Makeup By Sapphire Shen – An Inspirational Journey to Success
Makeup can do wonders – it's a work of art that can enhance facial features, bring out personal confidence and accentuate an overall outfit and look. To be a professional makeup artist brings a wealth of experience that can truly transform a person in the best way possible. For Sapphire Shen, it's a passion and lifelong career, and with time comes expertise. Sapphire is a Hong Kong-based makeup artist and creative director with experience in editorial and creative makeup and it all began when she joined a rock band years back. Since then, she has overcome her own personal barriers, from her autoimmune disease lupus – which she has fought and learned to live with – to the mental health side effects that came with it. Now, Sapphire battles strong and has come out with a more positive, driven attitude backed by her company Makeup By Sapphire Shen. We speak to the entrepreneur on her inspirational journey to success.
Could you tell us about yourself and how you got into makeup?
I am a Hong Kong-based makeup artist and a creative director, who is enthusiastic and passionate about editorial and creative makeup. After working as a makeup artist for more than 7 years in this field, my belief in makeup never changed. Makeup goes beyond beauty, it can be a form of art, self-expression, empowerment and manifestation of values and beliefs. My very first opportunity to do makeup on someone was designing and creating an abstract creative makeup look on an actress for my secondary school drama performance, I was fascinated with the power of Makeup. Makeup has the power to create and shape the character and with makeup, you can see how it empowered the actress to get into the character. And makeup is not confined to a beauty look, we are somehow like a painter, just that our canvas is a face instead of a piece of paper. With the uniqueness of every single face, there are unlimited possibilities for any sort of creation.
Makeup goes beyond beauty, it can be a form of art, self-expression, empowerment and manifestation of values and beliefs.
I was a self-taught makeup artist at the very beginning, and I realised my foundation skills were inadequate and needed to be refined. I was lucky enough to be introduced to and learned makeup from a well-known makeup master Sukin Lui in Hong Kong when I was in university. At the same time, I was officially diagnosed with SLE Lupus, an incurable autoimmune disease. Lupus changed my body and appearance tremendously. With the illness itself and the side effects of the medication, I experienced hair loss, rashes, swelling and breakouts on my face, as well as weight fluctuation. With all these changes, I started to develop symptoms of depression and having suicidal thoughts.
Makeup saved my life more than once. With the assistance of my family, friends, mentors and doctors, I was very lucky to have my lupus under control. And being able to do makeup on myself again. It reminds me I am stronger than the illness, and I can take control of how I want to look and present myself in front of others. The helplessness and loneliness started to fade away when I took up makeup sessions with myself as a therapeutic session, to focus just on yourself and appreciate your beauty, from the inside out.
After graduating from university, I worked at Urban Decay as a makeup artist in Hong Kong where I learned a lot and was strongly influenced by their ex-national makeup artist Jess Yung. The biggest lesson I have learned from him is to “be humble and never stop learning”.
While I was at Urban Decay, I founded an online patient support group – My Lupus Diary with two other patients, after four years we are now planning to become an NGO. Within these four years, we tried to raise awareness and promote body positivity through empowerment. We have organised makeup workshops and beauty talks, spreading the message of “never let lupus take your right to live beautifully”. During the events and workshops, it reinforced my beliefs in the empowerment of makeup. The fact that makeup can help one to regain confidence and control in life simply amazed me and fortified my faith and passion for makeup.
After leaving Urban Decay and becoming a full-time makeup artist, I have been more active in commercial and fashion makeup. I also started to polish my skills as a creative director, which allows me to strike a balance between commercial and creative work.
Until now, with nothing but a grateful heart, I appreciate all the mentors in my life, the fact that I am able to wake up every morning and to do what I love and be inspired every day and hopefully be inspiring to someone else.
When was your first makeup experience and how did this inspire your journey?
At first, I joined a rock band and I had no idea about makeup – I just wanted to look cool on stage, so I sought help from my family and that was the first time came across makeup. Since then, I have become very enthusiastic about makeup. I was extremely into Halloween makeup and was addicted to YouTube beauty tutorials and I got a chance to do the makeup for the actresses backstage for my secondary school’s drama group, which allowed me to design and do my first creative stage makeup look on someone. That is when I discovered my passion and decided to be a makeup artist.
