Karol Rodriguez: On Makeup Artist's Professional Journey

Karol Rodriguez

by Lucia Gcingca - September 2023

Especially now with social media, TikTok, things change every 10 seconds. People who can stay in this industry are those who are authentic and consistent within their work. 

Karol Rodriguez (they/them) has embarked on a captivating artistic journey. What began as make-up sessions secretly held in their high school bathroom has steered Rodriguez to craft a dynamic body of work as a make-up artist. Drawing inspiration from the profound intersection between gender and artistic expression, Karol's story is at its core, a tale of self-discovery. We sat down with them to unravel some of the triumphs, challenges, and transformative moments that have defined their path thus far.

This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity. 

How did being a first-generation American with Latinx roots shape your artistic journey?

It's been such a long thing that I almost can't pinpoint when it started. My mom is Peruvian, and she raised my brother, my sister and I. Single mother in a neighbourhood called Washington Heights, which is predominantly Dominican. So my mom's Peruvian and my dad is Dominican, but my dad wasn't around. I think being both Peruvian and Dominican, in a predominantly Dominican neighbourhood already felt like a type of vibrant to me because I was able to bring different artefacts and Peruvian knowledge and have references and things that my mom would talk about. And know different music than what everybody was listening to. So that was really exciting for me.

Model posing wearing makeup by Karol Rodriguez

Image Credit: 
Photography @anishaspice Makeup @karolscorner Model @nyadhuorWardrobe @chelseavolpestylistHair @chika.keisuke1st Assist @babybabingka2nd assist @sharmeen.c & @goldkmlStudio @studiocasa.nyc

What role did your identifying as non-binary play?

I experienced being a tomboy first before I was queer, non-binary or anything. The girls around my school would be getting their hair done or whatever, and I was always just a little rougher around the edges. I didn't understand why I didn't really fit in with those girls. I always think of my last day of middle school, when everybody wears their fliest outfit. For me, it was basketball shorts, Nikes that my sister had that were way too small for my size 12 feet and a black t-shirt with pretty much a short crew neck and my hair in a low ponytail. And I remember feeling, like, so fly. I think I embodied at the time something that I am now committed to embodying in my adult life, where it's like, that balance of, like, oh, I feel pretty, but I also feel like a boy.

After high school, did you study anything related to the fashion or beauty that may have served as an inspiration for your current work?

I studied musical theatre, so I was doing a lot of performing. I did theatre. I was in a choir. And I've always loved music, singing, and musicals. I think it really helped me in my makeup artistry because I know what it's like to be on a stage. I know what it's like when lights hit you and you're sweating. I know what it's like to put your makeup on with the intention of being seen all the way in the back. When I now go see musicals. If I'm close enough to see what the person's hands look like, I'm looking at their nails, I'm looking at their cuticles. I'm so detail-oriented, almost to a fault. But can nobody say that I missed anything. I will see my client, like, full 360 and be like, okay, now you're good to go.

Apart from your artistry, in your social media, you also seem contribute to the discussions regarding mental health.

I think something that's really important to me is to give my audience a holistic view of who I am. And although makeup artistry like my biggest passion and it's something that is my craft, it's my career. It's a small but significant part of my life but it's still a small part of my life. Where I can be on set all day and then the next day I'm just home all day and I am back to cleaning my brushes. I'm organising my studio, I'm catching up on emails, and I'm dealing with family things. I am with my fiance. We're going to couples therapy. I'm going to my own therapy. And I think if I wasn't as committed as I am to my mental health, I would not be a good makeup artist.

Thanks to me sharing not just my mental health journey, but also my queerness, I worked with different partners like the Phluid Project, the Trevor Project, and the Ali Forney Centre. These are all places that support LGBTQI people. And it's so nice to have things related to these organisations that might just use me as a makeup artist every now and then. I know that when I get there, I'm going to be able to understand what these young teens are going through. I'm able to talk to people about their gender identity.

Model posing wearing makeup by Karol Rodriguez

Image Credit: 
Photography @anishaspice Makeup @karolscorner Model @meisheng__Wardrobe @chelseavolpestylistHair @chika.keisuke1st Assist @babybabingka2nd assist @sharmeen.c & @goldkmlStudio @studiocasa.nyc

Did you encounter any setback in your artistic journey?

I would say one big setback. So I was on a Nike shoot and Nike is one of my favourite clients to work with because they are so artistry-forward. And this shoot, in specific, was for an organization called Bronx Girls Skate. So it was like a community of black and brown women skaters in the Bronx. They are so cool. They all looked so beautiful. And I had looks planned out for each of them.

So, I have three herniated discs in my lower back that are genetic. And during that day, my back was hurting. It was the worst pain I've ever been in on set. And we were outdoors. It was either sitting on the concrete or on a little rock. I remember my back was hurting so bad, I was grabbing ice from the cooler where the drinks were and just like, putting it against my back to try to give me some relief. And my suitcase is like 90 pounds. I was in excruciating pain. Nothing was helping.

