From being on set with Tyler Perry to working behind-the-scenes at Black Girls Rock!, makeup artist Toni Acey is one of Atlanta’s number one industry players. With clients such as LisaRaye McCoy, Erykah Badu and the super-sexy Idris Alba to name a few, it’s no wonder why Acey is BET’s “go-to girl.” We caught up with her to get the scoop behind planning Black Girls Rock!, tricks on airbrushing at home, and how to turn your passion into a career. Tune in to BET’s televised special of Black Girls Rock! tonight, November 4, 2012 (7pm/ET), to see Acey’s work in motion.
EBONY: How did you parlay your career from corporate America to makeup?
Toni Acey: Makeup was something that I did out of necessity for myself for many years as a model. I never liked how they did my makeup on set, so I started playing around, trying to emulate the looks I saw in the magazines. Apparently, I was doing a good job, because everyone would ask me who did my makeup! [laughs] When I got accepted to the MAC [Cosmetics] freelance team, it opened up my mind to a whole new world. But I had to make a decision between work and freelancing because I was getting too busy-—I couldn’t handle both. I took a leap of faith six years ago to pursue my passion and haven’t looked back since.
EBONY: You are known for your infamous airbrushing technique. How can women achieve this at home?
TA: Airbrushing used to be something only experts could do, but now they are really commercializing it. There are great at-home systems on the market, like Temptu’s AIRbrush Makeup Base System ($225, temptu.com). There are also great products that come in an aerosol can, like ERA FACE spray-on foundation ($55, classifiedcosmetics.com). It’s a great way to achieve the look of an airbrush finish without having to spend so much money. You don’t have to use a lot to get great coverage.
EBONY: What other products are a must-have for your makeup kit?
TA: I love Make Up Forever HD Microfinish Powder ($32, sephora.com) because it matches anyone’s skin tone for a beautiful flawless finish. Concealer is an absolute must, it’s like your best friend and can take off years. It will allow you to highlight, contour and cover blemishes. My favorite is MAC Cosmetics Pro Longwear Concealer ($18; maccosmetics.com). Once you apply it, it doesn’t move and gives really good coverage. My all-time favorite lip gloss would have to be NARS Orgasm Lip Gloss ($24, narscosmetics.com). The name itself is just so cool [laughs], and their blush [by the same name] is my favorite as well. These are true staples for any makeup artist’s kit as well as the real woman’s.
EBONY: You frequently collaborate with Derek Blanks on his “Alter Ego” shoots. What is your most memorable shoot?
TA: One of my favorites was with Janelle Monáe, because her alter ego was so great. I wanted to come up with something that represented her black and white theme. I instantly thought about the ying and yang concept, blending ecstasy and agony. I asked her if she would be open to airbrushing a mask on her face and she was gracious enough to let me do so to her face. It allowed me to channel my inner Picasso!
EBONY: How did your relationship with the BET network blossom?
TA: I worked on BET’s College Hill when they filmed in Atlanta, and their very first taping of the Hip-Hop Awards. My relationship grew over the years because I became their “go-to girl” when they needed something. I was even able to transition from behind-the-scenes to on-camera for My Black Is Beautiful. Doing makeup on camera and product placement was new to me, but since BET was family, it helped me get the nerves out. It’s been a great relationship.
EBONY: What was your role with Black Girls Rock! this year?
TA: I’ve been working on the show for the past three years, but this year I was blessed to come on as their Hair and Makeup Department Head. It basically means I hire all of the hair and makeup people who are responsible for doing the makeup for all of the presenters, award recipients and some of the talent performing. This year was crazy because between Missy Elliott and Ciara, we had about 30 dancers. Each of the dancers had very stylized looks, so I had to make sure the right artists were assigned to achieve their looks. It’s almost like being a producer. There’s so much that goes on behind-the-scenes that people don’t know about!
EBONY: How do you stay calm trying to meet the demands of so many people?
TA: It’s definitely something that comes with experience. There’s so much going on with coordinating it all. First I take a "woosah" moment. When I send out my call sheet, I say on my list to bring a positive attitude, not an ego. Everyone has to understand we are all working artists, so no one has time for that [poor attitude]. I don’t like to micromanage my team, because essentially makeup is art, and I want to give people the space to do that. I try to set the tone and work cooly under pressure, but also relay what we need to achieve.
EBONY: What makes you a “Black Girl That Rocks?"
TA: My passion for makeup started off as a hobby. Someone once said that if you can make money from what you love to do, that’s just a bonus. I’ve live by that motto. It’s a blessing to figure out what your gift is and channel it into a profession. It no longer feels like work to get up at six in the morning because I feel good about it. I’m doing what I love to do, so that makes me a black girl that rocks.
—Janell Hickman, Associate Beauty and Grooming Editor, EBONY magazine