In our darkest moments, if we treat them as a gestational period; if we know that in every breakdown, there is a breakthrough waiting on the other side, we will not get pulled down for long.

We will rise stronger and with new perspective. That is how pain creates a path to beauty…and that’s the story I want to tell now.

For me, pain has often been a great friend and has caused openings of inspiration. Driving forward through pain to insist on something more beautiful is actually a large part of how I got here as a makeup artist, green beauty educator, and now as I reveal yet another addition to my creative repertoire.

How I really became a makeup artist

I could tell you about all the studying, practicing and banging on doors, but that’s only one portion of the story. (Read more in my personal bio)

What I’m about to share is the side I’ve never talked about much publicly until now, and it’s probably the most important.

At the age of 26 I was working as a CFO and HR Director at a music company (that’s a tale for another time) and secretly I just wanted to be a “real” makeup artist in fashion, and where I was in life was not bringing me any closer to that dream.

15 days before my 27th birthday I fell down an entire story of icy stairs, having narrowly missed death and paralysis according to the ER doctor. It took half a year to fully recover.

It was the beginning of a series of events that took place over 8 months when everything stable crashed around me. (Those of you who are into astrology recognize that was my Saturn’s Return beginning, but I didn’t find that out until much later.)

My job, my relationship (with a country singer in Nashville), and two important friendships all dramatically fell apart one-by-one.

It wasn’t until I was totally broken feeling that I finally summoned the courage to do the one thing I’d been circling around, but had been afraid to do as a real career – be a makeup artist.

Hitting my rock bottom made me think, “things can’t really get much worse than this, so if I fail at my dream of being an international makeup artist, then it won’t have been much of a loss.”

I knew that if I didn’t try then I might never again, and I would regret it for the rest of my life. I truly felt I had nothing to lose. Everything I depended on previously cracked open to make room for something new – and that’s what got me to take the risk.

Some of my friends and family thought I was nuts – and some supported me in ways I will never forget.

I had an amazing therapist at the time who pulled the dream out of me, even when I was scared to speak it out loud just in her office. I didn’t have a clue how I was going to pull it off, but I started with belief, vision boards, meditation and I took action steps.

Many of you know how that part of the story ends, even if you don’t know the details of how I worked three part time jobs for a year, while trying to drum up makeup work, taking Italian every Friday night and falling asleep during the lessons because I was so exhausted, and how I sold half of what I owned, including my car, and used all my air miles to get myself a ticket so I could live in Milan, Italy…with no clue where I was going to live when I got there.

Now I’ve got almost 20 seasons of Fashion Week shows around the world under my belt. If you can name a top makeup artist in fashion or a designer, chances are I’ve worked with them – a lot. Doing the faces of top models, celebrities, actors, VIPs, socialites, musicians, and more all over the world was a dream come true…one day I may just have to write a book about that.

People often say to me, “you’re so lucky.”

My friends, luck plays a part, but as Ernest Hemmingway said, “You create your own luck.”

Allowing heartache to create art

That’s what happened this last summer.

During the breakup of my relationship, I left my home for six weeks to live elsewhere while the dust settled. Sleeping on a mattress on the floor of my friend’s home office for two of those weeks while construction went on to renovate part of the house, and then another two weeks in the renovated empty bedroom waiting to be filled with a long-term housemate. Along with some scattered days and nights spent in guest bedrooms of other friends.

At the time I didn’t have a car of my own. Not a problem in NYC, but trickier on the west coast where jobs are often in locations away from public transport.

The point is, things were rough. I was displaced in heart and home, and trying to earn a living while piecing life back together.

About the 3rd week into this time period, the quiet urge to start taking portraits of models got loud. The urge had been there for years, I just had a lot of reasons for ignoring it. 

In one of the most painful periods of my life for a long time, for some reason I wanted to create more art. Not to give myself another job or receive praise. It was just a deep longing to capture the face as I saw it.

I didn’t know if I’d be good at it. I didn’t have a proper camera or lights or anyone to photograph, but I took action anyway.

My friend lent me a camera (I didn’t have a clue how to really use) and an agency who’s seen my career unfold over the past 10 years believed in me enough to lend me a couple of models.

The lead agent said as I was walking out of our meeting, “We are so excited to see what you create!” and I replied, “Just expect it to be poop, and that way if it’s better, then everyone will be happy!” We laughed – but I meant it – and yes, I actually said, “poop”.

So here is the first in a series of portraits I took. No assistance, no lighting equipment – all shot in the house I was staying in.

My friend set up a makeup and hair station for me using a card table and a sarong as a tablecloth. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was everything I needed right then.

I’m not building all of this up so you like the work more, feel pity for me or anything else like that.

I’m telling you the real story behind it all because it highlights the point I’m trying to make.

