Mucky Ducks

April 18th, 2017

April 18th, 2017

With the plethora of gritty period dramas and bloody battle scenes heading our way, make-up artists need to prepare to quite literally get their hands dirty.  Often seen as an easy thing to do, dirtying down is an art form in itself – you need to match the dirt to the environment the character lives in, collaborate with costume to create a cohesive look and work out the level of what is too much and what is not enough.  Spatter, smear, smudge, spray or splodge… whichever technique you choose we here at Warpaint have some downright dirty tactics and products to make your Dirt effect pure filth… in the cleanest way possible.

MAEK UP Dropper Dirt

Layer Up

It may be the case that when you are on set doing the dirty, you may need to put on copious amounts of clothing as you recreate a WWI trench scene, but that isn’t what we mean here by layering up.  Dirt is all about layers, depending on the effect you are trying to achieve though generally you want to show a build-up of muck.


A brilliant place to start is using a product like MAEKUP Dropper Dirt, which comes in three great colours, appropriate to any environment.  What is fantastic about this product is that you can smear it all over the skin in a light, matte and rub resistant finish, brilliant for your base layer of dirt.  Push it right in those pores with a soft car sponge and then with the wonder product that is Waterwipes simply remove a layer of dirt by blotting the Dropper Dirt away.  This means that the first layer is embedded in the actor’s pores which gives that real worn-in look.  Then, add your next layer.  Taking Warpaint favourite brush for organic dirt effects, the Daler and Rowney Mop Brush (ironically named) use the dropper dirt again and mottle across the skin, creating a lovely wash of grime.  You can again go in with more mottling, depending on how dirty you need to go or move on to the next stage of your mucky make-up creation.

Daler Rowney mop brush


Spatter Matters

So once you have that base layer in place, it’s time to break up the breaking down.  A brilliant technique we learnt from a fantastic Make-up Designer working in Period Dramas is to use colours from Skin Illustrator – Grunge, Scalp and Necromania Palettes.

Skin Illustrator Grunge     Skin Illustrator Scalp   Skin Illustrator Necromania

Spattering washes of your chosen Vile Bile, Darth Moss or Muddy Waters adds depth and texture to the skin.  What is even better about using the alcohol-based products over the Dropper Dirt is that it breaks down the colour, making patches where the skin shows through, creating water marks as if the skin has sweated through the dirt.  You can also use your mop brush again here to intensify any areas of dirt that you feel need that extra smear or smudge.  Using the alcohol-based colours really embeds the make-up, adds another dimension, a different texture all whilst making the make-up last longer.

Greased Up

MAQ Pro Dirt Grime Guy liner

Now you have lathered your actor in a layer of makeup muck it’s time to create the character.  Using MAQ Pro’s Dirt, Grime and Guy liner Palette, choose your specific colours to define the dirt.  The red is brilliant for roughing up nails or knuckles and to weather the skin with broken veins or sun damage, whilst the greens are excellent for paling down the lips and the black is excellent for a smeared pirate guy liner look.  Use a stipple sponge or a brush like Bdellium FX 193 Small Stipple and smear, smudge or splodge exactly where you want the dirt to be.  Don’t forget that dirt settles in ears, up the nose and on the back of the neck, so get that brush in there with no fear, the more grime the better.

Bdellium FX 193 Small Stipple


A great way of getting a thick greased up look is also to spritz on Bluebirds Filthy Muddy or Filthy Oily,  let them drip down the skin to add a more three-dimensional effect. Layered with powdered dirt and sweat effect products and pushed up into the hairline, they complete any muddy make-up look.

Bluebirds Filthy MudyOily

A top tip we have is to use the Bdellium 731S Mascara Fan Brush – load it up with black from MaqPro’s Dirt palette and push it right up under the nails.  Clean hands and nails are a sure giveaway that your actor hasn’t really been crawling through a muddy field or digging in a coal mine.

Bdellium 731S Mascara Fan Brush


Dry Dirt

If your character has been deserted on a tropical island or lost in a barren wasteland, you may want to go for more dry dirt effects.  Ben Nye do a brilliant range of inexpensive dirts that come in many colours, pop them in one of PPI’s Dirt Bags and puff your way to putrefied perfection.  Simply fill these cotton muslin bags with the Dirtworks Dirt powders and gently rub or buff the dirt onto the skin or costume to create an ultra realistic dirt effect.  These fine, loose, character powders are used to dirty down, distress and weather skin and costume, clings onto skin effectively yet washes off easily and gently after use.  From earthy Plains Dust, acrid Ash Powder to charred Charcoal Powder, these powders pack a powerful punch, coming in handy little shaker pots for your set bag touch-ups.

Ben Nye dirts            PPI Dirt Bags

If you can’t get your filthy hands on these, Make-up International also do an excellent range of dry dirts with a super intense pigment.  They can create realistic effects involving character, injury and action work – deserts, coalmines, etc. – and is available in three shades: Nebraska, Volcanic and Coal.

Make-up Int dirt


Top Tip

Apply as is for a dry dirt, or spritz with water and/or smear with glycerine to create a more muddy, wet result.

VO5 Matte Clay      Got2b Matte Paste

Mucky Mop

Hair is just as important as skin when creating that overall greasy, grimy look.  Using VO5 Matte Clay and Schwarzkopf Got2b Matte Paste rub a healthy amount into the roots of your actor’s hair to create a very natural greasy, matted mop of hair.  To add crispy crunch to the hair, use Bumble and Bumble Surf Spray for that bedhead look and to a slimy sheen to the hair, spray in a leave-in conditioner.  We love Aussie Leave in Conditioner, it smells fantastic (unlike your now grubby, grimy actor) and adds a great greasy shine.


Bumble and Bumble Surf Spray  Aussie Leave in Conditioner


Top Tip

Don’t forget your actor’s teeth!  No one cared about having pearly whites way back when, so use PPI’s Pegworks Palette for that un-brushed, plaque build-up you’ve always wanted.

PPI Pegworks Palette

Cruddy Costume

So your actor is ready to step on set, top to toe caked in mud, grease and grime and it’s now Costume’s turn to break it down.  Using the amazing array of products from Angels Costumes Warehouse such as Pure Filth Crayons, those wardrobe wizards will smear, smudge and rub the clothes to bring the whole character to life.

Angels Pure Filth

So there you have it, the definitive guide to dirtying down.  You may find that you too would fit in perfectly with your actors on set at the end of your make-up call with dirt in your nails, hair and basically everywhere.




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By Warpaint Magazine

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