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Pixi Makeup Artist Amanda Bell Shares Her Beauty Secrets

We chat about beauty self-esteem, making it as a makeup artist, her can't-live-without-them products—and so much more!

Ever since Target—and by extension, Pixi Beauty—launched in Canada last year, I've been the makeup brand's biggest new fan. You already know how much I love the H2O SkinTint, and whenever I wear the Shea Butter Lip Balm in Coral Crush, I get compliments galore. Everything they make just works.

When their global makeup artist, Amanda Bell, was visiting from London a few weeks ago, we obviously HAD to meet. And so we did—in fact, there was so much beauty ground to cover, we ended up scheduling a phone chat after that, too!

Today, in part one of the interview, you'll learn about Amanda's beauty philosophy, her career as a makeup artist, her favourite products, and some priceless (and hilarious) words of wisdom on beauty self-esteem. Stay tuned for part two, where Amanda will share her all-time best makeup tricks.

Grab a drink, sit back and image the answers are being delivered to you in Amanda's lovely English accent. Enjoy!

Have you always been obsessed with makeup?

My obsession with makeup started very early on in life. I remember being three years old, and it was the 1970s, so not the best decade for makeup looks. But to a three-year-old, glitter was just the bomb. My family, friends and neighbours would give me their old makeup. I used to have a vanity—it sounds glamorous, but it was plastic and very child-like—and I would store the makeup and do what I liked with it. I used to love the textures, the way you could blend cream eyeshadows out. I suppose it was the intensity and the finishes you could achieve. So much more interesting than Crayola crayons!

From there, it was not a very far leap into magazines. My mum was really into Cinnabar, Youth Dew—all the Oriental fragrances—and I became very aware of the ad campaigns that went with fragrances. There was a model, Willow Bay, who was the face of Estée Lauder, and I remember being absolutely enthralled by her face. Along with really unusual women like Grace Jones, Marie Helvin, Jerry Hall.

It was not necessarily liking one type of beauty, but being absolutely enthralled by all these very diverse types of beauty. I started reading VogueElle, French Vogue, French Elle. To anyone visiting, I would ask, "Do you buy magazines? Can I have a look?"

When I was about 13, and my friends were saving money to buy whatever, I'd be buying makeup. It was just my lifeblood.

Did you study makeup artistry?

I originally studied art. It was very strange. Back in the day, there was no Internet and no Google. I knew there were star makeup artists like Way Bandy, but to me, as a teenager, everyone seemed to be in New York and not British. One makeup artist in the UK that people knew about was Barbara Daly, because she did Princess Di’s makeup. She had her own line of makeup in The Body Shop, but somehow it didn’t translate to the glamour and amazingness I saw happening elsewhere.

So I studied 3D art (which has to do with anything three-dimensional) and originally thought I might go into set design. At art college, I made friends with fashion and photography students; we used to get together and I would always do the makeup. It was terrible. I was always full of so many ideas, taking inspiration from magazines, films, celebrities. It could be Blade Runner, science fiction, Ava Gardner, Veronica Lake, Jodie Foster. There are so many kinds of beauty and so many things to inspire you. Classical paintings as well. The skin tones and pops of colour by the Old Masters.

That went on until I realized that actually, as much as I loved the idea of becoming a set designer, it didn’t excite me the way makeup did.

What was your first job in makeup?

When I graduated, I started freelancing in London. That’s when you start to learn your trade, so to speak. And I was a weekend person at the Prescriptives counter. It was just the most amazing thing, being able to look at a skin tone and blending up a product for that skin tone. Although it was hard work, it was a great practical experience for two years to work on so many different skin tones, age groups and types of women. It really made me understand colour.

I was an absolute makeup geek and used to memorize the names of different products, too. People would ask me, "Do you remember Guerlain Terracotta core from 1989?" and I'd be like, "Yes, I do."

I suppose I now realize that I was destined to work with makeup. I've been working as a makeup artist for 21 years now, and I’m literally as obsessed as the day I started. It’s just incredible. It is like a madness. I'm still blown away by the way you can transform a face. Now that I look back at it, I am working with the ultimate 3D element, which is a face. So it completely makes sense. I was halfway there; I was just barking up the wrong tree.

How did you come to work with Pixi?

I’ve worked directly with Petra [Strand; Pixi's founder] for 15 years. I was the first non-family staff member of Pixi, so I've been there since it was very small.

Petra has always been supportive. All those years ago, she saw something in me. She always used to say to me, "When I have a makeup line, I’d like you to work with me." When I used to see Petra’s work as a makeup artist, she was one of the people where I loved everything she did. She had this ability to work with skin so the makeup looked like a second skin. It had an almost barely-there finish; very Swedish, very fresh. It completely went against the looks that were current at that time. I remember thinking, "Wow, I really love her style of makeup artistry." It was a great fit for my personal style as well.

