Dubai-based makeup artist on how to turn your face into an emoji

Dubai - Vilina Ahuja talks to us about her recent hit transformation video and why getting free products to endorse a brand is not really worth it for authentic local influencers.


By Somya Mehta

Published: Mon 15 Feb 2021, 9:14 AM

Last updated: Mon 15 Feb 2021, 9:32 AM

While a certain segment of society may sardonically look down upon the vanity attached to the makeup industry, makeup artists are increasingly becoming known for their creative abilities, replacing blank canvases with faces, and using makeup as a form of art and self-expression. A Dubai-bred creative makeup-artist and face-painter, Vilina Ahuja, does exactly that, in her latest Instagram video inspired by emojis. The emoji-makeup video quickly became an Instagram sensation, drawing appreciation for the 27-year-old (@vilcreates). An engineer by day, the creative artist manages her makeup activities alongside her full-time job, establishing a niche for herself through the creative endeavours, painting and transforming people into real and imagined characters.

Part of your Instagram bio reads Bridal Makeup Artist and Creative Makeup Artist. If you had to pick one of the two, which one do you identify most with?

As a creative makeup artist! There are thousands of bridal makeup artists, so sometimes we get lost in the crowd but I have been known as a creative makeup artist in Dubai for years. For weddings, people have thousands of makeup artists to choose from but on occasions like Halloween, there are probably only four or five of us.

How did you establish yourself as a face painter and body artist?

I have always been an artist, a painter in general, since an early age. I like to keep trying different things. When I started out as a 21-year-old bridal makeup artist, people thought I was too young to be hired for the job. It’s difficult to trust young MUAs for bridal makeup. So, I started doing events for Halloween makeup and face-painting, combining my painting background with makeup.

What made you create the emoji-makeup video?

It was a TikTok trend. I actually work full-time and have a job, so I don’t get to do many such trends but if there’s something really interesting I see on the internet, I try it out. I hadn’t really done creative makeup in a while, ever since lockdown. So when I saw that trend, I jumped at it straight away and it paid off.

How did you create those emoji looks?

Some of the looks are inspired by people I follow. The flower emoji makeup was inspired by another Indian-Australian makeup artist that I follow (@rowisingh). I had wanted to try one of her looks for a while and thought it matched the flower emoji look perfectly, so I recreated it. And for the other ones, I spent time drawing and sketching on paper, and then created it on my face.

Did you expect the video to become so popular?

I expected it to do a little better actually! The Instagram algorithm has become challenging now. A few years ago, my videos would reach 100k-400k views on Instagram but ever since they changed their algorithm, it has been reaching fewer people. I posted the emoji makeup as a regular video on Instagram and the reels feature tends to do better for audience exposure but that feature is not available here due to music copyright issues.

How long did it take you to put all that makeup on and then remove it?

The removal probably takes me longer than applying it. I used to be a lot slower but I have been doing makeup for many years now, so, I choose looks that won’t take me more than one and a half hours to apply. All of the looks in the emoji video were done over 2 days. I took about 5 hours per day to apply and remove two makeup looks and the transformation video gets done in like all of 4 minutes.

Do you think the beauty and fashion field can provide a reliable source of income in today’s world?

Before Covid I had two incomes, from my regular job and from makeup jobs, and now I just have one. I am grateful that I have a full-time job because I know makeup artists that don’t and they had to struggle a lot during the pandemic. Even when things became a little better, the number of jobs had reduced, due to all the concerns. When the wedding season started a few months back, I was doing makeup on other people but I had to change my kit completely. Everything had to be a lot more sanitised than before and I used to wear a face-shield and gloves, to do makeup.

Being a full-time MUA can definitely be a reliable source of income and it can make you even more money than regular jobs. There are other ways to earn an income even when you’re not doing makeup on other people. You can take make-up lessons and those can be done online. I did some zoom classes for beginner’s makeup during the lockdown.

You mentioned on your Instagram, “free product is not payment for your hard work”. Is this a cause for concern for beauty influencers?

Free products are great. Especially when the brand just sends it to you, to ask for your thoughts on the product. But some brands send you free products and give you guidelines on what to do with it, asking for a specific number of posts, and tell you exactly what to say, in return for them. And everyone has a choice to say yes or no to it. Here, people generally tend to say yes to these things, so it’s a lot of free marketing and they don’t really consider the influencers who ask for monetary compensation.

How do you respond when approached for these brand collaborations?

If I love the brand and they don’t give me a specific list of to-do’s for the products, I am up for it. But if it’s a full-fledged marketing campaign that brands ask me to do and in return, they say that I will get to keep all the products that I use for the campaign, that’s not something I would like to do. There is proper lighting and camera set up, requiring many hours to create such content, all at our own expense, so it’s only fair to get paid for it.

What can the influencer community do to change this?

Everyone has to realise not only their worth but also the worth of the work that they do. If everyone had an idea of the hourly-rate of how much their work would cost, it would be simple. If less people are ready to accept the barter-system, it would help the rest of the community too.

Create your own emoji-inspired makeup look:

• Pick your favourite emojis and have fun with it.

• Before you start any makeup look, make sure your skin is clean and moisturized, to have a good canvas for the makeup.

• You can draw on the face with a nude coloured pencil, to outline the makeup look.

• Depending on the look, you can use paint as a base and build up colours on it using eyeshadow.

• For the flower emoji look, I did my face makeup in a regular way and then concentrated on the little floral details, adding pearls and then adding jewellery and the fake braid (accessories in general) to tie up the look.

• I like to keep photographing in the middle of the look to see how it looks in pictures, and if something is missing, then add more detail.

• You can use Pinterest as a source of inspiration, to search for ideas on various things like Galaxy Art and Paint Splatter to get inspiration for the emojis.

• Make a list of all products needed for each look, collect the products in boxes for each specific look.

• These are the main products used for the emoji-makeup video: Mehron makeup face paints, NYX foil pigments, temporary flower tattoos and dried flowers from Amazon, eye shadow and highlighter palettes.

More news from In The City