Linda Mason is a makeup artist, painter, and an all around wonderful person. She grew up in the north of England, and has, among other things, lived in Paris and Beirut, modeled for haute couture, collaborated with amazing photographers and designers (do names like Avedon and Meisel ring any bells?), published six books, and launched her own makeup line, which has been carried in places like Barney’s, Nordstrom’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bendel’s. She was even kind enough to do my makeup (I never wear any, so it was an exciting moment) which means I’m now in the company of people like Cameron Diaz, Kate Moss, Deborah Harry, and Naomi Campbell. All in a day’s work.
Do you have a process that you follow?
Every woman is different. It’s sort of like the portrait painting I do. You have to get a feel for the person, and you’ve got to love people. In any job that has to do with people, you have to love people and want them to have a great time. When you do a portrait of someone, you want to help discover something in that person or show that person a certain way. When you put makeup on someone, you want people to take a second look and say, “Oh, I never saw this person that way.”
Which came first, the makeup or the portraits?
Makeup. I was a makeup artist. I started out in Paris. I trained with Lancome.
What was that like?
It was great. I trained with an incredible makeup artist they had at the time. And then I worked for them doing makeup, and then I modeled for a few years.
Did you do your own makeup when you were modeling?
I did. We didn’t really have makeup artists, not for the type of model I was.
What kind of model was that? A fit model?
Yes, a fit model for haute couture and ready-to-wear. When they’re actually making the clothes and you’re interacting with the designer—that was really fabulous.
It’s like a collaboration.
You inspire them for certain things. The color sense. My mother was always into fashion and things like that. A woman can develop her color sense with makeup. That’s what helped me transfer over into painting. You get that color sense and the technical knowledge through trial and error. It’s just doing it, doing it on yourself. I encourage women to try colors, try them and play around with them and not be stingy on the time they spend on their makeup, because it’s like you’re creating a little piece of art.
I asked which came first, the makeup or the painting. What’s it like now? Does one not exist without the other?
I think I would have liked to have gone to art college. Nobody in my family had ever been to college. You didn’t go to art college, it wasn’t serious, it wasn’t like work. I guess I didn’t feel like an artist. So I went off to Paris and worked and did other stuff. I loved doing the makeup, but I didn’t realize you could do it freelance until a woman who was from Isabelle Lancray explained it to me and offered me a job doing the makeup for their press pictures. She introduced me to a photographer who was a really great guy, and I started to do testing with him. I was just crazy about it. I worked day and night. We’d work without electricity in the freezing cold. Later I realized that I needed to be creative, that I needed to be doing something that I was passionate about. I felt like a different person, and my career just took off. I came to New York in search of a new challenge, and in New York I started painting. I bought canvases and paintbrushes. I’d started drawing a bit, because I’d wanted to register the makeups. It’s all artistic, it’s all a question of trying to see things and feel things and make them physical. And when I opened my shop, people started asking for commissions. It was good.
What are some of the most challenging and/or interesting colors to work with and why?
I like to use even the colors I don’t like. For example, I wasn’t a big fan of red. In school, you had these rules about putting certain colors next to each other. And one about putting red and blue next to each other stayed in my mind. One of the paintings I did, I thought, “Let me see if I can put red and blue together,” and then it became my logo. It’s not a question of the most challenging colors separately, it’s the most challenging colors together, and being able to make that work.
What’s another color combination that’s difficult?
Green and red.
Green and red is hard. How do you get rid of the Christmas association?
There’s the Christmas thing, but there’s also a spring feel. It all depends upon what you put with it—a little touch of something. An extra something. Many years ago I did Rei Kawabuko from Comme des Garcons, her first shows in Paris. And I loved her designs. She is one of the most incredible designers. And this was maybe her second collection in Paris. She allowed me to splash on the colors. So I did earth colors, but I thought, “Oh, I’ve got to put a touch of bright color here.” She made me take the bright colors out, and I was really upset, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Afterwards, the New York Times referred to it as the “battered women look.” Instinctively I must have known that we really needed those bright colors, because without them the look was something other than what we intended. It’s like why you choose a necklace or a scarf or a pair of earrings. With makeup it’s the same thing. You choose it because it brings a little extra something—you can’t figure it out exactly, but you know you need it.
Any other colors that are hard to work with?
It’s difficult because nothing’s hard. My mother once gave me some advice: “If you move into a new home, don’t do everything immediately. Take your time, because you get the feel of the place.” I think it’s the same thing if you have a new hairstyle. You’ve got to get the feel of that hairstyle, and play with your clothes, and your makeup, and take your time. I think it goes for every aspect of your life.