She gets inspiration from artistic movements like the Renaissance, but also from cats, buttons, roofs, jam or even ginger pickles. This is the makeup artist who gets inspired by literally everything to create breath-taking looks. If Lucy Boynton’s makeup looks is all over your “save folder” on Instagram, let Vogue introduce you to the person responsible for it: Jo Baker.
How were you as teen? Have you always been into makeup?
I was a super active teen… Horses, cross country running, getting my markswoman badge at 14, learning to fly small planes during my time at RAF Air Cadets, all had me experiencing a true adventurous side of my personality. I was busy but the art was always at the forefront. I loved art, water color, sketching with charcoal, chalks, oil paints, acrylic... I loved it all! In my first year of secondary school I was caught putting glitter glue onto one of my friends lips because I just wanted to see how it looked. So naturally with the interest in art and faces, and makeup came next. I remember sitting in front of a mirror cross legged for hours using makeup to shape and shade the parts of my face I didn’t like, a process of illumination. Insecure, young, and wanting to feel pretty as a teenage girl I found makeup invaluable for confidence building and really helped me trudge through those awkward years. I practiced on ALL my friends, turquoise glitter and frosted blues featured heavily at one point.
Growing up in London was a huge part of my creative development. I felt infused by my surroundings. Everything from Pop Culture, Music, Architecture, History, Punk, Goth, Grunge, Spice Girls, Queens Guards and their uniforms, Trees and English Weather… You name it is all archived in my brain as having an effect on me... Multi-cultural diversity made London vibrant visually with self-expression and fashion of every kind. I used to be stuck at the newsstands glued to ID Mag, Dazed & Confused, Spoon Magazine, Pop Magazine, Italian Vogue just in total awe of the lengthy editorials with outrageous hair makeup and styling, with the names of my idols Pat McGrath, Val Garland running strong along the credits! I was hooked. And knew early on that this was what I must do!
You worked at a MAC counter. What does someone learn from doing the makeup to such different types of people?
The MAC counter Selfridges London at the time was the busiest MAC in the world something like 5 years running! From the moment the doors opened a sea of faces all wanting foundation shade matching, a new look, lipstick swatches, the perfect powder and skin prep that would help their skin issues. It was intense and I learnt so much here and MAC really encouraged our freelance jobs also so It was a safe place for artists to learn, grow and build a reputation! Coming from London College of Fashion where I studied a pretty basic makeup course, this hands on experience was thrilling. Not only did I learn very fast how to color match any ethnicity perfectly but I also learnt so much about the different cultural trends and makeup traditions. For example, some women wanted a foundation that was clearly paler than their skin tone. Others we extremely keen to be fully bronzed and overly tanned.
It was a brilliant education, observing human behavior and psychology with art at speed. I learned to listen, be respectful and navigate the tools to help them get the results they desired. It’s an incredibly intimate and vulnerable time for a women to see a stranger at a makeup counter and discuss her insecurities, imperfections, like covering a bad scar for example. I felt inspired to make people feel their best with the makeup that I had in front of me. It was very for filling!
Did you do fashion shows at some point? What was that experience like?
Yes, I was mesmerized by fashion and the buzz of shows until I experienced working on a few of them… I found there was a sea of makeup stations, a frantic atmosphere which was often fueled for a high octane rush primping everyone to perfection. Hours of prep and waiting backstage turns into a quick walk down a catwalk and then it’s all over. At that stage just assisting not keying the show, or designing the look, I felt a little deflated afterwards. No one knew my makeup from anyone else’s which I guess was the whole point. I thought if I can’t showcase my work, my style then I’m just creating other people’s visions and ideas which didn’t’ satisfy me
Usher was sort of your first big client in entering the LA world. How did that happen?
