Halloween is this weekend (on a Friday this year!), so I thought I’d share 10 easy steps to create the ghostly makeup for the character of Elvira in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. Add this makeup to any outfit and you can be a dead [fill-in-the-blank] as a last-minute costume. Of course, if you’re playing Elvira you can use this too!
A lot of ghost makeup tutorials you find online are heavy handed with the creep factor–I know, I searched. But the script makes multiple references to Elvira’s attractiveness, and she manages to re-enchant her husband somewhat despite being quite obviously dead, so the effect couldn’t be totally ghoulish. But of course, we need to know she’s not of this world. This look strives for that balance of pretty and eerie.
My tutorial is adapted from this YouTube video by another actress who played Elvira. If you’re like me and sometimes prefer to follow written steps with pictures rather than a video (or like to have both for reference!), this is for you.
This is easy enough for makeup-phobes and novices alike, and the whole process start to finish took me about 45 leisurely and deliberate minutes. But my fellow castmate S, who played the role of the second wife who (spoiler alert) also dies, threw on an abbreviated version in about 10-15 minutes. And it wipes off in two seconds with a cleansing wipe!
- Snazaroo face and body paint - see notes on color in step 1 (Available at Eddie’s Trick Shop and Norcosco if you’re in Atlanta)
- neutral eye shadow palette (see above–the colors I used are labeled)
- liquid black liner
- black eye shadow powder (to be used as character shadow)
- translucent loose powder
- skin tone pressed powder
- lipsticks – warm-toned pink and coral red
- false eyelashes (optional)
(You’ll notice that aside from the face and body paint, I didn’t name brands…that’s because it really doesn’t matter. I will generally share what I used though, just in case you’re curious).
- Foundation brush or cosmetic wedges – non latex
- concealer brush
- angled shadow brush
- fat shadow brush (2)
- tapered shadow brush
- sponge tipped shadow applicator (the one that comes with most shadow cases is fine)
- eyeliner or eyebrow brush – stiff bristles
- large powder brush
I know I’m not the only person who experiences irritation with theatrical makeup, so let’s briefly talk skin care. Start with a squeaky clean and well moisturized face. This paint tends to flake on dry skin. I used this cleansing oil for double the moisture since my skin is quite dry, but whatever you have works as long as it gets everything off. (To prevent skin freakouts, I used the Clarisonic to deep clean and then applied an antioxidant serum whenever I washed my hair–about three times a week. A depuffing under-eye cream would not go amiss either). After cleansing, use a very simple moisturizer (I use this DDF moisturizing dew from a Birchbox that I lovelovelove, but it can be any type) and let that set. Then apply a primer. I had this color correcting type with purple for sallowness and green for redness, but anything works. Primer of some kind is very important, because that’s the secret to making the makeup look smooth instead of chalky or flaky. And remember the old adage: whatever you do to your face, do to your neck as well! (And in this case, probably your chest too).
Another quick note about prep: Generally this is a no-no, but I put my costume on before starting makeup so I didn’t need to pull things over my head and possibly get silver all over my real clothes. And also so that I could see how far down my neck I needed to apply the color.
Step 1: Base
Apply the ghost color makeup all over. I used the Classic Colour individual paint in metallic silver. I know you’re thinking–silver?! But yes. Just bear with me. You really don’t want to use pure white–the look is too clownish, and this is coming from somebody that is quite pale naturally.
This type of makeup is water activated. That can be kind of a pain in some respects, but the wonderful thing about it (as opposed to grease paint) is that once it dries, it doesn’t rub off on things that it touches–like your costume or your furniture or your castmates/children/girlfriends/random hookup. You can easily control the coverage from light to heavy with this type as well, and it’s very easy to remove.
Wet either a makeup sponge or a foundation brush and squeeze out the excess. I tried both and preferred the sponges in the end, as long as they are non-latex. For some reason, the latex wedges didn’t pick up enough of the product for good coverage.
Don’t get it too wet or it will be streaky. Too dry and it won’t spread. But never fear, you can always add more water, and if you accidentally over hydrate the excess water will soak into the color block pretty quickly.
