If applying anything more than lip gloss and mascara makes you feel nervous, you're not alone. That's why there are amazing pros like local girl Shannon O'Brien to help you master that perfect cat-eye and finally learn the basics of contouring. From creating cry-proof bridal looks to powdering runway models, this makeup-artist extraordinaire gets down with her brushes on a daily basis. Lucky for you, she's ready to divulge some of her best tricks — just in time for a new year's pick-me-up.
Despite O'Brien's high-maintenance profession, she's definitely a low-key lady — right down to the pure vitamin E oil she uses to moisturize her flawless face. In fact, she takes us through her entire routine — including how she gets those crazy color-dipped tips on her mane. Want more makeup-meets-fashion pointers and tutorials? This primping maven shares plenty more tricks on her rad blog Cheap Frills and Thrills. So, what are you waiting for? The advice is free. In person, she'd have to charge you.
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Photography by Heather Talbert
How and when did you decide to make the jump from being a makeup artist at MAC to starting your own business?
"I decided to make the jump in May of 2012. I had been working at the same location for quite a long time and decided that I needed a change. After a lot of deliberation, I decided if I am going to make a scary change, I'm going to go big and start my own business."
Shannon is wearing Levi's jeans, Zara jacket, vintage t-shirt, Zara shoes, and a vintage Chanel bag.
Is it safe to say that the artist in you was always there, or was it a skill that you had to work at?
"I never would have considered myself an artist before I started my career in makeup. I knew I was creative, but I didn't feel like I had an actual skill set when I was younger. When I started my career in makeup, everything just started to click. I realize now that I have a heightened awareness of color and texture, which really helps me in my work. I have worked very hard to fine-tune my skills as well as train my eyes and hands to work as one. Practice makes perfect."
What easy makeup tricks can you share with us?
"I think everyone needs a lash curler — I own five! Even though they are slightly terrifying, they can make a huge difference in the appearance of your eyes without having to add makeup. Curling your lashes instantly opens the eye, giving a fresher, more awake look. It can also make your lashes look ten times longer than you ever thought. To give an extra boost, highlight your inner corner with a bright concealer and run a waterproof pencil under your lashes to make them look fuller and longer."
What is your number one go-to makeup product?
"I love Face and Body Foundation by M.A.C
. It gives most subtle undetectable coverage when you want something soft and natural. It's also meant to be used on the body so I will use it on my legs to give a bit more of a flawless finish when I am baring my legs in the evening."
Do you use any homemade beauty remedies?
"If I don't get a solid night's sleep, I wake up looking like a punching bag — my eyes get so puffy! If this happens, I soak a tea bag (preferably green) in cold water for a few minutes, then squeeze out the excess water and place them on my eyes. The cold as well as the caffeine constricts blood vessels. Plus, it firms the skin around your eyes, resulting in a de-puffed eye. It is a serious life-saver for those early call times."
Hot or not: wearing makeup to the gym or bumming around doing errands.
"Whatever makes you feel good! The idea of showing up in full makeup just to sweat it off seems totally impractical to me — but if it makes you feel hot, go for it! Personally, I refuse to be seen without groomed brows and lashes."
What made you start your blog Cheap Frills and Thrills? Is it safe to say you are a bargain gal?
"I think all the babes out there need to know that there are some amazing products that we all have access to that can really make a difference in your beauty routine. Now don't get me wrong —there are
some luxury cosmetics out there that I love to splurge on. But I know first-hand that just because something is more expensive, doesn't mean it's the best.
"Also, I love the marriage of makeup and fashion. I feel like people are more likely to take chances with their fashion choices than with their makeup. I hope that my blog shows people that makeup isn't just utilitarian — it can also be a fun and a new way to express yourself. I want my readers to step out side their box and try something new with me. I wore black lipstick in public and I survived — and I'll do it again!
"Cheap Frills and Thrills is also a way for me to share some of my tips and tricks I have either stumbled upon or learned along the way of my career. I love when people contact me with questions or requests for tutorials. It helps me keep my finger on the pulse of what people want and also challenges me to be current and knowledgeable about things I may not have thought of before."
What's the secret to making a bride happy with her makeup on her wedding day, especially if she's not used to wearing a lot of makeup?
"Bridal makeup should be a collaboration between the makeup artist and bride. I always start by investigating. I like to know what their daily routine looks like and see pictures of a time they loved their makeup. Since some people have a hard time communicating what they like, I created a Pinterest page for my brides to look at for inspiration. Once they find something they like, we chat about why they like it, what parts of that makeup would work for them, and how we can custom tailor it to them.
"It's all about communication and listening. There is nothing more important to me than a bride feeling confident and beautiful on her wedding day. I always like to place a hand mirror in every bride's hand, and they follow along with me from start to finish so there are no surprises. When the bride gives me a big squeeze and a heartfelt 'thanks,' I know the extra effort in the trial has paid off."
What does your beauty routine entail?
"I love to start fresh, so before I do anything, I wash with cool water and Cetaphil
and then apply pure vitamin E oil
as a moisturizer. It's anti-aging, promotes healing, and can even treat wrinkles. Best of all, it's $6. I don't even use moisturizer anymore and my skin has never looked better.
"My everyday makeup is simple and effective. I generally choose whether I want to be eyes or lips — I rarely do both. I can't live with out my EOS Lip Balm
which is the perfect base for applying my OCC Lip Tar
. I am definitely a lipstick junkie; I have well over 200 lip colors. It's embarrassing."