A photographer friend of mine was shooting Usher for Smash Hits Magazine UK and asked me if I was available and wanted to do the makeup. Usher was great energy and complimented my style and approach, and after the shoot he asked his manager to book me for everything that was coming up. Before I could catch my breath we were traveling all around Europe promoting his new single Yeah and album Confessions and he exploded into an Elvis like status. I spend a year and a half on the road traveling the world with Usher and his crew, of which I call my first American family…. Touring and learning all about live performance stage makeup, the business, and how to travel with makeup as I went! I felt like this was my foundation degree into show business and I was hooked on the whole magic of it all.
You ended up doing a lot of work in grooming. When did you decided to focus more women? And how different where those two worlds?
I was only grooming male clients as they seemed slightly easier to get in with. Their demands were simple and as long as you made them look good everyone was happy, but me. I never set out to be a male groomer, but I was thrilled to have such mega star talents to work and learn the business with. I remember I was working with a lot of record labels and after a few years had a plethora of male stars but being a good male groomer made me invisible to the female artists I was desperate to work with. It was a tough transition but in order to be taken seriously as a makeup artist I had to stop doing my male clients altogether and show people my true creativity and get myself out of being pigeon holed. Clients thought I could only do what they saw me doing - so I concentrated on any female client that would have me and things rapidly developed the more I was given creative trust.
Do you feel like that gave you more creative freedom?
Massive relief… I went from Usher, Kanye, 50Cent, to Eminem and Robin Thicke even George Clooney… to barely known at the time artist up and coming Robyn who was being debuted in America. I thought how can I bring more awareness to Robyn? She let me do a wild eyeliner on her and we both loved every minute of it. It genuinely felt like a relief to be able to work with talented ladies whose music was so inspiring and taking off. All of a sudden the looks and creativity was boundless, with music videos and album packaging shoots left and right I felt like I was back on the right track getting to work with industry heavy weights like Melina Matsoukas, who I worked on numerous music videos with epic creative briefs, and Fatima Robinson, the legendary choreographer and creative director. I was surrounded by the type of people that just put creative fuel on your fire and help you burn bright!
Your approach to red carpet makeup is very different. How easy is to convince clients to not go the obvious way and take a risk?
It’s easier than it used to be that’s for sure! My ladies are more experimental these days and my clients over the years have learned to trust my sometime whacky sounding ideas. People see the fun Lucy and I have together and I think it gives them confidence to try stuff out and not take makeup so seriously. I think women are feeling less required to stay safe with hair and makeup and to use it as a tool to show their personality, style and taste. Every red carpet is an opportunity for a new alter ego to come out and play… Paired with spectacular styling makes this an ideal breeding ground for fun and a little fantasy. It’s what this business is all about! Leaning towards edgy colors combos, with editorial finishes on the skin, unusual unexpected shapes and dramatic textiles can bring a modernity to the red carpet world which has been set in its classic glamour mode for decades. I’m thrilled to be at the forefront, breathing new art and ideas onto the world stage!
Was it always like that?
It’s really changed over the years! We have gone from wanting to look like our idols and making ourselves as pretty as possible to a much more developed message. A tidal new wave of freedom and self-acceptance. Women don’t just want to look pretty… We want to stand out, feel strong, be smart, and unique while celebrating ourselves in a positive and encouraged healthy way! Instead of us aspiring to the perceived image of advertised beauty we are now celebrating beauty and bodies in all shapes and sizes from all ethnic backgrounds- which I think everyone will agree, feels like a sigh of relief! Finally, we can all be beautiful and encouraged to feel good about who we are and not who we will never be!! We are in the midst of a beauty revolution… So a little less about fitting in and more about standing out is the key!
I’ve read you don’t preplan any looks. Is that true?
Yes, that is true, ...not even for the MET Gala! I have also never tested a look or practiced something beforehand either. Somehow the ideas just flow and come to life as we all stare at the dress and discuss hair and makeup options. The key for this to work is I am always prepared for anything… So if that is tiny half moon pink pearls glued across an eyelid… Then you must know that they are in my kit alongside every other shaped bead, sparkle, thread or paper, glitter, shadow, in every color possible ready to be stuck into place. My kit is relatively small… But my car boot is fully loaded with an archive of different kit booster packs! These include everything from glitter in rainbow colors to palettes in every muted moody shade, all the way to neon bold bright and metallic makeup. They need to be ready and available so that whatever look I dream up can be executed immediately. There is no time for “if only I had pale blue sequins”. It is all available and ready to grab which helps me stay fully engaged in creating ideas that are outside the box!
