7 Ways To Be A Little Bit More Val Garland

val-garland-makeup-backstageVal Garland. One of the Holy Trinity of makeup artists often thought of as the world’s biggest and most influential; there’s Pat McGrath, there’s Charlotte Tilbury and there’s the incomparable and wonderfully “bonkers” (as she describes herself) Val Garland. I often post makeup artist profiles on Mascara Wars and almost purposefully miss out the big guns. You lot are makeup artists, makeup fans and makeup lovers, I’m preaching to the converted! But to not talk about someone as influential as Val would be utterly ridiculous too, so the time has come!

The challenge for me is to find something about Val Garland that hasn’t already been said. Her best known looks are so wildly creative that to dish up her technique for a cat’s eye flick or a skincare regime would be almost pointless and a disservice to both her and to you. But what I can do is present you with all of the juiciest makeup artist-related insider info, straight from the lady herself, that should not only give you a deeper understanding of her creative process but give you a real insight into what really separates Val from the crowd, and what has kept her at the very top of her game for the last two decades.


Starting life in Bristol before emigrating to Australia, where believe it or not she started out as a hairdresser – with her own salon – Val diversified into makeup and came back to our shores in the early nineties, where her individual style lead to collaborations with the city’s greatest creatives and her makeup career took off. She refers to her real big break as being the Alexander McQueen shows, for which she created a stream of now iconic makeup looks, and refers to her style as “deconstructed chic”. Her bold and versatile approach sees her as a regular collaborator at Fashion Week, as well as creating covers and campaigns for the world’s greatest. Her looks range from classic modern beauty to the utterly avant-garde. Val can do it all. Check out the video from her awesome 2013 MAC Masterclass World Tour to see just what makes Val’s work so celebrated.

So yes, this article is called “7 Ways To Be A Little Bit More Val Garland”. And yes I know I know, we’re all beautiful individual snowflakes and we shouldn’t try to be like anyone else. Of course, be yourself and develop your own style. But who wouldn’t want a little sprinkling of that magic Val genius in their everyday work right? I know I would. WWVGD? (That’s What Would Val Garland Do?… Life mantra.) Well let’s find out shall we?

1. Sometimes the bravest makeup is no makeup.

660x869_Quality100_92a2a20b46873043cb9c68991d59fd2a“I remember doing a Vogue couture shoot with Mario Testino and Kate Moss in a warehouse studio, where Lucinda (Chambers – Fashion Editor, British Vogue) had all of this amazing couture – big, expensive and fabulous things. And Lucinda said ‘I don’t think you should do anything with the hair and I don’t think you should do anything with the make-up’. So I said: ‘Ok, I’ll just clean her skin,’ and Lucinda put a parka over one of the dresses and that was it. For me that was such an iconic shoot. It was all about Kate in the clothes in the real world. That was a very inspiring moment. Sometimes it’s not about what you put on, it’s what you take away. You have to be brave, when you’re being paid to be there as a make-up artist, to say ‘I’m going to do nothing’.”

2. No brushes? No problem. Just use a potato.

Well I mean… not always a potato. But Val is known for her love of unconventional tools and materials. Us makeup artists all know the draw of a good craft shop, but don’t stop there. I’ve heard her mention she loves to explore local stores for hidden gems and kit goodies in new towns, saying “I am desperate to get to a local drugstore, a local hardware store, a cake decorating shop. I want to go to a fishing tackle shop!”

Alex Box taught me the same, I’ve seen her use children’s stickers, shuttlecocks, even parts of a lampshade in makeup looks! Garland has used feathers and pieces of cotton wool to apply blush for example, “Find a tool that works for you,” she says. Think I’m fibbing about the potato by the way? Well check out the below video ( head to 1:24 for the good stuff) where she uses the old kiddy painting technique of potato stamping to create perfect circles. It’s unconventional certainly, yet is unpretentious and perfect for the job at hand!

Similarly don’t always use the same old go-to brushes in every look. Val is a brush virtuoso, where many other editorial makeup artists are more vocal about using the fingers. She buys many of her favourite brushes in art stores and often uses a different set of shapes and textures of brushes for each show at Fashion Week. “I like the painterly feeling of brushes,” she explains, “where each stroke seems individual and unique.”

3. Get descriptive with your makeup terms.

Known for her “Val-isms”, Ms Garland likes to create unique, descriptive and evocative terms to give a name to certain makeup designs, shapes, shades or styles. Just ask one of her team members about her patented “CSL” – a lip shape described by Val as being a “carnal, full lip” and described by MAC’s Terry Barber as being a Val signature. So what does it stand for? Well… “I was telling my team once how to do the lip like I like to do. I said, ‘I want a big, fat lip, I want a big, fat lip brush, I want a big Cock-Sucking Lip.'” And thus, the “CSL” look was born. Watch out for her CSL hashtag on Instagram, you’ll spot it all the time now!

Val often uses similar but not quite so filthy buzzwords to describe looks at Fashion Week, for example “In nude looks I often talk about “invisible eyeliner”, “invisible contour”, we’re putting product on there that’s not visible to the naked eye but it’s making that face structure work better…” Also; ” It comes in handy for things like shows when I am asked to pull something out of a hat and reinvent the wheel again and again. For example, if the designer wants something very natural, how are we going to do it to make it press worthy? I may come up with a name or “Val-ism” to make it sound fresh, for example “Greige”, a grey beige!”. I’ve heard “greige” used many times since by other artists to describe a similar shade. If there’s no way to describe the look you’re creating, make one up! And suddenly a concept can seem much more tangible.

