For 11 months of every year, Petaluma’s Elise Bigley focuses on making people’s faces look beautiful, usually working with brides and their wedding parties, or preparing clinets for school dances or parties. But every October, as Halloween draws near, Bigley gets a chance to do the exact opposite of making people look gorgeous.
“I get to make them look awful,” she laughs, quickly adding, “but awful in really beautiful, artistic ways.”
Bigley is the owner of Lips ‘N Lashes by Elise, a mobile makeup service that meets clients out in the world, bringing her talents — and a trunkful of equipment — to remote locations, be they hotels, or movie sets or homes, rather than making everyone come to some brick-and-mortar studio.
“I call it my trunk of wonders,” she says of her road-ready luggage, which includes the all-important portable makeup chair.
“I really want my clients to be comfortable,” she says of the chair that is a step up from whatever four-legged furniture a wedding venue might have handy. “The chair even has a cup-holder,” she points out, “in case they want to have a cup of coffee while they’re being made up.”
Bigley says she looks forward to Halloween, and the chance to stretch herself by applying a kind of makeup design that she thinks of as a blend of art and special effects. A trained painter, she brings a dimensionality to her Halloween makeup that goes far being just painting on a scar or a wound.
“I like creating really striking effects and illusions on people’s skin,” she says, smiling as she describes the art of creating scars and stitches and alarming skin conditions on the faces of clients who’ve called her up to get them ready for Halloween. “I especially enjoy the really challenging things,” she says, “the projects that push my creativity. That’s when I’m happiest.”
Her jaw-dropping portfolio of makeup designs includes making a client’s head appear to float above a severed neck, robot gears protruding from within an unzipped face, and any number of movie characters whose images are stamped onto the pop-cultural landscape.
“One of the first effect-makeups I ever did was Edward Scissorhands,” she says. “I kind of did it as an experiment, to see if I could. And it turned out so well, I just kept trying new things. I do love doing natural, glamorous, traditional make-up looks. But I love art in all its different forms. The special effects makeup gives me a different outlet for creativity. “
Bigley has been doing makeup professionally for 18 years, but began developing the special effects side of her business five years ago. She was 16 when she began working at various department store makeup counters, eventually moving into business management for a number of makeup lines, before breaking away to start her own makeup application business.
“As I was moving up in the company, I found I was doing less and less of the artistry I loved,” she explains, adding that she began developing a small part-time freelance operation on the side, and discovered a new passion. “Ever since I shifted over to doing full-time freelance makeup, about seven years ago, it’s been amazing. It was the best decision I ever made.”
She’s even begun breaking into movie makeup, having worked on a number of Northern California film productions, including “You Can’t Say No,” a 2018 film with Peter Fonda, shot in Sonoma County last year.
Do to the popularity of such television shows as “The Walking Dead,” one of the most popular makeup requests a designer gets these days is to transform a client into a zombie.
“The most important piece of advice I can offer,” says artist Elise Bigley, describing her own process for transforming someone into a reanimated corpse, “is to start your zombie in the early phases of ‘turning,’ and then add more elaborate makeup ideas as you go.”
Accor4ding to Bigley, an effective undead makeup job begins by highlighting the veins on your subject’s skin, using blue, green and yellow makeup. “Start from the outer portion of your face,” she says, “and work your way to the center. Remember that less is more, so try to keep the number of visible veins minimal. One of my makeup rules of thumb is that it’s always easier to add than subtract, so start out minimal and build from there.”
Next, she says, work on the eyes and lips.
“Zombies tend to have dark bags under their eyes,” she points out, adding, “They are the undead, you know.”
Next, use blue and yellow toned eyeshadows to shade underneath the eyes.
“A red shadow or liner outlining the lash-line adds another level of ‘death,’” she says. “Then, on the lips, use foundation to neutralize the lip color, and add a darker color, just in the center. That way, it gives the appearance of ‘sickness.’”
Once the “newly turned” look is established, Bigley says, you can add to it by incorporating things like bite marks, blood, and gore.
“Whatever you want,” she laughs, “to make it more gruesome.”