Hollywood’s Master of Makeup Tells All

June 15, 2017

Bruce Grayson is a well-respected and established beauty expert. He is internationally recognized for his body of work in TV, print and film. Bruce became a go-to person in the makeup world and has worked as both a North American Ambassador for Olay skincare and a global ambassador for P&G Beauty from 2006 to 2013, a highly visible position.

He’s worked with Hollywood’s famous and most notable, including: Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Brooke Shields, Sarah Silverman, Hayden Panettiere, Sarah Rue, David Spade, Brooklyn Decker, Chrissy Teigen, Molly Sims, Vince Vaughn, Steve Martin and Denzel Washington.


To understand my love of beauty you have to know my roots. Growing up, I was literally surrounded by the glamour of Hollywood. My early inspiration comes from the legacy of my father, Dave Grayson, a professional makeup artist who worked with the likes of John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn, Kirk Douglas and Bruce Willis.

I have vivid memories of being with my dad at the crack of dawn in an actress’s trailer. A lit vanity table set up with cosmetics, a warm amber blush and mauve lipstick next to a cup full of makeup brushes.  I would watch as he rolled Max Factor’s Pan Stick foundation into the palm of his hand warming it up before working it into Katherine Hepburn’s skin, watching as her face magically came to life as he blended eye pencils on her eyes. It was a romantic process to watch.

Growing up in Hollywood offered me a unique point of view. When I was young, there was nothing more fun than visiting my dad at the studio or at some faraway location. What’s more cool for a kid than to play make believe on the set of a movie western, complete with a saloon and brake away glass bottles? It’s like Westworld for kids.

My father would offer insights into the secrets of makeup and how to work with celebrities. I went to Hollywood High, and I loved theater and music. Across the street, was the Max Factor headquarters where I’d meet my father after school and watch as he did make up tests on actors before shooting films.

I clocked a lot of facetime with celebrities when I was young, and it’s why I can stay focused when working with major icons now. And then there’s my one basic rule of makeup: Less is more, keep it simple. I constantly remind myself to fight the urge to perfect faces; there’s beauty in imperfection.

I consider myself a craftsman that’s able to create a multitude of different looks, my favorite style of makeup is to let as much natural skin tone dictate the amount of foundation or coverage, although light is a constant x factor.

Makeup sometimes has to be tweaked when shooting under stage light, flash or different locations. Like all artists, there are tools I can’t live without. I’m big on palettes. I like to carry a combination of warm, cool, flat and shimmer eyeshadows. The same goes for blush. My eye gravitates to earth toned eyeshadows because they work with a larger swatch of skin complexions and eye colors, but given the opportunity, I’ll use unique color combos. I make my own lipstick palettes in a plethora of color and textures. Everything from light stains to heavy duty, industrial opaque varnish. I carry a variety of yellow, red and pink undertoned liquid and powder foundations, and I custom mix for each client.

I think having a career with longevity stems from being versatile and maintaining a professional attitude. These attributes have enabled me to work with high-end talent in TV, film and fashion. I really love working in print photography because I’m part of a small creative team, and there’s more room for inspiration and collaboration. Communicating an artistic idea in print is simple because I’m working with less people.

I take gratification in making my celebrity clients the best versions of themselves. And, in my experience, it’s the most established celebrities that have a clearest vision of how they want to look. They know what works best for them, but I always come prepared with ideas, maybe a trend and if I sense some flexibility. I’ll jump in, suggest a new lip shape or throw down a unique color on their eyes.

My love for the art of makeup started early in life. My parent’s collection of paintings from around the world, while on location, were a huge influence. I have great memories of my parents taking me to museums like the Museo de Arte Modern in Mexico City to see the murals of Diego Rivera.

In fact, I recently went back to the museum on a work trip, and the murals were breathtaking! When I travel, I’m like a sponge. When it comes to finding inspiration for my work, especially internationally, I’ll pay special attention to an amazing piece of colorful graffiti on the back streets of Berlin, or I’ll explore the art galleries and watch the local hipsters in the 798 Art Zone in Beijing. It’s an industrial area of the city built in the 1950s that has remained largely untouched, complete with Mao-era propaganda painted on the walls, against rusted machines and exposed pipes. Those moments energize me creatively. They make me want to mix up some wild pigments and paint some faces.

Annually, from the first week of January until the end of February, I work backstage at all of the major televised award shows and oversee the makeup departments for the Emmy Awards, the Grammys and the Academy Awards television broadcasts. It’s the time of year that my wife refers to herself as, “the award show widow”.

There’s an event every weekend, and the schedule can be grueling. To run the makeup department at the Academy Awards is not just an honor. It’s a huge responsibility. Imagine working alongside dozens of makeup artists, hairstylists, publicists, choreographers and producers.

There are so many moving parts, the red carpet, touching up the presenters’ makeup, and the production numbers. It’s a dance between collaboration and communication that drives me. I love live TV productions because you only get one shot at getting it right. It demands everyone to work together as a unit, pay attention and execute with precision. It’s mind-boggling to think of how many people work in unison to get a live show like The Oscars or ‘Grease Live’ on the air and make it look seamless.

When asked what to carry in their makeup bags, I tell my clients they only need 5 products to stay on point.

