December 11th, 2013
She’s the queen of Saturday Night TV, heading up the team that creates the looks for Strictly Come Dancing under time pressures that would challenge the patience of a saint. Warpaint takes a peek into the glittery world of Lisa Armstrong.
WP: How did you start out as a Make-up artist?
LA: I’ve always been interested in dancing and singing and studied at The Brit School in Croydon, travelling from Oxford every day. When I finished I joined a pop group called Deuce. Apart from singing, the thing that interested me the most was the artistic side of a band: hair, make-up and costume design. Wendy Rowe was our make-up artist and I was always fascinated asking her why she used certain products and looking for recommendations. When the band broke up I started to think what it was that I wanted to do, and I loved the creativity so I decided to enrol in Glauca Rossi School of Makeup. I did a Diploma in Make-Up Artistry and worked in a pub in the evening to fund my studies. After my course was over, I was asked to assist on a couple of teenage magazine shoots which lead to a job doing makeup as part of a popular teen mag’s model search. We toured around the country in 2001, and I did a lot of teenage makeovers with that magazine and other makeover shows on the general public. Then Cosmopolitan asked me to be their Beauty SOS Columnist where I answered readers dilemma’s like ‘I’ve got pale skin, red hair and blue eyes, how can I rock a red lip?’ I did that for about a year, testing the claims of make-up products and working around that for music acts like boyband A1 and Michelle McManus. As for moving into TV, the transition happened very organically. Radio Times had asked me to assist on a shoot for Ozzie Osbourne and Steve Redgrave at The Dorchester Hotel. Sharon Osbourne was there and was about to start filming the first ever X Factor shows and didn’t have a make-up artist. So I stepped in, where I worked under Patsy O’Neill, Jackie Tyson and Adam de Cruz who were great supporters of my work. Other TV shows then started to ask me to work with them, getting asked back by the same production teams, but on different shows.
WP: How did you get involved in Strictly Come Dancing?
LA: The production manager of Strictly had been following my work and ask me to join the team. I did a mini audition of a make-up and hair test on one of the professional dancers and six years later I’m still here. I absolutely love it. It is a great contrast to the other make-up I do on shows for the rest of the year, but from September to December it is all about glitter and eyelashes.
WP: Where do you get the inspiration for the looks?
LA: The idea is born through a concept document that is sent through to me. It details that week’s dance style, music that is playing, the era whether it is modern or traditional and the graphics in the scene – for example whether it is boy meets girl on a bench in a park. I also get an outline of the dress design and using all of this I start to think about the concept for hair and make-up. With hair, era and style are really important so if the dancer is doing the Charleston then a black bob is suitable, but if it is disco week then we can go a bit more crazy. My team is absolutely incredible, I’ve worked with them since day one and they really understand the things that I want for a certain look. Once I’ve explained the idea I have in my head, I give them free rein with the look, as I don’t want to scupper their creativity. I think it is so important that we all develop as artists individually and together. Everyone has their own interpretation of a smoky eye or lash flick. They execute things in a different way than I would, and that keeps each look fresh year on year. I can’t do everyone, so it is fantastic to have so much support for each other, as things can change in an instant on a live show. Even with preparation, on the dress run you might see a bruise that needs covering or note that the lip look needs more emphasis and my team know how I like to work. They inspire me and we learn from each other.
WP: How long does it take to get everyone made up for the show?
LA: There are 16 weeks and 16 women with hair and make-up different every week and what people don’t realise is that it is a constant evolution throughout the day and we are a live show. The six MUA’s in my team and I have usually tried the looks out on each other to see if they will work in the makeup room. On a Saturday morning the dancers come in, and we make them up and that make-up has to stay on for nine hours. We have a schedule and if you aren’t ready by the live show in the evening then it can’t happen so we have to stick to it. The dancers have one hour of makeup and one hour of hair, then they do their dress run in the studio and under the lights. They dance to their music with the live band, they are sweating and twirling so that hair really has to stay in place. They might have to see the physio and all these things can affect the make-up and hair. We get one last touch up in the VT when Bruce is introducing the couple who are about to dance and they HAVE to be ready. That hair and make-up has to look perfect to sustain that final performance routine.
WP: Has the make-up on Strictly changed during the show’s run?
