Freelance makeup artist Nicole talks about the nature of her work, her inspiration and the simple ritual of skincare and coffee. Having worked with big names in the entertainment industry, she lets us in on what's it like working on faces in a time when you're not supposed to be that physically close to another's.
Hello, kindly introduce yourself.
Nicole Ceballos, makeup artist and home-baker on the side.
What does a day in the life of Nicole Ceballos look like?
On a makeup artist workday, I wake up 20-30 minutes before needing to leave the house. Get dressed and prepare my 2 Klean Kanteens - one for coffee (espresso made the night before - 2 shots on a chill day, 4 shots on a predictably long day) and one for water. Since 2015, I never leave the house without a water jug. It was my first step towards a minimal-waste/plastic lifestyle. get my PPE from the sampayan and drive off to work. Setting up for work has been more tedious now with the virus. Some people have expressed that I do too much, but most people hire me specifically for that. On easy workdays, I have time and energy to stay out and do whatever "outside" errands I can just to make the most of my day. I recently enjoyed visiting a park in Legazpi Village, Makati to eat my takeout under the lush trees. Then I look for the nearest third-wave local coffee shop and get something I can't make at home (mocha, latte, flat white, etc.) and simply enjoy a cup expertly made for me. Knowing the work that goes into a cup makes it more satisfying when bought from a local corner café. When I get home, I spend some time on our front porch playing with my dogs while I'm 'dirty'. They're not used to not seeing me all hours of the day anymore so they go crazy when I come home in the evening -- I love it, it really makes me feel special and loved.
As we found ourselves spending more time indoors, how did this affect your work and your creative process, or even life in general?
This affected my work 100% in that there is absolutely no way for me to "work from home" like everyone else. It's not a job that can be done in any other way than hands-on. Work has been few and far in between, and I definitely still feel anxious because I work so closely with unmasked individuals. Every workday is a risk and I can't afford to let my guard down and I feel fatigued when it comes to safety and sanitation protocols.
I was set to study in NYC and Seoul in 2020 but of course, none of that happened, so I turned to YouTube. Luckily, two of the makeup artists I've looked up to for so long launched YouTube channels this year due to the pandemic, so I've been learning and applying a lot of that in my work lately. The academy I was going to enroll in Seoul also started putting English subtitles on their YouTube videos! It won't match up to hands-on learning, but I'm just happy to be learning.
Spending more time at home also made me think a lot more about home improvement. I love watching videos by Architectural Digest, Never Too Small, and all the related videos about homes. I rearrange my room every 2 weeks! It might seem unrelated, but all the home content I watch give such importance to natural light and maximizing it. All my rearranging also allowed me to literally see the light in my space and all around the house. Being a makeup artist is a very mobile and artificial light-dependent thing, so settling down long enough to find the light was a new exercise for me and my eyes. There are also times when I would just stare at light leaking into our home, sometimes on a pack of my nephew's Hello Panda and it would look weirdly cinematic. I love going to cafes or restaurants and I look at their windows and observe how light enters. A bulk of my camera roll now is of light leaks or window light. It's definitely something I wouldn't do if the pandemic didn't hit.
How did inspiration take its form during these months of limited movement and personal interaction?
I didn't really have much time to look at the way others worked before so watching other artists work on YouTube or IGTV has been my primary source of inspiration as I can directly apply it to my work.
Due to all the additional work on sanitation, I've been spending a lot of time with one of my assistants, the only other person I see regularly other than my family. She is now also trying to start her career as a solo makeup artist. It wasn't until she told me that she's learning from me and gets to apply them in her own work that I realized I was already seen as a mentor of sorts. My other assistant recently did her friend's wedding makeup, which is a big deal for any makeup artist. She tagged me in her Instagram stories of her working and of the final look. She also sent me a message saying she did everything she learned from me. I get teary-eyed and soft when I think about it, and that has definitely been a huge inspiration for me to do my best, to make sure that they go home with more than just money in their wallets, but also something valuable in their minds and careers.
