• Images courtesy of Robin Black
  • Images courtesy of Robin Black
  • Images courtesy of Robin Black
  • Images courtesy of Robin Black
  • Images courtesy of Robin Black

Robin Black

When she’s not on set doing makeup for Vogue, working on celebrity clients like Olivia Wilde or backstage at shows such as Diane von Furstenberg, Robin Black plays photographer and makeup artist for her acclaimed beauty blog Beauty is Boring. From mixing chemicals in her first career as a scientist to mixing pigments as an in-demand makeup artist, Black’s path to beauty has certainly been unconventional. We sat down with Black and asked her about her creative process when approaching both her personal and editorial work, her go-to makeup looks and which shades (and textures) she’s favoring for the warmer seasons.

What sparked your interest in becoming a makeup artist?

Growing up, I preferred books and playing outdoors to dollhouses and fancy dresses. I wasn’t interested in makeup until I started paying attention to all the cool kids in i-D and The Face. Those magazines, along with an accidental excursion into Echo Park in Los Angeles, inspired me to buy black eyeliner and begin experimenting with my look.

Makeup is actually my second career. I went to school for biochemistry and fine art and worked in that field for almost seven years. It never occurred to me that being a makeup artist was an actual career until a friend pointed out that since I was interested in fashion, photography and painting, it would be a fun way to pay the rent. I was given great opportunities at the beginning of my career by Laura Mercier, who let me work for her line when I knew nothing, and Diane von Furstenberg, who let me key her runway show when I had never even attended one.

What sparked your interest in becoming a photographer?

It feels like I’ve always had a camera in my hands, but it’s only recently that I’ve had any ambition to be a photographer. It’s the act of taking pictures that I am madly in love with…to hell with the final result. As I’ve begun to shoot for magazines, galleries and brands, my relationship with photography is changing. Suddenly the result is becoming more important, and I haven’t decided if that’s a good thing.

You mentioned struggling with a love/hate relationship with beauty. How has your definition of beauty evolved?

I once read an interview with a famous fashion designer who said she loved her work in practice but despised it in theory. I think it’s the theory of beauty that upsets me—the way society has defined it. Beauty should be a broad concept filled with contradictions and make room for individuality, not a rigorous definition with strict guidelines to obey.

Your blog, Beauty is Boring, features an array of beautiful faces, and not all of them are models. Are there certain types of features that you find particularly arresting?

I love a strong arched nose, tilted wide-set eyes, round doll eyes, unusual coloring, the occasional scar, crooked eyebrows, excessive cheekbones and features that are generally just slightly out of whack. I love anything that makes a person more of a character. Sometimes it’s just the expression in their eyes or the way they hold their head. I’m also mad for skin that’s so dark it has blue undertones, eyelashes so pale they’re transparent and, let’s be honest, you can’t ever have enough freckles.

Your editorial portfolio is extensive. How do you find time to work on your blog? Do you have a set schedule?

I have a studio right behind my home, which is incredibly helpful. I shoot almost every week, so I generally have a folder of images to pull from. I try to post 2-3 times a week but occasionally I have to skip days due to travel. If you are passionate about something, you make the time.

What’s your creative process like when you work on your blog, and how does it differ from your creative process for editorial work?

Beauty Is Boring is very spontaneous and experimental. The looks I create for it come from a variety of sources, and the images are very collaborative. The people I’m working with usually come in with an idea they want to try, or I see them and instantly have a concept. Other times, I have a new product that I want to try or I just start working and let my hands decide what the look will be.

Editorial is quite different because I am working as part of a team. The best editorials are the ones where the makeup artist, hairstylist, wardrobe stylist and photographer have a cohesive vision. And of course, there is also the season, the clothes, the publication and the model to consider.

Where do you find inspiration? Who is your current muse?

I find inspiration everywhere. I heard a song last week that reminded me of a girl I once admired who drew in her red lipstick with distinct downturned corners. I also just saw some wonderful Caravaggio paintings that made me want to gild everyone’s eyelids with that particular greenish gold. And spring always makes me think of the cherry blossoms in Japan, which reminds me of my great-grandmother and kabuki theatre, so today I did a modern version of the traditional white painted face with this very small, smudged red lip.

How do you normally wear your hair?

I have a short '90s-inspired choppy bob with the underside shaved. I part it on the side and keep my routine simple since it's wavy. After showering, I towel-dry my hair and work through a dollop of Oribe Surfcomber Tousled Texture Mousse, then let it air dry. When I'm feeling fancy or have a big event, I prefer a deconstructed look with lots of volume—I've never been one for a perfectly smooth mane. I always keep a purse size bottle of the Dry Texturizing Spray for touch ups or last minute meetings. A quick spritz to the underside of my unruly hair gives it the perfect undone-yet-done look.

Personally, what’s your go-to makeup look (and how can we steal it from you)?

If I’m being totally honest, my go-to day look is flawless skin and lip balm…occasionally some tinted moisturizer and cream bronzer. I feel sexier and more confident in less makeup and usually just wear my hair slightly wavy and natural.

When I’m in the mood to play dress up, I turn to thick and graphic black gel eyeliner worn thick (think Tura Satana in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!). I never touch my eyebrows. I usually wear them natural or bleached pale. With this look, I generally opt for a nude lipstick, light contouring and skip blush. Since my haircut is very structured, I like to straighten it which lends it a graphic feel that goes perfect with this look.

A close second is a statement lip with a nude face. I prefer intense orange-reds in a satin or matte finish. I leave my eyes completely bare. This is the look I wear to meetings, first time introductions to a significant other’s parents and any occasion where the word “chic” is involved. This look goes great with curls! Lots of curls!

My “I’m with the band” look consists of applying kohl eyeliner and mascara and then patting my eyes with damp fingertips until the makeup looks slept in. Natural, glowing skin with an extra dose of matte cream bronzer as a contour (don’t forget to contour your temples) finishes the look, which actually looks better as the night goes on. With this look, I wear my hair as messy and "slept-in" as possible, which, to be honest, is pretty much my daily look by default.

What kinds of makeup shades are you favoring for spring and summer?

I’m more interested in textures than colors at the moment. There are some lovely matte bronzers, cream cheek colors and sheer lipsticks that have caught my eye recently. Eyeshadows that can be used wet to look like pale watercolor paint and subtle metallics are interesting for the warmer seasons. I’ve also been experimenting with color bases in lavender, pink and pale greens to create the appearance of luminescent skin without shimmer or sheen.

Your blog has drawn acclaim from around the web. Where do you hope it will be in ten years?

I started the blog on a whim and I suppose one day it will end that way. In the meanwhile, I plan to keep it non-commercial and constantly evolving. Right now, I’m contemplating showcasing other makeup and hair artists that I admire, then a book and perhaps a gallery show.
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