Tips on Age & Character Makeup

Build on a Foundation

Your first step in applying makeup is the foundation, the base that will blend with and carry highlights, shadows, rouge, and any special-effects paints. Your foundation should be slightly darker than your own skin tone to counteract the effects of the stage lights. To appear aged, choose a foundation with grey or yellow tones in it.

Creme foundation has become the new standard in theatrical makeup. Easy to apply and remove, it is the most natural looking of the foundations. It is applied with a latex sponge and smoothed evenly over the face and neck. Blend it well into the hairline so no mark is visible, and when you are finished, set it with a neutral dry powder.

Creme foundation has almost completely replaced the oil-based greasepaint, although it is still available from some retailers. Too much greasepaint will not take highlights and shadows well. It rubs off on clothes, makes the actor perspire, and requires too much powder to set it, giving the actor a mask-like appearance.

Pancake makeup is water-soluble and is applied to the face with a small, damp sponge (we recommend using a hydrasponge). It is harder to apply than creme foundation but is easier on oily skin. Stroke it on evenly to produce a smooth, thin coat. Powder is not needed to set it. Many actors think pancake foundation looks too flat under stage lighting when compared to creme foundation.

Highlights and Shadows

Character Makeup - FaceAfter putting on the foundation makeup you must ask yourself some basic questions:

1) What is the exact shape of the structure (i.e., cheekbone, wrinkle) that is to be represented?

2) Where is the light coming from? and

3) What happens, in terms of light and shadow, when a light from that direction falls on a structure of that shape?

When you examine the answers to these questions, it will be clear where the structure should be light and dark. Paint these light and dark areas on the face, and you can create for the observer the illusion of facial structures where they actually do not exist.

As we age, our facial flesh loses elasticity. The skin of a very old person will sag, showing the bone structure beneath clearly. The sharp fold lines of sagging skin and the curves of the underlying bones can be simulated on a much younger face using highlights and shadows. Keep in mind that for soft edges, like cheekbones, the highlight or shadow must be blended carefully into the foundation. For hard edges, like creases or the nasolabial fold, the line between highlight and shadow is sharp.

Highlights and shadows should be about three shades lighter or darker than the base, although intense light or dark paints may be required to create strong highlights or shadows. Apply them over the foundation with brushes or crayons. For small areas, like wrinkles, 1/8 to 1/4 inch flat synthetic sable brushes are useful. Larger areas require a 1/2 to 5/8 inch brush. Pointed brushes are used only for the smallest details. Crayons should be sharpened into a tent shape. The sharp edge is particularly efficient for making hard-edged highlights, such as creases. For an even finer point and to keep the line from smudging, refrigerate the crayons before sharpening. The edges can be blended into the foundation with brushes or fingertips.

Apply the highlight or shadow directly to the area that is to be most strongly affected by the color, and then wash the brush. Using the damp brush and a light touch, blend the color out over the entire area to be covered until it blends into the base color. Use separate brushes for shadows and highlights to save time.


Character Makeup - ForeheadArea A-The Forehead

Highlight Planes 1 and 3 to make them prominent. 2 is a depression and is lowlighted. For an overhanging brow, put a strong highlight on 3 and shadow deeply across the bridge of the nose to sink it in. The temples, 4, are always lowlighted to show age or to make the forehead appear narrower.

Raise your eyebrows and note where your own forehead wrinkles. Wrinkle are creases, so the demarcation between highlight and lowlight should be crisp. The highlight may be applied with a small brush and goes below and along the edge of the wrinkle. The shadow goes above. Do not raise your eyebrows while applying the makeup, as it will smear. Blend the outer edges of both lights into the surrounding foundation, but make the highlight a little wider than the lowlight. The ends of the "wrinkles" should be fine and disappear into the foundation at your temples. If they are too obvious, stipple the ends lightly.


Area B-The Eyes

Character Makeup - EyeTo achieve the illusion of age, shadow Plane 1 and highlight 3, blending through Plane 2. Put a strong highlight on 3A, and shadow on the lower edge of 3B to give the appearance of sagging. All of Plane 3 may be shadowed and the eyelid (4) highlighted for "sunken" eyes. Wrinkles that fan out over 3B may be modeled like the forehead wrinkles, but with a finer brush. Normally, we put eyeshadow near the eyelashes on Plane 4, but don't do that for an aged appearance. A little red around the edge of the eye gives the impression of tiredness or crying. Be very careful not to get any makeup in your eyes.

