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As someone who is always struggling to get out the door quickly, I typically forgo makeup in my morning routine. To be fair, this is partly because styling my curly hair and trying to pick the perfect outfit can be time-consuming. But as our lives, timelines, and routines have drastically changed in recent months, I’ve found that the extra time I would have spent shuffling through the city has brought about curiosity in what a makeup routine would look like for me. Admittedly, this is a bit strange considering I’m a novice when it comes to makeup and barely have a skincare routine, not to mention there's nowhere to really be wearing makeup out and about in the world.
Despite these facts, I decided now could be the starting point of my personal makeup exploration. To my delight, professional makeup artist Lennie Billy agreed to map out makeup looks and tips for any beginner (including me). Ahead, you'll find seven looks you can try out at home, but before you pick up your brushes, a little about Billy…
Meet Lennie Billy
How long have you been a makeup artist? And what do you love about makeup?
I’ve been a makeup artist for over eight years. What I love about my career is being able to create, transform, play with color, textures, shapes, styles, get out the rules or norms, and also sometimes innovate by creating trends. Being able to travel and work alongside other artists has also been amazing. I’ve done so many things that only reaffirm my love for makeup.
What’s the number one tip you’d give to a novice when it comes to makeup?
My number one advice I always give is don't be afraid of experimenting. Makeup is a lot of trial and error. Whether you’re a professional or just a makeup enthusiast, I always say that you have to go through everything. After you have tried it all, then it's easy to define your niche. This also goes for your signature look. We all have one, but before you commit to a forever red lip or black liner, try a smoky eye, a colorful look, a pink lip, or whatever is calling you to try.
Is there a makeup essential you can’t live without? If so, why?
Yes, many, but the only makeup product I personally can’t live without is blush. For me, blush is like going from dull to live! Blush is so versatile too. You can use it to apply color to your eyes, lips, and cheeks.
Keep scrolling for the easy-to-create looks Billy suggests for beginners.
Why this look? As Billy shared, “I think a red lip is so classic that this has to be number one. A red lip is something that makes you look chic, fashionable, awake, and also is a staple look everyone should nail doing.”
"My tip for makeup beginners trying to create a professional red lip is to first choose the red lip you feel comfortable using," Billy continued. "For example, some people like more toned-down reds; others like bright reds; some like some cool-tone reds; others may be more into warm reds. So just pick the one you like. Once you have that, buy a lip liner that goes with it and a lip brush,” she explains.
“To nail the look, my trick is to line the lips very well, taking my time to create the perfect shape. Then, with the brush, take the color and apply it to the corners of the lips first. Then take the lipstick and apply it directly from the bullet to the center of the lip,” Billy instructs.
“Remember that you can always correct anything using a flat brush with a tiny bit of concealer and go around to clean up and perfect the shape," Billy reminds us.
Pat McGrath’s MatteTrance Lipstick in Elson is a great lipstick for all beginners to have in their makeup arsenal.
As Billy explained, “Wet n Wild Megalast Lip Color in Red Velvet is a true red with a cool undertone.”
If you’re searching for a warm, bright red with an orange undertone, Billy suggests Bite Beauty’s Outburst Longwear Lip Stain in Sangria Slush.
While I’m a newbie to that makeup life, I’ve always loved a red lip. Adding in the lip liner was new for me, and I'll definitely need more practice around really nailing it, but overall, I found Billy’s first look super-approachable and was feelin‘ myself all day.
“Let’s talk about the famous cat-eyeliner look, a look that will never go away. Every year, we see different types, lengths, styles, and it is also a staple look everyone should at least try,” Billy told us.
“My tip for any beginner trying to create a cat eye is to first start with the tail. Look straight to the mirror with eyes open and do the tail—how long depends on your preference and how dramatic you want it to look. After you do the tail, then move to the inner corners and start the line very close to the lash line. The beauty of this look is that it should look like it is going in crescendo,” Billy explained.
Billy continued, “How you connect the tail with the rest, well, easy: Take the very end of the tail and draw a line like you’re trying to make a small triangle. Then fill in the spaces and voilà!”
“My favorite way to create a perfect cat eye is with a liner brush and gel liner product,” Billy mused.
“My favorite gel liner is from an indie brand called Pretty Vulgar and is called The Ink Gel Liner," Billy explained. "It is super smooth, easy to work with, doesn’t move, and is easy to remove with makeup remover.”
Imma be real: I still need a lot of practice when it comes to perfecting this cat-eye look. Everything went wrong for me when creating this look. My eyes wouldn't stop twitching, my eyeliner pencil broke, I ran out of makeup remover… The fact I was even able to manage to create one semi-decent liner look was a challenge. Ultimately, I'd suggest getting a felt-tip pen to create this look, and for beginners: Know that actually nailing the perfect cat eye is going to take time.
“For those days you feel like not doing your makeup, a pared-back look is perfect," shares Billy. "My favorite thing to do is do my morning skincare routine and after that give life to my face on those lazy days by using a highlighter and gloss.”
She continued, “I take my cream highlighter and apply it on the high points of my face—cheekbones, nose bridge, maybe chin and temples. These last two depend on if you have combo or oily skin. You might not want to look hella shiny.”
“And lastly, apply a beautiful and juicy lip gloss,” Billy instructs.
So what products does Billy swear by for this look? “My all-time-favorite cream stick highlighters are Glossier Haloscope in Topaz,” she says.