I don’t think we should actively try to create pain to push us, but when pain shows up, I believe we can call forth something greater for ourselves.

We can let adversity be a great motivator of inspired action to do what we otherwise were too complacent before to try.

Even the Model Had Something to Teach Me About Pain

Alyda, my subject for this series was 15 years old at the time we shot. She had just come off a year of study as a ballerina at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia.

She described the punitive, disciplined conditions of being a ballerina, that she often felt discriminated against for being non-Russian, and the general industry “encouragement” regarding unhealthy body weight.
This young woman knows a thing or two about working through pain, and I honor her for that. I asked if her mom was pushing her to follow this grueling path. Incredulously she said it was totally of her own will, and even though it was lonely, removed from normal teenage life and her family while studying in Russia, she would go back because she loves what she gets out of it.

She seemed to have the wisdom of person far older saying that when she felt it was truly not good for her anymore, she would back off.

Alyda took direction like no model I’ve ever seen. I said “turn your head” and bam! it was turned instantly.

Spending the day with that old soul in a young body, was a true pleasure, and I think the photos we got out of it, truly reflect that.

I was nervous to release this work early for criticism from my colleagues in the industry before I felt ready because it was intimate and fragile. Egos and opinions can be so brutal to such a seedling of a creative expression.

So I carefully chose a very small group of those I trusted most, for their exceptional experience in image creation and their long-term friendship to help edit my work. It was a true honor to have people of such high caliber offer their mentorship. I’m still slightly in disbelief at their willingness to do so.

We all need people who we can trust in our lives that will respond to us with truthful, constructive, loving criticism when we have precious dreams – it’s important not to just let anyone have at them.

I’ll be curious to know which photos in this series speak to you most.

There’s one in there that neither the agency nor my mentor loved, but I just had to include because I loved it. So far it’s been the favorite of everyone else I’ve shown it to. Can you guess which it is?

Natural Skin, Makeup and Hair Products Used

Honestly I can’t remember every single shade and product I used for these looks. I am an artist and mix like crazy, so here are the items that I remember using:

Behind the scenes outtake

Alyda is represented by Option Model and Talent.

Photography, Makeup, Hair and Styling all by me, Kristen Arnett.

Post production and (minimal) retouching by Juan Camilo Mora.

Kristen Arnett

Author Kristen Arnett

A makeup artist and green beauty educator helping you find the very best safe cosmetics. Teaching pro secrets for enhancing your natural beauty at every age, so you can be empowered to make healthier choices, and radiate confidence every day.

More posts by Kristen Arnett

Join the discussion 23 Comments

  • […] though I released a set of photos prior to these, Lilly was the first model I shot when I decided to pick up a camera for the first time […]

  • Dayle says:

    I am so happy I “found” you! It all started with my hunt for healthy beauty products to help me deal with the physical pain caused in part by all the poison I was putting on my body and face. I started reading and following you on FB. I have always thought you had an inner glow. Reading your story over the past month I have been inspired by your ability to find beauty in the midst of pain.

    Now, I am coming out of the most emotionally painful week of my life. So much so that I couldn’t look anyone in the eye and I didn’t want to go on. But things are turning, I am hopeful that this pain is just the thing that is going to force my family to get the help we need. I am so glad that you shared your story, I will use it to give me strength in the tough times ahead.

    My favorite picture…I like two, the one with her hair in her face, because she is beautiful and NOT perfect and vulnerable. And I like the third from the bottom, turtleneck and hands near her chin. She is a warrior, a beautiful warrior. I love the shading of her eyes and lips.

    Thank you for sharing and inspiring.

    • Kristen Arnett's GBT Kristen Arnett's GBT says:

      Dayle! I’m so happy you found me too. Your comment made my eyes tear up. I am just so honored that the sharing of my journey might offer you some strength, perspective and/or inspiration for your own. It seems we both have the same favorite photo too! 🙂 I wish you nothing but incredible health, healing and beauty as you move through life and reclaim the wholeness for your body and spirit that you so deserve. Thank YOU for taking the time to comment and share. Sending you goodness, Kristen

  • Kimberley Jumper says:

    I love your story! You truly are inspiring. If you hadn’t said that you were not a photographer I would have thought you were a professional. The photos are mesmerizing. I especially liked the third one from the top. Keep on doing what you are doing.

  • Anna Szoke says:

    It was amazing to learn more about your story, you are such an inspiration. My makeup career also origins from pain (not as serious as yours), and I felt the same as you’ve described. I really love the photos that you’ve made, you should practice those photography skills because you have a great angle for that I believe.

    • Kristen Arnett's GBT Kristen Arnett's GBT says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read my story and share your thoughts here, Anna. Thank you so much also for the compliments. I so appreciate them from another wonderful colleague!! May we inspire each other. 🙂

  • Angie says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and to inspire everyone to keep going when life gets harder. You create beautiful things (make-up, photography) and put your soul on them. Always remember you are a strong person.
    I love the third picture from the top and the second to last.

