If you were admiring Elizabeth Olsen's makeup at TIFF this year—and weren't we all?!—then you were admiring the work of celebrity makeup artist Gita Bass.
Born in Australia but now based in New York City, Gita has prepped countless celebrities for the red carpet. Besides Elizabeth Olsen, some of her famous clients include Keira Knightley, Cate Blanchett, Bryce Dallas Howard, Tina Fey and Katie Holmes, to name a few. She has also worked on fashion editorials, advertising campaigns and runway shows.
I am a HUGE fan. Gita has done so many of my favourite celebrity makeup looks that I've talked about on this website, and always makes her clients look so pretty and fresh.
A couple years ago, I got the chance to meet her in person—and have her do MY makeup!—which was super-exciting. I wish I got a better photo, but here's the crappy iPhone (deer in headlights) one:
With Gita in town for TIFF this year, we got to catch up again, over the phone. This time, I picked her brain about EVERYTHING...
How did you become a makeup artist?
I fell into this. I always loved fashion and beauty, and was obsessed with it. I went to law school briefly, but I couldn't stand it and dropped out. I started doing makeup for fun—my sister is a photographer—and I realized I loved it. So I started assisting other artists, and then moved to New York and reached out to agencies.
How did you start working with celebrities?
It kind of all happened organically. I was doing a lot of fashion and smaller jobs. Then an agency in LA needed someone to work on Minnie Driver. They had met me at a photo shoot. I didn't think celebrity was my thing. I wasn't sure if I would like working with celebrities; I really just didn't know. But I worked with Minnie—she was my first celeb—and we're still great friends. We just hit it off and that was it. Then I started working with more and more celebrities. Once you meet a few publicists, your name gets out there.
Who are some of your celebrity clients now?
I work with Selena Gomez and I love her, because she's just beautiful and really into trying things. Everything you do on her looks amazing.
I work with Elizabeth Olsen a lot, and she's another one—she's just so gorgeous and she hardly needs any help. They're all great in different ways.
Who did you work with for TIFF?
I was with Elizabeth Olsen and Toni Collette, and I did Rachel McAdams and Jessica Chastain. Jess was just a little fill-in because Kristofer Buckle couldn't make it, so I did her for the day. It was busy. I was definitely spent at the end, but it was fantastic.
Where do you get the inspiration for each makeup look?
Every client is different. Sometimes it's a total collaboration and we sit and talk about the makeup, the dress and the hair. It just depends on what they want. Sometimes I look at a dress and I'll say, "I know exactly what to do." Sometimes I'll have no idea. Like, "I don't know, it's not coming to me." Most of the time, it comes to you. The actress usually has an idea of how she wants to look and you take it from there.
What type of makeup are you known for?
I think I'm definitely known for skin and more natural makeup. I'm not known for being dramatic. I mean, I do like it, but it's not my thing. I just like things to be pretty.
How would you describe your makeup philosophy?
I think less is more—that's my personal taste and my aesthetic. I want people to notice the actress and her beauty, rather than her makeup. "So-and-so looks beautiful"—that's the key for me and what I'm trying to do. I really love to focus on skin and don't want to cover anything up. I hate piling on the foundation.
Lots of my clients definitely like to experiment and have fun, but they know with me that they will never look overdone, too costumey, or too crazy. We definitely have fun and experiment, and I can do a statement that people will notice, like a cat eye, but I don't want the makeup to take over. That can make you look older. Rather than trying to leave my mark on them, I just want them to look as beautiful as possible.
How do you prepare the skin for makeup?
I use my new favourite product that I'm obsessed with, the Simple Micellar Make-Up Remover Wipes [available in Canada in January 2016]. They basically took micellar technology and mixed it with their beautiful wipes. They're fantastic; they really clean the skin and leave it so hydrated. It really just creates the perfect base for makeup.
After that, I apply Simple Protecting Light Moisturizer and it creates this clean, hydrated base that makeup will glide on so seamlessly.
