How Experimental Looks Became Creative Therapy for a Filipino Makeup Artist

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Meet Slo, who explores the connection between beauty and mental health, and utilises extreme makeup looks as a form of self-care.

The experimental makeup artist talks to i-D to discuss how she found her medium, how putting a full face on keeps her head in check, and her thoughts on beauty standards in the makeup world.

What drew you towards makeup as a medium?

I've always been kind of artistic and with my relationship with makeup, I wasn't intimidated by it. I felt that it was so fun. My first major makeup memory was the movie To Wong Foo, and in the beginning they're getting ready. At the beginning you see Patrick Swayze, John Leguizamo, and Wesley Snipes who are so manly, become drag queens. I would obsessively watch those types of montages as a kid. My older sister would also love to do looks on me and turn me into her Barbie. She would follow trends and give me frosty eyes, sometimes even Gwen Stefani hair.

My mom would always have Kevyn Aucoin books so I've always been into those images. I didn't digest it too much but I do remember the impact of it all. Plus, I grew up in summer theatre and they would have ladies do our makeup. So it's always been in my life.

Eventually I developed a love for the product and would save my money to collect makeup.

From there, you've really grown and you're doing such fascinating glam, even in lockdown at home.

I get that quite a lot, funnily enough, I think my philosophy is the opposite. I guess why I started doing these looks is because a part of me was like, I'm not gonna have this skin forever. It's going to sag, so I have to load it up with color. But I totally get it, it can be intimidating and so scary especially with all these photos online. As inspiring as social media can be, it also makes you insecure. Like on my feed even, you'll rarely see anything but makeup about me because I value my privacy a lot.

You use the words creative therapy when sharing your experimental looks, when did you realise that makeup had a special connection to mental health?

I was always hesitant to call myself a makeup artist even if I had been doing makeup on people for a few years at that point. I just didn't feel like I could claim it because I didn't go to school for it. But then I realised that creating is a part of me. I just can't not do that. In any situation, I'll find a way to be creative, it's just a compulsion and I could just never find my medium. I would dabble in sketching or painting but I could never find myself sharing that with people until makeup. But once it was on skin, it made a lot more sense. The human connection is there. It's therapy even if it's not on myself. There's so much vulnerability in makeup. When you're doing it on another person, the first thing they say is sorry. They start apologizing about features of their face that they dislike. They open themselves up to me right away. They're letting themselves be changed by you. Even when it comes to me painting them blue, their mindset has to be open to that. It's a lot of physical contact too.

Makeup is also a security blanket for people. Some need their lashes in place, or even winged eyeliner. It's a form of protection sometimes. But aside from the vulnerability, experimental makeup is also very powerful. You're controlling how you present yourself to the world and the way I think about it, it's a way you can take back the way people say you should look. When I do my crazier looks, I see how fun it is for the person I'm working on to feel like a different person.

As an artist, I don't really think about beauty rules so much anymore. It doesn't even have to be philosophical, it's like how people will buy lipstick and feel good, how people will share a beauty product with a friend and have that sense of community. I think people should just accept that makeup makes them feel good, and take that truth and turn it into something that doesn't smother them with fear.

But personally speaking, how has makeup been therapy for you?

It was always an extension of creativity. I can always shut my mind off while doing it. I've always challenged myself to grow creatively so I would do these types of tests where I would do a look with just one palette. It was just me sitting in front of the mirror, disconnected from my phone. In a way it would make me feel like I was growing in a skill and combined with expressing myself.

Sometimes I would also be like, I'm feeling frustrated or I'm sad right now and just do a look about that emotion. It was a way to express myself without words. I'm not good at public speaking and I don't enjoy sharing my words so much because they can be loaded and get misinterpreted.

If you don't speak my language, you don't understand my words. But with an image you put out, people will remember and save it. Some of the work I've done related to these emotions still get reposted until today even if I did them in 2015. I'll just have an image sometimes in my head and I'll realise that it's because I feel a certain way and from there I create a look and put it out.

Which of your looks do you consider to be the most therapeutic?

I'm a very conceptual person, so some of my looks are really based on emotions. One example would be this look I did to express nostalgia. My professor in literature class mentioned that in its roots, nostalgia is literally the ache from an old wound. I found that really beautiful and tried to turn it into a makeup look. Sometimes I'll think of romance and pain, those are the obvious ones. It always happens once I have the image and am able to evoke it, maybe not consciously to the people looking at it, but I want them to feel it. Another is when I'm feeling blocked and unmotivated. When I started doing makeup I told myself, I'm never going to give up on a look. You're never going to stop doing this until you're proud of it. Not even satisfied, just proud of the journey of point A to wherever you go.

It's just those days where you realise it's not going to happen today, I don't feel like it. It could be something you've been doing for a long time, but you realise that somehow It's a struggle and I guess that could also be a metaphor for something.

How are you able to capture emotions with your looks?

When I look at a painting and the person has an emotion, or on film even, there are ways they show it by making the skin look dull or glowing based on the character's state of mind. They're subtle but there are ways to do faces that kind of remind you of a certain feeling. It can be a rosy cheek or a glassy eye. It can be subtle, but you feel it.

What would you tell people at home who want to pursue experimental makeup at home as a medium?

I would say just do it, find a community and be part of it. It doesn't have to be huge, you can get on a call with someone and just do makeup together. There's so much fun and therapy in that. It's so much fun, now's the time to wear that crazy eyeshadow or lip colour because no one will see you. It isn't even stuff you need to share, it can just be for yourself.

Makeup is very much that thing for many people, that thing you do for yourself that no one else has to see sometimes. Especially now that people are feeling more pressured to share everything. It's so malleable. Makeup has become more for everyone than it ever was.

Just don't take anything as a rule. When someone says you should do it a certain way, take it under consideration because you don't have the same face as that person. Makeup shouldn't be something you do to feel acceptable, it should be something that you do to make you happy. If it doesn't make you happy then find a different part of the beauty world that starts to get you excited about it.

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