Behind The Scenes Beauty with Cat McNeil | Makeup Artist Diary

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Inspiration

The inspiration, creative direction, and beauty execution process for the exclusive Documentary Beauty Cover Story ‘Cat McNeil as Spirit Animal’, reveals a deeper message beyond outer beauty; it’s an exploration of the mysteries of inner beauty that pulled this concept together. I am excited to share Behind The Scenes Beauty videos and product breakdowns that I used to create these makeup looks and share the story behind the concept.

So what is a spirit animal? To me, a spirit animal is something that inspires me, something I see a little bit of myself in, someone I can relate to or admire, or someone or something I can have a spiritual connection with. To others it may be a totem, a person or object to help guide or protect them, or an otherworldly guide to offer love, healing, and support during difficult times. 

My spirit animal has always been in the form of a bird. As a kid I used to birdwatch with my grandfather in Texas, he had a huge bird hotel in the backyard, and every spring the sparrows and grackles would tussle for occupancy. We also had a hummingbird feeder. I was mesmerized by these tiny birds and how quickly they moved, as if they were just floating in air. I always felt from a young age, even though I didn’t know how to put it in words, that the hummingbirds were my spirit animal. I even have a falcon tattoo on my wrist and the word peregrine for the peregrine falcon.

Which brings me to where it all started and evolved from, the owl in our spirit animal concept story. Kayla (Documentary Beauty’s creative director) and I both thought that owls are not only beautiful but have such intense energy. An owl would provide that spiritual connection with nature and possess an otherworldly vibe that we wanted to come through in the images. 

Muses

We connected with an amazing animal talent agency that works with a lot of photographers in fashion to provide a safe and healthy life for its animals, and through them we found our owl spirit animal. He lives just a few hours north of NYC in the Hudson Valley, my happy place, and one of the most beautiful regions in the eastern United States. 

I recall my first time working with our cover supermodel Cat McNeil. We had a conversation about how we were fascinated that sometimes people’s names can literally describe their features or personalities. I told her a story about a similar conversation I had with supermodel Crystal Renn, another otherworldly beauty and muse, and how she loves crystals and connects so deeply with the energy of crystals, which makes her name so perfect.

As I was talking to Cat about how perfect her face is for beauty, as her look is so mysterious and feline-esque, she said “I even look like a cat!”. After that shoot with Cat, I always said in a humorous way that when it comes to beauty, Cat McNeil was my supermodel spirit animal. Not only for her beauty but her chill disposition and such cool personal style.

So as Kayla and I were casting for the Documentary Beauty Magazine cover story, we were discussing models that would be as inspirational and majestic as the spirit animals we were dreaming about shooting. Someone that was a believable character to take on the role of having a spiritual connection with the animals. Kayla made the best description of the concept: she said, “Imagine you’re experiencing natural DMT and having an out-of-body experience while having a spiritual connection with the soul of the animal.”

Then I said, you know who I’ve always said is my supermodel spirit animal, Cat McNeil! I could totally imagine her being free and wild in the woods and having a religious experience with nature. At that moment it all just clicked and we knew Catherine had to be our spirit animal for this story.

The makeup looks from liners to butterflies

Butterfly beauty

There are deep meaningful connections with butterflies on the topic of spirit animals, so we wanted to incorporate butterflies into the makeup for a memorable creative editorial moment.

Sourcing ethical butterfly specimens

It was important to me to source the specimens from an ethical company. I thought the idea of using the specimens was a really beautiful way of celebrating their life and eternal beauty. I ordered the preserved butterfly specimens from a reputable company called The Butterfly Company out of Chicago. They have been in the industry working with artists and collectors for decades. The Butterly Company donates a portion of all proceeds to help grow butterfly species in endangered regions.

The Look | Owl eyes butterfly conceptual eye mask

Watch the Behind The Scenes Beauty Video Starring Cat McNeil | Owl Eyes Butterfly Conceptual Eye Mask Makeup Look

At first the colors of butterflies were my inspiration for the makeup design, there were so many possibilities to have a major color moment inspired by the patterns and metallics of the wings. It wasn’t until I dove further into my butterfly research that I found one particular butterfly and the entire beauty concept just clicked for me.

Surprisingly, it was a butterfly called the Owl Butterfly, or Caligo, meaning darkness. It blew my mind wide open. It wasn’t colorful at all, in fact it looked more like a moth. The owl butterflies are known for their huge eyespots which resemble owl’s eyes. They only fly a few meters at a time at dusk, and when they hang side by side together in their resting place they look like an owl’s eyes to scare off predators. 

It was then I realized that the eyes on all the animals for this story were the connection, bringing them all together as one spirit animal. I really wanted to capture the similarities between the eyes of all the animals and supermodel Cat McNeil. 

For the owl eyes butterfly mask design, we wanted to trigger the imagination as this was definitely the most psychedelic of all the looks. Kayla and I wanted to evoke the feeling of someone experiencing a spiritual connection with the animal, or even having a natural DMT experience and connecting with the soul of the animal.

When Cat finally walked on set with the owl eyes mask she got a lot of “Oohs and aahs”. I was totally cracking up, it looked so unnatural because the eye markings on the butterfly are not symmetrically similar to human eyes. Allison the fashion stylist said to me, “I bet you someone will make sunglasses like this”, and now I’m obsessed with the idea!

Beauty product breakdown

Cat’s makeup for this look was natural and radiant. Pretty much my everyday skin basics. I have every one of these products in my personal makeup bag. 

