Book Review: Face Paint

Book Review: Face Paint

Thumbnail image by kinkates from Pixabay

By Kathy A. Megyeri 

Applying some sort of decoration to the face and body parts has been around since Egyptian times, but makeup has only been around commercially in the last 100 years.  In “Face Paint: The Story Behind Makeup,” this beautifully photographed and illustrated book explains the entire history of the art form is revealed from Egyptian and classical times to the Victorian age and Golden Era of Hollywood to the modern and avant-garde makeup practices of now. The book examines the practical and whimsical uses of makeup, the materials involved, and those who wear it so well that the rest of us emulate them because we appreciate its impact. 

“Face Paint.” Image from Amazon

About “Face Paint” author

Author Lisa Eldridge is a makeup artist and Lancome’s global creative director so she knows well of what she writes.  You’ll appreciate the fact that she dedicates “Face Paint” to her mother “whose makeup got me into all of this in the first place.”  She admits that when she was 13 and a friend gave her a book on theatrical makeup for her birthday that she knew what she wanted to do with her life.  She’s one of the most respected, well-known, and experienced makeup artists in the industry and has beautified some of the world’s most glamorous stars like Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, and others who’ve appeared in Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar. 

Major brands like Chanel and Shiseido have employed her for directorships and in development roles, and she’s the first professional makeup artist with her own website——which has an immense online following and high editorial profile. 

She’s now based in London and this, her first book, became a best seller because of its glossy pictures, in-depth research into the history of makeup and stunning cover that makes it a coffee-table delight. And the reader doesn’t have to wear the latest face paint trends to enjoy the fascinating history and the lucrative business of makeup. But a warning; this is not a how-to book but instead an examination of how makeup has been used throughout history to define and create one’s personae. 

Face paint in all forms. Image by Lubov Lisitsa from Pixabay

The big glossy photos from Queen Elizabeth to the appeal of icons like Twiggy, Grace Jones, and Elizabeth Taylor look at makeup’s contribution throughout history to add glamour to our lives.  She examines what the colors of red, black and white have added to the allure and effect of makeup to beautify and empower us.  The book is extremely well-researched, and readers will be fascinated at how makeup was made in ancient times, especially as historical photos are included.  Granted that makeup can hide our flaws and imperfections, but Eldridge admits that it’s makeup’s ability to be creative and playful that’s allowed us to obsess about it for so long that it’s become an art form.

No wonder “Face Paint” appeals to everyone from the passive makeup user to the professional makeup artist in the entertainment and beauty industry.  Eldridge includes techniques, makeup styles across cultures and countries and in different time frames and even adds information about the latest products and trends and the people who brought them to us. 

Image by Huy An Nguyen from Pixabay

Although the information is not presented chronologically but thematically, it still shows how integral makeup was at certain times, whether approved by society or not, and it has certainly impacted the sociopolitical climate of certain eras.  She’s included spectacular prints of advertisements, makeup cases, antique pots of blush, powder boxes, packaging, makeup cases, the paintings of queens and courtesans, and she connects women’s struggles in society to the fact that makeup or the lack of it played a large role in their quest for freedom and equality. 

The argument men made against women wearing makeup because it “lied to them and made them deceptive’” dated back to ancient Greek and Roman times.  So no matter if the reader is a beauty maven, historian, cultural anthropologist or just an inquisitive old lady like me who wants to learn about the pioneers in the cosmetics industry, Eldridge will convince you that makeup and fashion isn’t just shallow and vapid, but rich, beautiful and an integral part of our history.  And what fun to learn that Egyptians used scarab beetles and camel dung to produce eye kohl. 

Eldridge has even created a video about this book wherein she discusses her favorite period of makeup history and creates the looks on herself.  Personally, I loved learning that the “moon manicure” where only the tips of the finger nails were left unpainted became a classy alternative to the fully painted nail in the 1920’s and ‘30’s. 

The chapter on “Beauty Pioneers” includes founders Helena Rubinstein, Charles Revson, Elizabeth Arden, and Estee Lauder, and she also traces the development of perfume, skincare, and hair care.  Makeup icons she calls “makeup muses” like Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Amy Winehouse, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Lauren Hutton, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Coco Chanel, Josephine Baker, Clara Bow, Theta Bara, Marie Antoinette, and Nefertiti are profiled to show how they achieved their own effects. 

“Face Paint” additionally examines the taboos of using makeup, its benefits, and the joys of creating and applying makeup for a living.  Eldridge admits to the confidence it builds in people and the way it makes them feel–not just for the way they look but for the way it “improves their best version of self.” 

“Face Paint” author, Lisa Eldridge. Image from YouTube

As one reader said, “I had to pace myself so I didn’t read this book all in just one sitting.  I wanted to savor the book and keep going back to it like a favorite film you can’t watch just once.”  Another said, “You can read this book like a novel while learning the history of this art form.  You won’t be able to put it down and it even makes a fabulous gift.”  You will certainly agree, but you’ll want to keep your own copy of “Face Paint,” too.