Makeup Talk: Merrell Hollis – Celebrity Makeup Artist

Merrell Hollis - Makeup Artist

I recently attended The Makeup Show Orlando for the 3rd time and it was flippin epic! A major experience for me was watching Merrell Hollis’ keynote where he spoke about makeup artistry, made everyone laugh and even did a live makeup demo! It didn’t stop there, I was able to chat 1 on 1 with him before the show ended. Merrell Hollis is such a talented makeup artist whose roster includes P Diddy, Naomi Campbell, Mary J. Blige, Diane Von Furstenberg, Lauren London and more. Merrell is also the key makeup artist for the Wendy Williams Show and the 2014 Artistic Director for Black Opal Cosmetics. Merrell and I talked makeup tips and pro advice for the aspiring makeup artist and beauty enthusiast so jump right in and enjoy!

Merrell Hollis & Wendy Williams

Florida gets pretty hot and humid, I’ve literally seen makeup melt off people’s faces! Do you have any “weatherproof” product faves or tips?

Merrell: One of my favorites is the BECCA Ever-Matte Poreless Primer Perfector, an oil free foundation that is perfect if your skin is oily. This product literally soaks up the oil from your skin. Also, Black Opal’s Oil Observing Pressed Powder, which can be use to refresh your makeup.

This one is for my budget beauty lovers. What are 3 drugstore products under $10 you are loving at the moment?

  1. Black Opal’s Oil-Obsorbing Pressed Powder
  2. Black Opal’s Color Splurge Lipstick in your desired color
  3. Black Opal’s Even True Flawless Skin Liquid

Black Opal Cosmetics

When it comes to “makeup rules” like not pairing bold eyes with bold lips, do you always follow the rules or are some rules meant to be broken?

Merrell: Some rules should be broken. One important rule that I go by is DON’T mix yellow and pink/warm and cool colors together, this can make you look pasty. Also, bold eyes is a thing of the past but I do love to pair a bold lip with a bold eye.

Any makeup trends you wish would just go away?

Merrell: Yes, the super highlight under the eyes must go away. You only need 2 to 3 shades lighter than your skin as a concealer, not 10 shades. Also the blocked out, heavy brow. I can’t, it drives me crazy.

Like everyone thinking they can do the Kim Kardashian banana powder thing…

Merrell: Yes, yes but she is that color so it works for her. Some people look great with a lot of makeup and she’s one of those girls that you can pile a ton of makeup on her and she’s going to look phenomenal. Everyone can’t do that.

What advice can you share about finding the right foundation shade and formula?

Merrell: The key to finding the right foundation is knowing if your undertone is either warm or cool. Then you can find out what your complexion color is. Sometimes at department stores it’s more about numbers and less about art. You have to know what your undertone is so that for instance you’ll know that if you’re yellow based, not to buy pink based foundation or you’ll be like a cast member from The Walking Dead. The best thing to do is to try it out. Put it on your jawline, ask if you can bring a mirror with you to go outside to look at it and then come back in. Make sure that it’s something you’re comfortable with and the right texture.

How could someone figure out the undertone?

Merrell: It can be tricky but it’s visible. You can usually tell in the decolletage area. Also we’re not all one color and you have to follow the face. For instance I see you mostly have yellow undertone but also red at the forehead and jawline. So if I were to contour you I’d use more of red there. If yellow base color were used there it would look ashy around your hairline. It’s not like back in the day where everyone is a summer, winter or fall. There are so many things going on with the skin because of the environment, what eat and so much artificial stuff, we’re like aliens!

Regarding coverage:

Merrell: Like for you I would only use a tinted moisturizer, I wouldn’t use full cream Dermablend makeup because you don’t need it. You have great skin and you don’t cover great skin, you enhance it. You cover blemishes. So a thicker foundation is for anyone that has flat acne breakouts and what I mean by flat is it doesn’t have texture, so you can cover that up. But if you have raised, active acne you just want to put a little bit of concealer. Laura Mercier has a really good concealer for active acne, its dry so it looks good and won’t hold bacteria.

Merrell Hollis at The Makeup Show Orlando 2014

Some women of color have darker pigment around the mouth and/or chin area. What do you suggest for an even complexion when applying foundation? Is this a color correction situation?

Merrell: On hyperpigmented areas use an orange pigment – Make Up For Ever has a great Flash Orange. Orange can be used for under eye circles. I remember one time I used a bright orange lipstick and used it with foundation on hyperpigmented areas. I’ve noticed that different brands come up with different color correctors in orange neutralizers.

And what about a darker top lip, how can you make lipstick appear even?

Merrell: You can use a lighter color/tone, use concealer or you can use a darker lip liner on the bottom and put your lipstick on top of that. It just depends if you want to go light or dark.

What was the reason behind your shade selection for the Make Up For Ever Artist Shadow or why do you love it? Your favorite way to use it?

Merrell: The reason behind my ME304 Emerald Green selection in Make Up For Ever 30 Years 30 Colors 30 Artists Eyeshadow Palette is that Emerald is actually my favorite color! I also based it on my mom’s eyes – her eyes are hazel, with a deep green. And I love it because it’s a jewel tone. This color can be used for a multiple of things, I personally like wetting it to create a super intense look on the lid and also smoke the crease with it. You can even smoke the bottom of your eye with the emerald green and a brown lid color.


You’ve accomplished so much in your career, do you still dream big? Any goals you’d be willing to share?