Over the last 15 years, I've seen Pixi grow from one little store [in London] to being in Target stores across the US and Canada. It's absolutely amazing.

Besides working with Pixi, I am also a freelance makeup artist in London, so I work on videos, fashion films, editorial, some celebrities and some red carpet. It's a bit of everything.

What do you love about the Pixi brand?

One of the things which I can say has not changed from very first selection of products developed at Pixi is that there’s an approach to beauty which is very fresh. You can get excellent coverage, but the whole idea is that you look like the best version of yourself. If you are someone who likes a base that looks imperceptible, but your skin looks flawless, then that is very much the ethos of Pixi.

For a brand that's at a not-too-expensive price point and has quite a large distribution, the ingredients are great. Everything is hypoallergenic and vegan or vegetarian. Petra also works on adding lots of botanical extracts and vitamins so that everything has a skincare benefit as well.

The colours are beautifully blended. And if you want to layer products, everything blends beautifully together. There are so many different colour combinations, and ways you can alter it and customize it to create a bespoke look.

How would you describe your approach to makeup?

It's really looking at the individual—I’m absolutely fascinated by each different face. The day when I’m not fascinated is the day I’ll be handing my brushes back in. I honestly don’t ever see that happening. I see me like an old granny, saying to people, "Darling, have you thought about using magenta?" Like some bizarre old granny, with long hair and vampish lips and maybe a liquid liner on my old, crepey lids.

If I'm working on a model, I’ll obviously look at their comp card, their whole portfolio; I’ll really drink in their features. If it’s an actor or actress, then I’ll look at them in lots of different situations. Also if there are moving images of them as well. I love to see the face animated, because people’s expressions can change way they look. People in repose can look stern, but the minute they are talking, their face comes to life and a different kind of beauty comes out. So I like doing my research.

What is your favourite look to create?

My favourite makeup look is very fresh, very much based around the skin tone. I look at the skin and create a look that really compliments the tone. If it’s a story with a pop of colour, then I can definitely interject that. But I am literally the most fastidious person about skin. As a makeup artist, I believe what really makes work stand out is the approach to skin, and creating a flawless—either delicately matte or glowing—base. It has become my signature.

I love a nude lip and I love a nude cheek, but I'm just as in love with hot pink and coral. I love colour clashes to look a little bit different. Say, teal liner on the eyes with a gorgeous coral on the lips and cheeks. That looks phenomenal. Try choosing that one colour that you've maybe never tried. I love that idea of something that takes you ever so slightly out of your comfort zone. Because my goodness, it can really look gorgeous.

Which products do you always use and recommend?

Pixi H2O SkinTint: This is a new product that I'm obsessed with. It's just such a beautiful base and it works on all ages, and on men and women. It just looks so seamless. [Editor's note: Agreed; see my review here!]

The SkinTints are a bit more adaptive than foundation because the pigments are sheerer; they let your natural skin tone show through underneath. So if you're a number two [Nude], you can sometimes blend it on a friend who is half a shade lighter or darker, and it’s still going to work. Our tones are definitely adaptive and buildable. If you want to go in with a second layer for a slightly more perfected effect, you can do that.

It’s very difficult to make a mistake with Pixi foundation. When creating colours, we have lots of different people of different ethnic backgrounds and mixes that we test on. We think it's what gives the tones a bit of an edge, because they are actual skin tones. As opposed to "pebble beige" or "sand", which don’t exist in skin. To me, a woman with pebble-beige skin sounds fabulous. But it's not a skin tone; it’s a cosmetics colour.

Pixi Glow Tonic: Oh, the Glow Tonic. I think everyone needs to have a Glow Tonic. It is a toner that will gently exfoliate the skin by taking away dead skin cells. If you use it every day or every other day, after about two weeks you'll realize your skin has got a bit of a glow.

It's a combination of botanicals, fructose and fruit acids. It is five percent glycolic acid, but it's cushioned with aloe vera, which hydrates and soothes. Then you’ve got ginseng extract, which is revitalizing, and horse chestnut. It has no artificial fragrances, no colour, no artificial preservatives. It's a very basic product that works.

It also really prepares the skin for the next step. Like other makeup artists, I'm frequently working with skin that is a little bit stressed—from long flights, photo shoots, Fashion Week, etc. The skin is in a state of emergency. From the first time you use it, the Glow Tonic helps to create a very smooth skin to work on.

There is a similar product, the Biologique Recherche Lotion P50, that is extraordinarily expensive and a smaller size. Clarins do an exfoliating toner as well. I have tried that and it’s of course a lovely product. But the thing that is amazing about Pixi's exfoliating toner is that it's £16 (about $28) for 250 mL, which is very inexpensive. You can buy it on the UK website, but I'm hoping it comes to Target. It’s just insanely good.

