Interview with Michele Dawn Sweeney, ELH’s Makeup Artist!

Without a makeup artist, Vanessa’s fashion looks, Ceci’s hard-edged glamor and Jessie’s innocent blushes wouldn’t have come through on your screen. Even Maya needs a little help from the makeup box! So read this interview with Michele Dawn Sweeney, ELH’s excellent makeup artist, and when you’re done, send her any of your questions about makeup—her Twitter handle is @md_sweeney and she’s ready to help you out!

How did you become a makeup artist?

When I was younger, both of my parents worked, so MicheleSweeneyTV and movies were a big part of my childhood. Also, the entertainment industry is everywhere here in LA. When I was in community college, I was taking the classes everyone takes but I wasn’t feeling inspired. All of my friends were in the industry and my brother had been a (music industry/fashion) makeup artist when I was younger. It was something I was good at too but I knew I wanted to do something more with makeup. I wanted to tell stories. I found the Joe Blasco Makeup School and they had a program for film and television, so I signed up. It was the right fit and it all began there.

Being from East LA, what inspired your looks for the show?

I’m the youngest of four. We lived in Maywood. When we were in elementary school, my father got a job that had us move to Orange County. There, we all got that look you get when someone hears “East LA”. I moved back after I graduated and I still get that look. In the past, whenever new movies came out about East LA, they told the same story. Those stories are true and important and I’m sure they were the experiences of the people who created them but they weren’t what I knew. I wanted the looks I created for this show to reflect who I knew and what I saw. I didn’t want to feed the stereotypes of our community. I’m sure some will say, “That’s not East LA”, “Where’s the bangers?” “Where’s the emo and the shufflers?” Those stories have been told. We’re trying to show another side. I wanted the looks for some of the characters to be fresh- faced, others fashion-forward but all with unique looks. My favorite part is that it’s an authentic teen story so (spoiler alert) everyone goes through physical transformations. Some get made over, some get made under but they all have individual looks that reflect their own stories.

Can you share some makeup tips with other Latinas?

My most important makeup tip is to take care of your skin.

  • SUNSCREEN SUNSCREEN SUNSCREEN everyday. Latinas think they don’t need it, but they do!
  • Take off your makeup every night. Keep a pack of makeup wipes under your pillow or in your pillow case so you can just wipe it off. No excuses.
  • Sleep & water are the best things for your skin, get as much as you can every day.
  • You earn the face you’ll have at 40 so learn what works for your skin as early as you can and do it.

What should every girl carry in her purse for touch ups?

These will work for even the smallest clutches:

  • Blotter papers/oil absorbing sheets. They’re great for keeping the shine down without packing on the makeup (in a pinch toilet seat protectors work great).
  • Lipstick. Whatever lipstick you’re wearing or sometimes I’ll use a lipstain then just bring a lip balm for the glossy shine.
  • Lip Liner. When your liners get used up below the halfway point and you’re ready to buy a new one, throw the chiquito in the touch up bag.
  • I like to get the little empty jars (they’re the size of a quarter) from the 99c store and put some of my concealer in it. When dancing and sweating, even the best primers and mascara can’t always hold up. With these on hand, I can do a quick under eye clean up in the bathroom, pat a little concealer on with my pinky and be back in action.

What items should be in every girls’ makeup kit?

These are the types of questions that make me happy we live in a time where I can talk to everyone individually online. Since makeup is such a personal thing you can post your questions on my twitter @md_sweeney or my website ( and I’ll be happy to answer when I have a chance. We all have different styles but a good start is to get that flawless, no makeup look. For going to the library, running to the store, study date, whatever it is. The way to look flawless is to get the right shades and only put makeup where you need it. Below are some of the basics I recommend:

  • Foundation—The right tone of foundation should even out your skin tone, not change it.
  • Concealer—If you have under eye problems, concealer is JUST for under eyes or lines. It contains a highlight so DON’T use it as cover up on blemishes, it’ll just spotlight them.
  • Cover-Up—-If you have blemishes/discolorations, dot the cover-up on blemishes or discolorations, making sure to blend the edges.
  • Mascara—Mascara formulas don’t vary all that much, what’s different is the wands. Find your favorite. I splurged on an expensive mascara and when it was gone kept the wand to use with my drugstore mascara. Works like a charm. If you really push the wand into the base of your lashes you don’t need to curl them.
  • Lipstick—A flushed color for lips. I use a crazy clown red eyeshadow I found at Halloween that I just lightly pat on and it looks like they’re naturally red.