As a beauty expert, I love to learn and share new products and application technique with the artist community. When asked what to carry in their makeup bags, I tell my clients they only need 5 products to stay on point. Keep it simple with a kohl eye pencil in black or coffee, a defining or volumizing mascara of their choice and a poppy lipstick to add a bit of color.  The most important makeup products to have backstage are concealers (I bring at least three different kinds), blush (sheer pinks and peaches are a must), lipsticks, lip glosses, eye pencils, pressed powders, mascaras, and finally, eyelash glue! The tools most needed for a minor touchup or a major overhaul.

These days, I spend as much time giving out skincare advice to skin conscious men as I do women. In both instances the answer is the same: No matter what products you choose, consistency is everything. Stick with your regimen for at least 4 to 6 weeks both day and night.

My work also extends beyond Hollywood to the political world, as I just ran the makeup department last year for the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. I worked with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, President Bill Clinton and President Barak Obama. I believe political makeup requires a different skill set. The first being speed. There’s no time in a politician’s schedule set aside for vanity! They should look polished but not flawless and not like they’re wearing makeup. And it should never distract from the message they’re trying to communicate.

For example, eyeliner should frame eyes but not overwhelm. A bright lipstick can be appropriate, if it’s the right texture. Too glossy and it can be a big diversion. Foundation shouldn’t be heavy, but enough needs to be applied so that skin looks healthy on camera. A famous politician once said to me, “Bruce, don’t make me look too good, I want the American people to know that I’m working hard for them.” That resonated with me. We’re talking about power faces that are seen by billions of people. Celebrity is different. Makeup can be used to define an identity or create an entire persona. There’s much more room to be creative with things like eyeliner and eye shadow.

Having worked as a makeup artist my entire adult life, I’ve watched how technology has changed everything about my job, from the products used on clients, to the application techniques required to make clients look gorgeous in HD, digital print and film. It’s daunting to think how much the industry has changed since my father started. The entire landscape of makeup shifted product development, application, education and marketing.

Trend is in constant flux because of social media. We no longer only look at beauty magazines for tricks and tips. We scroll through YouTube and Instagram, and there’s a new generation of artists and vloggers that have big opinions when it comes to product and how to use it. I can find 20 reviews on a volumizing mascara wand before finishing my first cup of coffee.

The big change is the way we photograph and watch entertainment. HDTV and digital equipment, like the Red camera that can shoot in 4K (4 thousand lines of resolution per frame) affect how actors look on the big screen, and it’s equal parts exciting and frightening.

Like every industry, there’s a lot of beauty information on the Internet, good and bad. At the end of the day, makeup is art and the opinions that drive it are subjective. Two people can look at the same painting and have completely different viewpoints. That’s what makes my business so interesting and confusing. When I find myself overwhelmed by all of it, I lean on the first lesson my father drilled into me. Whether I’m working on a client for a portrait photo, film, red carpet or even a selfie, my focus starts with beautiful skin and clean beauty makeup. It’s like ground zero beauty. From there, I can do as little or get as elaborate as needed. Images are about storytelling.  The makeup has to fit into the story being told.

Ultimately what I love about my job is that it’s taken me to so many amazing places around the world. It’s given me the opportunity to be a part of historical events, and work on the faces of some extraordinary people. I’ve had that, “I need to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming” moment so many times in my career that I’ve lost count.

Ultimately what I love about my job is that it’s taken me to so many amazing places around the world. It’s given me the opportunity to be a part of historical events, and work on the faces of some extraordinary people. I’ve had that, “I need to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming” moment so many times in my career that I’ve lost count. It continues to be an incredible ride. Then there’s the simple satisfaction of having a complete stranger sit in my chair, I do my thing, and when I’m done, they look in the mirror and give me a big smile of approval. I never tire of that moment.

Art is the inspiration in my home environment, too. I love photography and collect images of photographers with whom I’ve worked, like Bill Claxton, Annie Leibovitz and Jonathan Becker. My beautiful wife and I have nine nieces and nephews, we’re big on family photos. As in my work, I gravitate toward earthy ‘feel good’ colors.

My wife and I own a special 1922 Spanish home, and I would describe my interior style as vintage Asian. It all came together naturally over time. We built our style around a key pieces of furniture that we love. My wife recently started collecting Kantha quilts, which are gorgeous! I love how easy they make it to throw a bright swatch of color in a space. The best part is they’re super cozy, and our two dogs love them.

My personal style is basic, casually functional. So much of my life consists of running crosstown from job to job. A house call in the early morning in Malibu, back to the studio in the San Fernando Valley. Get a client camera-ready backstage at a downtown event. I want to look polished but comfortable. I love denim jeans, and I’m big on retro Adidas sneakers and soft cotton long sleeve t-shirts. I wear a lot of scarfs, because I hate being cold, and I top it off with a sports coat.

So, my dream canvas? A slightly oval face, high cheekbones with big eyes, and pristine, glowing skin.


Follow Bruce:

Instagram – @brucegrayson

Twitter – @Brugray

Facebook – Bruce Grayson

Pinterest – @Brugray

You Might Also Like

1 Comment

  • Reply Roxanne Albee June 21, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    I’ve also heard you’re a pleasure to work with and always look out for your team.

  • Leave a Reply