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Amateur Plays - A Note On Makeup

( Originally Published 1923 )



MAKE-UP as an art and a science does not properly fall within the scope of the present volume. How-ever, it has been thought advisable to insert at this place sections from an interesting paper on make-up by one who has made a thorough study of the subject. The author acknowledges his obligation to Miss Grace Griswold, who wrote the article, for permission to make this use of it.

Nearly all great actors are masters of make-up. They must be, for the illusions of the stage are no less pictorial than those of painting and sculpture, with the added elements of movement and voice, all of which must be brought into working harmony with the thought and feeling of the part, in a perfect portrayal. Any serious incongruity in externals is felt at once, and destroys the illusion.

Women have not done as much as men in facial transformation, except in the way of burlesque and grotesquerie. Women's make-ups, on the whole, are far more conventional. The female face is more difficult to change without revealing the tricks. Heavy furrows and deep coloring are possible only for low types. Men can effect great changes by the use of beards and moustaches. A woman's art must be far subtler.

Look at the men across the way. Notice their eyes. We always see the eyes first, although the mouth is a more unerring key to character: The mouth for emotions and impulses, and the eyes for thoughts. As the mouth is the gateway of the soul, so the eyes are its windows, but, like all windows, their function is rather to give light and view to the interior than to expose it to the impertinence of passers-by.... His level brows, which show him to be of a practical or scientific turn of mind, are deeply contracted. So much so, that not only are there two perpendicular lines between them, but one across the top of the nose as well. The heavy bone formation which the brows outline, indicates rare powers of observation. But this man has come a cropper. See how restless and unseeing are his eyes ! He is searching for a solution to the problem which is troubling him. It is a purely intellectual problem, for the mouth, which is the indication of the emotions and passions, is unaffected by what is going on above. There is nothing sinister about the problem : you see that the eyes are wide open. Now it is settled, because he appears focussed : he is following a single line of thought.

Now observe the man on the right. He too is thinking hard, but his mouth is drawn, jaws set, eyelids puckered to a mere slit. He has been wronged, or believes he has, and is planning retaliation. His nostrils are dilated, his breathing heavy. Both these men are laboring under excitement, but we cannot read their natures, because their habitual expression is distorted.

Do you see that dear soul opposite ? There is work behind that face, work that has brought with it health. There has been good living, but no in-temperance. See the strong muscles and the glow in the cheeks, with their Santa Claus rotundity. There is passion, too, but it is restrained : the lips are full, but the center line is straight. With less control, that line would tend to sag. Melancholia is also indicated in downward lines. In the case of this woman, the lip is perhaps too heavy to show delicacy of character, but it shows broad sympathy, and is redeemed by its upper consort, which reveals, except at the corners, a cupid's bow, full of tenderness. The Venus de Milo hardly escapes censure even with the lateral shortness of the lower lip and the softened outlines of the upper. This woman's mouth is larger, denoting generosity, Now look at the eyes open just to the degree of frankness, but not of insincerity, like those of the vapid young person across the way. There are radiations from the corners, too : the footprints of many a pleasant smile. The eyebrows have the sympathetic upward sweep toward the nose, and there is a whimsical twist of the left eyebrow. Altogether, a pleasant countenance.

A perfectly straight compressed mouth always implies strength of will.

Now notice the woman just beyond with her high-bred aristocratic face. The " executive " nose; with its delicate arch, are especially indicative of her character. The eyebrows likewise are arched, over a full forehead ; very imaginative. The eyes, slightly veiled in their expression, show her to be plunged in deep and somewhat troubled thought. Her eyes are veiled because she does not see clearly a way out of her problem, but that way out will be, we are sure, something noble. Her problem is not so exclusively an intellectual one as that of the man we mentioned : it must be some economic or philanthropical question her chin is finely chiselled and held with exquisite poise, strong and at the same time delicate. Her complexion has the " pale cast of thought ", but is not unhealthy however. The flesh lies easily upon its firm base. It will never warp into deep furrows. See, now she has solved or put aside her problem, for a moment, and her eyes are open and clear, and her smile, as she recognizes a friend, is engaging and unaffected. Her sympathies are less personal, more detached, but none the less real, than other women's.

And now see this man who has just entered. He, too, is an aristocrat, but as he turns, we can observe that there is a one-sided twist to his face. The bone formation in his face is similar to that of the woman's, but his expression is exaggerated by a muscular habit of the mouth, possibly occasioned by the loss of teeth. His eyes are open, but they express impassive coldness. He has taken life with a sneer. His brows are not arched, although one of them is artificially raised: the result, undoubtedly, of boredom.

