Monday 21 April 2014

Make Up; how to go cruelty free

Today I'm going to write about one of my favourite subjects; Make up.

Let me get one thing straight, I LOVE MAKE UP! I love buying it, I love the thrill of the unopened packaging, I love testing new brands, I love applying it and trying out new looks, and I love wearing it! I don't know why I've restricted myself from discussing it before because my art work  encompasses elements of artifice and glamour and make up is just another art form that ties in so beautifully. 

 I frequently get asked by people which brands are good if you want to buy cruelty free cosmetics. So I've put this post together which might help answer some questions. Firstly, here's my story;

About two years ago I had a make up wake up call (sounds kind of fun if you say it slow). My all time favourite make up brand MAC went against their own manifesto and began to test on animals in order to sell their products in China. 

China insists that cosmetics sold in their country undergo animal testing to prove they are safe for use. This includes soaps, perfumes, make up and certain skin products. However China is a huge country, and the potential consumer market can prove all too tempting for some brands.

I can't quite express my disappointment in finding this news out. I'd always happily bought MAC because I thought their quality was outstanding and I could pat myself on the back for buying a brand I knew did not test on animals. It ticked all the boxes. However that bubble was now burst and I seriously had to question myself, can I still buy this make up and wear it knowing an animal is suffering in it's name? 

You'd think the immediate answer would be NO! But I really really loved this brand. I panicked; where would I buy my signature lipstick? How will I cope without THAT colour? But in my heart I knew I'd already made the decision and when I announced on Facebook (yes, I went public, this was my big news story that year) about my boycott of MAC cosmetics after so many years of loyalty, I actually cried!

That goes to prove the emotional link we can have with our favourite brands, and says something about the world we live in don't you think? 

So began my quest for cruelty free/ against animal testing make up products that deliver the goods. I made it my mission to find products that were as good or better than MAC. I felt cheated on and broken hearted. I wanted to wipe the floor with MAC and stomp all over it for ruining my perfect dream of make up bliss!

I have been quite successful in my search and I can tell you that there are lots of great brands out there but you have to know know your background info too:

Firstly what is the difference between cruelty free and animal testing?

You'd think this was a straight forward thing right? But in truth it's very blurry. If a company claim that they 'do not test on animals' as you may read in many FAQ's on different make up sites, it may be that company's tricky way of saying that none of their 'finished' products are tested on animals. However some of the ingredients used in the making of the products may at some point have been tested on animals making them non cruelty free. If you are unsure then contact the company for clarification.

Then again some companies are trickier still. I'm looking right at you MAC! When I contacted MAC to tell them of my upset about their decision to sell in China they sent me a very nice email back saying this:

'Our longstanding commitment to end animal testing has not changed:  we do not test our products or ingredients on animals, nor do we ask others to test on our behalf, except where required by law.'

Sounds fair enough doesn't it? They are against animal testing just like me. However it was this phrase, 'except when required to by law' that exposed them for the cheats they are! (I'll never forgive you MAC). It was after all, their decision to sell in a country that requires animal testing on all cosmetics, so to say they are against it unless the law asks them to is pretty low.

There is another issue to think about also. Some companies are against animal testing and adhere to cruelty free standards, but can be owned by a parent company which doesn't adhere to the same rules. Body Shop and Urban Decay are two such instances.They are both against animal testing but are owned by L'Oreal, who still test some of their products on animals. So buying from the smaller 'safe' companies can be subsidising less moral goings on.

It is a moral minefield. My own view is that buying from brands which publicly denounce animal cruelty whoever they are owned by will help boost the message that people WANT to buy cruelty free and hopefully press that message home to the bigger companies. That is my personal opinion, it is of course up to you to decide what you think.

