The eyes have always had it, but in the age of ongoing face mask-wearing, extra attention is being paid to the gaze. In lieu of red lips, it’s perennially classic and universally flattering cat eyeliner that’s receiving renewed focus. “Now more than ever, eyeliner is the most effective tool to instantly enhance the shape of the eyes, express our mood, and accentuate our unique individuality,” says Gina Brooke, who paints winged eyes on clients including Cate Blanchett and Sofia Boutella. From creating a flattering base to drawing on the perfect eye-elongating wing, here pro makeup artists reveal their tricks for nailing cat eyeliner.
Start by tightlining
To begin, make-up artist Emily Cheng, who works with Yara Shahidi and Laura Harrier, recommends tightlining, also known as the invisible eyeliner technique, which consists of “applying eyeliner in between the lashes” to make them appear thicker and fuller at the roots. It will create a base for a richer, longer-lasting cat-eye look.
Swipe on a natural eyeshadow
After pro Tasha Reiko Brown (who works with Alicia Keys and Tracee Ellis Ross) tightlines, she adds a sheer swipe of a light, natural eyeshadow on the lids for a clean backdrop to add contrast. “Use a domed eyeshadow brush to apply a warm natural brown in the crease,” instructs Brown. To double down on brightening the eye area, Brooke recommends adding a neutral, flesh-toned liner at the inner corners of the eye, as well as to the lower inner perimeter to instantly open the eyes and ultimately create the illusion of larger eyes. “Using a gradation for colour and smudging the liner away from the upper and lower lash lash line will widen the eyes and provide a fresh, wide-eyed appearance,” she says.
Find the right texture
While there’s power in choice, sometimes it can be overwhelming to decide what type of eyeliner — easy-to-apply pencil, precise felt-tip liquid, or creamy gel with a brush — will be best for your desired cat-eye result. “The right tools and texture can make all the difference,” confirms Brooke, who prefers to use a soft angled nylon fiber lip brush with gel eyeliner for application.
Often, Cheng will take a hybrid approach. “I’ll start a wing with liquid liner and blend up and out with a black shadow,” she explains. “This will also contribute to making the eyes looking larger without the eyeliner looking like one large block.” Brown has a similar dual-minded approach, laying the groundwork with a kohl pencil before adding a layer of liquid liner, concentrating it at the base of the lashes for “sharply defined liner with a diffused edge.”
No matter what, though, it’s about finding the right balance between what’s easiest to apply for you and your desired result.
Choose your shade
“The most flattering shades are the ones you feel most confident in,” insists Brown. That being said, universally you can’t go wrong with warm, rich, deep browns to bring warmth around the eye. “It defines the eye without pulling focus and has more of a subtlety than black,” she says. For a similarly soft effect, Cheng recommends deep maroon as an alternative for a striking pop. But for the most part, she tends to stick to the ultimate classic, a highly-pigmented black liner, for a “sharp and clean” effect.
Strategise shape and lift
The intention of winged liner is to elongate the eye. To do so with optimal results, “Start with liner at the innermost corner and drag out slightly past the end of eye,” instructs Brown. “The line should be ultra-thin at the inner eye and gradually become slightly thicker as you move outwards.” One point that Brown drives home is that the tail end of liner doesn’t necessarily have to flick upwards in a cat eye motion.
“The tail end should angle slightly upwards and out for elongated eyes with a gentle lift,” says Brown. Before actually drawing on the flick or wing, really think about what kind of “lifted” look you want to achieve in the end. “Following rules of thumb for certain eye shapes won’t necessarily work in your favour as each face is a unique creation and other facial factors come into play,” she explains. “Really take a moment to analyse your face and your desired results and plan your technique from there.”
Add the flick or wing
To keep steady and trace on your ideal shape, Cheng recommends keeping your eye open and looking into the mirror with a relaxed face before attempting to sculpt the shape. “Following the curve of your bottom waterline and sweeping upward is a good place to start in finding the angle of your eyeliner,” explains Cheng. “This way you’ll avoid going too straight or too angled upwards, unless that is the look you are going for. I find following the waterline to be the most natural and flattering.”
Another thing to consider is if you want a crisp or diffused edge — the latter, which Cheng calls a “soft baby wing” delivers a softer, sheerer finish. “It instantly defines your eyes and it’s an easy way to create shape,” she says.
Clean it up and refine
No matter what your desired effect is, a tapered point Q-tip will be your best friend to clean up errors, as well as sharpen lines and shapes. “When I have a liner that has gotten too thick or to correct any mistakes, I’ll take a pointed make-up Q-tip dampened with micellar water and refine the line,” says Brown, cautioning that you should be wary of using traditional Q-tips as the fibers can get caught in mascara on lashes and travel into the eye.
Additionally, eschew make-up remover, which can disturb the surrounding make-up around the line too much and leave an oily residue (stick to micellar water instead). Another tried-and-true technique is harnessing the correcting and contrast-creating power of concealer. “Finishing with concealer underneath will also accentuate the liner,” says Cheng.
Finish with mascara
The final touch is mascara. After liner has dried, curl the lashes if desired, then wiggle it on. “The end result will give you depth and definition around the eye, and lashes that standout against brightened lids,” says Brown. For an eye-widening, wing-accenting curve, Cheng suggests “concentrating mascara on the outer corner, which will help elongate,” she says.