Let’s End the Confusion About Blending Eyeshadow Once and For All

The other day, "Jenny_Lou_Who" commented the following on my article about Disneybounding makeup: "I think I need 10 more articles on blending because I’m not sure what muddy vs. unblended vs. well-blended looks like." It was up-voted 58 times.

As a makeup artist of the people, by the people, and for the people, I was happy to oblige.

Blending can be an elusive beast if you don’t exactly know what you’re looking to achieve. When I first started as a makeup artist, I would proudly present my work to my mentor for her to observe. Hungry for improvement, I would ask her over and over again, any time I created a look of worth, what I should improve. And without fail, she would say, "Blend more, Kim."

This went on for months. MONTHS.

And I could not have been more confused. I would take a fluffy brush and go back and forth over the crease until I though I would burn a hole into my model’s skin. And still, I would get the same critique. Over and over and over again.

But one day, it just clicked. I was looking at one of my old looks on my Instagram, and suddenly, I saw everything. I saw what she meant. I fixed my mistake, and I never received that critique again.

I’m going to do my best to pass on my learnings to you, starting with the five most essential tips.

1. The goal of blending is to create a smooth gradient with no lumps, bumps, skips, or lines. Think about making a delicious banana smoothie in a blender. A successful smoothie is smooth. There are no chunks of fruit throughout. Chunks, or areas of too much saturation, can be distracting and add unwanted weight to certain parts of the eye.

2. Pick a direction and stick with it. If you want the color to be more saturated at the outer corner, any time you pick up more shadow, always start at the outer corner. Wherever you place the shadow first will ALWAYS be darkest. If you pick different points of origin every time you add more shadow, you will have multiple dark spots throughout your eye look. Always start blending at the point where you want the deepest color and aim toward the place where you want the lightest color. This is called "directional blending."

3. Small circles and windshield wipers. You never want to just go back and forth with the color. If you do swipes back and forth, the shadow will be just one swipe of saturation. Start at your point of origin, and use little circles to deposit color in a diffused manner. The result will be a soft gradient of color, meaning a smooth transition from dark to light, rather than a line of darkness. As you’re creating small circles with your brush, start the the point of most saturation and go toward the are of least saturation. Generally, this will result in a windshield-wiper motion along your crease.

4. Work lightest to darkest. If you start with a dark color on top of a primer, it will create a super-dark spot where you first apply that will be extremely stubborn when you try to blend it out. It will stick too much to the primer, and it will not glide smoothly along the eye. I start with a light wash of shadow followed by a soft transition color. Your transition color will act as the sketch mark before you "paint" darker colors later on. By starting with lighter colors and moving to darker, a gradient will be created by the color choice alone. The more colors you use, the easier it will be to create the gradient. Make sure you choose colors in the same family (i.e. if there’s a warm color on the lid, make sure to use a warm transition color in the crease).

5. Brushes are your best friends. I use two different brushes for blending alone. I use a blunt, fluffy brush like my Morphe M505 to apply shadows that I want to be more diffused or soft (generally the first transition colors in my crease). I use a tapered blending brush, like my Sephora #19, for precision blending (generally along the outer V or any area where I want a bit of additional saturation). By choosing the right tool, the brush will do the work for you. The further back you hold the brush on the handle, the lighter the application. The closer you hold the brush to the ferrule (the metal part), the more saturated the application.

Muddy blending is the result of improper blending, generally resulting from the use of dark colors first or from a lack of directional blending. It is characterized by multiple spots of darkness and rather than a clear gradient, like a wash of gray instead of clear light, dark, and multiple shades of gray.

Unblended is a not a bad place to be. It generally means the colors are in the right place, but there are harsh lines between the various tones. The fix here is easy. Take a fluffy blending brush and directionally blend over the harsh lines until the colors smoothly transition into each other.

Well-blended means there’s a clear dark, a clear light, and a smooth gradient between the two. There are no harsh lines or spots of over-saturation.

For the more visually-inclined people (like myself), I did a little demo so you can see what I mean.

The right eye (my left) is an example of "good" blending, and the left eye (my right) is an example of muddy or "bad" blending. I used the same four shadows on both eyes. On the right eye, I applied a primer. On the left, I did not. 

On the right, I started with a fluffy blending brush and applied a light wash of a color one shade lighter than my natural skin tone all over my lid. Then, while my eye was open, I applied a transition color one shade darker than my skin tone, into my crease. I started at the outer corner, where I wanted the color to be darkest, and worked in little circles toward my inner corner.

On the left eye, I started with my fluffy blending brush and my darkest color. I didn’t use little circles and I just applied the color wherever I wanted along the crease, rather than starting at the outer corner.

The result was an uneven stripe of darkness that can only be described by the word "muddy."

On the right eye, I applied my second darkest shade with my precision blending brush to the outer corner of the eye and blended toward center. I made sure my first transition color was still visible all the way across the eye. I didn’t blend as high up or as far across with this darker color. I kept it a bit tighter to the outer corner. The darker I went, the less shadow I used. Again, I used little circular motions.

On the left, applied the second darkest color with my same fluffy brush using my same "bad technique": starting wherever, blending in whatever direction. Because I didn’t use my little circular motions, the second darkest color just laid on top of the previous color, creating more muddiness and darkness rather than a gradient.

Already you can see a difference in my eye shapes. The left looks heavy and my hoodedness is exaggerated. The right, however, looks more uplifted and awake.

To complete my right eye look, I repeated my same outer corner step with the deepest color. Once again, I made sure all my previous shades are visible. I kept this color super close to the outer corner and I blended it with my precision blending brush and little circular motions. I added some liner and mascara to my upper and lower lashlines and called it a day.

On the left, I finished with my lightest transition color. Once again, I used my fluffy blending brush and just swiped if across the colors I had already laid down. For comparison’s sake, I added some liner and mascara.

The end result isn’t terrible... but it just doesn’t do much for my eye shape. If anything, it kinda makes my eye look a bit more tired and hooded. And that’s not so cute.

And there you have it. The difference between "good blending" and "bad blending."

Now you know the rules, so go on and blend, blend, blend, like it’s your friend, friend, friend!

  • Do you feel a bit more confident about blending eyeshadow now? 
  • Do you have any other questions about these techniques?

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