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LARP Make-up Tips and Tricks

By Judith O.

Having LARPed for mumblemumble years now, I have had characters with all levels of make-up – from nothing at all to ‘normal person’ to complete non-human colour coverage. I’ve learnt various lessons along the way that are definitely worth passing along to LARPers just getting into the wonderful world of facial (and other body part) doodling. As the title suggests, this is all from personal experience, and you may find that some or all of it just doesn’t work for you. Consider this a starting point to work out from rather than a be all and end all!

Know Your LARP and Your Goal

Different LARP styles require different flavours of make-up. Running around in heavy armour for a weekend in summer is a very different beast to languishing in an air-conditioned hall for an afternoon. Likewise, achieving a delicate elven pout requires different tools and techniques to full naga scales or orcish greens.

The keys for me are:

For me, this means picking one of the following options.

Real person make-up
Foundations, primers, eyeliners etc. My preference is for BarryM for good staying power at low costs, but their range of colours can be a bit disappointing at times (due to what’s popular in the mass market). I’ve used Stargazer lipstick but been disappointed by it in terms of staying on my face and drying up in the tube. I’m told that Illamasqua is very good and has a very good range but it’s expensive. Another LARPer I know swears by the Boots own-range make-ups, and another has nice things to say about NYX. Basically, find what works for your skin and your budget!
Water-base face paint
This is the classic option for non-human colour schemes – it’s easy to put on and take off and there are many colours to choose between. I use Grimas – it’s more expensive than Snazz but does stay put a lot better (requires heavy sweating and rubbing to start coming off during combat) and comes off relatively cleanly. However, at least one person I know if allergic to to hypoallergenic make-up and thus cannot use it!
Cake/grease make-up
If you’re doing things with prosthetics and want to blend it in with make-up, or you expect to be very sweaty, cake/cream/grease make-up is a good way forward – but be aware that it’s a lot harder work to get off again! I use Grimas cream for much the same reasons as the water-base version together with an oil-based remover.
PAX
A mix of acrylic paint and prosaide and something I’ve never tried. I’ve heard both good and bad things about this technique and it basically seems to boil down to “don’t overuse and check what’s in your paint”. If you want to try it, I suggest reading this for more information.
Air-brushing
I have no idea about this, other than it exists and tends to be the film/modelling choice. Let me know if you experiment!

Setting Up

Surface prep

One of the keys to really good make-up staying power is a good surface for it to go onto – sometimes tricky to do in the field, but worth it if you can. You basically want to aim for skin that’s neither dry or greasy before you start to the best of your abilities. My usual routine if time and conditions permit is:

  • Wash my face (or at least give it a good clean with baby wipes/make-up wipes) with as much time as I can manage before I want to put the rest on, and moisturise (including lips) straight after. Yes, I do even use a full exfoliant wash if I have access to proper sinks!
  • When I want to start doing my make-up proper, give my face another quick clean with baby wipes/make-up wipes – this gets rid of any excess moisturiser.
  • Dry any remnants of baby-wipe with a towel or, if lazy, whatever clean clothing I happen to be wearing.
  • Put make-up on asap before my skin has a chance to fight back.

At the very least, a wipedown with moisturising make-up wipes will solve a multitude of problems later; just make sure that your skin has absorbed the moisturiser or you’ve wiped off the excess before putting anything on top of it.

Primer
Very much a personal choice as part of the skin prep. Make-up primer is a clear or tinted gel that binds to both skin and make-up; it helps smooth out all the pores and persuades your make-up to stay put. If I use it, it tends to be under real-person make-up only and primarily on my eyes to help eye-shadow stay put. Tinted primers are useful if you’re trying to get an ethereal glow going on a more robust complexion without resorting to heavy foundations. I have no idea what it would do under face paints of any type (but may make it easier to get them off again later), and for cream/grease paint you really won’t need it. If you use primer, let it dry before your next layer goes on.
Prosthetics
Put them on before you put your make-up on – they’ll stick better and you can colour up and over the edges to help blend them in. Skin-grade liquid latex, derma-wax or similar can be used to smooth the joins off after gluing, just be patient and let them dry/set before trying to paint them. If using mastix or similar, apply sparingly and let it get tacky before putting it in place.
Contact Lenses
There are two schools of thought on contact lenses – either put them in first to avoid them touching make-up on the way in, or put them in last to reduce the chance of trapping make-up under them. I tend to do the former and have a lot of eyewash ready for emergencies.

Elven Pouting – Real Person make-up

I’m not going to go into too much detail here, as real person make-up is very much down to what you’re trying to achieve and there are many tutorials and YouTube videos out there. However, on the technical side there’s one big tip I took forever to learn: layering and blending is your friend. You’re much better off putting down a small amount of a particular bit of make-up, blending it in thoroughly and repeating until you have the colour you want than blobbing on a lot in one go – it’ll look better and stick on better.

Otherwise, lip stains stick on better than lip sticks (although you may want a gloss over the top), clear lip pencil goes with every colour of lipstick, waterproof eyeliners work for fake tattoos as well as lining your eyes, and don’t forget to colour your eyelashes and eyebrows back in if you accidentally coat them in foundation or eyeshadow.

As a side note, if you are going elf and have pointy ears, find some heavy foundation that’s a little darker than your skin tone and paint your latex ears with it (layer and blend!). It’ll help them look more like they belong to you, especially if you use a little blusher, highlighter and low-lighter to add texture to them (use your own ears as a guide for what to put where). A little more foundation over the join once they’re glued on and voila! Ears that take at least a second glance to determine as not being real.