The best way to find Cruelty Free products is to look for brands that carry the leaping bunny sign or cruelty free logo. Some will have this on their packaging or website (it's good to check they are legit and confirm the authenticity) or/and you may have to search online like I did. You can search for your favourite brands on The Leaping Bunny website to make sure they comply or other sites such as PETA are very good at whittling out brands that have animal testing in some part of their production. I warn you now though be prepared to be upset. I have seen LOTS of brands I've bought in the past not pass the leaping bunny test. Take a deep breath and plow on you will survive!

There are also some good blogs out there dedicated to cruelty free beauty.  My Beauty Bunny is excellent; not only does it list cruelty free products of high quality, it tries them out too to see how they perform! This is an American site so lots of the brands are from the US but with a huge international audience My Beauty Bunny is happy to answer questions and direct you to available links for your country.

So things to remember:

- Just because a company says it's against animal testing does not necessarily mean it is cruelty free. If in doubt do some research or ask the company itself about it's products and manufacture of ingrediants

- Read the small print. Check out FAQ's and Commitments online. It's only by looking out for the details that you can find out what is really going on

- Check to see if the company is owned by a parent company which adheres to cruelty free standards

- Do your own exploring. Having a route around the internet can help you discover all kinds of brands you never knew about. Also don't be afraid to talk to the staff working on the counters in department stores. But remember they are there to make the brand sound good so be prepared to ask for details and don't be fobbed off with the standard 'no we don't test on animals', there may be more to it than that

- Be aware. Companies and brands change hands, and policies all the time so keep up to date.

Here is a list of brands I currently use:

Illamasqua: Edgy, editorial top quality products and cruelty free even the make up brushes are synthetic and it's a British firm to boot!
Body Shop: They do not test on animals or have their ingrediants tested on animals but they are owned by L'Oreal (see above)
Eco Tools: Eco friendly, cruelty free and not tested on animals, win win! (You can buy them in Boots too)
Too Faced: Great colours, cruelty free and also produce Vegan friendly products!
Urban Decay: Amazing colours, do not test on animals and cruelty free, also produce Vegan friendly products, but are owned by L'Oreal (see above)

I try to buy cruelty free wherever possible, but it's not always straight forward. If you use any cruelty free brands that I haven't mentioned please share! The more people who know this stuff the better and good luck in your quest!


Saturday 19 April 2014

This week at a glance...

This week I got a great response from one of my favourite bloggers who runs The Kissed Mouth, a site about all things Pre Raphaelite and Victorian. Kirsty Stonell Walker is the author of two novels about the Pre Raphaelite muses, Fanny Cornforth and Alexa Wilding (both favourites of Dante Gabriel Rossetti who is the style inspiration behind my latest painting).

She said she loved my work and thought it was 'lovely', which is praise indeed from a fellow Pre Raphaelite fanatic, and a published one at that!  

I spent another contented day working away at Grace's face on Tuesday and have started to put in the deeper shades and contouring. Again this process is so much like applying make up sometimes it's just one small step away from make up brushes to paint brushes!

I have a few days off work coming up so I am looking forward to spending more time at the studio and really pushing on with this piece. It is such a joy to me to be using one of my favourite artists as inspiration for something that is still considered a controversial subject matter.

When I wonder what Rossetti would think of his style being used as a platform to celebrate transgender femininity I can't help thinking he'd be quite pleased. He was ever a one for liberal thinking and championing left wing causes (they were a free thinking crowd those Pre Raphaelites!); Siding with abolitionists against American slavery during the civil war, using models of mixed race and encouraging his wife to become a fellow artist, I'm sure Rossetti would have approved of this most recent collaboration, or at least have found it entertaining :)

Stay tuned as the project continues, 

Saturday 12 April 2014

From Pre Raphaeltes to Pin ups

Anyone who has read my blog before when I've been speaking of my love of Pre Raphaelite work will know I've often held the opinion that the Pre Raphaelite models were the pin up girls of their time. I've always thought of them in the same way, they might not be portrayed as cheeky or scantily clad, but they are definitely unattainable and glamorous, and they certainly define an era through their beauty.

