The Amateur’s Guide to Stage Make-up

Carey 1

Camera Obscura’s Carey Lander is a keyboard player first, beauty nut second. She explains how she faces festival crowds of thousands.


This is about stage make-up from the perspective of a reticent performer, who has to walk out on stage in front of thousands of people, shivering with nerves, obsessing about my fat arms, and trying to resist falling to my knees and howling ‘PLEASE DON’T LOOK AT MEEEEE’.


Carey 2

I’ve been in the band for over 10 years and and thanks to Google image search, am thus haunted by scores of awful, mortifying photos of myself with ill-fitting, frankly hideous vintage dresses, wonky self-cut fringes, and cement-grey hungover face from when I stupidly neglected to at least apply a bit of blusher. We don’t get any help with wardrobe or make-up, we’re just left to flail awkwardly in front of crowds and cameras and live with the consequences. Thankfully, over time I’ve got a little better at presenting myself and I would never forego the wonderful, transformative magic of cosmetics when stepping up to the keyboard these days.


I recently played at Primavera Sound festival and put some of my much-loved make up products to work. There’s probably a bit of a misconception that being in a band is disgustingly glamorous. The reality is rarely so; my make-up for this show was hastily applied backstage in a nasty white Portakabin replete with ugly blinds and florescent strip lighting, while perched on a folding chair in front of the wobbly, untrustworthy mirror. Any delusions of stardom were quickly quelled at the end of the show when I looked down and sadly saw my tights had developed Nora Batty wrinkles.


Applying make-up before I play a concert is a way for me to try to claw back a sense of control in a daunting situation, and more positively, to create a sense of occasion. It’s hard to feel attractive and confident on demand, but learning some make-up tricks has allowed me to enjoy the ritual of getting ready for a show so that I actually enjoy the sense of anticipation and the neat excuse to get dolled up. My objectives are for the make up I use to be hard-wearing under hot stage lights and to survive the inevitable outpouring of sweat as I give myself up to a rare burst of physical exertion.

Carey products

I favour a vintage-style look and despise being shiny, so a matte foundation such as Nars Sheer Matte and a generous layer of Dr Hauschka Translucent face powder are my current staples. I am in love with peach blusher and mostly use Clinique Innocent Peach and a sweep of Tarte Amazonian clay blush in Tipsy to put some colour back into my cheeks until the post-gig gin and tonic does it for me.


Eyeliner is a big a part of my look and also the main culprit in smudging and smearing during a show. I’ve found Mac and Bobbi Brown gel liners to be the best for a beautiful bold line with staying power, and the discovery of Urban Decay Eye Primer Potion was a moment of bloody, life-changing joy.

Carey 3

I’ve finally learned how to apply eyeshadow in a less desperate teenage style and am enjoying messing about with a range of purple shades. I also love RMK Dusty Bright Eyes eyeshadow in a golden colour for giving really pigmented shimmer without dropping chunks of glitter down the face. When I require more sparkle I use Mac Pigment Colour Powder in Copper Sparkle dabbed at the outer tips of my eyeliner.


I like to layer lip products so that they survive me anxiously licking my lips and accidentally smearing the microphone. For Primavera I used Bourjois Rouge Hi-Tech lipstain in Rouge Futuriste in (I think this is discontinued, but I have stockpiled them) with Mac’s Ruby Woo on top and a lick of Cover Girl Jumbo Gloss Balm in Scarlet Twist to stop my lips sticking together. To really mark the occasion and to give pretense of a more extrovert persona, I have started using false lashes from We Are Faux. They are unapologetically glamorous but easy to apply and comfortable to wear.


Three squirts of Chanel No. 5 and red nails to match my red keyboard (tragic, I know) and I was able to resist fleeing the stage, and to enjoy one of the best jobs in the world.



Carey Lander is keyboard player and vocalist in Camera Obscura. The band’s new album, Desire Lines, is out now. It’s bloody great.

For gig details, see their official site:


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