Going Green – Face Paint

Colours

While the characters I go full face paint for are green, you can adapt these ideas to whatever racial colour scheme works for the critter you’re playing – just pick the appropriate palette. Appropriate does not ever mean blackface/yellowface; if you play in a LARP with ‘classic’ Drow or creatures that typically have brown skin-tones, be extremely careful and pick your colours and detailing to enhance the not human aspects (white/silver highlights, large areas of green/grey contrasts, bark or stone patterning, non-human prosthetics etc.) and avoid looking like a racist. Doing a good job of your make-up will help – a good full-face “this is my skin” effect will look a lot better and lot less Black-and-White-Minstrels.

If you look at yourself in a mirror without any make-up on, you’ll see that your skin likely isn’t all one colour – there are lighter bits and darker bits and shapes and shadows. When you do your face paint you need to take this into account or your end result is going to look flat and lifeless; you’re probably going to want two, maybe three colours, even if they’re all shades of the same colour. As a minimum you’re looking to have a base colour and a highlighter for cheekbones/brow/nose to give the high points of your face ‘lift’.

You’re also going to want to find an appropriate lipstick/stain so your blue elemental or green orc doesn’t have incongruously coloured lips – red, brown and pink are ubiquitous, black, orange and purple are generally easy to find, white, yellow, green and blue less so but NYX Macaron range (while it exists) is a relatively cheap starting point.

Tools

If you’re using water-base face paint, you’ll need an open cell foam sponge (the sort that’s more like a fine bath sponge), while for cream or grease paint you’ll want a closed cell foam or latex sponge (usually little triangle ones sold as make-up sponges). Ideally buy one sponge for each colour you want to apply to save on having to clean sponges mid-application.

For detailing you might also want brushes – pick a size that suits the details you want to apply, and buy multiple if you’re doing more than one colour.

If you’re using water-base then a little squirty mister bottle of water will make your life a lot easier than trying to use a tap or a water bottle – if you must use the latter, wet the sponge as that gives you more control of how wet the make-up is.

You can also get specialist tools like stippling sponges (a very open cell foam) to add texture/freckles/stubble, or for scales you can use a piece of fishnet tights in an embroidery hoop or other frame as a template and dab over the top.

Coverage
The really big deal you need to think about before you start is how much of your face – and ears and neck and collar – are you happy to paint. The bits you don’t paint are going to stay your normal skin tone and are going to look a bit odd to say the least, so if you don’t want to paint them you might want to cover them with a hood, scarf, goggles, whatever fits the rest of the kit. Just bear in mind that kit that touches and rubs make-up will end up covered in it by the end of a good day‚Ķ Of course, if your character is wearing facepaint rather than you painting your face to your character’s skin tone you can get some nice effects with very sharp boundary lines along the jawline, like a painted-on mask.
Application

When applying the colours, use fairly thick paint and dab more than smear to avoid streaking. Building up colour over multiple layers, letting each dry in between, is also a good option. A separate sponge or brush for each colour speeds up the process immensely.

A fun option is something I’ve always heard called The Beastkin Stripe. There are two variations on this:

  • Apply your contrast colour over your eyes roughly in the shape of a domino/eye mask. Let it dry, then while screwing your face up as much as possible dab your main colour over the top.
  • Apply your base colour over your entire face. Let it dry, then while screwing your face up as much as possible dab your contrast colour over the top, letting the edges fade out.

The key for this technique is screwing your face up and using your second colour as dry and dabby as possible – this creates lines and ridges around the nose and eyes with little effort. The bigger the contrast between the colours, the more this will stand out.

For all of these, letting the base dry and then using a dry and dabby contrast will get the sharpest edges – you can also deliberately drip a wetter contrast onto a dry or wet base for interesting tear-streak patterns.

A lot of the same principles apply to cream/grease paint, but these will want to be smeared more than dabbed. Other than that, I’ve only used them once for relatively simple makeup so my experience here is limited – just be aware that blending take more effort and layering colours is a bit of a pain, so plan the order you put colours on carefully (lightest first).

Finishing Off

Regardless of the type of make-up you use, there are a few things that you will need to consider for finishing off.

Setting powder
Real person make-up and cream/grease in particular have a tendency to stay tacky unless set with a setting powder. Talc works at a pinch, but you can get translucent or tinted powders that work better and let you do special effects (like gilding with gold setting powder) or you can sometimes cheat with eyeshadow if you’re just doing lipstick (Grimas pearlescent eyeshadow over lippy is a neat effect). Simply apply sparingly in layers with a powder brush or puff until your face stops feeling sticky.
Sunscreen
Make-up is not sunscreen. Not even cream/grease make-up. If you haven’t decided to apply it before your make-up as a barrier layer (some people do to make it easier to get make-up off again later) then make sure you have one of the ‘invisible’ sprays to go on last over the top. You can get setting powders that are also light sunscreens, you may want to combine this with an invisible spray or a barrier layer of something light to be sure that you’re not going to burn without seeing it – or accidentally ‘tattoo’ yourself through selective tanning around make-up.
Hair
As a general rule, head hair, eyebrow hair, eyelash hair and chin hair all tend to be roughly the same colour on a person until said person gets old enough to start going grey (and then only up until facial hair catches up with head hair). If your character’s hair is not the same colour as your real hair and any other facial hair is visible you may want to consider mascaras or other hair colourants. Happily, you can get mascara in a lot of colours these days, or in a pinch you can use a white eyelash primer and carefully apply coloured eyeshadow over the top.
Clean-up
Make sure that you have suitable make-up remover for your type of make-up on hand, both for cleaning up mistakes and for getting it off your face at the end of the day/event. You also need to clean your tools! A make-up brush or sponge clogged with make-up is no good for applying more make-up and generally full of interesting bacteria, so as soon as you can after use give your tools a thorough clean and let them dry out properly before putting them away. Latex sponges sadly tend to be single-use only.