Maquillage and fabric in the creation of characters

My method of creating fictitious people has been long in growing. Some personages are entirely invented and bear no intentional resemblance to anyone real; others are lifted from the public domain and given new roles to play.

Certain characters are composites of persons – assemblages of outfits and mannerisms – whom I have known or encountered, whom I have ‘unpicked’ then reformed into someone new, at times employing one or two people to make up a single character.

In ‘unpicking’ a real person, I might borrow only one thing – an item of clothing, an accent or a gait. Or I might make use of their whole demeanour – their ill or good humour; their twinkling or dull eye; their fits of melancholy or outbursts of joy. To all these bits and pieces are added what I ‘make-up’ about the fictitious person and the role they must enact.

This method of creating fictitious characters can be likened to the sewing up of life-size rag dolls or the construction of marionettes. In their early stages, when they are still on the drawing board, or in pieces upon the work bench, before their own inherent personality animates them for the fiction, they are really nothing more than a starter-pack of fabrics, wigs and masks, held together by the tacking-stitches used by tailors.

So it was an interesting experience for me to be at the receiving end of the creative process – ‘getting the treatment’, so to speak. This was at the hands of fashionista Rochelle Malherbe Howard and hair & make-up artist, Sebastine Pepler, who prepared me for a photo shoot.

I’d been asked to arrive at the studio as a blank page, in clothes that were easy to remove and wearing no make-up, which is precisely the ‘starting point’ of my fictitious characters.

Sebestine, with an array of brushes and a palette of colours, skilfully made use of my own features and ‘transformed’ them, so that my face was mine, but at the same time beautifully enhanced and therefore ‘more than mine’. Using dark and light shades, she accentuated or lifted features, allowing my facial expressions to animate in an altogether lovely way, framing them with a tumble of curls. Watching her in the large mirror, as she worked on the ‘canvas’ of my face, I realised we were both painters, she with maquillage and I with words.

Rochelle dressed me and here too I saw similarity in our professions, the difference being that I was ‘real’ in her hands as she zipped and buttoned me, whereas my characters remain fictitious and all their outfits are imagined.

Dressed and empowered, I walked onto the photographic set. Here I was ‘positioned’ by the expert artistic eye of Lesley Mallon who, with a few adjustments, had me playing my part under the spotlight, using my body easily and expressively.

As photographer Morne van Zyl worked his professional lens, I again recognised a similarity in the creative process  – here it was the ‘drawing out’ of personality and the putting aside of coyness, the empowering of the subject to play their role under spotlights. I pretended to be Pearlie Theron of Banquet at Brabazan. It was a marvellous feeling. I wore my gorgeous false eyelashes all day.

Photo-shoot for Balanced Life March 2012
Lesley Mallon Art Director Highbury Safika Media
Rochelle Malherbe Howard Fashion Editor Highbury Safika Media
Sebastine Pepler Hair and Make up Artist
Morne van Zyl Photographer

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