FOR Ms Cheryl Ow, having people recoil in fright after looking at her completed work is a compliment for a job well done.

This is because her job as a special effects make-up artist involves creating gruesomely realistic burns and melting faces. “It’s quite opposite from the reactions one would get from regular beauty make-up,” she says.

Painting an illusion of reality over artificial wounds requires a basic knowledge of make-up and some familiarity with body sciences, says the 33-year-old.

For example, to create a punched look, the make-up artist would first have to consider where the attacker’s fist might have landed, she explains.

If the punch had fallen on the cheekbone in real life, the bruising might spread to the eye area or the sides of the nose. Hence, one would need to reflect that reality in one’s work. Simply painting a bruise on a random spot on the cheek would not work, she says.

Dedication and patience are also two important traits for a special effects make-up artist.“You need a lot of time to create good special effects,” she says.

For example, about 45 minutes is needed to create a gash underneath the cheekbones. It takes time partly to blend a plasticine-like material on the face to build a base. However, this can be difficult to do because the area is soft and has no bone support.

“If I rush, it will look like a Halloween effect — it won’t look real at all, especially in movies shot on high definition film because they are very sharp,” says Ms Ow, whose work has appeared in newspapers, magazines and movies. “You need to make the effects look realistic,” she adds.

 For commercial shoots, she has to spend a lot of time on the sets. At times, it can stretch for almost 24 hours straight.

 There is also a lot of time spent waiting and touching up to make sure that the make-up stays intact. “You always have to be alert when you’re on stand-by. It’s not nice if the directors keep yelling for the make-up artist,” she says.

Starting out

Ms Ow has loved colours since she was a young girl. And she would often spend hours watching her mother putting on make-up, amazed by how colour could transform a face.

“At that age, colour was about crayons and colour pencils, but to have it on the face — that was fascinating,” she says.

However, she didn’t start off as a make-up artist. Ms Ow, who has a diploma in tourism, worked as a manicurist for six years before she made the switch.

She says: “I always had make-up on my face because of my love for colours.”

Her finished look impressed several customers, who asked if she could help doll them up for special occasions.

This experience with them further fuelled her passion for make-up. Four years ago, she resigned to pursue professional courses at the Make Up For Ever Academy, where she now teaches.

To survive financially, she decided to provide nail services to customers at home.

“It was very scary at first. When I left, I just left. I didn’t have any back-up plans. I was afraid that no one would call me for my nail services,” she recalls.

But her loyal customers stuck by her. As the years passed, she progressed smoothly from learning beauty make-up techniques to mastering special effects make-up, thanks to guidance from her colleagues and trainers.

Ms Ow, who still does beauty make-up, remains grateful for her smooth transition to the world of make-up. “My four years in this business are peanuts compared to the veterans in the field,” she says.

“I’m very lucky because I’ve been given many chances since I started, and I hope to continue as a make-up artist and be recognised for my work.”