I’m a make-up brush fan and accordingly adore everything about using them from feeling their soft bristles stroke powder across my face, to fetishistically accumulating new ones to put in old candle jars on my desk. I even rather like the onerous weekly washing session of all used brushes; it bookmarks my week, offering a ritual in which I wash away the remnants of the stale old make-up along with Monday to Friday’s toil. I also imbue brushes with hope; a newly-acquired one always comes with the idea that it might just plug a gap in my make-up application. That hope seems to spring eternal – I now have brushes poking out of at least 11 (at the last count) jars.
That preamble should explain why a row exploded at the beginning of my holiday in Austria when I discovered that hubs had failed to pack my brush bag (he always packs less than me so takes on some cosmetics-carrying duties). I had all the make-up I needed, but no means with which to get it on my face evenly and neatly. As I generally like a brush for each genre of make-up with the exception of lips – i.e. one for brows, one for eyeliner, one – or, ideally, two – for blending eyeshadow, one for powder, one for concealer, one for blush, and one for bronzer – it was pretty pesky to be without.
After some thought, I decided I might be able to muddle along with, say, three brushes to make up my whole face. My picks? A slant brush (brows and eyeliner), a soft, fluffy face brush (powder, blush, bronzer), and a little blending brush (eyeshadow and concealer). Happy with my plan, I trotted to the Douglas in Innsbruck only to be reminded of the staggering price of brushes: at about £30 a pop for decent quality ones, were I to buy them, I’d have to shell out around a hundred quid for brushes I’d be reunited with a week later. Instead, I headed to the bargain aisle in the local DM and bought myself three brushes for the grand sum of 17 euros in total.
I made the wrong decision – unlike the thriftier brushes I love and cherish in London (by the likes of Zoeva and Real Techniques), the sparse hairs on the fluffy brushes proved unable to apply make-up smoothly, buckling when pressed to my skin and distributing powder oddly. The slant brush was conversely too densely packed, picking up too much shadow and making my brows look oddly thick and dark.
Rather that continue on what was clearly a thankless mission, I went back to basics and started to apply my make-up with my fingers and other everyday tools. Here are the tricks that have served me well, should any of you be brush averse/unwilling/unable to buy enough to service your whole face //
Use fingers for foundation / I rarely use a foundation brush in any case, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate this one. Many top make-up artists like Mary Greenwell (with whom I seem to agree on most things make-up) prefer to use fingers to apply base as they believe the warmth of fingers melts the foundation into skin – and that by massaging it in you’ll fuse the make-up with your skin for a natural finish.
Concealer is trickier / Yes, using fingers offers a good finish, but as I almost always use Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage, I worry about spreading bacteria and making the pan unnecessarily greasy. Here, I found a cotton bud enormously useful, using it to dab the concealer onto spots as needed.
Cotton pads are key / Bigger areas are served well by humble cotton pads. I used one side to press loose powder onto my skin for a surprisingly even finish, then flipped it round and used the other side to sweep blush and bronzer on. You have to work very gently here – press colour and you’ll end up removing foundation. Gently sweeping motions work well.
Go light on eyeshadow / There is no good way to do a proper, nuanced eyeshadow without brushes. Instead, I’ve stuck to pressing a light colour like Stila Kitten Smudge Pot across my lids, lining my lids with a pencil and then blending it with a cotton bud. I happened to pack one of Charlotte Tilbury’s Colour Chameleon sticks and found that this is a really good option to run along a lash line sans brush as it smudges so easily.
… But dial up the lipstick / Joyfully, I find lipstick works best without too many tools – again, like Greenwell, I like to apply it directly from the bullet and massage my lips together for all the deep saturation of colour without overdrawing or what not. I like a lip to look ever so slightly blurred – think post-kiss. Bright colours do the job of elevating a simple make-up look, so I’ve been using Tom Ford’s Lip Contour Duo in Devil Inside a LOT.
Finally, use a brow pen / At home, I mix it up with brows, using Suqqu’s brow pen to fill in missing hairs and their Balancing Eyebrow Palette to soften and up the density. As I’ve had to lay off the powder out here, I’ve been using just the pen to fill in gaps and have come to realise it’s so easy to whip a pen through brows that I barely need the powder – in fact, it’s liberating to be freed of needing so many products, which is not to say I’m not itching to be reunited with my beloved brushes…