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From The Skincare Edit Archives

Sisley Express Flower Gel Mask: If I was allowed a splurge, it would be this hydrating gel mask. It takes three minutes and it is literally nectar for the skin. It hydrates, soothes and prepares it for makeup.

So imagine, you can use the Glow Tonic first and then the hydrating mask from Sisley. I love the way the skin feels; I'm like a texture pervert. Then when you go in and use the base and primer, it's so amazing.

Kevyn Aucoin Eyelash Curler: If I was going to choose a product that I cannot live without, that has been a revelation for me, it would be this eyelash curler. I've been a convert to Shu Uemura eyelash curlers forever, but a year ago, I tried the Kevyn Aucoin. They are incredible; the only way I can describe them is as the Christian Louboutin of eyelash curlers. They have a bright red rubber, and you can actually see every lash—whereas if the rubber is black, they blend in. It's one of those lightbulb moments. I always like to think God is in the details.

And even if it's a really simple look, oh my goodness. When I’m curling lashes, I can now curl them at three points on the lash. If you think about it, most lash curlers give one really hard crimp to the lash, whereas when you see those gifted people whose lashes just naturally curl beautifully, they don’t curl in that crimped way. The way it curls is really fluid.

So what I do is go in and very gently pump, so it doesn’t just clamp. I pump the base of the lashes three times and then very gently open and pull back to the middle, and pump about three times there. Then just before the end of the lashes, I do a third pump, and I get this incredible curve to the lash, so that the mascara captures even the small, fragile lashes. It looks so much more natural than one heavy crimp.

Weleda Skin Food: Another thing I am a huge fan of that is not expensive and is absolutely fantastic is Weleda Skin Food. It's just a beautiful moisturizer, and a booster as well. If someone's skin is a bit out of sort, especially if it's dehydrated, this is amazing. It preps the skin beautifully.

Pixi Correction Concentrate: There are two more Pixi products which I honestly swear by. The Correction Concentrate is a peach concealer for underneath the eyes. It's one of those products where if you do one eye and leave the other eye bare, you see such a difference. It erases dark circles. I love the texture; it blends seamlessly into the skin and feels like a treatment. Even if you've got dry, sensitive skin underneath the eyes that doesn’t look great with concealers that have powder in them, because of fine lines. This doesn’t do that. I'm absolutely obsessed.

Pixi Flawless & Poreless Primer: The other thing I've been using for so many years is this primer. My skin type is sensitive and I test everything on myself for about three weeks before it makes it into my kit. If it flares my skin, I'm reluctant to put it in. This primer ticked all the boxes for me. It's shea butter-based and there's a lot of vitamin E in there.

Texture-wise, it makes skin really smooth and velvety. There I am, texture-peverting again. It also has salicylic acid, which is great for people prone to breakouts or enlarged pores. But because of the shea better, there's a gorgeous richness. It has no oils and is silicone-free. Some people love silicone and some people really don’t.

What's your take on silicones—and why does Pixi use them?

Silicones are like Marmite—they're one of those things that really divides people. I love their rich, enveloping, silky feel, whereas other people find it too much.

We don’t believe that silicone is harmful to the skin. It just gives a very specific finish and that finish is not for everyone. We always create an alternative, so we have more than one primer, and not all of them have silicone in them. Some have a silica base. The reason why some, like the Flawless Beauty Primer, have a bit of silicone in there is because Petra wanted it to be the ultimate airbrushed, silky texture on the skin.

But as a company we always listen to feedback. We always take people’s feelings on board. If people want to let us know that it’s something that needs to be taken out, then we would definitely listen in that respect. In my opinion, silicone is just an amazing primer; I've used the Flawless Beauty Primer on myself and I've never had an adverse reaction or broken out. But if I was working on someone who was hyper-sensitive or who did not like idea of silicones, I wouldn’t use it. There are alternatives.

I always advise people to patch test every single product either behind the ear or in the crook of the elbow. Most allergies or skin problems will show themselves within 24 hours.

How do you feel about animal extracts in makeup?

I feel much more strongly about animal extracts. I wouldn’t want to use something that had fish oil or emu extract. To me personally, that's unacceptable. As a range, we are vegetarian and the only animal extract we've ever used is beeswax, which is in one or two lip products, and a tiny bit of lanolin. We are very transparent about ingredients.

How do you prep skin for makeup?

I work on lots of men as well as women, and I prep the skin in exactly same way. I use a great primer. A sheer base. Concealer. I correct blueness underneath the eyes and contour as well. Obviously with men, you can’t express through colour, but you can really express the flawlessness of skin.

