The Model Mayhem interview: Roshar
Roshar is a freelance makeup artist based in NYC and Los Angeles. His incredible work and distinctive style has become instantly recognizable. His work has appeared in Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, Glamour, InStyle and many more publications, and his client list includes CoverGirl, Paul Mitchell, L’Oreal, and MAKE UP FOR EVER. Roshar also worked on Kylie Minogue’s “All the Lovers” and Katy Perry’s “ET” music videos, with legendary makeup artist, Kabuki.
Roshar generously took time out of his busy schedule during New York Fashion Week to talk to us about his life and work.
— MM Edu
MM Edu: How did you get started as a makeup artist?
Roshar: I used to draw and paint a lot when I was younger. I mostly drew women. Even as a child I wanted to know how to make a face on a piece of paper dimensional; how to play with gradients.
I grew up in a small Texas town in the 80s, and I really did not fit in. Eventually I ended up moving away from home at 15. I was a punk kid with a pierced nose and dyed hair. When I moved away I always lived with girls. I would do their makeup and that’s how I paid for my rent, since I was really too young to work. At the same time I was immersed in the underground club scene. So the makeup I did was more to change the person into a character. I learned how to look at people as that blank canvas and form them not just into characters, but ideas and walking concepts.
Eventually I moved to NYC in the mid-90s, focused on being involved in the underground club scene. However, at that time most of the clubs were shutting down, so I needed to come up with a new plan. I thought, “I seem to be decent with makeup, so I’ll do that.”
I was a sophomore dropout so college really wasn’t an option. My family wasn’t financially supporting me either. Really any school or training was out of the question.
So, in 1998, I got hired by a cosmetic company to do retail.
MM Edu: How did you move from retail to becoming a fulltime makeup artist? At what point did you realize this could be a career?
Roshar: At the time of working for that company, being a freelance artist really wasn’t in my head yet. After 9/11 I left New York and moved to Hawaii, still working for the cosmetic company. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that people started coming to book me for jobs outside of the counter. That is when I realized that there was something else out there for me. I was exposed to the world of freelance, and never looked back.
I quit my job and moved to Singapore. I figured since Singapore has its own magazines I’d be able to base myself there and work through Asia.
So it really was a natural progression.
MM Edu: That sounds like quite a natural progression, but moving to Singapore must have been a huge decision. Why did you think it would be easier to make it in Asia and what was the experience like?
Roshar: It’s not necessarily that it would be easier, but more that I’d always wanted to live in Asia. I love immersing myself in different cultures and experiences, so it was an attractive thought. However, I had been working on my portfolio in a smaller market (Hawaii). Going to a major market with a small market book was a learning experience. My makeup was fine. But the models and the photography were not what were considered up to par there. So I learned that I would have to completely redo my book in order to be taken seriously. I knew I had the talent. But with a weak book people wouldn’t even flip to the next page. I was lucky though. I met people on a personal level that believed in me and put me in contact with their friends that happened to be good photographers, and slowly my book became more polished. I think at that time I learned some very important lessons that I wouldn’t have if I just stayed in a smaller market.
MM Edu: What challenges did you have to overcome?
Roshar: My first challenge was getting a presentable portfolio together—developing an eye to know what type of photographers and models I needed in my book (to be taken seriously). Sure you can do great makeup, but if the photography and model isn’t up to par, the image isn’t valid for your book.
I learned that when someone looks at your photo it goes like this:
First they look at the photography, second they look at the model, third they look at the wardrobe, and fourth they look at the makeup. If any of those are off before they get to the makeup, you’ve lost the viewer.
But getting to that point you have to start somewhere and each time you test it has to be with better and better teams.
Photographer: Mark Gong
“My first challenge was getting a presentable portfolio together—developing an eye to know what type of photographers and models I needed in my book (to be taken seriously).”
MM Edu: What’s the best thing about being a makeup artist? And, what’s the worst or least enjoyable thing?
Roshar: The best thing is being involved with creation. That’s what makes me like this job—being able to have something in your head come into existence by the whole team. There are different artists out there. There are artists that are given the reference and they have to build on that. Sure I get that, but I’m lucky to have people trust me to come up with something.
The other thing I love is traveling. And, the thing I like the least? Traveling!
MM Edu: What career achievements are you most proud of?
Roshar: I think the thing that I can be proud of is that people can look at an image, even with no name credit, and know it’s my work.
Photographer: Christel B
MM Edu: When and how did you realize that your work had a unique, recognizable quality? How do you think you developed such a recognizable style?
Roshar: I found out when people started telling me. At first I was surprised. But then everyone said the same thing. I didn’t realize I had a style until people pointed out a common denominator with my images. It’s funny when people start with their craft and say what their style is. My situation was others ended up telling me what style they saw. Then I sat back and looked. I ended up realizing later in my career what my style was. Beforehand I made the conscious decision to not look at the makeup in fashion magazines—the makeup that others did. I didn’t want to subconsciously have someone else’s work burned in my head. I think that, as an artist, it really helped my work and style grow into my own. Sometimes a photographer will show me a reference on what they want. But I ask questions to find out the basis of the elements they want and make it my own, while delivering is expected of me.
But it made sense. Your personal experiences…who your best friend was when you were 8 years old, your favorite song when you were 12, the street you lived on when you were in High School… they all dictate your style. It even dictates how you have a line. That’s why if you do a creative and, three months later, you are asked to do the same look, it’s not quite the same. You have had experiences in between those months and they have changed you.
I just kept working hard, giving 110% on each gig, and before I knew it people knew my name and my work. Of course, having your work visible helps—utilizing the tools that are available like social media. When you are working freelance and don’t have an agent, so you have to do your own marketing, accounting, management, all that. Really, if you want to get 100% out of it, you need to put in a 110%.
