Online Live Makeup Class: Makeup Theory and Creating Balance with Nathan Johnson

Have you ever been awestruck by a makeup look? Nathan says it’s because the look has balance and focus. Your eye can’t help but be drawn to it. When you understand balance and focus, you can guide people’s eyes through and around the makeup look.

QC’s executive makeup artist, Nathan Johnson, went LIVE on QC Makeup Academy’s Facebook page on July 24th for a live makeup theory class. He talked about creating facial balance using makeup. He covered a variety of topics, including eyeshadow placement, eyeliner angles, proper brow angles and shapes, blush placement, and lip liner application.

Download the class handout so you can follow along!

Why Should You Learn Makeup Theory?

This webinar is a live makeup theory lesson. Nathan emphasizes the importance of makeup theory. Learning makeup theory allows you to learn the guidelines. Once you’ve mastered your foundation techniques, you can then choose when to stick to the rules and when to break them.

Nathan advises you to think critically about why you do every technique. If you find yourself applying makeup on autopilot, take a moment and evaluate why you are doing it. A makeup artist should always consider the effect of every stroke. Every technique you use should have a purpose.

Nathan speaks about the two main types of makeup artists. The first works from wild creativity. And the second are makeup artists who balance artistry with theory and technique. The latter type can still do new, inventive, and creative looks. But when you do makeup with thought and intention, your looks will always have focus and dimension.

Where Do You Want the Focus to Be?

The Fastest, Easiest Ways to Create Makeup Focus

Creating focus combines many aspects of makeup theory. Nathan will focus on placement, shapes, and lines. Get your handouts ready!

Concentration of Color

This technique adds drama to a particular feature on a face. It is the quickest way to add focus to a particular feature.

  • Single focus: Adding color to one feature, such as the lips. They hold your attention tightly to those areas.
  • Double focus: Adding color to two features. If you accentuate the lips and eyes, for example, the concentration of color will draw attention in an infinite circle connecting the eyes and lips.

The Most Common Social Media Makeup Mistake

Instagram and un-trained makeup artists often create too many focal points. The guideline in makeup is to never have more than two focal points. The eyes and lips are the most important focal points because they are the most expressive and communicative. Eyebrows and cheeks are secondary features. They, along with full-coverage foundation, should not be so dramatic that they take focus away from the primary actors (eyes and lips).

Creating Focus on the Eyes

Eyeliner Techniques & Placement

One of the best ways to create focus on the eyes is to use eyeliner. There are many eyeliner techniques to frame the eyes in different ways.


The line is the same width from the inner to the outer corners of the upper lid. It stays thin to make the eyelashes appear thick and dense without being too obvious. This technique brings focus up.

Wedge liner, Wraparound liner,
Cat eyeliner

Nathan uses these techniques as examples of how directionality adds focus and lift. All three of these eyeliner variations add focus and length to the eye. They all angle up to lift the eye. The cat-eye is named so because the technique gives the illusion of the inner corner dipping slightly with the outer corner lifting up.

Drop Shadow

By adding a small amount of liner beneath the lash line, this makes the lower lashes appear long and thick, subtly enhances the eye.

One of the common eyeliner mistakes that distract focus is a bumpy or wobbly liner. Another mistake is when the liner application isn’t symmetrical. Some people do not begin their liners at the same place on each eye. This results in asymmetrical-looking eyes, throwing off the look’s balance.

The most flattering way to do makeup for eyes is to create lift. When you lift your clients’ faces with makeup, you can make them look younger, more alert, and more awake. If you bring liner below the eye’s natural outer corner, you will pull the eyes down, making them look droopy. Keep in mind, eyeliner styles (and eyeshadow placement) that pull the eyes down aren’t completely off-limits. You can use your techniques to pull the eye down for an editorial look. But the choice should be intentional, and not a habit you use for every occasion.

Eyeshadow Techniques

When it comes to eyeshadow, angles are everything. You may have seen the hard lines created by laying down tape on the outer corners of the eyes to guide eyeshadow. This type of technique is popular when creating editorial looks. But it’s widely regarded as unprofessional to tape up a client’s face before applying makeup. And so, Nathan doesn’t believe that all eyeshadow look should have hard lines.

Hard lines distract focus. When your eyeshadow is blended softly around the edges, it drives focus to the eye instead of pulling attention away. You should practice creating angles without the use of tape.

What if Your Makeup Client Has Wide-Set Eyes?

For perfect face symmetry, the space between both eyes should be roughly the length of a single eye. So if you’re working on a client with wide-set eyes, you’ll want to bring the eyeshadows a bit more to decrease the space between them. Extend eyeshadow beyond the inner tear duct towards the side of the nose. This will create the illusion of closer set eyes.