I've become more mindful of the content I create and put out online. For a while, I was fixated on how I could distinguish myself from other beauty content creators, but literally, everything I could think of is already there. I pressured myself so much to be original and be a breakout star that I just got tired and had nothing in the end. It definitely made me look inwards and ask myself, instead of trying something new, what has always worked for me? What has allowed me to get to where I am today? Authenticity always came to mind. For a long time, people have always talked to me or about me, that I was a very "real" person. I decided I would be myself and only do things I wanted to do and talk about things I actually believed in, but that didn't stop me from trying the usual -- makeup tutorials, sponsored posts, etc. I still tried despite knowing I wouldn't like it because it would've been lazy of me to not even try. I don't like regrets, so I did everything with an open mind and excitement that I might have a YouTuber revelation only to confirm that indeed, it's not for me. From time to time, I post random reviews or thoughts on my feed and IG stories and I noticed people engage more with that than the staged or "curated" posts I've tried doing. I'm very happy with the meaningful conversations I have with my followers, strangers, and friends alike, about skincare, beauty, even climate change out of the most random things I post. This proved that maybe I don't have to reinvent or try as hard as I thought. Not at all knocking people who do more digital-savvy, for-the-gram posts, but I guess it's not for me or my audience. A book on creativity reminded me that I have to stop thinking of myself as a brand and think of myself as.. well, myself - a person with unique thoughts, emotions, nuances. That definitely helped me let go of the pressures of being "on-brand".
Like many, I've always had aspirations of making an impact on the world, on as many people as possible, to be famous, and all that. But really, I'm elated at being able to let people inch closer to their dreams, to give them the knowledge and confidence to get things done, or simply getting someone to discover skincare to make their lives feel a little better. It doesn't always have to be grand, it just needs to simply work sometimes. Knowing I get to help even just one person along the way is inspiration enough for me to keep going.
What is it that you got to do during the past year that you wouldn't have been possible because of the pandemic?
SLEEPING WELL. If there's anything I wish I knew before 2020, it's that good rest and sleep really does fix 90% of your problems. The other 10% is fixed by coffee. And maybe a cookie.
Do you keep rituals in your daily routine and how does this affect you and your work?
The only routines I have are my morning coffee and my pre-sleep skincare routine. Making my own coffee is ritualistic and definitely sets my day, I cannot and will not function without it. I also need to drink coffee to manage my migraines and with the amount of time I spend in front of screens, coffee is practically maintenance medicine for me. Am I using it as an excuse to drink more coffee? Yes, of course, HAHAHAH!
At the beginning of the quarantine, my anxiety was at an all-time high. I had worries before, but not at all crippling. This time, I could barely function as normal. My skincare routine was one of the first few things I let go of and you know how they say your skin is a good indicator of how your body is feeling from the inside? I saw that in my skin. It dried out, it lost all the glow I'd worked hard for, I started to break out, everything I tried to avoid by doing skincare religiously definitely kicked in. I had a client booked before MECQ ended and scheduled it for when GCQ is implemented. I was so excited, but when I saw my skin in the mirror, I thought "You CANNOT go to work looking like THAT". I jumped back into my skincare routine and it made me feel great. Lots of people knock the connection out between self-care and skincare, but it really helped me bring back a sense of normalcy and care for myself. It doesn't have to be a deep, philosophical connection or magically life-changing form of care. I never wear makeup to work so I invest more time in my evening skincare routine so I can buy more sleeping time in the morning.
Skincare and coffee routines combined and hoping that I look presentable when I go to work the next day. It's really the little things that make you feel sparks of happiness done consistently until it becomes a big flame even anxiety can't put out.
Out with the old, in with the new. Name 1 thing you let go from 2020 and 1 thing you hope to achieve this year.
I'm leaving trends in 2020. I've mostly left it long ago, but 2020 had me on my phone and that made me very much aware of latest trends. It was a black hole and I fell off the saddle hard. 'm determined to pull it together in 2021. Every year since 2017, I try harder and harder to be more minimalist, only buying things that are ethically (and locally, as much as possible) produced, holding on to them and stretching their lifespan for as long as they serve their purpose and not when they go out of style. This 2021, I really hope to be more committed to that and produce less waste.
If you lived another life in another world, describe to us, in the most whimsical way possible, what you would do for a living.
In another life, in another world, I'd gladly swap whatever body parts necessary for a pair of gills and fins. I'm 26 but I don't think I've ever outgrown my irrational dream of becoming a mermaid just so I could explore everything in the deep blue. I'd even be a marine researcher for a living. I really believe Sebastian was on to something when he sang Under The Sea -- we got no troubles, life is the bubbles, under the sea!