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Greta Rybus

Greta Rybus is a photojournalist and photo editor living in Portland. She started her blog, “Who I Met," as a way to begin juicy conversations with interesting people she meets. The blog has migrated with her from Montana, Europe, and, finally, to her new and dearly-loved home in Maine. You can see more of her work at www.gretarybus.com

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Who I Met with Greta Rybus
Posted: November 11, 2014

Sheridan Cudworth – makeup artist

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“Your eyebrows are sisters, not twins,” Sheridan told me. “They don’t look the same, just similar.” She’s brushing a little darkness into my eyebrows, making them stronger, bolder. When Sheridan does makeup, she’s working with you – with your structure, the person that you are and the beauty you were given. She’s an artist at heart: rebellious, brave, curious and innovative. Willing to buck rules and trends in favor of illumination and expression. And it shows in how she does makeup. She started our time together with a neutral face. No color. Matte. Subdued. Except for deep, deep wine-colored lips. A few minutes later, her eyes were black rectangles, her lips white and silver like a robot.

 

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DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR FIRST TIME WEARING MAKEUP?

Yes! Quite vividly. My mom used to give me makeup that came in those Clinique gift bags: mini lipsticks and eye shadows and blushes. I would watch my mom do her makeup and then try and recreate it, poorly. In seventh grade I was finally allowed to actually wear makeup and not just play with it. I was only allowed brown mascara, a little blush and some lip gloss. If I got bad grades, no mascara for a week. It was the only effective method of punishment for me as a kid, until I learned that I could sneak it at school and then wash it off before I got home! Also my grandmother was the Holy Grail of feminine grooming, so when I would spend summers with her, I would be right by her side putting my hair in rollers and applying the pinkest of pink lipsticks. She was so great, she would just let me experiment on her and pick out shades of lipstick for her at the store. Those were some of my favorite memories of her.

HOW DID IT BECOME SOMETHING YOU DID PROFESSIONALLY?

I remember first going to a MAC counter when I was about 14, and I bought my first eye shadow from them: a blue/purple tone called Parfait Amore. I loved the whole vibe of the brand and I declared that I would one day work for them. When I was in high school I was head of hair and makeup for the Theater Department and was able to teach myself some basic special effects makeup and stage makeup. I remember being really torn on whether I should go to an advanced makeup program or art school. I chose art school and when I came to Maine College of Art and found the MAC counter in the mall, I filled out an application, had my tryout/interview and was hired as a freelance artist for MAC for about a year. Then I was hired as a part-time artist with them until I graduated college and worked my way to full time. The thing is, there really isn’t a specific path that makes you a professional makeup artist. MAC had a wonderful focus on education and gave me the credentials to prove that I have experience, but really anyone can call themselves a makeup artist now a days, especially with Instagram.

 

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TELL ME ABOUT THE DIFFERENT WAYS YOU WORK WITH MAKEUP, PROFESSIONALLY?

It has evolved quite a bit in the past few years. I stayed with MAC for about five years, even moving to Boston with the company as a way to advance my work in fashion and editorial. When I got to Boston it didn’t feel right anymore – it was like exactly how everyone perceives the beauty industry: cutthroat and really political. So I left the company six months later. It was a really tough decision but it felt right. I thought that my make-up days were going to be over but I was super humbled by some really loyal clients and was surprised how word of mouth really does advertise for you. I get more work from recommendations than any social media advertising I do. I still work another job, but I do work for private clients, weddings, technique classes, a few fashion shows, local indie movies, makeup and styling for commercial photography and whatever else comes my way. I love working for myself and being able to work with makeup in my own way.

HOW DOES YOUR BACKGROUND IN ART TIE INTO THE WAY YOU DO MAKEUP?

Oh, great question! First off, I’m just going to go ahead and come out as a huge feminist. Now feminism means a lot of different things to different people but its general resistance to beauty standards for women created through the beauty and fashion industries was something I felt confused and interested by. While I was in art school, I was able to explore and process my confusion about being this sort of contradiction of women artist/ makeup artist/ feminist. As someone who enjoys dressing themself in a feminine manner, I began think about beauty as something that is a performance: people get to create this character using materials associated with femininity.

I think Drag is a great example of that, but I felt like there needed to be this sense of ownership on one’s beauty, something that could be constructed and used not as a way to shrink people, but almost as this weapon, a way to tap into ones inner power. I really felt like I needed to immerse myself in beauty standards in order to critique it. So a lot of my work in art school used makeup to challenge the masquerade that is femininity and to ask questions about how it became the way it is today. I use makeup on myself personally as a way to curate a look or mood. When I was go-go dancing or when I do performance art I need it to complete these personas I create for myself. If I feel a bit grumpy, maybe I’ll throw on a really dark eye and become a darker version of myself. If I’m feeling excited, maybe it’s a bright colored lip and some glitter. I think it’s important to reveal yourself from the inside out, and makeup is a great accessory to do that with.

 

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WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT PEOPLE FROM DOING THEIR MAKEUP?

I’ve learned that feeling good about yourself can change a person, it can give people the confidence to become this amplified version of themselves. Sometimes they’ve never even tapped into that person before, which is always my favorite part. I’ve also learned that every single person that has sat in my chair has something about themselves that they do not like and slightly obsess over. It used to kill me to see women pick themselves apart in front of me. I always try to bring it back to the good stuff, the beautiful things that everyone has. So my rule is that no one is allowed to put themselves down in my chair. Most of the time no one can even see what you are insecure about, so it nice to hear what people love about themselves and try and enhance those features.