For me, skin is like 50 percent of makeup. If your skin looks good, you're halfway done, and you won't need a lot. So you really need to prep it correctly.
What are your tips for getting great skin?
I think you absolutely need a great skincare routine. But you definitely have to look at your lifestyle as well. Your skincare routine is important, but it can only do so much. There are lot of lifestyle factors that impact your skin—your diet, exercise, stress levels. We all know what stress can do to our skin. Taking a holistic approach is the best way to get amazing skin.
I started juicing recently, just in the mornings, and the effect it had on my skin was amazing. Your skin is an organ, and it's filled with cells, so it's about feeding it in the correct way. I do green juices and it makes such a difference. It also helps to balance your hormones when you exercise, and hormones are the number one culprit in causing skin issues for women.
Do you have a favourite foundation for natural-looking skin?
I am very obsessed with the Armani Luminous Silk Foundation. It gives a really nice glow, and the colours are amazing. I put it in my own little pots.
Often, I'll mix it with one or two drops of the Physicians Formula Argan Wear Ultra-Nourishing Argan Oil, which I love. It is amazing. The combination of those two products creates this gorgeous glow to the skin. Depending on how oily someone's skin is, I will use less or more oil. If someone is really dry, I prep the skin with it as well.
What are your thoughts on the face oil trend?
I think we've been taught for so long not to use oils on our faces because they're going to cause breakouts. Well, that's absolutely not true. Maybe mineral oils will, but botanical oils don't cause breakouts at all. They're what the skin naturally produces to protect against bacteria and to keep the skin supple. Often we want to strip our faces of the oil, but once we do that, our bodies just create more oil to compensate and that can often be the problem.
I like to give a little massage first with the oil. It's great for lymphatic system drainage and gets rid of puffiness. It really gets the circulation going, which is what we need to keep the skin young and vibrant—to keep that glow, that natural flush.
How do you apply foundation so it looks natural?
I love using a damp Beautyblender sponge to blend foundation. I apply the foundation with a brush or my fingers, and then I get a damp Beautyblender and go over it. That will remove any excess product and gives the face a very seamless finish. It makes the foundation look undetectable.
I also use the Beautyblender with blush and bronzer. I apply cream blush with a brush, and then to really make it look seamless, I take the same sponge that I used on the foundation, just to blend the edges. That way, you don't see any harsh lines. Everything looks very lived-in and just so natural. Like you are naturally flawless. I love that.
How do you find the right shade of foundation?
It depends how much skin is showing. If your décolletage is showing, that's what I'm matching to. But usually, I try to look at the jawline and do it that way. If you're all one colour, then you definitely want to match the jaw. You always want to look at your makeup in natural daylight. That’s the best way to really see.
If you find that the shade is not exactly right for you and is not working for you, then absolutely mix two together. Be your own painter. Even if you wear SPF 50, you do still get colour in the summer. So in the summer, you might be little darker than in the winter. It just happens that way, and there's not a lot you can do about it. So definitely mix them. We're all individuals, so we definitely do need to customize our foundations for ourselves. I can't help myself, I have to mix.
There can be 1,000 different shades. That's what I love about Armani; it has a great shade range.
What are your thoughts on contouring?
Contouring is becoming my nemesis. We're seeing these totally contoured, crazy-highlighted pictures. I feel like girls are going a little nuts and wearing way too much makeup. They're trying to look their best for Instagram photos, but we all see each other face to face. I'm hoping it's a phase and it will go away at some point. There's definitely a time and place for contouring, in a photo shoot for specific lighting. It's fine if you are on camera, but for every day, it's too much. It ages people. I think we need to steer away from that.
But I'm glad people are talking about highlighting lately more than contouring. Highlighting is beautiful, as long as it's not overdone. You can definitely achieve a similar result to contouring, without that harsh effect.
I love natural skin. You should be able to see the skin. It should never look suffocated. Skin should look like it glows and can breathe. When you overly contour and pile on the makeup, it definitely looks suffocated.
Do you ever contour your clients?