LA: I think it has definitely grown with the times, it is now more modern and fashion forward. We can do rock hair on a dancer doing the Pasodoble and we don’t necessarily have to do victory rolls for the older dances. We have definitely become more edgy, especially in makeup too. At the beginning we played it quite safe, but now it doesn’t have to be a pale blue eye with a pale blue dress. The contestants are more willing to experiment too and it is really nice that they trust me. They know I won’t make them go out there looking bad. As a prime time entertainment show in HD, it is great to evolve and try new things. It is a complete contrast to the other shows I work on like Alan Carr’s Chatty Man and Piers Morgan Life Stories.
WP: Who was your favourite contestant to make up? Who was the most challenging?
LA: Getting the dancers ready for the live show after they have done the pre-recorded group first dance is definitely challenging. I have to think about their makeup for the whole day and how it can translate across all their looks. The most challenging was definitely a few years ago when I had just 40 minutes to make Brendan Cole look like Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror show when he had been in the pre record as a scary zombie. We had to apply a bald cap and blend it seamlessly and add a thin strip of hair all in 40 minutes and a good application should really take 2 hours. He literally ran to appear in the VT. He was doing the jive and I was just praying it would stay on and not rip or disintegrate, watching from the side.
I loved working with Kimberley Walsh and Michael Vaughan last year. We had 50 minutes until the live show to transform them from glamorous dead zombies from the Thriller group dance into their individual characters. Michael had red lips and completely forgot this when he was wishing everyone good luck with a kiss on the cheek three minutes before we went live. You have to laugh in those kinds of situations.
The dancers and contestants can be running back and forth to the quick change area and so are we. Sometimes we will have four people on one dancer changing lips, eyelashes, curling hair and reapplying base all simultaneously. You have to just concentrate and be calm. It is all about planning and working in organised chaos. It is like skydiving, you know you’ll land you just don’t know where! But that is also what makes it so fun, I get a real buzz from working under a bit of pressure, trying to make sure it all goes smoothly.
WP: Are there any looks you are particularly proud of? Do you have a favourite themed week on the show?
LA: Themed weeks are really fun, I love any that I have to come up with a concept for. I absolutely love Halloween week, it is the most challenging in terms of transitional concepts and I get really stressed, but I love the end results. Sophie Ellis Bextor’s Vampire Halloween look was so fun to create this year. I had to think how to show the intensity of red around her eyes, how to make the black contrast and how I was going to make it look 3D with glitter. I really want the viewing public to say, “I wonder how they did that?” It definitely keeps me on my toes, my mantra with my team is that ‘If you are going to do it, go for it. Do it properly, go all out.’ It is great that we have the freedom to do that. They have grown with me from cleaning brushes through to fully fledged MUAs and they know in advance that sometimes I’m so nervous I feel sick, trying to make sure we all pull it off. We are like a family, everyone pitches in.
WP: How do you make sure all that glitter stays on?
LA: With heavy glitter I use a glitter glue, and then for fine glitter I use a mixing medium. Glitter travels so I always use tape underneath the eyes to catch the particles and pat the face with tape to take off excess. Then we really just have to keep an eye on it. It just goes everywhere and I have to make sure my kit is thoroughly cleaned before I go and do other shows. You wouldn’t want male guests on Alan Carr or Pier Morgan covered in glitter!
WP: Which false eyelashes do you use?
LA: Eyelure do a great range of eyelashes in all shapes and sizes. Recently I’ve also used Ardell, which are very good too. I like Duo Eyelash Adhesive to apply. I carry eyelash glue everywhere with me on set, those tiny little glue bottles that are in the packets haunt me and I find them in bags and pockets.
WP: What are your must-have make-up essentials?
LA: First up is definitely a good eye base or primer. The eye make-up has to stay on and not smudge or crease. I like MAC Paint Pots as they have a good range of colours, and Benefit’s Stay Don’t Stray is great too.
Eyes seem to be the main focus in most looks. Eye liner is a necessity. MAC’s Blacktrack is really deep and the colour stays strong.
Finally a good moisturiser is a must. I use the Bobbi Brown Vitamin Enriched Moisturiser as it’s rich, but not greasy. You have to keep skin looking good between make-up application and week on week throughout the show’s run.
Images courtesy of Lisa Armstrong, BBC.co.uk, Strictly Come Dancing and YouTube.com.