It got to the point where even the Nike people are like, “Are you okay?” So I had to call in a friend who's also a makeup artist and be like, “Girl, are you available?” She got there in maybe 20 minutes. And I went home and fully cried about it because I felt like Nike would never book me again.

What did you learn from that experience?

It was such a learning lesson in that when you allow yourself to be human and be like, “I can't do it. I'm in so much pain. I'm so sorry. I need to go home and lay down.” Since then, Nike has continued to book me. They're still always hitting me up for different projects. That was a really eye-opening thing for me because they were very empathetic, and it was also very eye-opening in terms of how much I need to take care of my body.

What advice and tips would you give to any aspiring artists who are looking to express themselves authentically through their work?

To follow your gut. Hone in on your craft and on your own life. I really value originality. Especially now with social media, TikTok, things change every 10 seconds. People who can stay in this industry are those who are authentic and consistent within their work. And also to take inspiration from those things that life draws to you. For example, on my walk, I saw some flowers that had a pretty colour that I could add as eyeshadow. So much better to approach it that way.

TikTok. How would you say that affects your work as a make-up artist?

Let's say if a brand hires me and they send me glossy skin or whatever, I need to be able to create that effect using that brand's product in a certain way. For example, there’s this trend called “puppy eyes”, where you do your eyeliner a little more sad. Like cute and a little sad. So Maybelline was like, we would like for you to do a tutorial on puppy eyes using our products. And I was like, okay, cool. And then I created a tutorial for them. But I've taken elements of that and I've incorporated it into my own style. So sometimes dipping into these things is nice, kind of breaking out of your own routine.

Model posing wearing makeup by Karol Rodriguez

Image Credit: 
Photography @anishaspice , Makeup @karolscorner1st Assist -  @xingbaebeiStudio @studiocasa.nyc

When working with people, do you have any forms of creative expression you are looking to explore?

I make face charts for almost all the models I work with. I will have a photo of their face and I'll put it on Procreate on my iPad. Then I will literally scribble on their face using my pencil but looking at their facial features. It's less about putting my look on everybody. And more about what will look real. It’s based on your style, based on your fashion.

How do you achieve the Karol Rodriguez signature look?

First, I will never just cover you in foundation. That is going to make it harder for you to achieve that skin-glow look on your face. I like to pump as much skincare into the skin as I can and then really assess it. Majority of the time you don't need to put a full mask of foundation on somebody. Use it sparingly. My goal is just to elevate what you already have and also make it so that you can still recognise yourself.

Are there any specific collaborations/partnerships that have been particularly meaningful to you?

Yes. One of my best friends and mentors at Maybelline, and I had tweeted so much about my love of the brand that she reached out to me asking if I would like to come by the office and do some looks. I was like, “Oh, my God!” At the time I was working at an ad agency and I was miserable. She said: You really have a good knack for makeup artistry”. And I told her: “I've always loved it, but how do I even build a kit?” And she was like, “Okay, I'm going to give you a set of Maybelline stuff. I'll give you all the shades of foundation, the concealer pencils.” And that became my kit for the first year of my makeup artistry. And I spent the last three years with them.

Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations you look forward to?

This is the first time I've ever done a collab in this way. Revlon is known as a makeup company, but they also have hair colours. So they came up with this line called Digital, where it's, there's like a blue - a light blue, really pretty, like a painting of lavender. And they hit me up and were like, “Hey, we love you love dyeing your hair. And that's like a big part of your makeup artistry. What would you think about dyeing your hair with one of these?” This partnership is so exciting to me as I've always been a DIY hair person.

What are your goals are for your artistic journey? What can we expect from Karol?

Cosmetics are so interesting to me. I'm so ingredient-focused and when I educate about makeup and makeup techniques, a lot of times I'm going back to ingredients. I want to have a more holistic understanding of it, so I can speak further to it. I also want to creative direct for beauty brands, I want to sketch out the scenery and vibe. I guess it's a great natural progression in the sense, but also it’ll allow me to encompass a bit more of my creative elements and organisational skills.

Credit for the featured image: Karol Rodriguez

Lucia Gcingca (b.1986) is a Cape Town-based queer writer, researcher, translator and musician from Durban. Formally trained in Journalism and Media Studies, Lucia currently works as a researcher and writer for a Pan African Non-Profit organisation called The Music in Africa Foundation. She spends most of her free time taking notes in the front row of live music events within Cape Town and its surrounds, fulfilling her role as a contributing writer for the city's foremost youth and lifestyle magazine, The Lake Magazine. It has been strongly rumoured that Lucia is not a person but 3 David Bowie outfits in a trench coat.