Habitual good-humor ages the face in a pleasant manner. It is the only thing that never grows old: do you remember what genial sparkling eyes Joseph Jefferson and Mark Twain had ?

Bearing in mind these summary character studies, let us turn to the more practical side of make-up: Regarding straight make-up i.e. make-up which is designed to offset the glare of the lights it can safely be asserted that most professionals make-up too heavily. This is partially due to the fact that the lights in the dressing-room are seldom of like intensity or kind as those on the stage. Billie Burke and Blanche Ring occur to us as having achieved happy results in making-up, the former with a rose-bud prettiness of white and pink, the latter by using so little color and blending that little so well that it is scarcely perceivable. Both these actresses use very little rouge on the upper eyelids, an excess of which is one of the commonest faults. The only purpose it can serve is to soften the upward and whitening glare of the footlights. The skilful use of rouge is the most important and least understood of all the numerous elements of this art. First as to shade, most of the rouge used is blue. It does not blend with most powders, but produces a hard contrast, and appears unnatural. The placing of the rouge, too, is very important in obviating natural defects of proportion in the features, which distances always intensify. Any spot Ieft white is projected as if with a high-light. If the nose is too wide, it can be narrowed by shading the rouge up to its center line. If it is too prominent, it will be less apparent if shaded slightly all over. The same rule applies to the chin, the jaw, the ears, and the forehead. Some people lay in a general foundation of grease rouge before putting anything else on, but this is likely to give a muddy effect. If used only on the cheeks, with the dry rouge over all for shading, the effect is far more natural. Some also lay in a foundation of pink paste called " Exora " - but the result is nearly always. pasty, and should never be used except to cover some blotchiness. The lighter the make-up, the greater opportunity will there be for mobility of expression.

The same moderation should be exercised in making up the eyes and mouth. Brown on the lashes, and eyebrows is softer than black, especially for blondes. Heavy black leading above and below, accentuated by broad shadows on the lids of dark blue, make them look like burnt holes a short distance away. Few eyes are large enough to stand it, and those that are, do not require it. A. little light or dark blue close to the lashes of the upper lid is necessary, but very few eyes need any make-up at all on the lower lid, except a faint shadow, perhaps, of light blue, A little dab of lip rouge in the inner corners of the eye adds an effect of brilliancy. If the eye itself slants, it can be straightened by a line of brown or black, drawn in the opposite direction, and beginning just inside the outer corners. The line of the upper lids and the eye-brows should be extended in almost every ease, to give an effect of breadth to the eyes.

If the face needs lengthening and the eyebrows are not too heavy, they can be covered with flesh colored grease paint, and another pair painted above them. There is danger in this, however, of opening the frame of the eyes too much and giving them a foolish expression. The arched brow tends to elongate, the level, broad effect to shorten, the face.

The mouth also needs careful treatment. As to color: the dark red rouge so often used gives the appearance of a bloody gash. The English hunting red, a sort of bluish vermilion, is best, because most natural. Only the very smallest mouths can stand being made up to the corners, because in smiling, the mouth stretches, and will look too large if deeply colored all the way across.

A line of white grease paint drawn down the bridge of the nose will straighten it ; or, if it be too small, lengthen it. The nose may also be completely transformed by putty.

This brings us to what is known as the character " make-up. Here again one is confronted by numberless problems regarding the use of colors. At best, character make-up is only the adjustment of one physiognomy to the habitual expression of another : complete transformation is out of the question. Nevertheless, the human face, being mobile, may assume expressions which are not habitual to it. However, it must be borne in mind that to superimpose a purely imaginary countenance over a natural one, regardless of what that natural one is, is a fatal mistake, because when the natural face attempts to express itself under the other, the effect will be lost.

To return a moment to the problem of color : illusion is frequently lost through a failure to adjust the shade of the high-light and shadow to the tone of the foundation grease paint, or natural complexion. The commonest offence is the use of an unmixed, unblended slate for shadows, and white, and high-lights, whether the underlying color be florid, sallow, pink, or pale flesh. The result of such treatment is merely paint.

The whole art of making-up is still hide-bound by tradition, because of stupid ideals which persist in the minds of those whose business it is to direct, as well as many in the acting profession itself.



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