Skin

To prep and prime the skin I used Bioderma Micellar Water to cleanse the skin, followed by Embryolisse Lait-Crèam Concentrate for moisture and Marc Jacobs Undercover Perfecting Coconut Primer, applied with the Chanel synthetic foundation brush.

I used the Koh Gen Do Moisture Foundation #112, applied with the Giorgio Armani Foundation Brush. To create a glowing natural finish to the skin I used the Madina Milano Chic and Shine Stick pressed into the skin using my finger, I applied it to the top of the cheeks, top of the nose and the cupid’s bow. 

Cheeks

Next I needed a little contour to the skin but still wanted it to look natural and blushy, not bronze. I used the MAC Taupe Blush applied with the Chanel Contour brush

Brows 

I used the Anastasia Beverly Hills Eyebrow Powder in Taupe, applied with the MAC #263 Eye Liner Brush and the Anastasia Beverly Hills Clear Brow Gel

Lips

Next, I used Smith’s Rosebud Salve for a natural but hydrated lip using with the MAC #242 Brush

Butterfly wing application

The butterfly wings were applied with a Shu Uemura Lash Applicator and Duo Clear Lash Adhesive

Hair

Creative Director and Hairstylist Kayla MiChele used the Oribe Gel Serum Radiance Magic and Hold to create a coiffed wet texture.

The Look | Butterfly wing creative eye mask

Watch the Behind The Scenes Beauty Video Starring Cat McNeil | Butterfly Wing Creative Eye Mask Makeup Look

The butterfly wing mask I created on Cat McNeil for me was the moment of metamorphosis when Cat becomes connected with the soul of the butterfly. It was my favorite look because of the challenging nature of the butterfly wings, the three dimensional shape and architecture of the mask. I was excited and nervous to see my design come to life! 

I could see in my mind exactly how I wanted the shapes and the colors to come together but executing it on the shoot with limited time was the real challenge. I tried not to overthink it.

I prepped for the shoot by sorting out a few application logistics as there wasn’t a lot of time to move the wing in place before the adhesive would dry and possibly even tear the delicate wings. Thankfully my friend was a good sport and let me practice on him leading up to the shoot. After working with them a bit I knew the final design would just happen organically the day of the photoshoot. 

First I layed out the wings to map out my placement, I wanted the wings to look layered and three dimensional. As I was playing with the shapes and placement, I was blown away by how similar their shapes were to winged liner and her own lashes and lash line. The mask evolved naturally following the lines of her eyes. 

I built the shape based on the colors and symmetry of the wings. I placed the smaller wings underneath the eyes to mimic her bottom lashes. The organic shapes and colors really came together beautifully and naturally. I was so happy I didn’t overthink it and trusted my process.

Beauty product breakdown

Eyes

I added onto the first makeup look by applying eyeshadow all over the lid to accentuate Cats’ green eyes. I wanted her lid color to be more natural and blushy. I used MAC Cranberry Eyeshadow, using the MAC #224 Blending Brush, focusing the color right on the lash line to compliment the butterfly wings application.

Animal inspired eyeliner shapes

The Look | Cat eyeliner

Watch the Behind The Scenes Beauty Video Starring Cat McNeil | Cat Eye Makeup Look

But of course we included a cat inspiration in this story! For Cat’s cat eye makeup look, I wanted to accentuate her natural cat eye shape.

Beauty product breakdown

Evolving the beauty look after applying the first makeup look, I drew on the cat eyeliner look.

Eyes

I used Makeup Forever Aqua Black Cream Liner applied with MAC Eyeliner Brush #209. On the water line I used MAC Eye Kohl in Fascinating to really enhance the whites of her eyes. I curled Cat’s lashes with the classic Shu Uemura Lash Curler, and finished with the Loreal Voluminous Mascara in Black

The Look | Talon Shaped Eyeliner

For Cat’s eyeliner in the Documentary Beauty cover image I wanted to keep it very raw and simple but differentiate this liner look from her “cat eye” look. I felt the owl’s talons symbolized power, had a perfect shape and could still look beautiful as an eyeliner. I wanted her eyes next to the owl’s eyes to really draw you in and be entrancing.

Beauty product breakdown

This creative conceptual eyeliner shape was applied on top of the first makeup look.

Eyes

I used the same Makeup Forever Aqua Black Cream Liner as I did for the cat eye liner look, applying it with two different liner brushes, the MAC #263 and #209.  

Our Documentary Beauty Catherine McNeil cover image was the exact moment when everything came together visually and spiritually, she became one with the owl and butterflies, manifesting her beauty and spirit animal within. This was a dream come true for me to be able to incorporate beauty and spirit animals in such a meaningful way. The inspiration and entire process came from a very special place in my heart. It was one of the more memorable experiences of my career!

I hope our spirit animal story induces a dream state, inspiring you to search for something otherworldly, something magical, something spiritual and unexplainable. 

TAKE A SELFIE to complete and tag us! @documentarybeauty / #documentarybeauty We LOVE seeing these looks come to life out in the world. 

Stay tuned for more exciting hair and makeup tutorials coming soon. Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know when they drop! Leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you!

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Christine Cherbonnier
Christine Cherbonnier

Christine Cherbonnier is a New York based celebrity makeup artist with clients including Jil Sander, Valentino, Estee Lauder, and Sephora. Her work has graced magazine covers for Interview, W, and many international editions of ​Vogue. She is also CoFounder of a clean and sustainable beauty product line called REYN skincare.

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