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Erick Gerson checks out the artistic makeup he did for Summer Reed.

Putting your best face forward
GR’s best makeup artists know all the tricks of the trade.
By Marty Primeau | Photography by Johnny Quirin

That first dab of lipstick or swipe of mascara is a rite of passage for most girls, often launching a lifelong quest to improve, enhance, shock or impress.

Yet despite a plethora of products and online tutorials on what to buy and how to apply, many women still crave makeup advice.

Enter the professionals.

These makeup artists can offer tips on everything from disguising flaws to choosing a lipstick. They know what colors to pick and what trends to avoid. They’ll explain such techniques as airbrush foundation and eyelash extensions.

Grand Rapids has many makeup experts: some in salons, some who freelance and some who specialize in a particular service.

Here are a few of our faves:

Erick Gerson

Erick Gerson’s career started in 2007 when he volunteered to do makeup for Wyoming Theater Company’s production of “Cats.”

“He was 19 at the time, “taking courses on graphic design, tourism — just trying to find my path.”

Though he had no formal training, applying special effects theatrical makeup came easily to Gerson and earned raves from parents. One mother asked him to do her makeup for a special event.

“Everything started after that,” he says.

Today, Gerson applies makeup on women (and guys) for TV commercials, fashions shows and weddings. For the past three years, he’s taught workshops and classes while offering one-on-one consultations for anyone needing cosmetic help.

“I’ve gone to homeless shelters to do makeovers for women, and I try to work a lot in the community.”

Bridal makeup is his bread and butter, he says, but he loves theatrical gigs. His greatest challenge was creating prosthetic pieces for a production of “Beauty and the Beast.”

While Gerson’s commercial work is bold and artistic, he has plenty of tips for everyday makeup:

Buy a good foundation: “The best way to choose a shade is to match it to your neck.”

“Always apply a good SPF 30 because wherever you are, you’re getting rays.”

“Do have the basics for a natural look — a good mascara, lip gloss, tinted moisturizer and a clear gel to keep eyebrows in shape.”

I Got Face

Latesha Lipscomb remembers the days when the only makeup for women of color was a brand called Fashion Fair.

Now she can reel off names of several product lines — Black Opal, Milani, Elan, NYX and Black Radiance — that cater to darker skin tones.

“As our country and the world changes and there are so many shades of beauty, it has become much easier to find makeup for every woman’s skin color.”


Latesha Lipscomb and client Lyric Hoffman

Lipscomb is a cosmetic concierge and owner of I Got Face, a makeup studio in downtown Grand Rapids offering a range of services that include hair, makeup and wardrobe styling for weddings and fashion shows.

But what she enjoys most is working one-on-one with clients.

“Makeup is my ministry,” she says. “I enjoy having personal conversations and developing relationships.”

While most clients range in age between 20 and 40, Lipscomb has given advice to women in their 60s and 70s.

Right now, she’s seeing three strong makeup trends.

“A well-defined brow with a good shape is really popular. That’s important because eyes are the windows to the soul.”

Second is what she describes as “The Beyoncé Shimmer — a dewy finish to the skin so no matter what light you’re in, the skin is glowing.”

And bold lips.

“People are not afraid to wear purples, oranges and blues. I’m even starting to see green.”

The Leslie Studio

From the moment a client takes a seat at The Leslie Studio, owner Mary Leslie is assessing her complexion and reaching for pots and tubes.

Since 1982, she’s been helping women of all ages discover their unique style, offering color charting, wardrobe consulting, personal shopping, skin care — and, of course, makeup advice.

“The bulk of my business is women age 40 and up,” Leslie says. “By that time, a woman knows what she likes and doesn’t like. She’s not running after a trend; she’s going for what fits her body.”

A common concern among baby boomers is how to age gracefully and adjust one’s makeup routine to account for such pesky problems as wrinkles and changing skin texture.

“They want to know how to blend, brighten and tighten without using a ton of products.”

Leslie often lectures about the need to adjust skin care, such as adding a vitamin-rich serum to one’s daily regimen to smooth the face before applying cosmetics.

Mary Leslie applies makeup on Jane Page.

She carries her own private label cosmetics, having researched a variety of national brands and “cherry picking the very best.”

One frequent inquiry: how to choose the right color shadow to make eyes pop while still looking natural.

“That doesn’t just mean neutral shades,” she says. “It means colors natural to the eye. Sometimes that can be a pale aqua shadow.”

Design 1 Salon Spa

If Chris McCarthy had her way, Instagram brows would be a thing of the past.

“We prefer natural-looking eyebrows,” said the manager of AURA Skin & Cosmetics. “Full brows are back in style and that’s a good thing. But the painted-on perfect brows that look fabulous on social media tend to look awful in real life.”

For more than 17 years, she’s worked with AURA, an independent company of Design 1 Salon Spa offering both event services and makeup education.

“We see plenty of women who want special makeup for weddings, proms and black-tie galas,” she says. “On the other side, we pride ourselves on showing women how they can do their own makeup and make the most of their features. We like to empower women to become their own beauty experts.”

She says there’s a big difference in the two services.

For a special event, a woman often wants airbrush makeup: a lightweight foundation that is sprayed on for flawless coverage. “And she’ll want a look that suits the occasion and the outfit she’s wearing.”

But for everyday, women tend to be more concerned about how to apply makeup that will last all day without touchups.

Eye makeup is also a challenge for many women.

“Some women are intimidated by makeup, but you don’t have to be. Experiment when you’re not in a rush. Have fun — and remember: You can always wash it off.”

Stephanie Strowbridge

Stephanie Strowbridge was into retro styling even before she entered David Pressley School of Cosmetology in Royal Oak, an independent beauty school teaching classic techniques.

“I got a lot of special instruction from Pressley, who was 99 years old at the time,” she says. “He could see I had this interest in period styling.”

Fast forward a decade and she’s taken those skills and incorporated her own artistry. “There are a lot of girls who love the pin-up look.”

She researches various time periods to determine the colors, shapes of lips and eyebrows that were used. “If I’m asked to do something specific, I know it’s accurate.”

Strowbridge has traveled around the country doing feature films, fashion shows and theater — including wig styling.

“And I do a lot of weddings, mostly retro styles. Brides find me on the Internet.”

The Parlour

It’s billed as a blow dry bar inside City Flats Hotel, but Amanda Shepherd and staff at The Parlour offer makeup services, as well.

The styling lounge can be reserved for private fetes, and they host a lot of bridal parties. The central-city location is convenient for women attending downtown events and galas.

The Lash Lounge

Eyelash extensions are the hot item for anyone craving longer, thicker lashes. The single, semi-permanent, synthetic lash extensions are applied directly to one’s natural eyelashes one at a time.

Vicki Farage and staff specialize in Xtreme Eyelash Extensions ($275 for a full set).

Siren & Proper

It was the first lash lounge and brow bar in Grand Rapids, founded by Cheeky Strut owner Kaite Lyn Christoffersen and Christina Lynn-Perez to provide Novalash eyelash extensions, brow shaping and tinting, as well as sugaring and wax hair removal.

Pomp & Artistry

Davina Bryan heads up teams of beauty experts offering hair and makeup designs for brides, specializing in on-location services. Makeup artistry includes airbrush makeup and false eyelashes.

Apsara Spa

Femé Naigow and staff offer makeup by Jane Iredale, multi-purpose mineral cosmetics with skin care benefits. There’s even a line of vegan makeup. The full-service salon also does eyelash extensions, brow tints and more. GR
Amber Downs contributed to this article.

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