It’s no secret that makeup artist Doniella Davy has managed to craft an editorial revolution with her dreamy watercolor-like eyes and bold rhinestone glimmers on the set of HBO’s Euphoria. Many a makeup lover has taken to the mirror to recreate and can directly source which character serves as their makeup inspiration and why– not just based off of the aesthetics of their favorite shots but because of the emotional depth and value placed on each look created by Davy. Keep reading for the makeup maestro’s favorite things about the industry, how she got her start, and how she finds inspiration within herself and the characters she works on.
When did you realize you wanted to be a makeup artist?
I didn’t! After I graduated from Pratt Institute with a BFA in Photography, I was interning at a hip gallery in lower Manhattan, nannying in Brooklyn, and self-publishing books of my photography work which were being sold in a couple of artsy book shops in NYC and online, when I realized that I needed a hands-on creative job. I no longer wanted to “beat around the bush” by interning at a gallery that I maybe wished my own work would someday hang in. Making the photo books was really cool, but it was very time-consuming to work with film, and I refused to transition to digital or explore doing any commercial photo work, as my heart and soul were really in it just for the love of the film process. I felt too technologically slow to really pursue making money with my photography within a world where it seemed like everyone was trying to be a photographer, so I decided to take myself out of the game. Upon the suggestion of my good friend’s mom, and in a moment of impulse, I decided to completely switch gears, move back to Venice, CA where I was born and raised, and explore becoming a makeup artist for film & TV. Makeup artistry made sense to me because I grew up with a background in visual art – mostly drawing and painting. My friend’s mom obtained the phone number of a successful film & TV makeup artist while chatting with another makeup artist who she happened to be sitting next to at her hair salon. I just went for it and cold-called this makeup artist and never looked back.
How has the industry changed compared to when you were first starting out?
I started out as a film & TV makeup artist about 7 years ago and spent my first few years as a one-woman makeup department doing indie films, so I haven’t known what’s going on long enough to witness it change too much. I’ve really kept my head down just hustling by myself to get past the tiny-budget indies into the bigger projects. I hardly ever reached out to assist other makeup artists because I knew if I kept working even small jobs as the makeup department head that eventually some bigger projects would come long. When I got hired on Moonlight that was my ticket into joining the union. It wasn’t until about two years ago that I even had more than five other makeup artist’s contact info in my phone. I will say that there is so much streaming content being produced, so it seems like there is a really wide net of opportunity for actors and crew members to do what they love. It really seems like every person in every cafe in LA is working on their screenplay or talking about auditions. I dunno, I kind of think it’s great.
There’s been a much larger trend in the past couple of years of talking about beauty as a form of self-care, reflection and a way to learn to accept ourselves; how does the work you’re doing fit into this conversation?
I love this trend, and I agree [with it]. The beauty industry has come a long way since the Belladonna eyedrops and arsenic waifers of the Victorian era, but I still think it needs a good do-over and a proper flipping over onto its ass. Side note: The Victorian era was also amazing when it comes to makeup and hair, but women definitely poisoned themselves.
The way makeup has been marketed to women directly echoes how women in mainstream society have behaved and what they have prioritized when it comes to makeup and self-care. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, how long it’s been this way, or whether we were born into this practice or not. If we start challenging the literal daily pressure to strive toward being attractive and looking younger all the time and take a more self-celebrating, accepting and expressive approach to how we present ourselves, the makeup and beauty industry will follow. And I think you said it; that we’ve already started doing this through self-care, and I think there are beauty and self-care brands out there whose missions are totally in line with this, and I applaud them for that.
The message I’m trying to spread is to promote the practice of self-acceptance, self-celebration, and self-expression, whether that means ditching the high-coverage foundation and contouring tools OR embracing them even more — I don’t care — as long as the choice is made because it’s what the makeup-wearer wants rather than what they are being told they should want for their faces. And I recognize that this is tricky, especially within “Hollywood,” and our society has told us, and we have told each other, that women, especially age 25 and older, need to look younger and brighter in order to be accepted and praised. And although it goes against what my own job can sometimes entail, I’m just really over it. For women, for Hollywood, for everyone.