What “look” is in for this summer?

This summer is a GREAT time to be a Latina. The brows are strong, the colors are bold and the lashes are big. The undertones of our skin can pull off a lot of color. Don’t be afraid to go crazy. Start it all off with glowing skin, even if you don’t have it naturally. Use moisturizer to get your dewy skin started, only put foundation, concealer, and coverup where you need it and go easy on the powder. If you have a problem with shine, go with oil absorbing sheets. The runways had bold vibrant colors on lips and eyes–bright reds, great oranges, sky blues and luscious pinks which are a perfect partner to the strong and still feminine brows that make the look. It’s really easy to make all these looks wearable for every day. Use bronzer only where the sun would naturally hit you. On your eyelashes, whether you want to go fake (there are some quality inexpensive ones) or natural, use a great mascara and load it up, stopping just short of spider lashes. Select where you’d like to use bold colors, on either the eyes or the lips unless you have the personality to rock both. If you want to REALLY rock the bold eye, add glitter. With the brows, you want to make your eyes stand out so brush them up and fill them in staying within two shades of your hair color. If you want a more dramatic look (like I do for nights out) go outside your shade, my hair is black and I go baby brown, it really makes the eyes pop. If you’re channeling your inner Rihanna rock the bright colored brows (I’m not that bold yet). Have fun! It’s important to try new things to find your style.

Share one of your favorite moments from the set of East Los High?

This memory will make me tear up and smile for many years. We worked very long, hectic days and we let off A LOT of steam in the hair/make-up/wardrobe trailer listening to music and swapping stories. Leslie (our Hair Dept head) and I were always working while we all laughed and sang and danced. This day, technical problems made it so we had three actors in the chairs and three just chillin in the trailer waiting for everything to get fixed. So, the PA comes to tell us they’re ready for them not knowing we’re all going nuts in there when our summer song came on. He opens the door right when we all start screaming “HEY! I JUST MET YOU! AND THIS IS CRAZY! BUT HERE’S MY NUMBER! SO, CALL ME MAYBE!” We scared the crap out of him and we all started cracking up and it was just such a moment for how close we’d all gotten. They’re like my family.

Did working on East Los High have any special meaning for you?

Every generation has teen shows and the ones I saw growing up had maybe one Latino in the cast. Other than that, they’d only have a guest-character who was Latino when it was “a very special episode” dealing with drugs or gang violence or the character dealing with the embarrassment of their parent being a janitor or gardener. What kind of message does that send to us as young people? This show has full complex characters and the adults are pillars of the community, role models. The characters deal with real issues and don’t always make the right decisions. They’re dealing with finding themselves and what love means, figuring out who they want to be in the future. They are jocks and prom queens and smart kids and they are Latino. These stories are the universal experience of being a teen in America. It means so much to me to be able to show something to my teen niece and nephew that looks like them and their friends, something I didn’t have growing up.

Anything else you want to add…

Generally, when we’re growing up, we want to be like our friends so we tend to hate the things that make us different. But what makes you different also makes you memorable. Don’t focus on what you don’t like about yourself, focus on highlighting what you do like. I received some great advice once and it changed everything for me, “When you look at yourself, talk to yourself like you’re talking to your little sister or niece or daughter… because you would never say anything cruel to them. You would only be loving and supportive and tell her what’s beautiful about her.” That’s true.

Header image by Sodanie Chea, used under a Creative Commons license.

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