What if Your Makeup Client Has Wide-Set Eyes?

For perfect face symmetry, the space between both eyes should be roughly the length of a single eye. So if you’re working on a client with wide-set eyes, you’ll want to bring the eyeshadows a bit more to decrease the space between them. Extend eyeshadow beyond the inner tear duct towards the side of the nose. This will create the illusion of closer set eyes.

What if Your Makeup Client Has Close-Set Eyes?

Nathan emphasizes that this isn’t a bad thing. But to create a magnetic look to your client’s features, you’ll want to create balance and symmetry. For close-set eyes, you should smoke the eyeshadow out towards the temple. This will create the illusion that the distance between the eyes is larger.

Click below for more tips on working with your client’s eye shape


How Do You Know Where to Stop Placing Eyeshadow?

Nathan takes a thin makeup brush and lines it vertically up against his outer nostril through to the tear duct. That is the inner ending line of makeup application. He then moves the brush to angle it, touching the outer nostril and the eye’s outer corner. This is the outer ending line of makeup application.

Angles and shapes on the face attract focus. So when you apply eyeshadow within these boundaries, you will strike a balance that agrees with the clients’ features. By adding colors within there, you are completing a triangle that the eyebrows will border. You are creating a shape that complements the natural structures of the face and creates a flattering lift. And just like with eyeliner, placing eyeshadow below the horizontal line running from corner to corner will droop the eye.

The Multi-Step Eye Look

The multi-step eye is something you’ll learn in the Master Makeup Artistry course. It combines face shape and color placement throughout the lid to create the base for billions of looks. You will learn how to dissect other people’s looks. You will see how they are just variations of the foundation techniques in artful, clean, and crisp ways.

Use these classic techniques to recreate looks from the past or develop new looks. Understanding the techniques from the perspectives of angles, balance, and focus will change the quality of your looks when working with clients. By understand angles and placement, it guarantees that every look you create will be flattering.

Creating Focus on the Eyes

Eyebrow Techniques

Eyebrows frame the upper part of the eye. Since the eye is one of the major focal points, you do not want to over-accentuate the brows. Much like visiting an art gallery or museum where some paintings have highly-ornate frames, drawing the focus away from the painting. The eyebrows popular on Instagram draw focus up and away from the eyes, creating an imbalance and lack of focus.

Changing the shape of a set of brows can change your client’s expression. For example, when you bring the inner part of the brows too far down, it can impart an angry or quizzical expression. Many people make this mistake. If you flatten out the natural arch, it can rob the face of expression, too.

Nathan points out that eyebrows should be sisters and not twins. The goal isn’t to make the brows exact because a person’s face is not exactly symmetrical. The goal is to make them as similar as possible to create balance.

The Classic Eyebrow

The classic brow was born in the 1950s. But it remains a timeless technique that is universally flattering. When applying makeup to a client, you should consider their facial features to find a variation that works best for them. But you must also listen to their taste. You can vary the classic eyebrow by thickening the brow, moving the arch, and shifting the entire angle of the brow.

To create a classic brow, you would use a brow product that is one to two shades lighter than the natural hair color. Use a light hand to create realistic-looking hairs. Ombré eyebrows popular on social media draw attention away from the eyes. You must remember where people want to look. Nathan puts it aptly, “Nobody has ever said that eyebrows are the windows to the soul”. Eyebrows are secondary communicators compared to the eyes and lips. You’ll want to focus on these two features for the majority of your professional makeup jobs.

Customizing the Brow

The placement of brows has everything to do with how uniform features look. Nathan uses his own brows to illustrate his point. Most men have heavier brows that are set closer to their eyes. It is also a masculine feature for eyebrows to naturally extend further at the end. He lifts his brow to demonstrate how it softens his face and makes it look more feminine. He then pulls his arch closer to his temples, making his expression more sinister. Using his brush, he shows how the angles of his eyebrows still follow the classic eyebrow shape, despite having a lower brow. The theory works despite everyone having different features.

There are three common brow shapes: natural, thin, and classic. These are guidelines on how to shape the brows to flatter a face. That being said, do not try to create the same exact brow on every face. You should customize the look according to their unique features. This is where you will combine your theory with your artistry.

What Makes a Perfect Eyebrow?

Look at placement, shape, and size to determine the perfect eyebrow for your client. Every face is different, so expect to make changes to suit your client. However, it’s important to know the theory behind it.

Refer to the video at 42:40 to see Nathan’s diagram for the guidelines below. Or go to page 9 of your handout.

