Part of: Make It Up

Interview: Val Garland

published on 15 February 2002

Michelle Duguid interviews make-up artist Val Garland about her career and the origins of this frantic, energetic make-up-a-thon.

Michelle Duguid interviews make-up artist Val Garland about her career and the origins of this frantic, energetic make-up-a-thon.

Image from 'Make It Up' (2002)

Michelle Duguid: Val, can you tell me a bit about your background in the fashion industry?

Val Garland: Originally I started as a hairdresser, doing session work. The photographer Chris Bentley was always pushing me to do the make-up and I would always say no. Then I tried to do the make-up on a test but it was a hideous experience as everyone was really 'fashion'. I decided that I could never get involved in the fashion industry. Two years went by and I kept saying no, then one day a make-up artist didn't turn up for a shoot and I was thrown into it. A photo from that shoot went on to become the front cover of Australian Vogue. People would then try and book me to do make-up on shoots. The hair then really fell away and I now wouldn't know what to do with a piece of hair. I just found that I really enjoyed doing (make-up) and I enjoyed painting. I have been lucky that I been able to work with some incredibly creative people. I never had any formal training I just went for it. I think the fact that I was a colourist when I was a hairdresser helped with colour for make-up.

MD: Describe how you initiate a new look.

VG: That comes around by having a discussion with the designer, the stylist, and the hairdresser. We think about the 'woman' we are trying to create for the show. You then come back with three or four ideas and we look at them all and talk through the mood. There are many trials. I am presently working on the McQueen show and it will take a month of meetings and a lot of trying out of ideas. I then have to teach my team.

MD: How many people would you have on your team?

VG: I have a nucleus of people that I always use but it can go up to 25. Usually for McQueen I have 25 assistants. They are all great and have worked for me for a long time but every season I like to take on two new people as I like to give new babies a chance.

MD: Are there other make-up artists that you admire?

VG: I admire any make-up artist that has the conviction to be innovative, to go out there with the vision to do something different. Pat McGrath, for example, has really changed the way we look at make-up.

MD: Who is your favourite face to make-up?

VG: There are so many amazing faces out there for so many different reasons. I love bone structure and I have done amazing things with girls like Erin O'Connor and Karen Elson. They have the kind of faces you can really put make-up on. I was very lucky recently that a wish was granted: one of my icons when I started out in make up was Linda Evangelista. She is so iconic. Finally I got to work with her with Nick Knight. It was a truly magical experience as she is the uber-model of models.

MD: Is there anyone that you haven't done that you'd like to?

VG: I would love to work with Cate Blanchett. You think of the films she has worked on; her face manages to change depending on the look of the character, however diverse.

MD: What's the difference between working on your own ideas and working to a precise brief?

VG: When you work with a team of people you are working to a plan. Already half or a third of your work is done. However, it is more fulfilling when you have your own ideas because it is exactly what you want to bring across. It is a little bit risky because there is always the risk that everyone will think you are barking mad. I have a couple of photographers that I work with that let me do whatever I want and I find the freedom exciting. I like to think of a story, an idea or even a sentence to start with and then you can take it off to so many different areas.

The first thing that I thought of was the title: Make It Up. That conjured up images in my mind of making it up as you go along and being totally spontaneous. A piece that was completely live and unrehearsed.

MD: Tell me how Make It Up, your piece for SHOWstudio, originated?

VG: I have worked with Nick Knight for many years now and we do some wonderful projects together. In the past he has said that he wished that he could have a camera in the make-up area to film the make-up process. I always felt that the biggest problem we were going to have was in making it interesting. To watch someone apply a beautiful eyeliner would be just like watching a technical seminar and that would be boring. It took a while before we came up with an original idea (for the project). The first thing that I thought of was the title, which was Make It Up. That conjured up images in my mind of making it up as you go along and being totally spontaneous. A piece that was completely live and unrehearsed.

MD: What were your sources?

VG: The idea started with a piece of work by Picasso called Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. It is an image of a group of fleshy women. This was my starting point. I then took the original picture and went and researched other artists whom I thought would work. For example I looked at Yves Klein, I like his body impressions and his use of paint on the bodies. This took me on to Jackson Pollock and the way that he threw paint on the canvas. I have always loved Georgia O'Keeffe and find her open flowers very sexual. I wanted this sexuality to come over in the piece. As you can see, it was a melting pot of ideas. It all started off as painterly and then went from a type of realism to almost soft porn.

MD: How do you feel being the focus of the piece, almost as a performer?

VG: I had a small plan of how it was going to work and I then had to just get on with it and respond to others. I did manage to do everything I planned to but some things went quicker and some went slower than planned. It was great to be in the middle of that melting pot. I didn't ever feel that I was the focus of the piece. I was just the instrument and my girls were the focus. I just helped to make them work as a performance. I liked the fact that I didn't know how the girls were going to react. It was great not really knowing how it was going to end and how much paint was going to be on any one girl.

MD: You originally wanted size 12 models and then opened out the brief to include models of all sizes. Can you explain how the idea evolved?

VG: With most projects you do start with an idea and it evolves and develops. When I started on this piece I wanted twelve girls from model agencies to make an equal blank canvas. Then, through talking to Nick and looking at the painting, it dawned on me that we should represent a range of body types. I have always liked the idea of flesh. Some girls have got small boobs, others big boobs. How can we enhance that and make it into an organic shape? I wanted to enhance the female shape. Via a webcam you lose the sharpness and I wanted to make sure that you could see the point. We therefore added cones onto the nipples to make them looked stretched, of course in a beautiful way. It pushed the idea to the limit.

MD: Did the fact that you were being broadcast live on the Internet alter the nature of the project?

VG: I honestly didn't think about it much. For me it was a great job and I was very excited to be there and to do my best.

MD: Have you seen any of the stills or film from the event? How do you feel about the project now?

VG: I have seen some Polaroids which look quite Jackson Pollock. I will be interested to see the final result. It was a great experience. I think that it was the first time that make-up has ever been shown live on the internet, which is quite an honour. At the end of it, I was so full of adrenaline. When I came back down to earth, I was exhausted. Clearing up was quite something as it was like we had had a wild party. We could have made a movie about the aftermath. down and gets quite distorted I quite like that.

Interview by:



Interview: Nick Knight

23 March 2006
SHOWstudio director and leading image-maker Nick Knight sat down with Penny Martin to answer questions from the public. Broadcast 23 March 2006.

Interview: Kat Marks on Prosthetics

03 June 2013
Designer Kat Marks talks to Niamh White about her body-sculpting creations and her first-hand experience with orthopaedics.

Interview: Jean-Paul Goude

26 February 2015
Photographer Jean-Paul Goude spoke about his early influences, and his thoughts on love, money and God with author Sofia Tchkonia.
Back to top