Photographer: Christel B
“I made the conscious decision to not look at the makeup in fashion magazines—the makeup that others did. I didn’t want to subconsciously have someone else’s work burned in my head.”
MM Edu: What was it like working for Kabuki? What did you learn and how has the experience influenced your work?
Roshar: I love working with Kabuki. He is kind and humble. We came from the same underground scene, are around the same age, and like the same music. So our references are similar. He knows that he can say something and I can get it. It’s felt like two friends working together.
I was already a working artist when I got the call to assist. But really, who would say no?
We worked together on Italian, American and French Vogue, Marie Claire, W, ELLE, Kylie Minogue “ALL The Lovers” and Katy Perry’s “ET” videos.
MM Edu: Who else has influenced your style?
Roshar: It’s not really “who” as much as “what”. Light is my major influence. It may sound odd, but I really get excited by the way light affects things. I’ve always been that way from an early age. I’ll give an example. One of my favorite movies is Blade Runner. I remember being a child and noticing that the entire movie is back lit. I was so intrigued by how something backlit could ride a delicate line between being beautiful and being scary.
MM Edu: Take us behind the scenes and explain the work involved in creating your art.
Roshar: The way I work can be described as “being on a fine line”; if I add one additional thing it throws it into something that I’m not aiming for. So sometimes by editing me it gives it more strength. At the same time I’m very mindful of what the rest of the team is doing. How will it be shot? How will the lighting affect it? Is post going to go cooler? What is the hair and wardrobe? Can the model’s face work with this makeup look? I analyze everything.
MM Edu: Select one of your favorite images and tell us about the work involved to create it.
Roshar: One of my favorite images I’ve done is probably the most visually minimal, “The twins with the red lips”.
I was working with a great photographer that booked these twins and they let me come up with the idea for a beauty story. When they came in they had big bushy brows. So I thought that if I take away this brow, I take away their identity and now have a clean canvas. I contoured and sculpted their faces, but chose the type of color that you would see in a shadow, a cool grey brown. To me, keeping such minimal color, but including a punch of a primary red lip color, gave strength to the image. If I had added lashes, more eye color, etc., it wouldn’t have been as impactful.
Photographer: Jamie Nelson
MM Edu: You’ve been at the top for a long time now, how has the industry changed and has it got better?
Roshar: Diva attitudes are looked down on. Being an artist on set doesn’t make you a superstar. You are a team player. You are only an equation of a bigger picture. So really, if you have an attitude you probably won’t get booked again. So I’d say it’s gotten more politically correct. But that’s also how our society has changed as well. Social media has also changed the playing field. Clients will Google you. They will research you. It’s easier to put yourself out into the world but it can also work against you if you are not in control of what you put out there. The thing is that you aren’t in control. So it does keep the pressure that all your work has to be the best you can do.
MM Edu: It seems like more and more work is done in post-production now. Do you feel this trend will continue, and how has it affected the makeup artist’s role? Are makeup artists being taken for granted now?
Roshar: I’ve noticed that a trend has been going on where there isn’t much retouching at all. It’s like a pendulum effect where we’ve come away from glossy retouched images to minimal retouch—more of a raw look. This can be a problem for artists that depend on retouching since it may not be guaranteed that the image will be retouched. So, I’ve always said, just get it right in the lens. That way, less time and money is spent on retouching, and you can do your work without a crutch.
I don’t believe that makeup artists are being taken for granted at all. A good photographer understands the value of their team. Look at most of the top fashion photographers in major magazines and campaigns. They aren’t working with run of the mill artists. I think that when an artist understands their value, others will too.
Photographer: Jamie Nelson
“I’ve noticed that a trend has been going on where there isn’t much retouching at all. It’s like a pendulum effect where we’ve come away from glossy retouched images to minimal retouch—more of a raw look.”
MM Edu: You only recently returned from the Philippines, give us a glimpse into your work/travel schedule?
Roshar: That’s correct. I actually had a busy schedule that month. I was in Moscow, then Ukraine, and then Toronto, where I was Keynote speaker at IMATS, then New York for two days, then Manila for a month, Los Angeles a month, and now NYC for four months.
Most of it was shooting, some was presentations and seminars. I’m based in NYC and Los Angeles, so I’m in LA during winter and summer. Most of my editorial work is done in NYC and internationally.
MM Edu: It’s easy to see why you have a love/hate relationship with traveling. What else do you have in store 2012? What are you most looking forward to?
Roshar: I’m going to be in Japan for a month working with some Japanese designers that I’m excited about.
MM Edu: Name your top five makeup products.
Roshar: MAKE UP FOR EVER Flash Pallet, Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer, YABY Eyeshadows, Ben NYE Firework Wheel, MAKE UP FOR EVER HD Foundations.
MM Edu: What’s your best makeup tip?
Roshar: Don’t powder until AFTER you are done with everything. That way if you make a mistake it’s easier to fix or clean up.
MM Edu: If you could do makeup for anyone, who would you choose and why?
Roshar: Kristen McMenamy. She is one of my all-time favorite models even from the early 90s to now. Her bone structure with her long silver hair is just dreamy.
MM Edu: Finally, you’ve been a Model Mayhem member since 2005, what does MM mean to you?
Roshar: It’s served well on several levels. When I first came on in 2005 it put me in contact with other industry people. It helped me test and build my book, and to learn and converse about issues with other artists.
Years later it keeps me in contact with old friends as well as keeping my work visible. I also present at IMATS and the MAKE UP FOR EVER boutiques in LA and NYC, so it keeps me in contact with people that may be interested in those events.