Merrell: I do dream big, Sagittarii are never satisfied (lol) – we always have more and more goals.  One of the goals I’m willing to share is that I aspire to always stay relevant and current. A lot of people put this whole stigma on me, like oh you’ve done so much. I don’t see it as done so much because I’m just doing what I love. Those accomplishments are just check marked and I’m like thank you…but I’m going to continue what I love to do.

Do you remember your first job as a makeup artist?

Merrell: Yes, I do – fondly! I began my career as a MUA when I was seventeen. I had a passion for the makeup industry and decided to sneak onto a shoot with 112 – one of my favorite R&B groups at the time. I bought a set of makeup brushes at the local CVS and pretended to be the makeup artist on set.

What made you decide to come share your knowledge with the talent in Florida?

Merrell: I love sharing my knowledge in The Makeup Show so I’m willing to go wherever they invite me. I also love The Powder Group and would hope to be a part of them soon.

What did you think about The Makeup Show Orlando and it’s impact on our local artists and students?

Merrell: I thought it was awesome! Orlando is actually a great place to have it because of their large beauty industry and tons of talented makeup artists. I think The Makeup Up Show has a great impact wherever they have it and am so grateful to have been asked to lead a class and keynote for them. It really means a lot.

What was your favorite parts of The Makeup Show?

Merrell: The education, the shopping and seeing how many artists are actually in one spot getting along with each other. That’s my favorite part. Whenever I post I tag #ArtistsUnited because I want everyone to be friends with each other. There is no no need to be shady with each other, or be like my makeup is better than your makeup or I have 100 billion followers and you only have 10. None of that matters, it’s about being happy with what you do, you know?

A lot of talented YouTube beauty vloggers have become very successful, some venture beyond the video world to do things such as teach workshops. What are your thoughts on popular makeup enthusiasts being deemed as makeup artists when they have not done makeup for others?

Merrell: Here’s my thing about that, whatever floats your boat. I don’t knock anyone’s hustle. If you’re making money, getting a Cover Girl million dollar deal by doing that more power to you. But if you’re going to do that, when you come into the real world know what you’re doing. You’ve got to know how to work on different colors and skin types, know that you can’t use an oil based product with water based product, what’s alcohol based and color theory. If you don’t know those things stay in front of your YouTube channel. Do not come into the regular world because it’s not for you yet. Educate yourself then make moves or stay where you are.

Do you feel it is important for aspiring makeup artists to seek education as well as hands on experience such as assisting?

Merrell: Yes and yes! I wanted to learn everything about this industry, so I went to school to get insight of the beauty world. Although it isn’t something you have to do, it’s crucial to learn about the skin, texture etc. I believe the reason that I have longevity in this industry is because of my education.  As for assisting – this will teach you all of the little tricks for when you go into the real world. Also, this will show you what to do and not to do. I believe it is a blessing to have the chance to learn from others. Assisting is really important.

Merrell Hollis - Celebrity Makeup Artist

What type of beauty school would you recommend?

Merrell: I would definitely say do a makeup academy. Actually Make Up For Ever has a really good academy that they opened up in New York which is awesome. They have really great artists that teach. I wouldn’t suggest cosmetology or esthetician school because they only give you like 50 hours of makeup, or maybe like 100. If you want to go to those you can but you’re not going to get the full aspect of makeup from there. Also Makeup Designory is really good. You learn your basics there. It’s just like with hair school, you go there to learn what to do and what not to do but the bread and butter and frosting of everything is going to come from real life. You can practice on yourself and your girlfriends while honing your skills with education. Like for you, next thing you know you’re a blogger and makeup artist!

Do you allow aspiring makeup artists to assist you?

Merrell: I allow aspiring makeup artists who have been doing makeup at least a year or two and they have to be makeup artist driven, not just wanting to be around celebrities. It has to be someone that is in it for the long haul and not just for followers.

Do you think moving to a big city is a must to be a makeup artist?

Merrell: Even though people say that location does not matter, I think it is important. If you want to become a celebrity makeup artist, you need to move to where the clients are, which is usually in the big cities like New York and Los Angeles. If you don’t like those cities, you can try ATL or Miami. You have to move to a big city to get the notoriety that you want but you can always move back home and fly from there. In order to be seen you have to be where people are looking. The good thing is that social media now is making it work but if I’m Kerry Washington I’m not going to Oklahoma to get my makeup done and flying back to L.A. to do a movie. It really depends on your focus. Like bridal is almost anywhere.

What advice can you give to makeup newbies?

Merrell: My advice to young MUA’s is: do not rush – everything comes with time! Enjoy the journey of being a creative artist before calling yourself a “Celebrity” Makeup Artist. Don’t try to be a celebrity artist really quick. Because if you look at history the faster you get there, the faster you fall and the slower the rise, the longer the ride. Apprentice under an artist you truly admire and be persistent – this will demonstrate your passion for the makeup industry.

Speaking with Merrell Hollis was such a pleasure and I’m so grateful for the opportunity! He is such a genuinely kind, charismatic and talented person and I can’t wait to see what is next for him on his journey. Thank you Merrell!



  1. Alisha Cardona
    December 11, 2014 / 12:11 PM

    He seems really sweet! I didn’t know you could use concealer on lips, I’m going to try.

    • December 12, 2014 / 10:20 AM

      I actually tried it last week & it looked perfect! Next I’m going to try the lip liner tip. Yea, he’s totally a sweetheart!

  2. December 12, 2014 / 2:22 PM

    It was good seeing you at TMS! I think that man is beautiful just like his green shadow! <3