes to our chest too. So emulate that with the same blusher and if it looks a bit too bright, lightly soften it with your bronzer to bring it down.”
Your Sculpting 2.0 make-up kit
Cream foundation: Sir John uses a pro palette, which is a mixture of all different foundations. We love the Westman Atelier Vital Skin Foundation Stick , £62, or for a more affordable option try Bareminerals Complexion Rescue Hydrating SPF 25 Foundation Stick, £29 available at Boots or Lancome Teint Idole Ultra Wear Foundations Stick , currently half price at £15.
Powder bronzer. The L’Oreal Paris Infallible 24H Fresh Wear Matte Bronzer , £0.39, is his go-to, which he also tells me he uses all on the body because it’s waterproof and sweatproof so doesn’t budge.
Cream concealer. When we say that Sir John has every shade of Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer , £25, on him at all times - we mean it.
Brush. Charlotte Tilbury Bronzer & Blusher Brush , £35 is the one that Sir John recommends.
Blusher. Sir John is a huge fan of cream blushers (as are we) and if you're on the hunt for the best cream blusher - of which there are many - then great place to start is Glossier Cloud Paint, £15, which comes in 8 shades.