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Lu Roja, a makeup artist with over a decade of experience, shares her perspective from inside the world of makeup; the artistic side, as well as the material. 

Her relationship with makeup began at her fifth birthday with a cheap plastic butterfly full of makeup of dubious quality that made her skin itch. However, if was the starting point of a beautiful connection to what, to this day, is her passion — doing makeup. It wasn’t something that figured prominently in her plans, and many years passed before she decided to dedicate herself professionally to makeup, driven by the earthly uncertainties faced by most young people upon finishing high school, and the question: “what the fuck am I going to do with my life?” Her answer was makeup. 

Lu explains that, even though she was actively working, being a makeup artist is not only a job, but one that comes with labor uncertainty, bulging weekend schedules, no health benefits, and lots of running around from place to place. In Lu’s case, this meant working at a well-known fast food restaurant, and Doctors Without Borders, until after building up her portfolio for many years, and receiving severance pay after being laid off from a job, she decided to take the leap to working full-time as a makeup artist. But, more than just a work opportunity, being a makeup artist is a work opportunity that’s profitable for women.

Lu with a young client sporting a beautiful unicorn on their face.

She enrolled in a course that gave her the tools necessary to master using paintbrushes and all kinds of instruments, which she completed in December. Shortly after, in March, she got a call from her “boss” and mentor, Alma, with whom she works to this day, who recruited her to work at none other than Barbie, a top-notch entry into the makeup labor market, where she began working doing hair and makeup for young girls through the company. But Lu doesn’t just strive off applying a simple liner and shadow — this was what really got her into the artistic side of makeup, bringing unicorns to life on the cheeks of little girls.

The clients who allow Lu’s imagination to run wild are her favorites, and that’s where the magic happens for her, where relaxation plays a very important role. What Lu hopes to achieve is to make it a trend for people to go out dancing with a unique work of art on their skin, that fades over time. She describes each person’s body as a unique canvas, each with its own temperature, curvature, and textures — and that’s why working as a makeup artist also involves being mindful of the person being painted, and making sure they feel comfortable.

Each person takes with them a unique and unforgettable piece, on their face, their arm, or their leg. And, speaking of legs, Lu’s nighttime mania is painting her leg, a moment of absolute concentration, hours spent passing the paintbrush here and there across her thigh, to give life to the colors in her palette, and let her imagination fly beyond the limits of the brush.

The world of makeup encompasses a variety of spheres, and as long as there’s paint to go around, the fun never ends.

¿Qué fue lo que te motivó a incursionar en el maquillaje?

It’s not some big romantic story, actually its one of my earliest childhood memories, I was living near Independencia and Vélez Sarsfield, Carapachay, and when I turned five I received two gifts: one was a huge bedspread, and the other, the best gift I’ve ever received in my life, was a tiny little makeup case, in the shape of a butterfly, the bootleg kind that you put it on and it gives you an allergic reaction. That was my first experience with happiness related to makeup, and it was fantastic, but many years passed before makeup would become my job.

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Did you always want to be a makeup artist?

Getting into this wasn’t my lifelong dream, but rather something much more mundane, it was like, okay, I’ve just finished high school, I’m 19 years old, what the fuck am I going to do with my life? And I was like, “okay, I’ll take a class”. So I did this course in San Isidro, I was working in a call center at the time, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, and in December, I started sending out resumes for makeup artist gigs, and in March I got a call from my “boss,” who’s more like my mentor really, Alma. I’ve worked with her for almost 10 years, she replied to my email and took me on to work with her, she opened the doors to me. The first gig I got was with Barbie, a really epic gig, and I started doing hair and makeup for little girls. And I don’t just do like liner and shadow and that’s it — which is what got me into the world of artistic makeup and making money off it — but that’s what got me started down this path, and honing my skills and knowledge. Getting started, it was more about the material aspect, it’s a job opportunity for women. 99 percent of makeup artists are women, and there’s an explanation for this within the labor market, I didn’t have access to a well-paid job in a factory, I got into this because I love it and I have fun with it, but it’s not a stable job. The big struggle that makeup artists face, and, with a basis in feminism, is recognizing ourselves both as working women, but also as workers without stability, working under the table, with no health benefits, not always making enough to get by, not having weekends, and having to be constantly running around.

When did doing makeup become your primary source of income?

Getting to the point where I could work solely as a makeup artist wasn’t automatic, it’s not like I just went to work at Barbie and that was it, I worked at a McDonald’s call center, Doctors Without Borders, any shitty gig I could get until, after lots of years of building up experience and portfolio doing makeup, with the help of a psychologist I started actually recognizing my identity as a makeup artist. I got laid off from a job and they gave me severance pay, and with that money, I took the leap towards being a full-time makeup artist. I put together my briefcase, to go out and work seriously as a makeup artist.

What would you say is your defining style as a makeup artist?

A while back I started painting my leg, it started with the pandemic, there were no gigs, and at night I wouldn’t know what to do with myself, so I started painting on myself and uploading photos to social media to see if something would come of it, and it worked out really well. And these days that’s what I like to do, spend 5-6 painting my thigh, and getting in touch with my more artistic side. Alma would always say that people wanted artists at their events, it’s a really awesome perk.

When a client doesn’t know what they want, and they ask you to improvise, what do you end up doing?

I love those clients. A little while back at a super small electronic music festival, there were very few people, and they told me to do whatever I wanted. It was really chill, and they valued my work, and I let my imagination and my artistic side run wild. I wish my job were always like that, because that’s what I really want, I would love to see it become a trend for people to go out dancing with sick works of art on their legs, their arms, their face. And then it’s like, you can just take it off, and that makes it a kind of ephemeral sort of magic. I see a future in which this becomes a reality, permeating people’s bodies with art that disappears, that doesn’t last more than 24 hours and that only you have, because each work is unique.

What do you like most about being a makeup artist?

I love the connection between me and the person whose makeup I’m doing. A cold, rectangular, static piece of paper is not the same as a body that has a temperature, that has distinct curves and textures. That makes it unique, and people can’t be replicated, they’re a unique canvas, and that’s what makes it magical. And you also have to take care of the person you’re painting, I’ve been on the other side of it, standing for 6 hours being painted. There’s an element of care, of making it not feel cold, because a person is not an object, you have to work on that connection with the other person. It’s a really crazy and cool world. It’s so much fun to do a party, with everyone there in body-painting, and then even the next day, seeing what’s left and remembering…and it’s a dead giveaway of who hooked up with who, because you can see pieces of their bodypainting rubbed off on the other person [laughs].