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Makeup Artist Ernesto Casillas on His Creative Process

An L.A. native, Ernesto Casillas is no stranger to the glitz of Hollywood and celebrities; and he began his career with just one mission—to share his love of glamour and beauty through the magic of makeup. But after realizing the lack of diversity of products for women of color, he made a commitment to use his artistry to make women of color, specifically Black women, feel beautiful in the ways they wanted to be seen and reflected in the world. With clients ranging from Doja Cat, Chloe Bailey, Tiffany Haddish, Ryan Destiny and more, it’s safe to say that Casillas is a force to be reckoned with. Here the MUA opens up about his creative process and celebrating women of color regardless of shade range or tone.

As a woman of color, looking through your Instagram and seeing so much variation in skin tones was uplifting in the best way. With few MUA’s for Black women, was it your intention to focus on women of color?

“Thank you! Knowing that it uplifted you in some way is the best compliment I can receive as a makeup artist. I’ve always loved working on the complexion, it’s what I pride myself the most on within my work.

“Very early in my career, I noticed that products for deeper skin tones were scarce. It was only about ten years ago that I would have all over Los Angeles looking for a very specific bronzer. I’d drive from one drugstore to another just searching, because it was one of the very few options available for darker complexions at the time. When I began working it was disheartening to find out that many of these women didn’t feel empowered to buy skin complexion products or hire makeup artists for themselves. At the time, not many makeup artists had enough knowledge in skin tone ranges in order to enhance the unique complexion of Black women. It was at this time that I decided to commit my work to making these women feel beautiful.”

Many of your clients have a strong sense of style and bold personalities. How do you go about highlighting their uniqueness through makeup?

“With all of my clients, especially the artists, I always try to enhance their natural beauty by playing more on the soft glam side. I believe that a pretty face can go with any look. I love having clients like Doja Cat because they are enthusiastic about wanting to play around and experiment with their looks. It also challenges me to explore outside of my comfort zone in the best kind of way.

“I really value the relationships I have with my clients because they have trust and respect for me as a person and as an artist. That makes the process less stressful and more enjoyable, so I can play confidently without the fear of failure.”

What is your creative process like working with musicians and artists?

“Working with artists, specifically musicians, means that the process is collaborative. Often artists have a strong vision of how they see themselves and I’m there to help them accomplish that vision. That said, it’s very common that the look won’t be solidified until after I arrive on set and see the wardrobe, hair, and lighting all together. We’ll settle into the glam room where I listen to the artist describe what they are feeling; then I’ll suggest my ideas.

“For larger productions, I definitely like to plan ahead and discuss the creative vision with the team beforehand. Because it helps me best prepare for the job ahead of time, so I can confidently walk in with a game plan and any specific products necessary to achieve the looks. Even then, so many changes happen on set that I’ve learned to be adaptable in rolling with the punches, always prepared for anything and everything to change.”

As a professional MUA, what drives you to keep pushing and working hard in an industry that’s still fighting for inclusivity?

“Well, I’ve come this far, so why quit now? [laughs] No, but, the first thing I think of are my family and friends. So many of my friends are incredibly talented in ways that continue to inspire me, and yet they don’t always believe in themselves enough to take a chance on their talents to pursue the career of their dreams. That’s not always their fault though— when we don’t see ourselves reflected in certain spaces, we don’t think it’s possible to exist in them. Sometimes there’s a lack of resources and opportunities. But I know that sometimes all it takes is someone to believe in you and champion for you. I wouldn’t be where I’m at in my career if the people I met along the way didn’t take chances on me. I’ve learned that it is possible and that’s what keeps me going. I’ve gained more confidence in my voice in this industry, and I use my access to opportunities to get my friends involved in using their talents in projects whenever I can. We have to show up and show out when we get into these spaces, to redistribute opportunities and not be gatekeepers in the industry.”