Photographer: Melissa Toh. Model: Rozella. Stylist: Bobby Tan

Interview with makeup artist, Mandy Leigh

by Emma Khoo (@fyi.khoo)

Welcome to the colourful world of Amanda Lee (IG: @mandyleighxmua) (also known as Mandy Leigh)! If I had to use three words to describe Mandy’s personal makeup preferences, it would be: vibrant, unconventional and with dark undertones. Most of all, her makeup truly gives that powerful, transformational quality that empowers women, the LGBT community and anyone living in and within the margins of Malaysian society.

Mandy is undeniably one of Malaysia’s most talented, unconventional makeup artists around. In less than 10 years of her career, she has worked with many well-known local photographers, local celebrities, popular local magazines and even been showcased in high-profile exhibitions as a collaborator. Unfortunately, makeup artists are often overlooked in their roles in conveying and co-producing powerful visual images for our consumption, not just for our own self-empowerment.

Therefore, in this interview, I wish to share Mandy’s exciting journey as a self-professed avant-garde, conceptual makeup artist, who is also incredibly flexible as seen in her commercial works, fashion editorials and wedding makeup. In her collaborative works with local photographers, she is given autonomy in creation and that alone showcases her true skill – unbarred. Makeup artists may not own copyrights to the images or could become the face of the image, but they do hold the power to enhance the images we see and play a crucial role in creating powerful messages.

A Love Once Lost – Photographer: Daniel Adams. Model: Evelyn Bee

Tell us more about how you started your makeup journey.

It has been 6 years since my journey began and I am proud to say that I am a self-taught makeup artist. My interests started before I went on full-time. Despite finding an interest towards makeup, I studied Fashion and Design for about 2 years before realizing that I have no interest in it. I decided to dropout and pursue my dreams as a makeup artist. After such a drastic move, I took a year off to work and one day, as I was going through some YouTube videos, I stumbled about some makeup tutorials by Nikkie (aka NikkieTutorials). I was instantly hooked! At that point, I fell in love with makeup from the way it can transform and change someone’s life – inside and out. Personally, doing my own makeup also gave me new-found confidence and made me feel like I can conquer the world!

My dad was the one who took notice of my potential and encouraged me to pursue it full-time. With his blessing, I took that year to polish my skills, at first through some makeup classes offered in Malaysia but I honestly learned more on YouTube. Slowly but surely, I started doing makeup for my friends prom, graduations, weddings, and charging for a really small price. And then I discovered the art of collaboration!

In 2017, I frequently collaborated with like-minded, local photographers Emma (FYi Photography), Daniel Adams (Daniel Adams Photography) and John Kam (Cvptures John), and that completely changed my makeup game forever. This also lead up to a joint photography exhibition in 2018 that celebrated the diverse cultures of Malaysia: Rojak. With them, I could express my artistic side that I never knew existed and watching them come to life in visual form made me incredibly happy.

Describe your makeup aesthetic.

I always find it very hard to express my aesthetic because I feel like I am very versatile when it comes to the type of makeup genre I love creating. But if I had to describe my personal preferences, I think it would definitely be towards the “gothic” aesthetic. I love doing vampire/ghoulish-like makeup where I can make myself feel like a different being/creature. When I am doing the makeup for myself, you may find me transforming into a witch, gypsy, or having blood running down my neck! SFX makeup is especially thrilling.

On the other hand, I also love creating high-end/glam fashion looks i.e. the clean cut creases (my absolute favourite), glossy lips and wispy lashes. I think that’s also what I love most about working with people (doing my makeup on them) is watching them transform into anything they want and making them feel confident and beautiful. It is the best feeling in the world!

Also, I have been told that I am a sloppy makeup artist, in a way that I do not like planning out my looks during a collaboration. Normally, everything comes flowing into my mind right there and then. I do not like planning and never liked planning. So all my looks are normally never planned unless the photographer requests for a certain look. I think I am unique this way and I think it encapsulates the collaborative spirit here.