To age the eye, Plane 5 will be shadowed. Plane 6 may be shadowed as well to suggest dissipation, lack of sleep, or illness. To make it appear puffy or pouchy with age, highlight 6A, with a sharp crease between 5 and 6, blending into a shadow by 6B. By the lower edge of 6B, the shadow should be heavy, forming another hard edge between the eye "pouch" and the cheek.

It's easiest to start with the highlight on the cheek beneath the pouch. Keep the edge next to the pouch sharp and clean. Blend the lower edge of the highlight into the cheeks. Then highlight 6A and shadow 6B. The darkest shadow of 6B is in the middle, fading into the foundation on the ends.

Area C-The NoseCharacter Makeup - Nose

Plane 1 is the small depression between the superciliary arch (what your eyebrows rest on) and the nose. Shadow it for age. Plane 2 is highlighted because the nose usually narrows and sharpens with age. To achieve the effect of a broken or crooked nose, try some of the techniques in the figure above right. Blend the highlights and shadows well to make soft edges.

Plane 3 will be shadowed for age or to add more depth to the nose. Plane 4 may be shadowed or highlighted, depending on the width of your own nose. If the highlight from Plane 2 carries down to 5, it gives the nose a droopy effect. Otherwise, shadow 5 for aging.

Character Makeup - Noses

Using highlight/shadow to create a "crooked" nose           "Un-crooking" or  "thinning" a nose

Character Makeup - CheekArea D-Cheeks

Highlight the cheekbone (1A) and shadow the hollow beneath (2) to make "sunken" cheeks. The nasolabial folds, those creases running from either side of the nose down to the mouth, become very pronounced with age. Exaggerate them by placing a strong highlight on the upper lip leading into the crease. Leave a hard edge at the crease, but blend it into the foundation on the upper lip. Then apply a line of dark shadow along the crease, and with a clean brush pull the shadow slightly away from the crease into the cheek and blend with the foundation. A highlight from the inside corner of the eye down along the upper side of the nasolabial fold (along Plane 3) will further emphasize the sag of the cheek.


Area E-The Mouth and Chin

If your own facial features allow, the upper areas of Planes 1 and 2 may be strongly highlighted, fading down to a medium shadow on the lower parts of 1 and 2, with a deep shadow on 3. This gives the illusion that the upper teeth are missing. Blackening your own upper teeth enhances the illusion. The opposite, highlighting the lower part of 1 and 2, fading into the foundation as you approach the nose, makes the upper lip protrude. The crease angling down from the mouth corners should be treated like the nasolabial folds, but use a finer brush. Stippling can break the smooth line of the lips to create "age lines."Character Makeup - Mouth & Chin

Stippling is a method for applying makeup by gently pressing the color onto the skin with various textured sponges that are rough and large-pored. The pattern created by the pores adds texture without concealing what is underneath. It is used for toning down highlights and shadows that are too strong, for giving texture to the skin, for adding "blemishes" or "freckles," and for concealing the edges of add-ons (false noses, bald caps, eyebrow covers) by breaking up the tiny line of shadow created by the edge of the false piece. It is also very a very effective way to create stubble for that "5 o'clock shadow" look.

A double chin is not easy to simulate with paint, but if the actor already has the beginnings of one, highlighting it will make it seem fuller. Lowering the head and pulling back a little emphasizes it further. Highlight the top of Plane 6 and shadow the bottom of 5 to increase the angularity of the chin that accompanies old age.

Build highlights and lowlights a little at a time as it is easier to add to the color than subtract it. You will need to experiment to discover the uniqueness of your own face and to become confident as you apply your makeup. But with patience and dedication the next time the stage lights fall on you, the audience will see the character you want them to see.

Reprinted with permission from the December 1996 issue of Performance! by Olympic Theatre Arts. Article written by Patty McManus. Illustrations by Tom Arthur. Edited by Patty Mathieu and Mindee Clem.