Makeup artist (MUA) Debra Kelly may have started out as a nurse, but this Aussie has moved on from the operating theatre to the stage at an amateur dramatics society in Brunei, the runway with Behind the Curtain in Calgary and the pages of Elléments Fashion Magazine.
While you won’t find Debra in front of the lens (she’s a wee bit camera shy), it is her creative work that is often front and centre. Whether it’s an outstanding makeup concept or an exquisite paper dress, your jaw is sure to drop.
Her work has attracted much attention and she will be one of the featured artists at Grandeur, a showcase event hosted by RAW on March 5, 2015 in Calgary alongside fellow MUA Sandra Makarewicz and other talented artists.
In 2014 her makeup work could be seen in both the November issue and Swimsuit Edition of Elléments Fashion Magazine and seeing her work published was an experience to remember.
“When I found out it would be published, I was like, ‘Woo Hoo,’ that was the fun part and when I actually saw it in print I was like, ‘Wow’. Then I thought ‘Is this it? Have I made it? Is this the real deal?’ It was Who Hoo and surreal all at the same time,” she said.
There is no doubt that Debra is in high demand these days, but it wasn’t always that way.
In the Beginning ...
Debra and her family (that’s hubby and three kids), move around a lot because of her husband’s job and have gone from Australia to Holland to Brunei where her professional makeup career really started, before landing in Calgary, Canada.
Despite gaining experience in Brunei, Debra found herself with few industry contacts once she moved
She said: “I did the ‘ole creep on Facebook and looked at pages for photographers and models just to try and make connections. For my first marathon photoshoot I messaged models saying, ‘I like the look of your face, can you model for me?’”
To start with she did a lot of free work just to build up her portfolio and meet other people in the industry. She also took advantage of some educational funding to gain international certification as an MUA from Artists Within Makeup Academy.
She has worked on photoshoots, television, stage, fashion runways and charity events like a Mother's Day makeover for kids dealing with cancer and has sometimes worked with local celebrities.
“I’ve had a few high-profile people in my chair, but I don’t treat them any different than the girl next door. They are my canvas and I’m going to do what I can to make them feel good. Then again if I had Kylie Minogue in my chair, I’d probably be shakin’ in my boots.”
And then there's the paper dresses
“I go off on tangents sometimes and get all crafty just to keep my hands busy and then I think how I can use them in a photoshoot. That’s where my paper dresses came from. I never thought in a million years that people would respond to them.”
On one such occasion Calgary-based fashion designer Erikka Moojelsky, aka Miss Neïd of Neïd Studio, approached her about doing the makeup for a personal glamour shoot. Initially she was going to sit on stacks of fashion magazines for the shoot wearing one of Debra’s paper dresses, then it was decided that Debra would make a dress using pages from fashion magazines with folding help from Miss Neïd. The result speaks for itself.
Debra’s biggest inspiration is British photographer Kirsty Mitchell, in particular her Wonderland project which began as distraction from overwhelming grief after the death of her mother, but turned into a journey of healing lasting five years.
“She is a one-stop-shop," she said. "And if I could do anything half as good as that woman, I’d be wow. She does set, costumes, concept and then shoots it. She is stunning.”
Cheaper than paying for a shrink
Debra has big plans for the future which began recently with the launch of a makeup school of her own. She wrote a two-volume course that combines the flexibility of an online certification, with the hands-on, real-world experience of an in-person class.
Those studying the program cover theory and hygiene before learning about different applications and make their way through a workbook designed to help them evolve as an artist. Answers can’t just be found with a quick dirty Google search. Her students will have to go out into the field to learn about the products and observe others.
“I’m not saying I want world domination, but if I can inspire even a few makeup artists a year, that’s enough for me.”
Her kids may not always be happy with Mum keeping so busy and while spending time with her family is a priority, Debra has no plans to slow down.
“I think it’s good for them to see Mummy working. They won’t see me at home 24/ 7 washing and ironing. I want to be a role model. I’d go crazy staying at home. Doing what I do is like my therapy when I get irritated and antsy. Sometimes I just need to head upstairs, pull out the glue gun and start making something.
It’s cheaper than psychiatrist bills.”