Words like “otherworldly,” “ethereal” and “divine” are handed out in fashion like air kisses. And it’s tempting to wrap Nika Kislyak’s artistry up in these same terms. One of her glittery creations looks like the model was frosted in fairy dust, while another can only be described as an aquatic mermaid fantasy complete with sequin scales. But perhaps because her work is so very creative, we should try to describe it with words that are more grounded. It is skilled, balanced, and harmonious, and most importantly, beautiful despite its clearly experimental nature. Kislyak has earned her technical and creative prowess. She’s been a prominent member in the beauty scene for years and is the former chief makeup artist for L’Oréal Paris in Russia. She came into industry consciousness in the U.S. after her work was re-grammed by Pat McGrath. Here, the Moscow-native shares her favorite places to find inspiration and her top-secret tips for getting a gorgeous, selfie-worthy glow.
Crystal Martin: Let’s start with the question everyone on Instagram wants to ask: How do you get the skin in your photos so ridiculously glowy?
Nika Kislyak: I’ve loved glowing skin for years and began experimenting with it long before strobing became popular. It’s part of my style. My process starts with clean skin. I cleanse with Bioderma micellar water. Next, I moisturize: I’ll spray on Avène or La Roche-Posay thermal water. Then, I apply Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré moisturizer on top and do a light massage. Then there’s the foundation—it should be light and semi-transparent. I love Armani Luminous Silk, Lasting Silk, or Designer Lift foundation. I apply concealer where it’s needed. After that, the texture of the highlighter I choose really depends on the look I’m creating—I have 10 different highlighters [in my rotation]. Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector Poured Crème is one of my favorites: It leaves a slight bit of moisture on skin without any visible shiny particles.
I did one glowing look with golden skin. People reach out to me all the time on social media to ask how I did it! I can’t give away all my professional secrets, but I’ll share the general scheme: For the base, I mix foundation with Becca Backlight Priming Filter and apply all over the face. On the most prominent parts of the face, I apply Becca highlighter and more densely pigmented MAC Cream Colour Base in Pearl. On top of everything I’ll apply a very fine glitter, like MAC Pressed Pigment in Light Touch. I love to layer! I’ll apply a lighter formula with my fingers, then take a synthetic brush and blend in a denser highlighter on top.
CM: How did you get your start?
NK: I have a fine arts degree, so everything started with my passion for drawing, painting, and decorative arts. I can work with clay, wood, woven tapestries, painted batik—I even did silk painting. I use that background as makeup artist. I started in makeup fourteen years ago. I was self-taught, trying out cosmetics and brushes on my own. As I got more and more into the artistry, I decided to attend Mosmake School for Makeup, the best school in Moscow. I learned so much from Natalia Vlasova, the artistic director. She was aware of both trends and experimental [makeup]—her work was never banal. After Mosmake, I went on studying makeup art as a freelance artist in New York and London, doing fashion shows, video, photo shoots, advertising, and private clients.
CM: Your work is incredibly imaginative. Where does that creativity come from?
NK: My imagination converts practically everything I see in the real world into makeup ideas. Life inspires me: traveling, art, beauty, history! I can look at a ragged wall covered with many layers of old paint and come up with ideas to recreate a similar texture with cosmetics. I have a good visual memory and store ideas in my head like a depository. I’ve been surfing on Instagram a lot lately because I was sick. I’d go from one account to another, screen-capturing images of dried flowers, embroidery, pieces of cloth, drawings, stones, bubbles, and fur. I thought, how can I express those textures on the face?
CM: You use so many unconventional materials in your work. How does that work and where do you scout for supplies?
NK: I see an image of what I want in my head, but sometimes it can be difficult to turn my fantasy into reality. So, I search for the materials wherever I can, including textile and art shops. I like complex textures and often use materials not designed for facial art. I can walk through a construction store and get inspired by interesting plastic shapes, like rubber straws and wires. I like imagining how these materials can work with new concepts. Then I experiment. One day I bought a rubber mat with wonderful pimples that I could cut off and glue to the face. The goal is not to use something weird, it’s to come up with new ideas. For the image with so-called fish scales, I used sequins. It took about an hour to do. I had to protect the model’s face first, so I applied a dense layer of Embryolisse. It was important that the sequins be large—2 millimeters—and in between them, in the gaps, I tapped in glitter with a small synthetic brush or my fingers. Even though my work can be creative and colorful, it’s very important for me that the makeup has a purity or transparency.