Pati Dubroff Confirms It’s Totally Fine To Apply Makeup With Your Fingers

stylish young female artist with synthesizer in dressing room

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Art takes on a different form when it comes to makeup artist Pati Dubroff. Using bare celebrity faces and makeup brushes as her medium, she’s established herself as an artistic mastermind creating countless iconic beauty moments. Her long and successful career has taken her from ’90s-era fashion runways to

music video sets to the glossy pages of Vogue to red carpet events and, recently, even film. Her impressive résumé is well documented in the Getty Images archives of clients such as Margot Robbie, Kirsten Dunst, Angelina Jolie, Kate Bosworth, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and so many more. Since entering the makeup world back when supermodels like Claudia Schiffer and Christie Turlington ruled the sartorial world, she’s proven herself to be a true whiz at navigating ever-changing beauty trends. To this day, you can still find her creativity flourishing on the carpets of the Met Gala or in the glossy pages of international publications. This week, she sat down with Hillary Kerr to discuss how she fell in love with makeup at the age of 10 and the many milestones she’s reached in her career throughout the decades.

Confirm or deny, I read that you started doing makeup at the age of 10. Is that true?

Confirm, yeah!

What drew you to makeup? And at what point do you go from “I’m 10 and I’m playing with it” to “Wait, this might be a career”?

It’s interesting because way back then, we’re talking 40 something years ago, being a makeup artist wasn’t a known career like it is now. I think if you ask a 3-year-old, they know what a makeup artist is now, right? But back then, it wasn’t one of the career options. My mother had this little makeup table, she wasn’t extravagant with it, but she had a few nice things, and I just gravitated to that. I wanted to play, and she let me play. I would paint it on myself, watch her do herself, then start to do her friends, my friends. Then I was the girl who everyone went to for the school plays and the dances. I just knew I loved it. I remember thinking, I want to be around this when I grow up, but I didn’t say, “I want to be a makeup artist when I grow up.” So that took me finishing high school and then getting to New York, and then obviously, department stores had makeup artists. I went straight there. That was the first entry point as a way to intertwine that thing that I was really into and a way to pay the bills. And I was young. I was straight out of high school, literally. I graduated, and I hightailed it to New York City, and I got that job at a counter. That started setting me up to see all of the opportunities. And you know, a makeup artist can be a working makeup artist in so many avenues. There are so many ways to express yourself as a makeup artist. It doesn’t have to look one way. I’m really fortunate that I got to try out a few different ways early on.

Let’s talk about the red carpet. How does that vary? What was it like figuring out what worked for the red carpet, for you, for your clients, for everyone?

Well, no one taught me the red carpet. I didn’t assist anyone on a red carpet. That was purely trial and error. The very first Oscars red carpet that I did was Liv Tyler. It was 1999, and she was wearing a lavender Prada gown, and I did a pretty makeup look. But when I look at it now, I’m like, oh, I could have been a little more red carpet polished. I didn’t know. I was doing her as if she was doing an editorial.

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It was a learning curve seeing the result of red carpet images when WireImage, back then before it was even Getty, those WireImage pictures would come out. You would just kind of have your fingers crossed and hope it looked okay. It was really just repetitively looking and going, Oh, ah. That didn’t work. Why? Not gonna do that again. Or Oh, that looked really pretty. So trial and error. And you’re not just doing the makeup for the red carpet; you’re doing the makeup for the entire rest of the night. You’re doing her at noon, and she’s out till 2 in the morning. That’s got to hold up; there’s a lot going on between those 14 hours or whatever. It’s finding the balance between looking great in every lighting situation, the makeup performing and holding, and looking great when they’re talking to their friends. I think that that’s where sometimes a misstep can happen. Someone’s wanting so bad to make sure that it’s gonna photograph well, look great on the TV screen, but they’re not thinking about that person having to be close with their peers and feel confident and not feel like they have a cake face, unless that’s their thing.

You’ve also worked with Charlize Theron a lot over the years. We’re talking about campaigns, red carpets, and even your first feature film, The Huntsman: Winter’s War. Can you tell me a little bit about that project?

Well, actually, it wasn’t my first feature film. It was my first feature film as a makeup artist. I did a feature film as an actress. But my first as a makeup artist, Charlize asked me to do that, and I was like, “Oh, no, no, no. I don’t do film. It’s not my thing.” She actually talked me into it by explaining to me that, especially with that film, we could treat it as if it was a really high-fashion editorial. Each outfit could have a very extremely different look, and we could play, and we could get really creative. So that was the carrot that was dangling that drew me in. I was concerned about the technicalities of a film set because of the whole continuity thing—I didn’t really know about continuity—but she convinced me. The makeup artists that were there that were doing the entire film, they would help me, they would teach me, and they were so gracious. And you know, it’s a little bit of a tricky position to be in when you’re the celeb request. You’re not in the union, and you’re an outsider. They were so gracious and so sweet. I got to have a lot of fun and do some crazy stuff with like gold leaf and black blood.

You have worked with Priyanka Chopra and Margot Robbie for years now, and they have countless incredibly stunning looks. Let’s talk about the camp-themed Met Gala. Priyanka wore silver Dior, there were a lot of silver accents, and you did sort of a plumb berry lip. How did that look come together?

I was looking at those images again recently, and I was like, whoa, I kind of went for it. First of all, [the theme] is camp. So that’s like anything goes. The vibe of that dress, there was a nod to the royal courts of the past. A Marie Antoinette reference was thrown into the mix. I was looking at these old Dior Galliano runway shows where he had kind of powdered white faces, very court-like, and big, big hair. There was some of that brought into the mix. I did these Swarovski crystals as a beauty mark because I had learned in my research that in that period, the placement of the beauty mark was very important for sending a message to others. Like if you place it here, you’re single. If you place it here, you’re flirty and maybe you’re ready to get rowdy. If you place it there, you’re married. I loved that, those subtle cues. We did one and then we did another, and then we thought, let’s put one in the center like a bindi because that’s speaking to her heritage. It was actually one of the trickier red carpets for me because I didn’t know what the dress was going to look like until pretty late in the game. It was one of those [times] where nobody really knew what they wanted to do until we got into the room.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.