Chiaroscuro: How to Contour and Highlight

Contour Highlight Blush Collage

All my artists out there, you know what’s up.

The fancy term is from my grade 9 art class. Chiaroscuro means creating strong contrast between light and dark.

In the makeup world, the way to do that is with contour and highlight. Contouring means creating dark areas that appear to recede, usually using a bronzer or contour product (in cream or powder form). Highlighting uses a light or shimmery product to make certain areas of your face ‘pop’.

The usual way to do this is by contouring your cheekbones, temples, and jawline. I then like to highlight my nose, cheeks, and Cupid’s bow.

Here’s a step-by-step of how I like to do it, complete with weird faces!

Contour Collage copy

I start with my face fully foundation’d. For this step, I use my CoverGirl Queen Collection Bronzer and a Real Techniques Blush Brush. You don’t have to contour with a product that’s as warm as this, but I like to add warmth to my face in the winter.

Next I make the weird face you see in the second frame. I like this better than the “fish-face” trick because it lets me locate my natural cheekbone that is normally hidden by pudge, since my face is very round.

I then dip just the tip of my brush into the product and place it right along the line you can see highlighted in the photo.

After dipping it back in the product, I then make a C shape around my eye to contour my temples and hairline.

Finally, I run the product just under my jawline to accentuate it. Contour done!

Highlight Collage

Next up is highlighting, which is my favourite step. I’m obsessed with making my skin as glowy as possible, and highlighter does the trick.

I use a Sigma F50 stippling brush with TheBalm Betty Lou-Manizer. This is the perfect highlighter for my skin because it really works with it and looks soft and natural, or can be built up for some oomph.

To start, I smile a little and stipple the product on my cheeks.

Next I ditch the brush and dip my ring finger in the product, then run that finger down my nose and across my Cupid’s bow.

Blush Collage

Blush is my last step. This is yet another Real Techniques Blush Brush, and at the moment I’m loving Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Blush in “Blissful”. I choose a matte blush if I’m going to be highlighting to avoid a glitter overload.

I dab it straight on the apples of my cheeks, then blend towards the temples.

And that’s it! You can do this with pretty much any products – even cream ones – and the basic steps are the same.


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