Beauty model and make-up artist Ali Hicks, 19 (who prefers to go by the mononym Ali), has begun showing her work IRL, adorning Rina Sawayama’s face with delicate peace signs during fashion week in 2019, and appearing in a Maybelline campaign earlier this year. But the bulk of her creations should be consumed on Instagram, where the Columbus, Georgia-based artist shows off her original, avant-garde make-up looks.
They include electric eyeshadows, larger-than-life lashes, butterfly- or flower-festooned faces, and glitter galore. Ali, who goes by the handle @sweetmutuals, uses make-up as a catalyst to catch her followers’ attention and draw them into important conversations, among them protecting Black women, supporting Black-owned businesses, voting, and saving the USPS.
Welcome to Artist Spotlight #33 series on my blog.
With nearly 200,000 followers, Ali views her Instagram handle as an homage to the love she has for her followers. “When I first started posting my editorial looks, I had a wonderful response, I had a lot of support. The reason why I have such a big following is because of my mutual followers,” Ali tells Vogue over Zoom from her home. “They’re my mutuals because we follow each other. They’re sweet because basically, they gave me the platform that I have today. So, Sweet Mutuals.”
Ali was first inspired by her mother’s approach to beauty. “I grew up reading Essence magazine because of my mom’s subscription. I saw all of these beautiful Black women with bold make-up looks,” she remembers. Ali would regularly watch her mother do her make-up, and accompany her on shopping trips. “She had MAC back when MAC first came out, and we would always go to the MAC store to pick out one little item for her. I remember her picking out lipsticks and being like, ‘Well, I want to wear lipstick now, too.’ ” The employees said Ali was too young to have lipstick, so they gave her a MAC chapstick. “I thought I was the ish,” Ali says, laughing. She finally got her chance to put on lipstick at age four, when she went to go see Barney. “I had this desire to put it on myself. No one else could do it for me,” she recalls. “I looked a mess, but that wasn’t the point. I was always obsessed with make-up.”
The obsession carried over into middle school, when she consumed YouTube tutorials from Jackie Aina and Alissa Ashley. “I didn’t have a lot of my own makeup at the time, but I did know how to paint. I’ve loved to draw ever since I learned how to hold a pencil. I’ve always been an artist first,” she says. These days, her greatest canvas is her own face, and she loves to freestyle. “I get a general picture in my head and I try to recreate it to the best of my abilities,” she explains. “Most of my make-up looks are really just me winging it.”
When building her looks, Ali’s go-tos include Fenty Beauty, HipDot palettes, Milk Makeup Star Tattoo stamps, ColourPop’s brushes, MAC’s Lipglass lip gloss, and Wet Liners from Glisten Cosmetics. When she’s not creating new looks, Ali keeps her skin make-up-free so it stays clear. “Maybe I’ll pop on star stickers and lipgloss but that’s about it,” she says, though she adds that she’s diligent about her water intake, eating fruits, and maintaining her skin-care regimen. “I use Patrick Starrr’s mist, and it takes your make-up off.”
She also uses make-up wipes and micellar water, twice, to ensure the make-up comes completely off. “I go in the shower, wash my body. Afterwards, I take a clean cloth and rub off any excess make-up. Then I wash my face.” Such a thorough job is needed, especially when removing glitter or FX glue.
Ali plans to continue reinventing herself. “I have a Walmart bag full of different items and different goodies. I’ve posted a few and have a few up my sleeve that I’m saving,” she says. “I’m going to make my make-up looks more like a photo shoot rather than just me posting in my bathroom. I have backdrops,” she says. It’s clear she’s excited about what’s next: “I have a whole little set-up, I have different coloured filters for my studio light… I’m going to be imitating different magazines, and instead of the original person in the magazine, it’s going to be me,” she says. After all, she’s her No. 1 muse.