by Shane Lange:
Arguably, at the root of all forms of horror art is our fascination with – and fear of – the human body. As much as we fear the agents of its destruction, we fear the body’s vulnerability even more, and we are equally fascinated by its beauty as by its decay.
Eavan Derbyshire is an Irish makeup artist and seamstress whose work in fashion and film explores the shadowed surfaces and dark interiors of the human body.
As a makeup artist first in Dublin and more recently in Berlin, she has worked on film sets (including Interview with the Vampire director Neil Jordan’s vampire epic, Byzantium), photo shoots, and fashion shows. Her FX work runs the gamut from stitched-up autopsy bodies to severed limbs, and she has created themed photo shoots inspired by heavy metal album artwork (Derbyshire is also our guest artist for the Avelina de Moray vampire makeover, below.) As a seamstress she is the mastermind behind Heavy Metal Alterations, which utilizes metal band t-shirts to create bespoke fashions for women.
She notes that, “with heavy metal fans, they’re all about the band shirts – they’re really into the shirts [with] tour dates – moreso than any other group of music scene heads that I know,” and the impetus behind Heavy Metal Alterations, says Derbyshire, was a personal one.
“I started off doing it for myself…I love band t-shirts, and whenever I was going to gigs, you go up to the stand, and I always found the shirts – if they had shirts for women – were ill-fitting, the logo was oversimplified, and it usually cost more than the men’s shirts. And the men’s shirts would have these awesome prints of album covers! I bought a few of the female ones but they never fit right, I just didn’t like them…One day for whatever reason it just clicked in my head, ‘If I measure my waist and take it in by that amount of inches, surely it will fit me.’ I had a band shirt that I just wore as my pyjamas – and I thought, if I screw this up it’s not a big deal. And it worked! I was really happy with that and I kept doing them for myself.”
Over time, friends saw her work and asked her to do similar alterations for them, although she finds that some women “perhaps…look at the ‘girly version’ as not metal enough and they’re happy to wear the men’s shirts as-is.” And yet, she says, her clients are evenly split along gender lines – she receives a steady influx of requests from men. In fact, she says, “…the catalyst for starting it (the business.), was moreso the men than it was the women, because the men don’t know anything about sewing! Which I find rather funny considering the amount of haberdashery that’s involved in heavy metal attire; studs, patches, leather etc.” T-shirts, hoodies, jeans, and jackets in both denim and leather – a full array of heavy metal attire finds its way onto her sewing table. She adds, “I know the name is Heavy Metal Alterations, but if people want to send me a David Bowie shirt (to work on), I’m not a snob – unless it’s Oasis!”
Her experience with stitching extends far beyond textiles: as a makeup and FX artist, Derbyshire has “sewn” bodies up – and ripped them open, too. However, she notes, “special effects is a lot more that flinging a load of blood all over the place.” She says the creation of her first full-scale zombie “kill” back in college, a gouged-open stomach effect on a live actor – was anatomically challenged: the model/victim, a microbiologist, pointed out that the prosthetic organs in her false body cavity were, in fact, upside-down. Derbyshire laughs, “That’s was you get for asking a microbiologist to be your victim!”
“With regards to the gouged-out stomach, I decided to do it when my teacher explained in passing how it could be done. Once I heard this I was determined to do it, because I had just been practicing FX stuff on myself. It entailed visits to the butcher, the untwisting of stringed sausages and a very patient friend. I got a liver and two kidneys, some stringed sausages untwisted to look like intestines, raspberry jam, fake blood and fecked it all in a clear plastic bag. I then placed it on my friend’s stomach and proceeded to cover it with tissue paper and latex. This took the longest! Once the latex was thick enough I covered it in makeup so it would look more like flesh. The most fun part was cutting it open! To date that was one of the most fun things I’ve done.”
“Knowing all the muscles, bones, and various systems in the body,” she says, “is really important. And you need to know the difference in blood tone depending on what wounds/injuries you have to do in order for it to look as real as possible…You have fresh blood, congealed blood, aged blood – for example, when I did the vampire look (for the Avelina de Moray makeup tutorial), I used an aged blood tone on the models fingers I thought it would seem more apt.
As a certified makeup artist, her projects also include beauty work, where her fascination with extremes takes on a different form. “I love doing makeup on women with interesting faces. Nine times out of ten it’s the awkward, unusual looking girl who you wouldn’t look twice at when passing her in the street that will trump the ‘natural beauty’ when you do her makeup and styling. They are the ones who can carry off the heavy, edgier looks which I personally love to do.”
She says there are basic principles that all makeup artists (MUAs) follow. Generally when a model sits down in the chair the objectives are “making the face more symmetrical, youthful-looking skin, hiding her flaws and accentuating her good features.” The artist’s own aesthetic determines the final look of a model before a shoot. “For example, I like freckles so if I were to do a girl’s makeup who has freckles, I won’t cover them up; other MUA’s might do this.”
To craft a look and see it reproduced accurately in the media, however, is a different story, because once a shoot is finished the images change hands. “I think it’s hard to know who is really responsible anymore. It’s a bit of a vicious circle. The media churn out the skinny, supposedly flawless actress and we complain about these unattainable perceptions of beauty, and yet when an actress gets caught by the paparazzi out buying some milk with no makeup, wearing a baggy jumper, we’re also the first to jump on and criticize it.”
Heightened social awareness of the issues surrounding body image has had a positive affect, says Derbyshire. “I know there has been increasing pressure in the fashion industry nowadays to have model health guidelines and weight requirements so that the models used in shows are healthy.” Nevertheless, she says, social consciousness still has a ways to go. “I find it utterly ridiculous that when we see a malnourished skeleton walking down the runway we beat ourselves up about the fact we cannot fit into her dress.”
She sees the relationship between age and beauty continuing to pose a challenge to our cultural obsession with youth. “I think entertainment’s perception of the age of women needs to be reevaluated as well. Once an actress reaches a certain age it’s as if she must resign herself to dowdy mother/grandmother roles. One actress who I think is excellent at challenging this perception is Jessica Lange. The roles she portrays in American Horror Story are very feisty and strong. I think it’s wonderful that at 63, she isn’t afraid to slink around a scene in a red silk undergarment. More power to her!”
Female actors in horror films, she says, are generally made of sterner stuff than their fashion counterparts. “They have to switch on really intense emotions at the drop of a hat and I think a certain amount of acting/drama skills are required. You would have to have a very open mind as well, as not all models would be too pleased about various subject matter that horror can sometimes portray. They also have to be comfortable with not looking pretty all the time in order to get the money shot. With fashion models they have to look good, they’re selling a product, so if they’re asked to look angry at a fashion shoot for whatever reason, they have to look ‘pretty angry’ whilst the horror girls can spit and snarl if they so desire – which is way cooler.”
As mentioned above, Derbyshire is DarkMedia’s guest artist for the Avelina De Moray vampire makeup tutorial video. De Moray is the vocalist for the Australian metal band, As Angels Bleed, and a talented visual artist who creates vivid digital paintings with vampiric themes. Inspired by several such works, Derbyshire recreated the De Moray vampire look using a live model. Check out the video below and read DarkMedia’s interview with Avelina De Moray here.
This interview is part of DarkMedia’s official Women in Horror Recognition Month coverage! Stay tuned for more interviews, articles, and special features, right here on DarkMedia.com.