How did you come across Lucy Boynton and how is it working with her?
Lucy and I met on an editorial just about 3 years ago, and I remember having the best time with her from the very first day. Two London girls who love, art, fashion, music, film, creativity. We were fast friends!! In fact, the second shoot we did together I remember putting a neon pink eye shadow across Lucy’s eye crease and loads of mascara for the look and it’s like we just never stopped having fun with looks ever since. She’s a dream to work with, we truly have a lot of fun working together!
When we look at your work and looks we see that there’s something experimental about it, while maintaining an elegance. How do you find that balance?
I study the natural balance faces… Looking to see what I want to feature that day and what I want to go unnoticed. Balance is key for all of these looks. I never want the makeup to outshine the dress, or hair, I want everything to compliment perfectly. It is also critically important to me that the look is flattering. I’ve had many partners of my clients compliment the looks I’ve created and said how nice it is to see makeup done so differently and look so cool. Which is a huge compliment when a couple is stepping out together. Many people prefer their partners with no makeup instead of too much makeup. So I’ve been conscious to create looks with a balance that don’t over do it to the point where it could look theatrical and over the top. I want my girls to look and feel cool, so to get the husband or girlfriends thumbs up is pretty significant and makes me feel like the balance is just right!
For those who usually play more safe with makeup, if we feel like trying something new, where should we start, in your opinion?
Pastel tones can be a great way to experiment with color! These delicious soft tones feel innocent and can easily add a sweetness and feminine touch to your whole appearance. They were big last year and I believe they will continue to feature heavily this year because they look great on any skin tone at any age! Makeup can help you present the different moods you are in… maybe it’s your first day in a new job, or you have a date, a huge pitch or another day in court. Makeup can be a subtle way to strike the right tone…and for people to remember you distinctively!! Like putting on a cashmere jumper or a black leather jacket, makeup can change like your wardrobe and in accordance to your mood! So whack on a smudge of that weird rust shadow next to your blue eyes or that cool mauve lipstick with your auburn freckles. One of two things will happen… you’ll look and feel great or you wipe it off and try something else, at the very least you were creative today and tried something different which I think is a great way to look in the mirror and learn to love what we see.
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On Instagram, we see that your ideas come from the most random places. Do you get inspired by the most mundane things?
There has been a lot of down time along this journey… waiting in corridors, airports, traffic jams, and parking lots. I kept my eyes open and I found myself looking deeper into objects… For example, I’m staring at a cement wall, but how do I know its cement? The tone, the texture, the rawness and industrial finish… Even the temperature to touch says its cement. I started to study everything. Wanting to understand its compound and figure out what using this material meant to the style, design or sheer practicality of its use. Another example is the jam on bread. Reminds me of being at home growing up in England, so those tones used in a certain way can bring nostalgia and memories and good feelings …
So makeup is the medium but my brain is definitely inspired by everything I touch and see on a daily basis. Sometimes you are in a damp dark alley shooting at 4am, and instead of feeling grumpy find inspiration in how the light is hitting the dirty puddle near the trash bin. In unsavory environments we can often see the most beautiful tones of grey, sludge, taupe, an oil smear in water the many colors of petrol when it’s on a smooth surface. It’s all quite beautiful if you take the time to look.
Do you feel any sort of pressure to create your next looks?
Yes, but only good healthy pressure that I put on myself. I want to create looks for my clients that feel exciting and different from what I have done before. I like the challenge and expectation to give my ladies something new! I have some fun things in my kit that I’m dying to use. So watch out there is more art and creative play coming up!!