4. Build characters. Create the new from the old and unpredictable.

“I like to find a story and tell a story (with the makeup), I like to find out who this woman is that I’m portraying.” This was particularly true of her looks with McQueen, from botoxed beauties to sinister clowns, Val’s makeup choices although not always explained, are never random – there is a reason for everything.

“I like to take something from the past, and something completely random, push them together and come up with something new,” she explains of her more abstract creations, and her ability to remain original. Val would rarely look to the work of her peers or makeup designs as references. “Historical referencing is very important, the more information you’ve got the more you can channel that into creating a great story.” Take a look at this article, to see how Val finds her inspiration to create the makeup design during a fashion week test. Or take a peak at the video below to hear both Val Garland and Sam McKnight explain the creative choices behind their bold looks for this season’s Vivienne Westwood show.

5. Make your model feel GREAT!

Nick Knight commented in a recent interview that Val is especially great at prepping the girls not just in makeup but in mood, so that when they come to him they’re revved up and in a great state of mind, ready to shoot. “There is an intimacy when you’re that close to someone, between you and the girl and I’ve got to make her feel confident about her beauty before she goes in front of the camera.” says Val, “That is part of our job.”

She wonders whether it comes from her time as a hairstylist, commenting, “the great thing about being a hairdresser is you touch people and you touch people all the time. If I felt someone was nervous, by placing my hands on their shoulder I could feel them. It’s like a subliminal thing. You can feel their energy and know where to go. It was important to know how the clients were really feeling, and I took that skill into makeup. If I was working on a model or actress, I’d do the same. You are saying, “It’s OK, I am going to look after you,” but you are also saying “I am in charge, but it’s OK.” You make them feel as comfortable as possible as you are right in their space, which you just don’t do in the real world!”

6. Be open to unexpected avenues of inspiration. 

“I often look at children’s thought processes, because they’re fresh. I also like the idea of serendipity or a happy accident. Sometimes, when removing makeup, something will happen and I see something – I have my assistants with their iPhone recording some of the unused ideas, so I can draw on them in the future.” She also likes to switch up her application depending on the look, “I might start with the skin and base then go the eye…” she says, “then another time I might start with the lip.” Switching up your application can be the route to inspiration in its own right. And finally…

7. Pay the utmost attention to detail!

Val is known for keeping a magnifying glass with her brushes for detailed checks and to ensure there is minimum retouching required!

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So now you have that little extra sprinkle of the Val Garland in your creative technique, how about if you want to assist the lady herself? Val has this to say;

“My ideal assistant is somebody who’s fast, who thinks on their feet, is enthusiastic and can think ahead. When I’m looking for an assistant I might look at their book – can they do skin? If they can do skin the rest comes later, you can learn how to do an eye, a lip, all of those things. Primarily an assistant needs to be my second eyes.”

“The most important thing is enthusiasm. Next, be prepared to change something if it’s wrong: Don’t take it personally if I’m not happy with it – just get on with it! To assist a range of people is a great way of learning all of their crafts. I also wished I had done a beauty therapy course because when it comes to my team, I like them to be able to give a jolly good massage to my model. I think that’s really important because that puts the model/celebrity into a great moment. Lymphatic drainage is great. My girls do that and it’s amazing for de-puffing, say if the model has just come off a flight or if they’ve worked really late the night before.” So there you go, get de-puffing guys! And take a look at the video below for a glimpse of how it is to be part of Val’s backstage team.

And of course, I couldn’t leave you without sharing this absolute gem of a video. Would you like the chance to rummage through Val’s kit and see what she uses to build those incredible looks? Of course you would. And luckily you can do just that because Sali Hughes has blessed the world with a 46 MINUTE video of Val taking us through every nook and cranny of her kit! This is pretty much the ultimate in makeup porn to a makeup artist and Garland fan, it just does not get better. God bless you Sali Hughes.

And finally… Val’s take on what you need to make it as a makeup artist in 2015;

“Get your social skills together. Get your face everywhere. Know who everybody is. Make sure you know who all the agencies are. Make sure they know who you are. Be prepared to work 24/7. Work for passion not for money. Assist everyone you possibly can, because by the time you’ve assisted ten people you’ve got ten people’s styles, plus your own style, and that helps you.

Most importantly be ruthless… Be relentless with your goal.”

Lucy xx

Featured Image by Miguel Reveriego for Numero Magazine

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4 Responses

  1. Sarah Baldwin September 15, 2015 / 2:25 pm

    Fantastic blog, and great videos. Thank you

  2. lexi920 October 22, 2015 / 7:37 pm

    Thank you for this. I just discovered your blog – and thank you for inspiring me to dig deep and do what I love….writing about makeup. I’ve also considered getting more serious about landing more than the just bridal makeup gigs because I know the bride kind of work. I guess I needed a kick in the pants.

    This Val Garland post is that swift kick!

  3. Lucy G October 28, 2015 / 9:11 pm

    Glad you enjoyed it Lexi! Would love to see what you’ve been writing about makeup, do you have a blog we can check out? xx

  4. lexi920 October 28, 2015 / 9:40 pm

    Here’s my blog: http://theformergirlatbar.blogspot.com

    But sadly it’s been over a year since I last wrote. Since then I had my second daughter and started a new job. It’s been a very tiring process and I know I need to write again just gain a sense of myself.

    I will say that even during my most tired mornings, I always made time to put on a smidge of tinted moisturizer, brows and lip gloss!

    Your tips for foundation matching for darker skin tones is also a blessing for me. I am making it my mission to master foundation matching for all skin tones!

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