Archive | October, 2014

The Beautiful and the Dead: Ghost Makeup Tutorial

27 Oct

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!

Cosmetics Used:

labeled shadow

  • Primer
  • 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
  • mascara
  • 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

Brushes, assembled! Also pictured: the Ulta black eye shadow I use as my character lowlight.


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.


You may find it helpful to have a stack of paper towels at the ready for blotting, etc.

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).

A foundation brush tends to give lighter coverage than a cosmetic wedge, so whatever you prefer.

FYI, I ended up keeping this dark nail color–the effect after applying the makeup to my hands was very groovy-ghoulish.

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.

2 base shadow crop


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…

3 crease

…and one goes across the eyeliner line.

3 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.

3 under

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!

4 highlight

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!

4 accent

Use the applicator that came with your shadows

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.

5 brows

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!

Eyes done! But still a little ghastly, no?

Eye shadow done! But still a little ghastly, no?

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.

Red on bottom, pink on top, and BLEND!

Red on bottom, pink on top, and BLEND!

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.

7 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.

8 shadow

I happen to have really sharp cheekbones naturally, so I actually apply the shadow right above the hollow, directly under the apple. You might try a few different places to see what looks best.

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.

8 collarbone


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.

My brush was flying!

My brush was flying!

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.

Takea pressed powder (this one is from Mark)...

Take your pressed powder (this one is from Mark)…

...dab it on

…and dab it on all over.

 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!

Do your upper and lower lashes.

Put mascara on both your upper and lower lashes.

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!




Happy Haunting!

(production photos: Cloud 8 Photography. All other photos my own).

Review: Steel Magnolias at the Alliance

22 Oct

I had an opportunity to watch the final dress rehearsal of Steel Magnolias at the Alliance Theatre last night, gratis. Due to this fabulous and world-famous blog, you ask? Actually, one of my coworkers is friends with one of the publicity people over there. But no matter, I don’t turn down free theatrical events, especially ones with which I have personal history.

I played Shelby four years ago, right when I got pregnant with T (talk about life imitating art), so it’s a show about which I have definite opinions and feelings. I didn’t play her at an equity house though, much less one of the most well-renowned regional theatres in the nation. So I was expecting it to be light years better than your production.

And it was. In some respects.

The set, first of all, was the production’s crowning glory as far as I was concerned. My friend E and I got there early and sat in the second row so we had ample opportunity to scrutinize. Not only were there multiple rooms in the garage beauty shop, but the sinks had actual working plumbing and the giant bowl hair dryers really worked (or at least they plugged in and made noise, jury’s out on whether they actually dried hair).  Decorated to the hilt with period (are we calling the 80s period?) accessories and decorations, including a children’s area that was completely irrelevant to the action of the play other than as stage business, but still a realistic touch. But even this amply-budgeted extravaganza lacked perfection–as E pointed out, there were no magnolia blossoms in the giant tree projections carpeting the scrim. Fail, Alliance. Fail.

The pacing and energy stayed high and the show felt shorter than its actual running time. The few hiccups we noticed were handled smoothly and only made me more appreciative of the fact that we were enjoying live theatre. The sound design was a mixed bag (the radio bit was convincing but the gunshots were not), but the costumes were delightfully tacky and made me miss my grandmother something fierce.

There were moments, both of humor and poignancy, that were handled completely differently than they were in my iteration of the show. I was unable to determine whether it was an actor or director’s choice in those moments, which speaks to a great collaboration between the two. Different, of course, doesn’t necessarily imply better or worse. Varied interpretations of a playwright’s work are what keep a show–especially one done as often as this one–perennially interesting.

Every actor was strong and consistent, which is essential in a cast this small. But you guys, I have to tell you I was struck, I mean really struck, while watching these command performances by the fact that…they were not matchless. I’ve seen performances just as strong and consistent on the community theatre stage.

One of my actor friends tells of how during a recent gig, a techie asked what her job was on the set. When she answered that she was one of the actors he scoffed with barely concealed disdain, “oh. You’re talent.” Proving what multiple workshop leaders and acting instructors have told me over the years: Actors get most of the glory with audiences, but in the professional world they really are considered the bottom of the totem pole. Why? Because talent is easy to come by. Good actors are a dime a dozen.

We didn’t have a program since this was a rehearsal, but evidently over half the cast was recognizable from film and TV roles. These ladies were definitely professionals. E and I were particularly tickled that one of them was on Bones, one of our TV faves. And as I said, every one of them was convincing and didn’t miss a beat. But I can honestly say that I preferred at least a few of the portrayals in our production to this one.* I know I liked our Clairee better. I liked our Ouiser better too, although the two were played so differently it’s almost unfair to make a comparison. I started out enamored with their Annelle, but her extremely strong characterization wore me out towards the end, like gum you’ve been chewing on too long.

*The role of Shelby aside. I absolutely cannot make an objective comparison in a role that I’ve played without developing a split personality. However I will say that the Shelby in this show was a little one-note in terms of intonation. I think it was deliberate choice and one perhaps guided by the director and therefore can’t be considered a fault of the actress.

M’Lynn, the arguable heart of the play, was actually probably my least favorite. She was an elegant ice queen, and said more in her silences than in her words. She was a real glamourpuss onstage and off, you could tell. Her big outburst at the end was believable enough, but I didn’t find myself moved to tears. Maybe I’m just too familiar with the moment–God knows the lady next to me was having a complete break down, snot and all. She did a bang-up job for sure, but I felt her characterization lacked some essential warmth.

Which leads me to an overall observation/assessment: these women weren’t Southern. Of course I don’t really know where they all hail from, but I do know–from looking online–that they all have a huge list of credits in New York and LA, indicating many years spent in other climes. Aside from the depressing fact that none of local equity houses like to employ local talent, this show in particular benefits from some true GRITS.* Beyond the accents and the mannerisms (which I can’t fault), there really is a certain subtle, je n’ais se quai sheen on a person that genuinely came up in the South. And as most Southerners know, that’s a quality that is just really, really hard to emulate. I’m not sure any one of these ladies captured it utterly.

*I can’t believe I just invoked that acronym with sincerity, even though I am one. 

The ladies of Alliance’s Steel Magnolias

I also wasn’t entirely sold on the close-ness of the group. I certainly can’t say the camaraderie in our show was any more convincing–as a matter of fact, we weathered considerable drama offstage as well as on, and I was straight-up puky with morning sickness start to finish–but I felt like these were ladies who have been working closely with each other for a few weeks*, not ladies who have known each other all their lives.

*Although to be fair, you can and do get pretty close in those circumstances.

I think everyone who sees this show is going to thoroughly enjoy it, and I highly recommend you get tickets now because I suspect a sell-out. But it gives me some satisfaction to know that whatever special fairy dust was shaken over these ladies to give them the success they enjoy as professional actors, it didn’t involve any greater portion of talent than many of the dedicated actors I’ve seen working for free around this town. And that’s gratifying.

Steel Magnolias is on the Alliance Stage October 22 – November 9. For tickets and more information, visit or call (404) 733-5000.