We do like to contour Lizzie [Elizabeth Olsen] a little bit, in a very subtle way. I use the Chanel Bronzing Makeup Base.
It's basically a powdery cream, and you can dab it in the hollows of the cheeks and temples, and even bit on the nose. It gives a really nice contour, but doubles as bronzing powder.
Instead of doing it the harsh way under the cheekbones, I apply it there with a soft brush and blend it up on the cheeks, so it's not as harsh. That way it just looks really seamless, and gives a really nice warm tone to the skin as well. You can even blend it with your fingers.
Which blushes do you use most?
For blush, something between and pink and peach is pretty universally flattering. On Lizzie [Elizabeth Olsen], I use the Physicians Formula Argan Wear Ultra-Nourishing Argan Oil Blush in Natural. It's a great colour; not too pink, not too peach, just a really good natural flush.
Another that I love, that works on everyone—unless you have really dark skin—is Stila Convertible Color in Peony. It's a really gorgeous cream blush that I wear every day.
I like to layer a little bit of powdered blush over my cream and that way, you don't even have to think about it. It just stays.
How do you choose the right shade of blush?
I really think it depends. Sometimes a monochromatic look—with a warmish peach or bronze tone—can look great. If I'm doing a bright lip, then I try to tone down the blush. Unless I'm going for a romantic look, it's just too much colour. With a really bright lip, the blush should be more of a subtle or bronzy colour. It looks more natural.
But I'm funny, I look at blush on a case-by-case basis. It's what looks right to your eye. If the colour is off, you'll know straight away; it will look too cold or too blue. Obviously, some people have a more discerning eye than others. But definitely have a look and if it is wrong, you'll probably know.
Can anyone wear any makeup colour?
I don't believe in any rules, but I definitely think there are shades that complement certain people more than others. One rule of thumb is if you have olive skin, then orange-based reds may be better on you. If you have pale, pinky skin, then try a blue-based red. There are rules like that, which do make sense. But I sort of feel like you can do whatever you want. I think it's more about just keeping it subtle and not going crazy with everything.
Which lip colours are you into right now?
I love my bright pinks, but I'm getting tired of them and I'm ready for deeper wine stains and berry lips. I think they look so beautiful for fall.
For a great berry lip, I love NARS Hyde Park. It's the best. It's really pretty. [Note: This is what Gita used on me when she did my makeup.]
I also love a brown tone, as long as it's not too brown, because that can look a bit dead. You need to have a little bit of colour in there—a hint of pink or red, something that livens it up a bit.
Lizzie [Elizabeth Olsen] really loves that look as well. She often wears MAC Lip Pencil in Spice with just lip balm. It's a really nice nude brown.
How do you get your makeup to look so natural?
If you put bronzing powder over top, it makes it look more natural. Physicians Formula have a beautiful bronzer. It has little bit of shimmer so it gives a glow, but is not going to turn you into a disco '70s finish.
I put that on Lizzie's [Elizabeth Olsen's] eyelids as well. That's another great trick to keep everything looking natural. Use a fluffy eyeshadow brush to apply bronzing powder over your eye makeup. Don't do this if you're working with blue or very different colours. But if you're sticking with earthy tones, it just finishes off the look and makes it look really natural. Once I started doing it, I realized how good it looked. It evens out the face, and makes the tones very even, so it looks less makeuppy.
With Lizzie's [Elizabeth Olsen's] second look, we'd done her makeup in the morning in a really natural way, and then she took a nap. When she woke up, the natural oils of her skin had made her makeup settle in. She had such a dewy, natural look, I just kept it and cleaned her up a tiny bit. I love that, when she doesn't look made up. It's very effortless, but the lips had a lot of drama.
Besides heavy contouring, what are your beauty pet peeves?
Definitely the wrong colour foundation, and too much of it. Also, I think heavy foundation can be really aging.
Seeing young girls with so much powder. It makes you look five years older. I'm like, "Don't wear powder." I mean, a little bit, yes—get rid of a little bit of shine. But for every day, just let your skin glow. I hate when women have masks. That bothers me I think the most out of everything.