So you can imagine my excitement of recently finding out about an artist who managed to span both genres in his lifetime and reflected this in his art work!

Frank Cadogan Cowper is widely known as 'the last of the Pre Raphaelites' being born in 1877 just around the time Edward Burne Jones was creating such works as The Beguiling of Merlin. 

Although Frank Cadogan Cowper was never one of the 'brotherhood', that title only belonging to seven artists including the best known Rossetti, Milias and Holman Hunt, like countless artists after them, being loosely associated with the Pre Raphaelite movement was enough to earn Cowper an honorary PRB badge.

In fact by the time Cowper first exhibited in 1899 the original Pre Raphaelite brotherhood had disbanded over 30 years earlier, yet it's influence could be seen in artists such as Evelyn de Morgan, John William Waterhouse and of course in the work of Cowper himself.

The painting on the left is called 'An Aristocrat Answering the Summons to Execution'
which won him critical acclaim. It reminds me strongly of Milais work in paintings such as 'Lorenzo and Isabella', just look at the dog, and the attention to detail even the black and white lining of the aristocrats coat echos Isabella's ribbon in her hair. I'm also pretty sure that this picture is laden with symbolism of impending doom just like Milais work.

 As Cowpers career took off his evident admiration of the Pre Raphaelites could be found time and time again in his subject matter and style. Here we see 'Venetian Ladies listening ot the Serenade' which takes obvious inspiration from Edward Burne Jones work, 'Sidonia Von Bork' not to mention Rosseti's 'Lady Lilith'.

The turn of the century saw vast changes in modes in art yet Copwer effortlessly bridged the Pre Raphaelite fixation of beauty and medievalism with contemporary themes. I especially find  his models fascinating because as the decades roll by you can witness the fashion of the times reflected in their faces. Take for instance these two paintings both called Vanity, painted first in 1907 (using that frock from the earlier painting above once again) and then 1919 and you can certainly see a nod to the decadent screen sirens of the early 20's in the latter's face.

Perhaps the best painting by Frank Cadogan Cowper to illustrate my point about pin up girls is this picture called 'The Ugly Duckling' which is startling when you compare it to his earlier paintings. It could easily sit next to a Gil Elvgrin or Peter Driben. If not somewhat more demure than those playful gals, this lady certainly has the aura of a pin up, one of those smiling yet unattainable lovelies which always make the world seem just that little bit perkier

Cowper's work is a beautiful illustration of how art changes and evolves and is one of the many artists who existed between the great art movements, sometimes overlooked simply for that reason. I however, love the fact he represented both Pre Raphaelites and pin ups with equal flare!


Saturday 5 April 2014

Pre Raphaelite portrait, glowing from within

Just a quick update about what I got done in the studio this week. I had a lovely day putting the first washes of colour onto Grace's face for her Pre Raphaelite portrait. This is a particular technique I use when painting flesh in acrylic. I start by applying the lightest tone I can see and then building up different shades in washes and blending them. Eventually the 'skin' will build up a full coverage but it will still have depth and the various colours, highlights and low lights will shine through. I'm not sue this is how the Pre Rahaelites would have applied their paint but it's very good for creating a 'glowing from within' look which is definitely something the Victorian glamour girls had in the original Pre Raphaelite works of art.

This technique is also a little bit like applying a base of make up: primer, foundation, contouring and blush. Quite apt when you remember that our girl Grace is a professional make up artist!

The last post about this project got some great comments and feedback on Facebook! I thought I'd share some of them with you as you can see in the picture above. My favourite comment has to be from Grace herself, 'I never knew that there was such a resemblance until Gemma took me to see some of Rossetti's paintings. I must say that seeing the similarities has helped me to feel more at ease with my looks and see the soft features as well as the strong ones'.

That makes me so happy as if fulfills part of this projects brief by sending out positive messages about being transgender and celebrating your differences!
I'll keep you posted as the work continues