(Top row) 1. Miss World 2018 – Photographer: Carlos Khu. Model: Alexis Sue Ann. 2. Fern Batik Collective – Photographer: Daniel Adams. Model: Mel. Designer: Fern Batik Collective. 3. Natasha in I Am Malaysian – Photographer: FYi Photography. Model: Natasha Alexis. (Bottom row) 1. Photographer: Clash Donerrin. Model: Geovanna De Angelo. Stylist: Sasha Ivan. 2. Photographer: FYi Photography. Model: Joey Chan.

Who are your biggest inspirations? 

I also get inspirations from my favourite Instagram famous makeup artists such as: Vanessa Devi The Skultress, Jordan Hanz, Ellie35x, Nils Kuiper Verberne, (SFX artists), Makeup By Mario, Nikkie Tutorials, and Michelle Phan (for more glam looks)

What are the highlights of your career?

I think my greatest achievement would definitely be the ‘A Love Once Lost’ photography exhibition that I collaborated with Daniel Adams, whose photoseries visualized the pain and loss he felt when his mother succumbed to cancer. These photos were auctioned off and proceeds were given to the Malaysian Cancer Research Foundation. I gained a lot of recognition and acknowledgment doing this exhibition that took us one year to complete. I am very proud of this achievement and I could not have done this without Daniel.

To my surprise, people started recognizing me as well. During the exhibition, some even came up to me and asked if I was @mandyleighxmua ! I think it is also very satisfying to know that people acknowledged the work that what I do.

On the other hand, being able to work with top Malaysian celebrities such as Zee Avi, NYK, Talitha Tan, Elizabeth Tan, Samantha Katie James (Miss Universe Malaysia) has also truly been a blessing and definitely regarded as highlights of my career. I was also featured in Cleo magazine. The best part is getting all these experiences I never thought possible a few years ago. There is still a lot more on my checklist that I want to achieve and my dream does not stop just here.

(Left) – Photographer: Daniel Adams. Model: Zee Avi. Henna Ink: Belle K Tattoo. (Right) – Rekha in I Am Malaysian – Photographer: FYi Photography. Model: Rekha.

What are the challenges you face as a freelance makeup artist in Malaysia? 

To sustain a more stable income. Being a freelance makeup artist in Malaysia is definitely not the easiest thing as the industry is also small and not quite as in demand. Even though I have been in the industry for 6 years now, it still gets pretty challenging from time-to-time, especially to get a stable income and have it non-negotiable. Nothing comes easy but overall I would not trade this for anything in the world! I had rather do something that truly I’m passionate about rather than something that I am not.

What would you like to see more in the Malaysian industry? 

More creative talents being noticed and acknowledged! I feel like Malaysians do not really appreciate local artists in general. People tend to take our work for granted therefore, I feel like artists here can never make a living. I truly do hope in time, things would change. I also want to put it out there that makeup artists around the world are not really recognised and acknowledged unlike models and photographers. For instance, my work hardly get credited or acknowledged when being reposted or published in local media. People do not realize that we too, are collaborators.

(Left) Ali – Photographer: Emma Khoo. Model: Mukhammedali Duisembi. (Right) A Love Once Lost – Photographer: Daniel Adams. Model: Dyanna Sandhu.

How do you find inspiration to create especially during the Covid-19 lockdown?

During the lockdown, I have been watching a lot of American horror stories so most of my inspirations comes from a combination of Netflix series. Social media like Instagram also provides a great platform so need to find inspiration constantly through my favorite Instagram makeup artists. As I get majority of my inspirations from Instagram artists, I tend to mix-and-match several looks that I like, later sketching it out on my book, choosing the right colors and shape before trying it out on myself.

Creating has been a way for me to cope with the uncertainty and also to keep my sanity as I am stuck at home. Pinterest and Tumblr are also my top favourite websites to find inspiration.

Finally, what is your survive tips for any freelance makeup artists during this lockdown?

  1. Try creating different looks every day!
  2. Challenge yourself into doing something out of your comfort zone.
  3. Watch more makeup tutorials and constantly fill yourself with knowledge about the makeup industry.
  4. Learning from each other and encourage other makeup artists. Everyone has unique and different techniques and it is always interesting to learn something new.