In photos: Michelle Margiotta, left, won first prize in the “A Twisted Tea Party” competition with a broken teacup design, modeled at right. Inset photos show Margiotta's design inspired by Gryla, a character from icelandic folklore (top) and a mixed media special effects look.
Halloween may be one day a year for the rest of the Capital Region, but for The Makeup Curio, the holiday starts well before Oct. 31.
Owner Jenn Dugan begins preparing for the fantastical day in August, booking appointments and testing out looks at the studio on State Street in Schenectady.
She also organizes the region’s only special effects makeup competition. Held at Proctors Underground in October, it brings together adults and students to create stunning makeup designs centered around a central theme, which was “A Twisted Tea Party” this year. The competitors had limited time to bring their looks to life on a model before the designs were judged by special effects artist Jared Balog and theater director Michael Gatzendorfer.
Competitors were also thrown a curveball right at the start.
“The morning of the event they were all given a secret item that they had to incorporate into their design and the secret item was a tea bag," Dugan said.
Many of the competitors, including the winner in the student category, Julia Potvin, referenced “Alice in Wonderland” in their looks, with blue eyeshadow and vibrant red lipstick.
However, Michelle Margiotta, the winner in the adult category, made up her own twisted fairy tale to go along with her special effects look.
“I wanted to do something different so I [came] up with this story about this girl who wanted to be as pretty as a teacup because that’s what her grandmother used to tell her. Slowly, [a] neurosis came over her and she eventually took a broken teacup and started to carve the design into her skin so that she could be as pretty as a teacup,” Margiotta said.
The resulting design mixes deep gashes and blood-red paint to illustrate the character’s neurosis. Margiotta, a Rotterdam native, has been working as a special effects makeup artist for several years, though she began experimenting with it when she was a teenager. Last year, she won second place in the competition.
Since Dugan started the competition last year, it’s grown and people are already asking her about next year’s competition.
But for now, she and Margiotta are focusing on creating special effects Halloween looks for their respective clients.
“I have a couple [of] Pennywises, I actually have a couple of Bettlejuices, but they're different styles so that's going to be cool because I'm not doing the same exact thing on two different people,” Dugan said.
People began booking appointments with Dugan at The Makeup Curio back in August, though many have been reaching out over the last few weeks asking Dugan to transform them into their favorite characters before various parties and costume contests.
Through the years, she’s noticed just how much the movie industry impacts the costumes that people wear and the makeup they request.
“The Joker and Harley Quinn are also going to be ones that I think [will be popular]. Halloween trends tend to revolve around the movies and the film industry is absolutely on point with marketing and is very specific about when they release their stuff because anything that's released in September or October is automatically going to mean costume [and] makeup products [are] generated,” Dugan said.
The best part about movie characters like the Joker and Harley Quinn is that there are so many ways to portray them, according to Dugan. Some people might want to go all out with messy and intense dark eye-liner to recreate the Heath Ledger version of the character. Others might want to pay homage to Jack Nicolson’s version, using more precise red lines to create the chilling smile of the character.
“You could have six Jokers in the room at the party and they all look a little bit different,” Dugan said.
Beyond comic book and movie characters, Dugan has also had a few requests from women who are delving into fairy tales for their costume inspiration. They want to be transformed into banshees/witches.
That fits in with some of the requests that Margiotta has been getting from her clients as well. Requests for skulls (or Calaveras) and witches are common and, this year especially, she’s noticed that people are asking for more intricate designs and extra details that are going to make their otherwise classic-looking costumes stand out.
“The special effects world is having an impact on people,” Margiotta said.
Margiotta does a lot of experimenting with prosthetics and with mixed materials, transforming people into everything from a richly textured tree to a sequined siren-like character, which she shares photos of on her Instagram account. She also creates some truly scary zombie characters and folklore-inspired figures like Gryla, a witch giantess who devours mischievous children around Christmas time.
Dugan defines her personal style of special effects makeup as realistic, making cuts and bruises look vivid, making fictional creatures and characters come to life.
“If you want a zombie, it's not just putting blood on you. It's wrinkling the skin, it's putting fake teeth on, it's more than just flat [makeup],” Dugan said.
For some of her more intense special effects looks, she likes to use latex and 3-D transfers.
“Christien Tinsley is a special effects artist in the film industry and he is very well known for his tattoo transfers and so a lot of movies use them. He created [Tinsley Transfers] and started making 3-D pieces because it's actually easier for continuity on a film to have 16 of those mouthpieces pre-made and ready to go,” Dugan said.
She carries some of the transfers at The Makeup Curio, including zombie facial transfers, and said they’re simple to use even for those who aren’t special effects experts.
They can be applied essentially the same way one would apply a temporary tattoo.
For those who want to create their own looks but need a bit of guidance, Dugan recommends opting for a character kit.
“The character kits are great because you already have an inspiration picture on the cover. The instruction guide is on the inside and pretty much everything you need is in there,” Dugan said.
The store carries several types, including a witch kit, a skull kit, a zombie kit, and others that are less specific like a severe trauma kit and a bald cap kit.
If you’re vying for the top spot in a costume contest and want to create your look from the top down, there are a few common makeup mistakes to avoid.
“Oil-based makeup needs to be set with powder because it will stay oily [otherwise] and it's going to rub off on you, your costume or other people and you will sweat it off,” Dugan said.
Another common problem Dugan sees is fake blood that looks a bit off-color.
“Every brand that makes blood has different shades of red. So it's a matter of discovering which brands have the better shade of red. I think that's the thing. Halloween is all fun and jokes and stuff but if someone wants to win a contest you want realistic-looking blood," Dugan said.
Margiotta recommends people who want to create their own special effects makeup leave time to experiment or to mess up and do it over again.
“I always tell people, take the time [they need] to do it,” Margiotta said.