I hope that my contribution to Euphoria has helped to positively influence the beauty industry. My dream is that by bringing this underrepresented style of makeup into the mainstream, it will carve out some space for this type of self-expression to exist and to be respected in society — not just for celebrities or artists, but for everyone. If there is more space for self-expression and self-acceptance then maybe, little by little, more people will jump on that bandwagon and ditch the idea of being perfect. Nobody tells us this, but we are all enough.
Has your personal relationship with makeup influenced the kinds of looks you create? How does who you are as a person inform the looks you create for characters on a show like Euphoria or a film like If Beale Street Could Talk?
I never wore makeup growing up, and even now I hardly wear more than mineral makeup to blur out my acne scars and Cake lip tint by Glossier. Maybe because I’ve never worn a lot of makeup, I have a certain light-handed approach I take to applying makeup (aside from all the color and gems), and I value things like natural-looking dewy skin and big wild airy eyebrows. I’ve always been too shy to express myself through makeup, so this whole Euphoria experience has been cathartic for me. I actually relate the most to Cassie from Euphoria in terms of my past motives for wearing makeup. I’ve kind of been like a quiet observer for much of my life, and have always had a really active imagination and extreme empathy for others. I think these qualities, along with my willingness to serve a purpose higher than my own well-being and beyond the limitations of my own experiences have helped me achieve what I have at this point in my career. For example, when I read a script, I connect into the characters so deeply that it becomes all I live and breathe for a little while. I live to tell these stories, like Euphoria, Moonlight, and If Beale Street Could Talk. By taking the stories so seriously, I’m able to go really deep with the makeup, even if it’s more subtle. I think about the motives and the emotions behind the makeup, and if something doesn’t feel authentic, I don’t do it. I think having this almost hyper-critical tendency toward the authenticity of my work mixed with empathy has directly lead to my successes in the film and TV work I’ve done so far.
It seems like every other day there’s a new product being launched by 50 brands at once, how has the popularity of beauty products and mass marketing affected the makeup industry from an artist’s standpoint?
Yeah, this can be really overwhelming. There is a lot to sift through. Beautiful packaging and marketing can be very deceiving sometimes! When it comes to skincare, I try to stick to the more green and more simple companies. A new one I’ve found and have been enjoying is Youth to the People. A brand I’ve been using for a while now on actors and on myself is Botnia. I also appreciate companies like The Ordinary, that take the fancy out of skincare. Although I often get seduced back into the fancy! And then I usually break out, which is always disappointing. On that note, I use curology.com to get my skin back on track after my fancy product relapses, and it works every time. This is what I recommend to anyone struggling with acne. Just go to curology.com and you will not regret it. This is not an ad!
What makeup trends of the past (and present) would you hate to see come back around or morphed into a different iteration (for example glitter lids becoming glitter liner becoming full-on rhinestones on the eyes)?
Super skinny plucked within an inch of their life eyebrows. At that point, just get rid of them and draw them in. Also “baking” under the eyes. I don’t know why, but that makes me cringe.
How closely does beauty trends influence the makeup looks you do on film and tv sets?
Gen Z beauty and makeup trends definitely influence the makeup looks I do on Euphoria. There are so many opposing beauty trends out there right now, for example super clean and naturally dewy skin vs. super matte, contoured, highlighted and “baked” skin. I take my cues from the natural skin trend. I’m hoping that by pushing my version of Gen Z makeup into the spotlight, it can spark trends not just limited to Gen Z, but for people of all ages and walks of life as well.
What has you excited about the beauty industry in regards to its future?
I’m excited to see Gen Z continue to crush gender and makeup norms. I think this boldness will continue to inspire people from all walks of life to be a little more rebellious and experimental with their makeup, which I think can collectively begin healing society from the detrimental gender norms that have been trending during the past several hundred years.
Can you tell us about any projects you’re working on now or are excited about? We know Euphoria and the looks you’ve created there have spawned so much buzz and recreation, is that something you would like to see happen again?
I never expected all the buzz and recreations after Euphoria. I’d like to serve up something a little different next season, for the sake of not repeating myself artistically. Right now, I’m working on The Underground Railroad, which is an Amazon mini-series directed by Barry Jenkins, based on the Colson Whitehead book of the same title.