    • Kristen Arnett's GBT Kristen Arnett's GBT says:

      Hi Angie! I love your picks on my pics 😉 I am glad you found the sharing of my story to be inspirational. Yes, it’s all about the soul. Seems like you’ve got a beautiful one too.

  • Mary Ann says:

    Your transparency is refreshing to me. So often we only talk about our successful outcomes, not the journey along the way. I was instantly enamored with the top photo. It captures such innocent beauty. Thank you for your lessons in life and beauty!❤

  • Natalie says:

    So excited for you! You’re super talented! I am waiting now for a breakthrough with my health. I think about a dream of making scarves and painting probably every day. My health keeps me quiet slow these days even though I’m only 33. I’m very encouraged and inspired by your story. I woke up a bit sad today but now I feel empowered & hopeful. Thank you! ? My favorite photo is the third one from the top, with her hair in her face. I also love the outtake. Blessings!

    • Kristen Arnett's GBT Kristen Arnett's GBT says:

      Thank you so much, dear Natalie! I love that you also shared your favorite photos too. 🙂 I’m so pleased this has encouraged you in the midst of what you are dealing with health wise. I send you wishes of swift and complete healing.

  • Cat says:

    Gorgeous!!! Thank you for sharing! And yay for stepping into the scary places….and coming out the other side like a rock star!!!!!

    • Kristen Arnett's GBT Kristen Arnett's GBT says:

      How kind of you, Cat! I will so take the “rock star” title, even if the closest I get to that is singing in the shower these days 😉 But I get what you mean. Sending you sparkle for your rock star-ness too!

  • You story is perfect timing for me that I will reflect on my journey. Thank you for showing the courage. I also like the smile one : )

    • Kristen Arnett's GBT Kristen Arnett's GBT says:

      Marion! It’s really good to hear from you and seeing your name brought a smile. So I guess we are both into the smiles, eh? You have so much courage, and I’m glad to remind you of that.

  • Gwen says:

    Kristin,
    Love your story! So often we forget to think a positive will come out of a negative.; and to be optimistic at all costs. You have truly done that with your life.
    Your photographs are absolutely beautiful!!! As is your subject. She is stunning. It is hard to pick a favorite. (My least fav is the one with the leaves/sky with a blurry background) My favorite is the one that is basically her entire face in the photo. There is something about faces filling the photograph! Have always loved that.

    Thank you for your honesty. You are truly a fabulous artist!

    • Kristen Arnett's GBT Kristen Arnett's GBT says:

      Hi Gwen! I just love reading your comments here about the story and the photos that speak to you the most. It seems you really got the point by the way you articulated it so beautifully in your own words. Thank YOU!!

  • Heather Kuhn says:

    Your posts have reached deep inside me…I’m at a crossroads in a significant relationship, and with my purpose. Thank you for being so revealing! My favorite is the 2nd to last; something about how she’s pulling on the neck of her turtleneck sweater…like she’s pulling at her skin. Probably says something about where I am!

    • Kristen Arnett's GBT Kristen Arnett's GBT says:

      Dearest Heather, I am so pleased that this touched you deeply at such an important time in your life. My goal is to share so we know we aren’t alone in our trials and tribulations. That they will pass, but more importantly we must trust there’s something bigger to open to on the other side. Oh and you picked my favorite image too. 😀 Maybe there is something to it.

  • Karen says:

    Thank you Kristen, for sharing your beautiful and brave journey. Let it be an inspiration to others.

    • Kristen Arnett's GBT Kristen Arnett's GBT says:

      How kind of you to say, Karen. Thank you for taking the time to read this and write such lovely words.

  • Tara says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and the lovely pictures, Kristen! It is hard to choose a favorite but I guess I would pick the one where she has a little tiny smile, because with the context of your story (and Alyda’s background) that’s so important – being able to smile, to move forward, to not be pulled down by life’s hardships. It’s very difficult to do – and I applaud you and Alyda for your courage and for working to find beauty in life despite the pain.

    I’ve been very blessed in my life (Thank God) but I am dealing with something very painful and it is a struggle everyday not to get pulled down by it. Reading your story is encouraging! I will try to remember your courage and perseverance when I go down the rabbit hole of negativity.

    <3

    • Kristen Arnett's GBT Kristen Arnett's GBT says:

      Tara! Thank YOU for taking the time to read this and offer your thoughts and feelings here too. I love why you chose that particular photo of her. What a profound way to look at it. I sincerely hope that in whatever you’re dealing with you keep your eyes and your heart focused on the blessings you know you already have and those which are coming. xo

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