We recently had the pleasure of chatting with working artist, beauty educator, and cosmetic brand product development consultant, Nicky Posley. Nicky talked to us about everything from inclusivity (or the lack thereof) in the beauty industry, the importance of skincare for makeup, and some insights into his career.
How did you get into makeup? Where did your career begin? What inspired you to become a makeup artist?
I've been working in the beauty industry for over 2 decades. I'm a fine artist who fell in love with makeup. In addition, I'm a beauty educator, cosmetic product development consultant, and content creator. My experience has spanned the gamut from retail to red carpet. I believe that makeup is more than covering up. It has the power to reveal, amplify, and help people to stand in their calling.
Whether I'm working with an everyday client for their special occasion, or helping a celebrity put their best face forward, I see myself not only as an artist, but as a translator with a vision. My personal goal in this space is to continue using my knowledge and talent to celebrate the nuanced variations in beauty, while helping to create a more equitable and authentically inclusive beauty landscape.
At a very young age, I got involved with fine art, and participated in gallery shows, in and around the Chicago area. I had a love for the intersection of beauty, art and fashion. They were my obsession, and my escape. My best friend, who is a hairstylist and an incredible fine artist, exposed me to the world of working beauty professionals. He encouraged me to pick up a makeup brush, and consider it as a career. Like so many other things in life, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, and leaned into my passion. When you do this, the universe has a way of leaning forward with you. Working behind the cosmetics counters for many years was an invaluable school, helping me to understand what being of service looks like, and how to see that everything in this profession is about the exchange of energy. I began freelancing early into my counter years, and kept moving and growing, as I acquired new tools and skills.
We know the fashion/beauty industry still isn’t inclusive but compared to even as little as 10 years ago it has come a long way. Can you tell us about some of the challenges you have faced as a black makeup artist in an industry that is predominantly white?
The beauty industry, as big as it is, can only be a reflection and microcosm of the world. The marginalization, dismissal, and frankly racism black artists face, in regards to our abilities and contribution, is built into the fabric of fashion and beauty. Simultaneously, no art or culture is more imitated, appropriated and commodified globally than ours. It's very challenging, but I refuse to be put in a box, or denied space, based on the color of my skin. Representation matters, and it's not lost on me that the very act of existing in the doors I've been able to open, will help someone else believe it to be possible for them. We are a multicolored prism of perspectives and styles of expression, nuanced and beautiful. It's not what they call you.... It’s what you answer to.
We have all seen videos from behind the scenes of black models having their makeup done with products not designed for their skin giving white cast and many other issues. Can you tell us some of the challenges you have faced with your kit and getting products suited for all skin tones?
I came into this industry in the late 90's when very few brands affirmed or spoke to black women, even though they spend 80% more on cosmetics, and twice as much on skincare than our counterparts. As a pro artist, I quickly realized that I needed to be an alchemist with color and formulations to suit the needs of black women and other women of color. I've seen the horror shows backstage over the years, when the" professional" who was hired didn't have the understanding of, or respect for global complexion, specifically black skin tones. Preparation is the respect we pay for the opportunity to stand in these rooms, and when that is lacking, it hurts us all. My kit is the collective knowledge and conversation I've had over the last 25 years... every mistake, every discovery and every celebration. It's where the wheels hit the road. When cosmetic brands began reaching out to me to consult on complexion shade development, I knew I belonged in that space, and that a new chapter was beginning.
What makeup products are missing or under formulated for phototypes 4, 5, and 6?
Basic foundation, powder and concealer range can still be challenging for phototypes 4, 5, and 6. That being said, things have been improving. Complexion is a nuanced and complicated conversation, and the folks who are tasked to speak to these ranges often don't have the background, artistic eye, or cultural perspective to do it right.
What are some of the products that phototypes 4,5 and 6 should avoid?
In terms of products to avoid for phototypes 4,5, and 6, it's really about trial and error, to find the right product fit for each individual. For example, all highlighters are not created equally. Some formulas, be they powder or creams, melt into the skin and look elegant, while others separate and look chunky or ashy.
How do you define beauty and how do you contribute to redefining beauty standards through your work?