Can you tell us about your brand 'Makeup by Sapphire Shen' and what services you offer?
I officially registered my brand “Makeup By Sapphire Shen” three years ago, which started as a one-man band yet with the increasing number of clients and scale of jobs, we gradually expanded my company with more working partners and students, hence a makeup team which can offer a wide range of services. These include fashion runways, magazine editorials, commercial advertisements, weddings, personal makeup classes, professional makeup courses, dramas, music videos, CD covers and corporate makeup workshops.
At the same time, we also launched our sister brand, “Beyoutiful Bridal”, an award-winning bridal team with talented makeup artists focusing on bridal service.
We have been working on commercial and editorial work for a number of years and decided to use our aesthetic and fashion sense on bridal work, creating a personalised, stylish and timeless look for every bride.
What's been the proudest moment in your career so far?
I was given an opportunity to be the leading makeup artist in an international and significant production for Anteprimer FW21-22 Collection for Milan Fashion Week broadcasting in New York Times Square and Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana. Definitely my proudest moment, yet extremely grateful for the opportunity.
You have over 7 years of experience in the industry. What's something that you've learned along the way?
Always remember money can’t buy you everything and not everything is measured by money.
I am still incredibly grateful that I did a lot of free collaborations or works from the very beginning of my career until now. You can never know how many opportunities there are in a collaboration, and you might be already sowing a seed for your future opportunities, but of course only someone who is well prepared has the opportunity to improvise. And there is always something to learn from each other, so instead of competing, makeup artists should encourage, motivate and improve together – you will grow faster and stronger by doing that!
Since 2020, you started a training course for makeup artists. Can you share more about this?
I've been teaching professional makeup courses for almost two years now. I offer 1 to 1 or 1 to 2 courses because I want to make sure my students can have my full attention during class, and I think the small class professional course is lacking in Hong Kong. For me, teaching is very inspiring and satisfactory. When my students raise different questions regarding a technique or prepping for a class, even during teaching, these are all learning opportunities for me because I need to do research for new trends or new techniques, and it gave me an opportunity to do a revision of some fundamental skills.
And the proud feeling when you see the amazing works created by your students is the best feeling ever. I also hope to have my students join the makeup team after finishing the course because teamwork creates dream work!
What are some of the most memorable moments in your makeup career to date?
It was my very first time doing makeup for a celebrity and it was also my first few jobs. I was very nervous, and she was not happy with the eyeliner I did for her so she redo the eyeliner herself and I got really upset. And my teacher told me, you can’t expect everyone to love your work, because when it comes to makeup, except the foundation techniques, there is no right or wrong and everyone has a preference when it comes to makeup. We will face some rejections from time to time, but this moment always reminds me to be less harsh to myself while keeping an open mind to accept criticism and be better.
Who are your inspirations?
Ve Neill and Lady Gaga
Ve Neill is my favourite makeup artist of all time. She is an American makeup artist and the director of education in Cinema Makeup School in LA, USA, (I am planning to go to her school to learn special effects makeup! ). She has won numerous academy awards and was nominated for the Oscars for her exceptional makeup artistries. I love how she designed the character makeup which fits the actor’s character and helps build the character, especially her work in Pirates of the Caribbean and The Hunger Games franchise, Sweeney Todd the demon barber of fleet street and Edward Scissorhands.
Lady Gaga is also my favourite artist, she says that makeup is like a cape and it's empowered her with bravery and her makeup looks and stylings are always my inspiration. I truly admire her dedication to music and art despite her chronic illness – Fibromyalgia, as I am also a Lupus patient and fighting a chronic illness while pursuing your dreams is never an easy path. Lady Gaga inspired me to fight through the pain and redefine myself with the power of makeup instead of being defined by an illness.
Where's your happy place?
Doing my own makeup is definitely my happy place. To me, it is more stress relieving and therapeutic than a yoga session, and you get to look really good afterwards too. I love doing makeup to start my day and to have that 20-30 minutes to focus only on yourself and get yourself ready to face any challenge of the day!
Makeup By Sapphire Shen, Unit 22, 7/F, Sung Kee Factory Building, 18-30 Kwai Ting Road, Kwai Chung, New Territories, Hong Kong, +852 90775822, sapphireshen.com
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