Robin Black: The Next Big Makeup Artist

Bobbi Brown
Editor in Chief
Yahoo Beauty

Photo: Mike Rosenthal. Makeup: Robin Black

I first discovered Robin Black through her Instagram feed. I was amazed that Robin is not only an innovative makeup artist, but a photographer as well. Robin approaches makeup in a fresh and artistic way, and also documents her work with crisp, stunning photos on her blog Beauty is Boring. The site features looks that Robin considers beautiful, spanning a wide range of ages, styles, and trends. Definitely check it out—Robin is going to be a major name in beauty and is just as fascinating and cool as the looks she creates. 

Bobbi Brown: So, tell us how you got started, your education, where you’re from and all of that stuff. 

Robin Black: Makeup is actually my second career. I came to it quite a bit later than most of my peers. I actually went to college for Biochemistry and minored in Fine Arts. Then I worked in the science and technology field for almost seven years.

Photo: Robin Black

BB: How did you transition from science to makeup?

RB: I always had this extremely creative streak growing up. I wanted to be a painter or a writer, but wound up in a more practical field.  I do love science; there is a lot of creativity in it. However, I realized I did not enjoy that life. So I walked away from my corporate career and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. Then a friend who is a dancer asked me to create a specific makeup look for her. It was the first time I ever put makeup on someone. She said, ‘You know Robin, makeup artists actually make a good living. You should talk to my cousin who works for Laura Mercier.’ I called her cousin and wound up going to Laura Mercier’s national artist trial day. Somehow Laura picked me to work for her, even though I had never done makeup before. I think we had a mutual bond because we were both painters. Right after that, I got really lucky—Diane Von Furstenberg gave me the opportunity to do one of her huge runway shows. I had never even been backstage.

BB: Wait a minute! You went from never doing makeup to keying a runway show?

 RB: Crazy, I know! I literally learned makeup on the fly. It really helped me to have the background as a painter. Diane and I really hit it off; she liked my self-taught take on makeup. I was so lucky to meet two strong, interesting women right off the bat. They inspired me and kept me going.

BB: You’re a makeup artist but you’re a photographer too — what an amazing combination.

RB: I’m not fond of being in front of the camera, but I love being behind it. A couple of years ago, I started my blog on a whim. I had a beautiful model named Charlotte Carey stop by my house. She was a really new model, and I wanted to try some makeup ideas we couldn’t try on set. I photographed her with this great vintage big shot 1970s Polaroid. I scanned the pictures into my computer and then I thought: I should shoot these all the time because it’s such a good creative exercise. I put them on an actual website format to make it feel like an ongoing project. I registered the name for the site. I don’t actually think beauty is boring— that’s the only thing. I think beauty is fascinating. But I love the name of it.

BB: How did you learn about your own makeup. Do you wear makeup? Often makeup artists do not.

RB: That is really interesting, I think, that most of us are not heavy on makeup. My mother’s side of the family is Japanese. They were all rather natural beauties. They were very focused on skincare. My mom occasionally would put on some lipstick. I grew up with this notion that beauty was supposed to be natural. I also grew up surfing and skateboarding and snowboarding. I liked punk-rock music and had a Mohawk at one point.

BB: I know that you said you have a love/hate relationship with beauty. What do you mean by that?

RB: I think beauty is a really complicated subject. I once had an interview with a famous fashion designer and she said that she loves the work and the practice, but despised it in theory. I think it’s the theory of beauty that upsets me. It’s the way that society has defined it. To me, beauty should be a much broader concept filled with contradictions and room for individuality, not such a rigorous definition of perfection.

BB:I think that is happening though. When I was a kid in the 60s and 70s it was Barbie or nothing. Now, there are so many different looks and ideas of what beauty is. I think beauty is so fascinating right now.

RB: I agree. I mean, the whole paradigm is changing, and it is a much-needed shift. I’m half Japanese and half Irish-German. When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, it was really hard to even find a half Asian face.

BB: Since you are in this beauty world and you have mixed emotions about it, how do you feel about your own beauty? 

RB: it’s interesting. I grew up as somebody who never thought much about my look, which sounds odd. I’ve always been in this sort of ongoing process of having adventures. I grew up on a boat at one point, traveling around the world.  My dad decided to build a boat of his own design to navigate the world. My mom got pregnant with me and my parents decided, to hell with it, they were going to travel around the world, baby or no baby. It was a very exciting way to grow up, and it really affected me. I think that seeing all of those different races—along with the fact that my family had two different races in it—really informed my view of beauty. When we moved back to the States, suddenly everything was all about this Barbie look. I think I knew from the get-go that I never was going to look like that and that I never enjoyed fighting a losing battle, so I just thought, I’ll do whatever I want.

BB: Did you mother or father tell you that you were pretty growing up? Or did that not ever come up? 

RB: My parents didn’t place a lot of value on looks either. My dad was very much this sort of intellectual, eccentric adventurer. He spent more time talking to me about constellations than about beauty. With my mom, there was definitely an interest in being beautiful and graceful, but she was more concerned that I spelled correctly and had good manners.

BB: That’s probably really healthy.

RB: I’m really lucky. I grew up with a lot of support. I had the kind of parents that could accept me when I decided it would be a good idea to Mohawk my hair or pierce my nose. They were very calm and sort of allowed me to experiment. 

BB: What were some of the beauty experiments?

RB: Bleached brows, bleached hair and a Mohawk. I was more interested in more extreme transformations.

BB: Tell me about your beauty routine now. Is there anything you do on a regular basis just to get out the door? 

RB: I was just talking about how strange it is to be aging and to realize a lot of the things that used to work for me don’t work any more. That messy hair, youthful, black eyeliner from the night before — quite frankly just looks like a mess now. I always say that skincare is the most important part of makeup. Now that I’m older if I throw on makeup without a good skincare regimen, I don’t look good.

 BB: So what do you do for skincare?

RB: I do like a tinted moisturizer, some sunscreen. Being half Asian and half European, I am prone to sun spotting. So finding good sunscreen has been like a quest. It’s literally like my holy grail. I love a little cream and bronzer. It’s interesting that I kind of feel sexier and more confident when I’m not too made up.

BB: I’m with you. People are always amazed that I’m not wearing make up. I’m like, yeah, well, actually I am, I just like the nude colors. I cannot rock a red lipstick. 

RB: For an important meeting, a terrible hangover or jet lag, I reach for a statement lip color.  I love intense red oranges with a satin or velvet finish. A lot of times for me, the bright right lip is like an armor thing. I’m sure you have like that one makeup statement that you make. I love the idea of makeup as an accessory, that it can change your mood with just the addition of something.

BB: Agreed. I think you’re incredible. I can’t wait to collaborate on so many new projects. I think that you have so many gifts. I want to watch you work and assist you and learn from you. I look forward to seeing a lot more of Robin Black on Yahoo Beauty.