When Molly Brownlee made the transition from city living to remote rural life in South Canterbury, it was a monumental change.
But the professional makeup artist could not be happier.
During the week, she gets to enjoy life on the farm and from Friday to Sunday, she usually has a packed schedule of makeup clients from Christchurch to Oamaru.
Six months ago, Brownlee moved from her hometown of Christchurch to Glenavy, to be with her partner Ross McCulloch.
It was a busy lifestyle, and she spent a lot of time on the road, but she was making it work – for love.
Brownlee has been a makeup artist for 12 years.
She started her own business when she was still at high school, working after school and at weekends, around a part-time job at Dotti.
“I started because I just love art,” she said.
Being forced into self-employment from age 16 was character-building, she said.
“And I never got into the whole party scene, which is probably a good thing.”
She went on to study at the Kristen Stewart School of Make-Up. Even though she was already confident in her artistry, the course taught her more about working with people.
Her easygoing enthusiasm and efficiency was a key part of why she had become so in demand and built up a clientele of more than 2000 people in Christchurch.
Gemma McCaw has been a client for more than seven years.
Brownlee also regularly does makeup for magazine cover shoots and TV productions, and made up Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern before a media appearance in Christchurch.
Social media had been the main driver of Brownlee’s business – but it had also made her question her career choice at times.
“It’s been a funny old lifestyle, because of Instagram, I guess.
“You love it, you hate it – it does everything for you but then it’s totally against you.”
In recent years, there had been an explosion of online beauty bloggers and Instagram makeup stars. While she used social media to promote her business, the beauty blogger approach was not to her taste.
She once deleted an Instagram account that had thousands of followers to start afresh. She now has a much healthier mindset around social media, showing up online when she wanted to but never feeling as if she had to.
“I’m not consumed at all by social media any more – at all.”
When Brownlee first started out as a makeup artist, she was “addicted” to makeup.
“It was intriguing – and I think I like transformation from art, I like seeing from ‘there’ to ‘there’.
“But then, that’s where it got damaging. Because that isn’t what I’m trying to do, but that is the world that I was in.”
When she started going to the gym, she stopped wearing makeup, because she would just sweat it off.
Slowly, she grew in confidence going makeup-free.
“It took about a year to stop wearing makeup fully.
“It’s not until you see yourself every day without it, you start actually liking you.”
These days, she does not wear much at all.
“I have learned that I’m good at it, but I don’t love wearing it.”
If she did, it was because she found it interesting, rather than using it to try to be someone she was not or to cover up insecurities.
It was a hard transition and at times she wondered if being a makeup artist was the right career for her.
“You start thinking, ‘Is this for me? Am I living my truth?’.”
But since she started teaching eight years ago, she knew she was.
“The only reason I’ve kept going is because of teaching.
“That’s been a really, really cool additive and it’s actually taught me more than it probably has them – because I now enjoy my business more.”
She holds regular masterclasses, workshops and one-on-one sessions, teaching the basics of makeup as opposed to the artistry of it.
“I didn’t just want to keep painting faces, going from what’s perceived to be
“Makeup is not important. It is a cool way to enhance beauty within an artistic view, as opposed to a lifestyle.”
She still likes seeing the transformation and continues to do applications because she enjoys working with people.
“Ten percent of it is to see the transformation, but the majority of it is the fact that I get to work with people and, regardless if I agree with it or not, they feel great – and that’s cool to do that.”
Brownlee’s workshops focused on realism.
“I don’t say ‘OK, cool, so this trend is really popular at the moment – let’s give this a go’.
“Every person’s face is different, therefore everything suits different people different ways.”
So many people were scared to give makeup a go, but it was not hard and it was not meant to be scary, she said.
“Makeup doesn’t actually need to be scary. Let’s not go to a makeup counter and feel embarrassed in front of these made-up women.
“Let’s all sit around with no makeup on and learn together. It’s a cool way of learning and something everyone wants to know right now.”
She is planning on holding more workshops later in the year, but with such a busy schedule, found them hard to fit in.
“I’m riddled with applications at the moment, so I’m just trying to work on that.”
Weddings were taking up a lot of her time. The traditional season had changed, due to Covid-19.
“I’m quite looking forward to a few winter weddings coming up.”
Rural living was new to city-raised Brownlee, but she had adapted to it like a duck to water.
“I guess, I’m the type of person that, I’ll adapt to where I live.
“It just so happens that I like the lifestyle. And I get the best of both worlds .. I can get away from it, and come back to it.”