It never occurred to me that men are wearing makeup on the red carpet! Are they?

I would be very surprised on the red carpet if there’s even 10 percent of men going without makeup. With males, you can show people an image and they'll go, "Oh my God, he’s so handsome!" But it’s actually an hour’s worth of work to make him look like he's wearing nothing. Makeup can make him into something entirely different. You're refining the nose, creating shadows under cheekbones, maximizing jawlines. You can highlight, but with a matte highlighter, so it's not glistening. It's an old-school approach to makeup where you're using a soft bone colour as a highlighter, so it captures the light in a really soft way rather than obvious.

In every editorial, there is grooming and a makeup artist involved. It’s just the way it is, now that we're in HD and you can see everything. You need to have that very fastidious approach to makeup, with everything blended so seamlessly, the base imperceptible, so it literally looks flawless, like skin.

What do you wish women would start or stop doing with their makeup?

I think women need to change their perception about skin. So many people will tell me, "Oh, my skin’s terrible." I'm like, "What are you talking about? Your skin might have a tiny bit of redness on the cheeks, or a broken capillary, but in general your skin is gorgeous."

I want women to stop hating on themselves. We all have something that we don’t like, and you know what? It’s you. Deal with it.

Me, I’ve got a double chin. Every picture of myself I see, it's like, flipping hell. I see it. People say, "Look at your eyes, they're lovely." All I see is the double chin, and it’s winking at me. It’s just there, and of course I can contour to minimize it. But sometimes it's like, hello, if you’re backstage beside a 5'11” model, you're going to look like a sweaty double-chinned troll. That’s just life. I can’t judge myself against a 21-year-old. I'd be on a losing streak.

So be real. Look at yourself and what you do like about face. Don’t hate on yourself and create things that aren’t there.

What do you think wearing makeup is all about?

We all have fat days, and days when buying fashion seems like a horrible idea. The lift from buying a new lip colour or cheek colour is amazing—it instantly lifts your spirits. And if there's something you don’t like, instead of learning to live with it, there are ways of actually minimizing it or changing the way you look a little bit with makeup.

I'd love to think people wear makeup because they feel like being creative that day. Or because they have favourites and it’s like old friends; going back to those key products that you've always used.

Using makeup as a mask is something I would love see people moving away from. It’s about embracing individuality and having diversity within fashion. We've done ad campaigns using models who are Mexican, Brazilian, Swedish, midwestern [American]. Pixi is one of those brands that does reach a very wide spectrum of women, and it’s lovely to be at Target, which is an all-encompassing store. Their customers range from Michelle Obama to people who’ve just gone to university and are on a budget.

Do you have any advice for aspiring makeup artists?

They will hear this all the time, but it is not as glamorous as it seems. It’s long hours, it’s a lot of dedication, but I honestly truly think that if you’re really passionate and want to learn and practice, then it is a job that can be so fulfilling. It can take you to so many different places, you meet so many amazing people, and have so many amazing experiences as well.

There is no shame in starting on the shop floor. At my first job, on the shop floor at Prescriptives, I would do in a weekend maybe 30 makeups. To me it was all practice, practice, practice. You’re also in this situation where you have to take into consideration what people want. As a makeup artist, you have to listen, whether it's to the client or to the model telling you to bear in mind her skin is delicate at the moment. If you are a makeup student and looking for a part-time job, then work for a company whose products you really like, and with people that you can learn from—whether it’s the head makeup artist or trainer. Also develop your own techniques and style.

You will not at any point know everything. You are always learning, and there are new technologies and products coming out all the time that can revolutionize the way you do things. Your style will evolve over time as well. Don’t be close-minded. Don’t say, "I only like to do this kind of makeup." There are ways you can incorporate different things. For example, I love a sheer base. However, if I'm working on a shoot and I have to do a full-coverage face, I have ways of adapting the look to something depicting how I like to do makeup.

Find the best people you can to work with from day one. You're only as good as your portfolio, so you need to have best portfolio that you can. Especially when you're starting out, test with the best photographer that you can. If you aren’t happy with an image, don’t put it on your website. Take every experience and learn from it, even ones where you think you could have done better. Learn from every mistake and don’t make the same one twice. Make sure that you ask questions. Don’t rely on other people to make things happen for you.

When you're starting out, make friends with all the assistants. The assistants of today are the creatives of tomorrow. This is your peer group and you never know when someone will crop up again. Be really easy to work with as well. Personality definitely propels you in this industry. It's not about being a pushover. Being professional and having manners go a long way. Treat everyone with respect and kindness. At the end of the day, it's a collaboration; it's about team work.

Finally, just enjoy every moment because it is an amazing job and I cannot image doing anything else!

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