Where were you born?
St. Petersburg, FL
Where do you live now?
What’s your sign?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Rich! I never again wanted to feel the shame I felt growing up poor. Fortunately I found out early on I was really good at something I truly loved and was able to make a decent living at.
How did that transpose into a career in makeup?
I started out as a hairdresser. I grew up working in my sister’s hair salon each Saturday cleaning hairbrushes for tips. The glimpse into the world of beauty truly changed my life. It was there that I felt I had the power to help others feel better about them selves. It was the first time I experienced true self-esteem.
What was your first memorable work as an artist?
When I was a hairdresser I would compete in hair and makeup competitions all over the country. I won First Place in an international makeup competition in New York and that moment was transformational for me. I decided to give up doing hair and concentrate on doing just makeup. I realized that I needed to live in either Los Angeles or New York City if I wanted to succeed on the level I dreamed of.
How did you know that this industry was the place you wanted to build a career?
The beauty industry overall was where I wanted to be. I guess it was in my blood. Having had horrible cystic acne as a teenager was crushing to my self worth. The acne was so severe, strangers would point and stare at me, no matter where I went. I thought if I could help others to avoid experiencing feelings of awkwardness and low self-esteem then that’s what my life should be about.
What are the things you love about working in makeup that you love?
First of all everyday is an adventure. Secondly, I have the power to affect how someone sees him or herself; I see this as a gift and a responsibility that I don’t take lightly. I also get to travel the world and work with some of the most enigmatic individuals in the business.
What are the challenges of working as a freelance artist?
Early in my career, I didn’t know where my next job would be coming from. This was anxiety producing to say the least. However, as time went on, I became more confident, and the work became steady. Today I remain grateful and I try not to stress out when I have a day off. I find if you keep the big picture in mind, and save my allowance, faith and determination has always carried me through.
Do you have a signature style of work that you’re known for?
You may get a better answer from asking others what they think my signature look is. I simply try to make every woman look and feel as beautiful as they’ve ever felt. My style is clean-beauty. I like to bring out a natural flush and glow to the skin, while keeping an emphasis on the eyes. I want the person I’m working on to feel like the best version of themselves.
What should someone who is looking to develop a career in makeup know before getting into the business?
It takes so much more than simply creating a fierce brow or putting on a strip lash. Tenacity and perseverance are essential. You have to be able to network and market yourself. You never know where the next opportunity will come from.
What type of work do you find most satisfying?
Some days its about the work that’s creative then other days it’s about the people or person I’m working with. I love working with interesting people. Everyone has a unique story.
How do you continue to grow your career as an artist?
I take advantage of every opportunity to work with new photographers and other artists. With the dizzying advance of technology, I tap into all the latest online platforms as a constant stream of creative inspiration. The potential for growth in our business is limited only by one’s desire to participate.
Do you have a project that you’ve done that you are especially proud of?
I am most proud of my 14-year collaboration with L’Oreal Paris. To have had the opportunity to travel the world and create color collections and Iconic ad campaigns and to work with there incredible spokespeople from Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez to Eva Longoria and Diane Keaton. That was a fantastic experience and one I’m so grateful for.
What are some of the most important qualities that a makeup artist can have?
The ability to draw a straight line, and blend — and I’m only partially joking there. You also have to be able to anticipate the needs of the client, editors, producers, photographers or celebrities. It’s important that you can read the room. When
working on a project, it’s all about the project; it’s not only about you. Working as a team with a shared vision and to see it all come to life on set is just one of those moments when I stop and realize, “oh this is why I do this.”
What makes you a good makeup artist?
Flexibility is key, and the ability to piece together someone’s vision even when they don’t quite know how to explain it. Also, a good sense of humor is essential!
How would your clients describe working with you?
I’m extremely protective of my clients, so in turn I hope that makes them feel safe and taken care of. The photo of Allison Janney and I that is featured here as my portrait, is a great example of that trust. This shoot was one that we did for our own satisfaction. She let myself and the hairdresser, Jill Crosby, as well as the photographer, Robert Ascroft, do whatever we wanted. Now, that is trust — which is a huge deal in this business. This goes for every client, not just those special moments like the one with Allison of course. Not only do my clients look great butalso that I have there back as well as there front. My clients know that when working with me they can just relax and not have to be “on” or entertain me. I’m easy that way. I’ve seen most of my clients at there very best and worst, naked as well as on the red carpet so I guess that really sums up how they feel about me.
I understand that you are known for being very much a behind-the-scene guy, how does that balance with your spokesperson and other on-air work?
That’s true, I am a very private person and shy if I don’t feel comfortable. I’ve never been the guy who wanted to be in the spotlight. Ironically being a L’Oreal spokesperson for 14 years that’s what I did most. I’ve been on live TV world wide as well as on nine seasons of Project Runway and dozens of TV shows. It was just part of my job and being good at whatever I do is very important to me. So I put my fears and insecurities away and do what’s asked.
What project did you have the most fun working on?
The nine seasons on Project Runway was by far the most challenging but also rewarding experience. Challenging in the sense that I’ve never wanted to be in front of the camera. I’m just not that guy. And the few minutes I was given to create a look for
the designers was insane. It forced me out of my comfort zone, and pushed to expand my skill set, I ended up having the time of my life.
Is there someone you have always wanted to work on who you haven’t had the chance to do yet?
This is a very tough question. I’ve had the good fortune to work with some of the biggest celebrities in the world. From Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross to Celine Dion, Britney Spears and Mariah Carey. So at this point I think the answer would be more about just having lunch with them and a chat — and really get the dirt. (I know it’ll never happen but I can dream). First, It would be with Michelle Obama, the reasons are
so obvious. Next Melania Trump, again the reasons are so obvious yet more like, WTF?! And I’d want Oprah there in case I forgot to ask something important. I mean, if you are going to dream, dream big or why bother.
What inspires you?
As corny as it sounds, as an artist I gain inspiration from everything I look at. Even things that may not, at first glance, seem inspirational. Everything has a texture, a shape and a color combination that you can be inspired by if your eye is sophisticated enough to truly see it.
What has changed most about the industry in the time that you’ve been working in makeup?
Technology has had a huge affect on my career. I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most demanding and creative people in the business. I was taught at an early age, to make someone look retouched before they’re in front of the camera. That advice has served me well.
Has social media affected your career or work?
I love the social media aspect of being an artist in today’s environment. @collierstrong is a thrilling opportunity to expose my work, literally, to the world. I think the opportunity to have my work instantly seen by millions of people is amazing. When I began my career, my work was limited to magazine covers and editorials for exposure. Now I can create my own narrative and help to cultivate my fan base. I have a degree of freedom I never thought would be possible. Each day brings new possibilities.
What are you working on next?
My career is now all about creative expression. I get to go to work each day and work with people I admire; working on projects that have a degree of social impact on some level. I am incredibly lucky. I wouldn’t change a thing about my career to this point.
Photos Courtesy of Cloutier Remix
Portrait Robert Ascroft