Dip it in the color and sweep over entire face and neck. Don’t forget your ear lobes! (don’t worry about your hands until the end).
Go ahead and cover your eyebrows, most of your lids (no need to be too thorough there) and your lips. I have bangs so I didn’t have to worry too much about this, but you might want to push it up into your hairline too.
It will be pretty shiny when you’re done but don’t worry–we’ll fix that later.
Step 2. Eyes
Use a fat shadow brush to apply a dark neutral (#1 on my palette, which is an ELF I got for $5 at Urban Outfitters BOO YA) all over the lid up to the crease. Using a clean shadow brush of about the same size, blend so there are no harsh edges.
Try to keep the shadow off of the inside corner of your eye, against the bridge of your nose. Color here can make you look sickly, and we’re going for pretty!
Step 3. Crease and Line
Use an angled shadow brush to apply a soft black eyeshadow (#2) in a sideways V from the outer corner. Be sure to tap off the excess powder.
One wing goes up into the crease…
…and one goes across the eyeliner line.
You can fill in the V if you like. I found this made my eyes recede too much into my face, but those blessed with large Disney eyes could definitely pull that off.
Then pull the dark shadow it a bit under the eye. This adds to the dead look, but don’t get too heavy handed or you might turn into this.
If a little bit of shadow shakes off underneath your eye, DON’T RUB. Grab your large powder brush and dust it off.
Step 4. Accent and Highlight
Apply white shadow (#4) under the brow bone as a highlight. You’d think you wouldn’t need it with the gray makeup, but it adds a nice dimension. I find that the finger is the perfect width for the browbone (one of those nifty body things I think, like how your foot is the same length as your forearm). No brush needed!
Now, dot a Georgia Clay colored shadow (#3) right above the pupil to open the eyes up. An artist at Sephora taught me this trick years ago, along with the color recommendation. I use it a lot in real life too!
Step 5. Brows
Take a stiff liner brush (or a brow brush, if you have one) and dip it in your black shadow color. Mine is pictured above with the brushes. Color your brows back in at the thickness that you like.
If you’re actually playing Elvira, and your production is set in the originally intended time period of the 1930s, you’d probably want to keep them thin and highly arched. Our show was set in the ’80s so I just filled in my natural brows.
You’ll notice in steps 2-5 that I was careful not to rest my chin on my hand, as one might normally do to steady it. That is to keep from messing up the silver. But by this point in the process, it should be dry and safe to touch!
Step 6. Lips
You really have free reign here. My director specifically wanted an orange tone, which I created by combining a warm pink on top and a orange-y red on bottom. But I’ll be honest, this color made my teeth look kind of stained, and the silver paint doesn’t help. So you can choose any color lip you like (blue-based undertones whiten teeth). You could always do blood red, although that easily veers into vampire territory. I think a red wine would be really cool–there’s a nice one in the nude Clinique bonus going on at Macy’s right now, just FYI.
Step 7. Liquid liner
Take our old friend, black liquid liner (remember it from this post?), and line the top of the lid and the outer half of the bottom, right under the lash line. There’s no need to wing it out for this look. It doesn’t need to be crazy-thick, but if you’re going to be using falsies it looks good if its thick enough to peek out above the false lash line.
Step 8. Shadow
Here’s the dead part, y’all. We want to very subtly echo the look of a skull using dark shadow. If you went and bought a theatrical makeup starter kit, you’d find a pot of character shadow that’s usually a shade of dark brown. That won’t work for this though–we want to go more gray. So I used a pot of shimmery black (pictured above with the brushes, the same one we used for the brows) from Ulta that I’ve used for shows since forever. Yeah, I said it–years! I know this stuff allegedly expires, but why trash perfectly good makeup? Every once in a while I wet a cotton ball with alcohol and swab over it to disinfect, and it’s good to go.
So anyway. Take your tapered shadow brush, dip it in the black shadow, and tap the heck out of it. You don’t want too harsh of a line because for whatever reason (#chemistry), once the silver dries it’s hard to get anything to blend into it. Wipe the brush on your towel if you have to. You can always add more black. Brush it on lightly right inside the hollow of your cheek. Take your big powder brush and blend like crazy.
