20 year-old Leo Flood is an artist, but their canvas isn’t the traditional kind. Separating makeup from its feminine stereotypes and rather using it as a form of gender- and self-expression, Leo creates bright, colorful looks that are as unique as they are eye-catching. I spoke to Leo about how they got their start in makeup and how the art has had an impact on them ever since. More of their work can be found on Instagram @makeupbylleo.
Q: Tell me about the first time you tried a makeup look—what was that experience like? What made you decide to keep going with it?
A: I started practicing makeup when I was in 6th grade around the time YouTube makeup channels picked up, and YouTube in general was a huge part of the common culture. My first “looks” weren’t really looks because I was developing the skills I needed to do more intricate things like what I do now. Nonetheless, I loved playing with makeup, so even though those looks may not have been the best, I continued and slowly improved. My favorite youtubers—like Michelle Phan, Promise Phan, and Kandee Johnson—propelled me to keep going. I wanted to be like them.
Q: Where do you draw inspiration from?
A: I love graphic liner, intricate patterns, costumey/themed looks, and disco-shimmer everything. When I sit down to do my makeup, I never use reference photos or anything super concrete to help. I kind of just start and see where it takes me. Sometimes I’m wearing a piece of clothing that really sparks an image for me, and I create a look based off of that. Sometimes I pick a random palette in my makeup drawer when I’m stumped and decide to just roll with it. As for other makeup artists, I don’t think I presently have any influences. Other artists inspired me more when I was a pre-teen and I didn’t understand my face or how to do simple techniques like winged eyeliner. Now that I have excelled and perfected my skills, I exist as an artist independent of those influences, which is really beautiful to me. I have my own style, as random as it sometimes is. I’ve detached from heavily following other artists (though I still love them in passing!) and have finally developed my own unique style.
Q: What draws you to makeup as an art form? Do you practice any other forms of art (writing, drawing, painting, photography, etc)?
A: Makeup as an art medium is so unique compared to painting or writing, which are things I enjoy as well. Makeup is transformation. It is wearable art. It has the ability to literally travel with the artist—to exude life in the short time it exists. I think the temporality of makeup as an art form continuously intrigues me. I create makeup art on a reusable canvas—my own face. I’ve probably had upwards of a thousand uniquely different makeup looks on my face, and I’m only twenty. It becomes a part of you for a day, or in my case, for life. Makeup is also extremely therapeutic. You sit down for an hour with yourself. Makeup has allowed me a lot of alone time. It has forced me to sit down and reflect, to focus, and I think I cherish that time with myself more and more as I get older.
Q: How has makeup impacted your relationship with yourself and those around you?
A: My canvas is my face, so makeup inherently affects my self-expression and self-confidence. I started doing makeup because it made me feel beautiful. It made me feel closer to a model of femininity I didn’t always feel I belonged to. When peers complimented my makeup in school, I felt amazing about myself. I even won Best Makeup superlative in high school. Though makeup seemed to help my self-esteem as a young teenager, my personal relationship with makeup wasn’t as healthy as I thought it was. It progressed to a point where I only felt pretty wearing makeup, and without it I felt bare or unworthy. It put a lot of pressure on me, especially because I had the skills to do it well; I felt an obligation to wear it all the time. Then, I realized I was non-binary, and everything changed. Tapping into my gender-fluidity and masculinity loosened the grip makeup had on me. I no longer felt l had to wear makeup everytime I wanted to look good. Wearing makeup too frequently actually made me gender-dysphoric—and it still does. After I realized how dynamic makeup art can be, especially in gender expression, I finally started creating REAL art. I don’t wear much makeup on a daily basis anymore, but rather I create big, themed looks for the sake of display. So yeah, makeup has definitely shaped my self-image quite a bit over the years.
Q: What is one piece of advice you have for someone wanting to get into makeup but who isn’t sure where to start?
A: It takes time. Lots of it. Start watching YouTube tutorials, or even handy Instagram tutorials—whatever. Just start practicing. Take an hour to focus on one part of the face that you want to perfect, and then do that again another time. Most importantly, you just need to do it. It’s going to look like shit at first, but if you don’t get past that stage, you won’t excel. Trust me, you don’t want to see the pictures of 13 year old Leo with unblended hot pink eyeshadow on their face, but they existed, and contributed to the talent I have today. Also, don’t waste your money on expensive makeup. It’s all ads and nonsense. Drugstore makeup is perfectly fine, and usually better than all that fancy junk Instagram influencers convince you to buy. My favorite affordable brands are Colourpop, NYX, Glamierre Beauty, and Morphe. Start simple. Treat yourself once in a while to some nice things, but don’t feel pressured to buy things you don’t need.
Q: Where do you hope to take your passion for makeup in the future? Is it just a hobby, or something you’d like to make a career out of?
A: I like my makeup where it is now, on display as art, but I’ve definitely thought about the possibility of doing film makeup or editorial makeup. If those opportunities arise, I would love to take them. For now, my makeup is just a little hobby. There’s a lot of pressure as a makeup artist to commodify your art, (doing makeup for weddings, creating your own brand, etc.), but I want people to enjoy what I do to my face on my terms. Wherever I end up, makeup will always be special to me. It is the one thing that has stayed with me for 10+ years, despite all the changes in my personal life and identity.