The distance between the eye and the brow should equal the height of the eye. And the total height of the brow should also be the height of the eye.

To figure out the placement of the brow arch, you measure the distance between the tear duct to the edge of the iris (when the person is looking forward). This distance is also used to guide how long the brow’s tail should be from the top of the arch. If you divide the height of the brow in half horizontally, the line will go through the bottom part of the arch. This is a good guideline to see how thick and far up the arch should be. Make sure the arch doesn’t start too early—the brow will take the shape of a quotation mark!

Click below for more tips on drawing the perfect brows


Creating Focus on the Eyes

Cheek Application Techniques

Where the brows are the top frame for the eyes, the cheekbones are the bottom frame. Also known as the zygomatic arch, this bone is rounded. When you apply blush, you are creating the lower frame to complement the upper frame (the brows). Encircling the eyes, the overall effect of the frame is to drive attention to the eye.

Dark colors recede features. Bright and luminous colors draw areas forward. When you place a dark color at the top of the cheekbone, you will make the cheekbone appear smaller and flatten the face. Even though blush is pink, it is still darker than our skin tone. Even if you have a deeper skin tone, a garnet blush will be darker than your skin. That’s why makeup artists will place highlight at the top of the cheekbone and blush at the lower rounded part of the bone.

Nathan’s Favorite Blush Technique

His own creation, he calls this technique the “Nike swoosh”. You add blush to the lower part of the cheekbone, and then swoop it onto the apple. Make sure the color does not go further in than the inner edge of iris (too far in can make the nose look red). The resulting shape resembles the Nike symbol! When you swoop up, it lifts the features up. It ends up mirroring the brow. It also adds direction to the gaze, drawing attention right back to the eye! You are almost creating a hypnotic swirl to the eye.

He also points out that if the eyebrow has the correct arch and tail placement, it will lift the cheek as well. The cheek is an “invisible” frame because it will never be as dramatic as the eyebrow. But the shape created by the color will still lure in focus. This is why angles and measurements are so important to makeup theory. Remember, you don’t want to draw attention to the frames. You want the focus to be on the art, in this case, the eye.

Blush Placement Guideline

Blush should warm up the face and add life to the skin. If your intention is to pull the whole look together, do not pull the blush too far into the center of the face. Generally, you do not want to pull the blush farther in than the outer corner of the eye or below the nostril. If you bring the blush too far down, it will pull the face down. The face can look really puffy and long in an unflattering way.

You should also pay attention to the nasolabial folds, also known as the monkey or laugh lines. These lines appear as you age. Nathan cautions you to avoid pulling the blush right up against it. The effect will look like you’re coloring in defined sections of a coloring book. It will pull the face down and also deepen the lines.

Creating Focus on the Lips

Lip Liner Techniques

Lip liner maintains balance and proportion for the lips. Just like eyeliner, lip liner frames and defines the lips. Nathan stresses that you absolutely should use lip liners for two reasons. The first, the liner will prevent the lipstick color from bleeding. The second, it also prevents the color from fading throughout wear. Lip liners are a great base. If the lipstick on top fades, the color from the liner will still be in place.

Lips naturally fade into the skin. If you want to focus your look just on the eyes, you can keep the lips super soft. But if you want bold lips or to create a double focus to your look, you should use a lip liner to define the shape of the lips.

Nathan points out the labial roll, which is the ledge just outside the lip. This feature can be light or defined depending on the person. This is important to know when it comes to product application.

To make lips look bigger without overlining, you should apply the color just slightly over the labial roll, evenly and symmetrically. The result will be bigger lips without overdoing it. Lining just the labial roll on the upper lip is a great technique to use on clients who have a smaller upper lip compared to the lower. It will balance the proportions.

Keep in mind, if you apply color over the labial roll, this takes away the lightness around the lips. You must return this lightness a different way to prevent the lips from looking too flat. To add lightness back, take a foundation shade that’s one or two shades lighter and gently outline the just outside of the color. Take the brush and gently pull and blend out the border. You’ll notice that dimension will return to the lips, giving the illusion of a soft pucker. For the opposite effect, to balance larger lips, do not exceed the labial roll when applying color.

The intense highlight on the Cupid’s bow you see on Instagram is based on classic techniques. But it just went a little too far. This trendy technique can work well in some applications, but again, it should be a choice and not a habit. On camera, it plays with light to create art. But to do this in real life can look weird and make the upper lip look sweaty.

Nathan also pauses to answer a viewer question about whether a lip primer is always necessary. He says that it depends on the client and the read you are trying to get with the color you’re applying. Nathan himself almost never uses lip primer. Instead, he applies lip liner over the entire lip to do the job. This preference differs between makeup artists, though. Choose what works best for you!