Anything too harsh. If you do a really heavy eye, go lighter on the lips. Also eyeliner that goes down. You want it to lift. And those heavy strip lashes that people wear, I am not a fan of.
If you're looking at runway trends, you have to adapt them to make them wearable. Bright pink eyeshadow can look great on runway, but it's not necessarily the best look for everyday.
Obviously, the over-contoured face and the over-contoured eye.
What are your thoughts on brows?
The Ombré brow is not my sort of thing. I definitely like to keep the brow lighter on the inner corner and darker on outer corner, but not in a way that you'd notice. I'm doing it in a way that nobody will know.
I like a heavy brow, but if it's too heavy, it can age you. It can make you look harsh or even more stern. I'm definitely a fan of a natural-looking brow, rather than a heavy, painted-on, square-looking brow.
What's the one product you can't live without?
Definitely the Armani foundation. Also, I always think the Simple Eye Make-Up Remover Pads are a must-have for everyone's purse. The other thing that really bugs me is when I see smudged makeup. I find it so distracting.
If you have these with you, you can just check yourself periodically. They're super-light and so tiny, you can carry them around with you. It's kind of like having Q-tips with you and eye makeup remover.
Roll them up and use them like a Q-tip. I use them all the time to fix things, so if your eyeliner smudges, you can literally just fix it in a second. Or I do cat eyes sometimes and I just throw them under and make them totally perfect. You get a really flat edge. I would say carry these with you wherever you go.
It's great that you use a mix of prestige and affordable products.
Well, that's the thing. When you see these [celebrity] makeup breakdowns and it's like, L'Oréal everything, women are savvy now and they know that's not true. They know she's not using, you know, CoverGirl—and suddenly you see her in an ad for CoverGirl. Women are wise now and they know. I'm always completely honest about what I use because I don't want to misinform people. And what's the point, you know?
With skincare, I don't think there's any need to spend thousands of dollars. I had all these high-end products I was using on people that were good. But I'm a mother, and my friends are other mothers that ask me to recommend products. I'm like, "I can't even recommend these products because they're $500, and people send them to me." I couldn't afford them. I love a holistic approach to skincare with products that work on everyone and that we can afford.
Any advice for aspiring makeup artists?
If it's something you love, follow your passion. I really just learned on the go. The best way to learn is to assist another makeup artist and get hands-on training. Practice as much as you can on friends and on yourself. Just keep doing it.
Obviously, classes are great and there are schools out there. But it's a skill that you have to hone, and you have to just practice. You will get there.
Also, I think makeup is very specific and personal. You can do an amazing job and someone might just not like it. You need to have a thick skin, because not all jobs will go well. So don't take it personally. Keep at it. It's an art form.
There are so many different niches within makeup artistry. If celebrity is not yours, then maybe fashion is. Just stay true to yourself and find your place.
What qualities are most important for a celebrity makeup artist?
It's 50 percent skill and 50 percent personality, in that you have to be sensitive to their needs. You have to decipher what they want. It's not really about you, it's about them. It's a collaboration, but at the end of the day, they have to be happy.
When you're doing makeup for fashion, you can do whatever you want with your team. But with celebrities, it's really about making them happy and being sensitive to their needs. They want to look as beautiful as possible and they know there is a lot at stake. You have to make them comfortable, because if they feel good, that will shine through and radiate. We all have this artistic need, but your vision has to fit in with theirs.
What's the best way to improve your own makeup?
There are a lot of great makeup artists on YouTube who have been in the business for a long time and make fantastic videos. Monika Blunder and Lisa Eldridge do beautiful makeup, so those are two people to look out for.
Practice, recreate pictures that you love and read makeup breakdowns. If you follow makeup artists like me on Instagram, ask us what products we use.
And don't listen to rules too much. Take what I say with a grain of salt, because as long as your makeup makes you feel great, that's what's important!
Do you agree with Gita's makeup philosophy? Have you tried any of her favourite products?