There’s only one other place I use character shadow (I was playing to a small house, and I imagine if you’re doing this for Halloween you needn’t go crazy with shadow either), and that’s my collar bone.
Chicken your neck back to make your collar bone stick out (WEEEIRD!!). Take your lightly dusted taper brush and line right underneath that bone on each side, like so.
Optional Step: I didn’t do this because my director specifically asked me not too, but you will see it in the original YouTube tutorial. At this point you can add a tiny bit of blush if you like for an even more beautiful effect. Use a baby pink powder formula in a little ball shape right on your cheeks. Same rules apply about blending though, so use a nice round brush and tap off all the excess.
Step 9. Powder
This step is not part of the original video, but it’s what makes my version of the look unique. It’s extremely important in getting a ghostly pallor and reducing tin-man status. Using your big fat powder brush, dust translucent powder all over your face, neck, and chest. If you include your lips (go back over with lipstick again if you like), I’m telling you, that stuff will not bleed or budge.
But the loose powder alone probably won’t tone down the silver quite enough, so go back over all the gray with pressed powder in the same color as your skin tone. I know, what? Just trust me.
10. Finish the look!
Put on mascara, and then apply your false lashes if you care to. I used those little half lashes that go on the outer edges. No trimming required, but quicker and easier than the individual ones!
BTW, I can’t say enough good things about this little eyelash glue with applicator I just happened to grab at the drug store during an emergence-C run. Where have you been all my life?!
Touch up and highlight
You might find some areas need more coverage than others. I had a lot of trouble keeping the apples of my cheeks covered for some reason. Or you might sneeze and get liquid liner all under your eye and have to remove a whole square inch of makeup with a q-tip (not that that’s happened to me…). That is why we have our little concealer brush. Wet it and dip it back in the silver paint to add extra coverage where needed. Just make sure it isn’t too wet, and don’t use too heavy a hand, because the paint you already have down will come right back off with water! It’s more convenient if you remember to do it before step #9, but you can always go back over the new coverage spots with powder, no biggie. I found I often had to do this for the massive bags under my eyes I was getting from lack of sleep during the show.
I also use the silver to highlight. If you skipped the mattifying powder step as she does in the video, you wouldn’t need or want to do this. But I take my little concealer brush dipped in the silver and dot the bow of my lips and along the tops of my cheekbones, about an inch above the character shadow line. Again, it adds dimension, as well as another element of prettiness.
Last, but not least, do your hands and wrists up in the silver. Make sure to use the bathroom and wash your hands beforehand–after this step you’ll have to settle for applying hand sanitizer to your palms if you don’t want to rub the color off. Just glob some paint on with a cosmetic wedge. I usually just dusted the translucent powder over that, skipping the pressed powder step. I found that tiny bit of shimmer left on your hands makes them look both younger and more ghostly. Win-win!
Here is the finished look! Yes, I did apply a filter here to make up for the horrid effects of cell phone photography, but you can see the finished look as it appeared on stage at the bottom and top of this post.
A quick swipe with a face cleansing cloth backstage–one for my face and one for my hands–took everything off so I could come out and greet my adoring public post-haste *snort*. I know I’ve said it doesn’t really matter what product brands you use, but I was very pleased with Walgreens’ brand sensitive skin facial cleansing wipes. I’ve tried all kinds, including expensive ones, and these are the ONLY ones that didn’t make my eyes burn. When you get home later, soak a cotton ball with toner (try this one or this one) and run it over your skin if you don’t have the energy or inclination to do the whole Clarisonic routine.
A note about hair:
My director wanted my hair left alone. But if you want to add another layer of ghostliness with almost no effort, all you have to do is get some dry shampoo–powder or spray–and dust it over the top of your head. Hold it close to your head so the powder is visible. Don’t touch it or brush it through!
And that’s it! The best thing about this look is that aside from the silver paint and possibly the lashes, you probably have all the stuff at home already!
These pictures were taken early on in the run when I hadn’t yet perfected my technique, but you can still see the general effect!
(production photos: Cloud 8 Photography. All other photos my own).