 

HOW DOES YOUR WORK IN MAKEUP AFFECT YOUR PERSPECTIVE OF BEAUTY?

It’s a complicated thing. I think our current perspective of beauty as a whole is something that has been chosen for us and is something that is for sale. That said, I think personal adornment or decoration is instinctual. I see makeup as purely curatorial – it’s for everyone of all genders. I am not afraid to look “ugly” or scary or strange. I think harnessing into the power of appearance can really help you see yourself in a different way so its important to embrace ourselves in those moments. But on the contrary, I’ve noticed that being too focused on outward appearance can also distract you from the vast array of other instances that can make you feel beautiful. I think we all really know what’s beautiful to us but we don’t always seek it. I mean there are so many beautiful things to see in every day that to be hyper focused on my makeup, outfit and hair just felt like I was cheating myself out of so much. I still love doing my makeup, and curating my look but I try and not allow my outer beauty define what I can do.

 

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WHAT DO YOU WISH PEOPLE KNEW ABOUT BEAUTY?

I think we all already know that it truly is on the inside. Confidence in yourself is the most beautiful thing anyone can have. Nobody can take that away from you. Loving yourself is the most beautiful thing you can do, and it very is contagious, people will love you for loving you.

HOW DO YOU PERCEIVE THE BEAUTY INDUSTRY IN GENERAL?

Honestly, it’s something of a tough break up for me. Leaving MAC was really hard. I have this amazing MAC family in Portland that was so different from the way it was in Boston. When I got to Boston, I wanted to be this famous makeup artist, but I learned quickly that I’d have to cut people down to get there. I also had a really hard time coping with the way women were being marketed to. It was just so blatant and so medicalized, as if beauty wasn’t really about your personal style. Instead, it became about products that would fix you, not enhance you. I think the hardest thing was working with women who were aging and would tell me all the time how they felt invisible. It broke my heart. I don’t think that beauty is something that ends, I think it evolves and seeing aging women be direct targets of “doctor recommended” and “scientifically proven” products made them feel like they were broken in some way. I think that people, especially women, need to be more conscience of the products being marketed to them. There are some sketchy ingredients in a lot of major brands, and putting that into your skin, the largest organ in your body, isn’t always the best thing. I have really been interested in herbalism for the past few years and am slowly beginning to create all natural skincare for myself and others as a way to get back to the basics of how we treat our skin and bodies. I see the future of beauty and skincare really moving back to natural methods.

 

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DO YOU HAVE FAVORITE PRODUCTS OR TIPS?

Don’t waste your money on brown mascara. Take off your makeup at night and avoid oil-free products. Be kind to your eyebrows – try not to over pluck them. Neat and polished eyebrows define your eye even without makeup. I still love everything MAC, their Mineralize skinfinish natural powder, Wedge eye shadow, Diva lipstick and clear brow gel. Crown Brush for low cost, quality brushes. NYX Cosmetics has this skin-toned Wonder Pencil that is amazing to use in your waterline of your eye and their HD highlighters are really nice to sculpt the face with. Don’t underestimate old school favorites like Mehron and Ben Nye creme pallets for stage or anything Special FX related. Also Thayer’s Witchazel toner is great for supple soft skin.

WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU?

It is important to me that I show up on time, I am honest to myself and to others, that I am able to support strangers and friends with understanding and compassion. It is also important for me to be able to take space for things that need time and reflection. Oh, and that I don’t have lipstick on my teeth.

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WHAT IS A LESSON YOU ARE LEARNING IN YOUR LIFE, OR HAVE LEARNED RECENTLY?

I have learned that life doesn’t ever really go the way you planned for it too. Shocker. It has been exhilarating being such a planner and then watching everything I plan for unravel only to reveal this other completely unexpected new path to go down. I feel like I am in this personal renaissance period and I have just learned to hold on for dear life, and chuckle the whole way.

WHAT IS THE GREATEST GIFT OR BLESSING IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW?

My greatest blessing is being able to consciously shape the person I want to be while sharing my life with an amazing partner who keeps me learning, laughing and encouraged to try whatever it is I feel I need to. Also my Mom and two best friends who keep me in check constantly.

 

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WHAT IS THE GREATEST STRUGGLE IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW?

I think my greatest struggle right now is not beating myself up for not knowing what I’d like to do as a “career” for the rest of my life. I love makeup but I don’t need to be defined as just a makeup artist anymore and I don’t need the validation that comes with working for the beauty industry. It’s still difficult because for most of my childhood I thought I would become this famous makeup artist to the stars and that would be all I needed. But now I’m a makeup artist, a potter, an aspiring herbalist, an urban farmer, and a bunch of other things. I am enjoying this gathering phase of different creative outlets but have no idea where to take them. I’m one of those people who narrows in on what they want and then works non-stop until they get it. But at the moment, I don’t know what I want to do with everything I’m learning and it’s really frustrating. I think parting with the idea of a career as a marker of personal success is also something I struggle with. People reinvent their lives constantly, and I know this will not be my last time- So I need to work on letting go of these superficial markers of what defines success.

 

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IF YOU HAD A MOTTO OR MANTRA, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

I think everyone that knows me would say it is, “I’m too pretty for this ___” It’s kind of my inner diva that comes out sometimes.

WHAT IS THE BEST MOMENT OF AN AVERAGE DAY?

I would say it is the simple things. Even on the worst days, coming home to my love, talking to my mom on the phone, that cup of coffee in the morning and cup of tea at night, stretching with the help of my cat, and watching my plants grow.

 

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