Beauty to me is all about celebrating the skin you're in, and not requiring the permission or approval of others to do so. If you're a minimalist, rock that. If you go all out, live in that. Our power is in our unique expression. Through my work, I get to be an interpreter, a catalyst and a collaborator in what makes people feel beautiful. As artists, we have the power to change the energy in a room and shift culture. I see beauty in so many types of aesthetics, and by recognizing that, I get to stretch the confines of what is considered to be beautiful.
What has been your ‘wow’ moment as a makeup artist? Was there a memorable moment, client or shoot that redefined your career?
In many ways, I feel like I've only scratched the surface of what I'm capable of. I've had some amazing moments, and many others, I’m still working on and waiting for. The most powerful moment for me will always be the day I decided that I wanted to live an artistic life, that simply existing and working to pay bills was not enough. I wanted more, and I had the courage, and willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to go after it. So many of the real battles are fought, won, or lost in the mind, before they ever see the light of day. This career is not for the faint of heart. It can look very glossy and glamorous through the lens of social media, but I have had many struggles to overcome. I'm lucky to have a family and a few good friends to remind me who I am, that I'm built to last, and deserving of joy. Sometimes, while we wait for the dream to show up and manifest, it can feel like we're losing, but when the right opportunity arrives, we discover that every set-back, loss or door that slammed in our faces was actually setting us up for what is really ours.
What role does skincare play in your makeup artistry? How do you integrate skincare into your artistry?
Skincare is hugely important to creating beautiful long lasting makeup looks. Skin is the canvas, and beautiful makeup starts with beautiful skin. Exfoliation, toning and hydration set the stage for the radiant, plump and glowing skin we all crave. We're all different in terms of what we need to make the most of our canvas. As a makeup pro, understanding different options in skin prep can make or break a shoot, or client's project, so I'm constantly seeking to learn.
What advice would you give to aspiring black makeup artists who want to enter the industry and break down stereotypes?
The advice I'd give to aspiring black makeup artists is first to always be kind to everyone you come across. The person you use or mistreat on the way up, you'll run into them on the way back down -full stop. Learn as much as you can about the craft and the business of beauty. When you respect your gift, and are educated about how this business works, it's easier to ask for what you deserve. Not everyone is going to cheer for this, but do it anyway. This is a rapidly changing industry, and it isn't a meritocracy. Opportunities can come from anyone and anywhere, for all sorts of reasons, that are not necessarily about your talent. Accept this early, so you can keep your eyes on the prize. Don't allow cultural norms and limitations to keep you from exploring new ideas, aesthetics and ways of doing things. Remember, we are the greatest hope of our ancestors, at any given moment.
Can you share your vision for the future of the beauty industry, especially in terms of diversity and inclusion?
My vision for the future of beauty is simple. There's so much that should be celebrated in the nuances and spectrum of beauty, and that's what makes the world an interesting place. Let's get to that. Also, I’d like to live to see a time when artists of all walks, races, ages, gender expressions etc. are valued and compensated appropriately for their contributions and voices. So much has been skewed or lost all together in the break-neck pace of consumption and commodification of this art. Maya Angelou said that " None of us are free, until we're all free."
We’re all about sharing fellow change makers so we want to know who inspires you and why?
The truth is, I'm inspired by change-makers, people who stand by their beliefs, and their worth. I'm a sponge for knowledge, and I enjoy hearing about the journeys of other artists and entrepreneurs. I discovered, and was inspired by Noelly's journey, listening to a podcast called Start Right Here. Heroes to me, are people living their lives, and having the courage to get back up, when they fall down. My first makeup heroes were Sam Fine, Kevyn Aucoin and Billy B. To name a few other amazing artists, Danessa Myricks, Gina Brooke, Stevie Dimmick, Eugenia Weston, and the late A.J. Crimson reminds me that we are always in creation of our legacies.
What do you love most about your job and why?
What I love most about my job, other than the act of creating, is that I get to use my gifts to help amplify joy in the lives of other people. I get to be a part of some of their best days, and get paid for it.
What’s your favourite 4.5.6 product and why?
My favorite 456 Skin products so far are the Skin Bouquet Hydrating Mist, Sevenly Delight Brightening Serum, and the Come Clean Hydrating Cleansing Oil. They make my skin feel and look amazing! Intention is everything, and I can feel it in the products.