What's your average hair routine like?
"I'm not going to lie — I am really low-maintenance when it comes to styling my hair. I wash it a little more than once a week with Pureology Hydrate shampoo and conditioner.
My hair is very thick and coarse, so oil doesn't seem to affect it very easily. I am currently growing out my bangs, so I have been embracing my inner Brigitte Bardot and wearing a lot of wide headbands to hide them.
"I try to heat-style my hair as little as possible. I'll generally give it a good curl with a one-inch iron once a week and let it fall throughout the week. I prefer to wrap my hair around the iron as opposed to actually curling it because it leaves me with more beachy waves and body rather than tendrils."
Tell us about your dipped tips! Where do you get them "dipped" and how many different shades have you tried?
"I love experimenting with my hair. After years of growing out a platinum pixie cut, I was left with an unintentional ombré that started to get boring. So, I started coloring the tips myself with Manic Panic
. I would just mix the colors at home myself. I have had magenta, cotton candy, lavender, aqua, and green. There is a tutorial on my blog
Shannon is wearing sass & bide trousers, Keepsake top, Jeffrey Campbell shoes, and a House of Harlow cuff.
Where do you go for your cut and color in the city?
"I love AJ at Thomas West Salon
. I think she might be a magician. After all the home dying (and serious lack of trims), my ends looked bad
. I was seriously over the green that was still clinging to my fried ends. AJ was able to correct the green still lingering in my hair, as well as get looking like it's never been processed. My hair has never looked or felt healthier. I'm officially in love with her."
How can we make sure our new hair color works with our old makeup?
"The first thing you can do is adjust your eyebrows, especially if you are going from light to dark. It will make your new hair color look more natural, and it'll frame your face. Choosing color can seem daunting, so I like to draw inspiration from celebs who have got it together — like Emma Stone or Scarlett Johansson. They change their color quite frequently, so you can see how their makeup and brows adjust with each hue they choose. This can give you a starting point to try some new looks for yourself."
Are you into polish, or is it hard to maintain a mani on the job?
"If I had the time, I would change my polish color every other day! It so important to me that my hands are always clean and manicured. I am constantly touching faces, so I put a lot of thought into the way my hands look. No-chip manis are great for me. Most times I can only get a solid color, so I will go home and customize my nails myself.
"If I'm ever in a pinch and can't get to the nail salon, Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Nail Polish
is a serious lifesaver. I can literally paint my nails as I'm walking out the door and they're dry before I get in the cab."
Shannon is wearing Levi jeans and a vintage band t-shirt.
What's the best beauty advice you've ever received and who gave it to you?
"My mom taught me to take good care of my hands. I think most people know to take care of their face and décolletage, but not their hands. She said you can tell a woman's age by her hands and now I notice it all the time! I always keep cream in my bag. I especially love Tokyo Milk
— it leaves my hands so soft and has such a yummy scent."
Wearing makeup and having awesome skin is a balance. What's your secret to achieving both?
"I try to be smart about the decisions I make with my skin. I avoid the sun on my face, don't smoke, try to get at least seven hours of sleep, and stay hydrated. I am obsessive about washing my face before bed every night. I joke that the best part of doing my makeup is washing it off. I just love the feeling of clean skin."
What spring makeup trends should we should try — and which trends should we ditch or avoid?
"I love spring/summer beauty trends! We get back to gorgeous skin and pops of color. I loved the brows at Marc Jacobs — I am going to ride the bold brow trend until the wheels fall off. I am really excited to see false lashes take center stage. Gucci and Moschino killed me with those 60's doll eyes. It is such an easy way to add emphasis without them looking heavy or overly made-up. I also love the pops of color being used in eyeliner. I say, try them all! The worst that can happen is that you don't like it and you take it off. You'll never know if you love or hate something if you don't try it."
Let's talk accessories. What are some of your go-to pieces?
"I love accessories, particularly gold jewelry. I feel like I could pile on all the gold I own and never feel overdone — I never have enough! I also treat my makeup as an accessory because it can totally change the direction of whatever I'm wearing. I love channeling 50's, 60's, and 70's Glam.
"I'm always wearing my Laura Lombardi gold ring with a few others in the mix. I also wear this Cities in Dust marble necklace that looks like I'm wearing cotton candy gumballs around my neck. My other fave is a gold House of Harlow cuff that pretty much lives on my left arm. If all else fails, I just throw on some gold door-knockers and call it a day."
Give us an example of the non-glamourous side of the biz.
"I was at this ten-hour long shoot in Chinatown on a 105 degree day. My poor male model was in a full business suit running around like a fugitive and we had to keep him shine-free. At one point, his sweat ran in his eye and it turned a fiery red color. I then ran from shop to shop trying to find some eye drops for him while he held his contact in his hand. In the final shots he looks incredibly cool, calm, and collected — but all I can think of is how frantic we all were!"
Shannon is wearing Blank NYC leather pants, sass & bide sweater, silver cuff from Puerto Rico, Matiko shoes, and Ksubi sunglasses.
What is your ultimate career goal?
"Somewhere in me there is an idea of building a beauty empire — I am not sure what that entails, but the drive is definitely there. I like being able maintain a nice balance of bridal and editorial work. I love the relationships I form with my clients as a wedding makeup artist, but editorial work satisfies me on a creative level. I want to be able to see the world doing all of these successfully."