Choosing the Perfect Lip Liner Color

When you choose a light-colored lip liner, it will add definition, evenness, and balance to the lip. Meanwhile, dark-colored lip liners add definition and depth to the lips. If the liner color is darker than the lipstick color, it will create a natural pucker as it pulls the center of the mouth forward. Nathan cautions against just tracing the lips and leaving it. You want to shade and blend the liner color towards the center of the lips. This will help transition color when applying the lipstick on top.

The Most Common Lip Liner Mistake

This mistake is made most often when applying lip liner to yourself. But it also happens when makeup artists work on their clients. When applying liner, you will use your dominant hand. On the lips, people tend to apply liner correctly on the side opposite the dominant hand. And when lining the lips on the dominant side, people tend to make errors.

In a diagram that he shows at 1:05:17 (page 12 in your handout), he shows a diagram of lip liner that is incorrectly applied. In this diagram, the liner goes up higher on one end of the Cupid’s bow and then rounds out slightly. On the lower lip, the liner goes on the outer labial roll before jump onto the inner labial roll after the halfway mark between the sides. Then, to complete the liner, artists often draw a straight line to connect the corner to the Cupid’ bow on the side of the dominant hand. And, the liner often does not go all the way out to the corner of the lip. This is one of the biggest mistakes makeup enthusiasts and new professionals will make!

Symmetrical lips are a must for balanced features. Be really critical at your work the next time you apply liner. You may notice that you were making this mistake!

Questions and Answers

Nathan also did a Live Q&A at the end of his webinar.
Check out his answers to some of your questions!

Nathan also did a Live Q&A at the end of his webinar. Check out his answers to some of your questions!

For foundations and eyeshadows, Nathan recommends the following brands:

Nathan also uses drugstore brands in his makeup artist kit, such as lipsticks and mascaras. However, he doesn’t recommend using drugstore eyeshadows and foundations as they can contain drying agents. View his full answer at 1:09:19.

Did you know? QC students and graduates are eligible for makeup discounts from a variety of brands!

What is the Best Eyeliner Technique for Hooded Eyes?

For hooded eyes, make sure your eyeliner wing goes up rather than down. Apply the liner with the eye open to prevent the angle of the liner from changing. Watch Nathan’s answer at 1:12:38.

What is the Best Way to Reduce Shine Under the Eyes and Cheeks?

Primers, setting powders, and setting sprays will help you keep the shine away. Nathan recommends the Skindinavia Setting Spray. Watch Nathan’s answer at 1:14:10.

Check out QC’s Skincare Course! Understanding skin anatomy and skin type will push your makeup skills to the next level!

Many People Pair a Super Dark Lip Liner with a Much Lighter Lipstick Color. How Do You Strike a Balance? What’s the Best Way to Tell Them to Lighten Up on the Liner?

You can combine dark lip liner with a lighter lipstick to create a unique “pursed-lips” look, and that’s not bad! Nathan shares a few ways you can approach this issue with your clients. Watch Nathan’s answer at 1:15:55

Can I Use Shadow Shields?

Shadow shields are used to catch fall-away eye shadow. You can definitely use them if you like them. Alternatively, you can use a makeup sponge to catch fall-out. Watch Nathan’s full answer at 1:17:45.

How Do You Accommodate Clients with Two Different Eye Shapes?

It all comes down to eyeliner placement! Watch Nathan answer this question in full at 1:18:05.

How Can I Fill in Sparse Brows Without Them Looking Fake?

The trick is to create hair-like strokes with a thin brow pencil. Watch Nathan’s full answer at 1:19:18.

Can You Stick to Using Just One Clear or Nude Lip Liner Under All Lipstick Colors?

The short answer is yes! However, you should also have darker lip liners for your bright red or burgundy lipsticks. For darker colors, it can be difficult to create crisp lines with a nude lip pencil. Watch Nathan’s full answer at 1:21:41.

How Do You Create a Gradient on Small, Hooded Eyes?

When creating a gradient on hooded eyes, ask your client to open her eyes when applying the eyeshadow so that you can check the proper placement of the color. Watch Nathan’s demonstration at 1:22:27.

How Can I Make the Pores of my T-Zone Look Smaller?

Nathan recommends using Paula’s Choice’s Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant to help reduce pores. Listen to Nathan’s answer at 1:23:47.

How Can I Balance Droopy Eyes?

Eyeliner angles can help to balance droopy eyes. Using a wedge at the corner of the eyes can help lift the eyes. Watch Nathan answer this question at 1:25:19.

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