Billy also swears by Honest Beauty Magic Stick Balm.
Based on how hard it was to create a legit cat eye, I was beyond relieved to re-create a no-makeup makeup look (purely based on the fact, I've done it many times before). I love using my Glossier Futuredew, a little bit of bronzer, and some Fenty gloss every day, all day. Who said adopting a makeup routine had to be so hard?
For the makeup newbies in the room, what exactly is a monochromatic look? As Billy explained, “I love being able to use just one product for different purposes. When doing a monochromatic look, it is better to use the same product for eyes, lips, and cheeks. Otherwise, you're just doing all (whatever color) look and not necessarily monochromatic because there’s maybe different finishes or tones to the color.”
To create this look, Billy suggests, “With your favorite stick/cream blush, do an easy wash of color on the eyes, use it as blush, and apply it to your lips."
“Apply some mascara, maybe some concealer if you need it, do your brows and that’s it. You have a nice fun look to rock your day,” Billy continued.
“My favorite stick blushes are of course Fenty Beauty’s ones. My all-time fave shades are Chili Mango and StrawBerry Drip,” shared Billy.
She continued, “Fenty’s new cream blushes are the bomb, too.”
Not a Fenty fanatic? Billy also loves using Nudestix Nudies Bloom in Poppy Girl to create this look.
Just when I thought I couldn't love a minimal makeup look more, Billy helped me to take it to the next level. I'll admit I was apprehensive about using one product for my full face, but it turns out, it's basically like my favorite highlighter look without as many products.
I opted out of using mascara, and simply used Fenty's Rum Match Stick on my lids, cheeks. And then I mixed the match stick with Pat McGrath's Clear Lip Fetish Lip Balm to make the match stick pop a little more on my lips.
“A brown smoky look is such a staple look, but also it's a look that's super easy to replicate for makeup beginners,” Billy shared.
“First, get you a very creamy eye pencil or a cream/liquid matte eye shadow. Then, with a big buffing eye shadow brush (like Morphe’s M531) and just apply your pencil or shadow to the bottom half of your lid," she explained. "Don’t worry about the shape. Just apply and blend, making sure you get to your desired saturation.”
“Then, you can get a brown powder shadow and set it," Billy continued. "If you have oily lids, I recommend this, or if you want just to leave it like that, you can. Pair this with your favorite lipstick color and then you’re finished!”
“My favorite pencil to create this look with is UD 24/7 Glide On Pencil in Whiskey,” Billy confessed.
Like a true makeup novice, not only did I lack all the products I needed for this look (need to add a brown eye shadow palette to my Sephora cart ASAP), but I was also a bit panicked about how I was going to successfully create this look. So I called up a good friend, and she walked me through how to improvise with a few metallic shadows I had on hand. Despite being a little afraid at first, I must say I'm obsessed with this look and recommend all beginners give it a go.
“Glossy lids. Oh, yes. They're a thing now!" Billy professed. "I love it, but for this, you have to be committed to the look. It’s messy, it’s editorial, it’s not an everyday look whatsoever, but you cannot deny it looks so gorgeous in the picture!”
Her tip for creating this makeup look if you’re a beginner? “You can do color or just clear and apply it to your lid with your fingers or with a synthetic flat brush," Billy told us. "I recommend not to use false lashes if you plan to go out with it and use waterproof mascara,” she cautioned.
“My all-time-favorite product is Danessa Myricks Color Fix 24HR Glazes—pick the color you like! They’re all gorgeous!” she mused.
For beginners looking for a low-effort makeup look that still pops, this by far was the easiest of them all. I opted to just use E.l.f.'s Jelly Pop Face & Eye Gloss, along with a nude lip for a barely-there look that made me feel glossy without all the extra gloss.
“Don’t be afraid of adventure with color and shimmers. Makeup is all about having fun!" Billy declared. "Playing with color is not difficult. Again, you don’t need to have a billion colorful shadows and shimmers of different textures.”
To embrace this look, Billy recommends starting small. “Grab your colorful eye shadow palette, pick one matte color, apply with a big shadow brush, and apply it using the same technique I showed you with the brown smoky eye,” she instructs.
“When your shadow is blended, pick a shimmer shade—it can be the same color or even a different one—and apply it with your fingers on the center of the lid moving upward, almost about to hit your brows," she continued. "If you need to maybe do some blending on the edges so the matte and the simmer fusion together do so and that’s it!”
“My favorite beginner-friendly colorful eye shadow is James Charles x Morphe Palette. I mean, who doesn’t have this palette by now? It is affordable and effective," Billy boasted.
While some may have the courage to rock a bright-purple or yellow eye shadow, I'll admit: I'm not quite there yet on my makeup journey. So I choose to play with a light-silver shadow and a little pink shadow from Storybook Cosmetics Fairy Tales Palette for Billy's final look suggestion. For any makeup beginner, this last look really does encompass what the full journey is supposed to be, which is exploration.
Learning how to use makeup is a lifelong journey of exploration. And I'd be lying if I said there weren't moments when I felt like a clown or was frustrated by my inability to not destroy products—but that's all part of the journey.
Along the way, you'll tap friends and experts, you'll make mistakes, and you'll buy the wrong products at times, but ultimately embracing a makeup routine is all about finding the signature looks that make you feel your best over time. (Please don't cram it into a week, as I did.) And if you have a little patience and some palettes to match, you may find out that you, too, are a makeup person.