Finding the beauty within
Hartselle woman illuminates natural beauty as makeup artist
Photos by RAW Images and contributed
Whether it’s teaching a teenager how to apply makeup for the first time or helping a bride get ready for her big day, Olivia Sparks strives to make every client who leaves her chair feel beautiful. Taking a more natural approach to her makeup, Sparks said she draws out the beauty of each client to make them look their best – a talent she has honed over many years working to become a makeup artist.
The daughter of a cosmetologist, Sparks said she knew from an early age that she wanted to be part of the beauty business.
“I knew I wanted to go into the business of making others feel good, and that’s what my mom was so good at. Growing up seeing people leave her chair feeling good and all the friendships that she fostered really made me want that same career,” Sparks said.
With six years under her belt as a professional makeup artist, Sparks recently opened her own studio in downtown Hartselle. Despite the pandemic and the struggle most small businesses face, Sparks said she knew it was time to take the leap.
“I really took a risk in the middle of the pandemic and applied for a business license in Hartselle and got a studio space with Raw Images. So now instead of traveling to Georgia or to Birmingham or Montgomery or wherever, a lot of my clients are local,” she explained. “I will travel for their wedding, but they would have to come to my house just for me to practice on them before their wedding day. Now they can come to a studio space with great lighting, and they get the whole experience and are not having to come to someone’s house.”
Sparks said the great lighting, professional vanity space and nice mirrors have leveled up her service to clients. “I feel like this year was a really big leap for me, from going to a hobbyist to what I would consider a true professional, having my own space and honing my craft,” Sparks said.
Sparks has also begun giving lessons in the new space, and she said she loves being able to empower others.
“It’s teaching teenagers how to apply eye products for the first time so they don’t have to go through that awkward phase like I did when you put a black eyeliner around your entire eye, teaching them how to make their eye look natural and enhanced instead of like a character,” she said. “I love watching their faces go from ‘I don’t know what I am doing’ to ‘Wow.’ It is just really rewarding to see first time teens use make up and getting to teach them.”
Sparks said another rewarding aspect of her career is getting to be part of a bride’s special day. She said she loves getting to know each client and bring their definition of beautiful to life.
“It’s a huge moment in their life, and knowing that they trust me for the biggest picture day of their life is special,” she said. “They will have those pictures for 50–60 years, and they will pass that down to their kids. Working with brides and knowing that they trust me and getting to ease that stress on their wedding day is special.”
Sparks said she also enjoys working with the bride’s family for the wedding. She said she often has the chance to do the makeup for the grandmother of the bride, which brings with it the opportunity to help her relive her own big day.
“I hear all the time from grandparents that ‘The last time I had my makeup professionally done was my wedding day,’ whether that was the 1940s or the 1950s. I think it’s so special that they trust me, and it’s full circle when they are watching their granddaughter get married, and you are doing their makeup for the first time in years, and they are looking in the mirror seeing what they consider beautiful for the first time in 50 years.”
Over the years, Sparks said she has picked up tips and tricks of the trade from all of her life experiences. As a child, she was involved in acting in commercials, and she said she learned from her makeup artists there. In high school she learned more as she shadowed a fellow classmate in the pageantry circuit and learned about pageant makeup. While in college, she learned from Disney makeup artists who helped prepare characters for a day in the park and learned about the importance of skin care during her internship and later employment at health spas.
“I feel like that’s what sets me apart from other artists, that I have a background in skin,” Sparks said. “I don’t do very intricate showy makeup, but I can do really, really pretty skin and an eye that enhances your natural eye color, and I feel like that is my signature look. I like to focus on a look that is going to enhance someone’s natural beauty instead of trying to cover it all up.”
In her six years in the industry, Sparks said she has seen more and more unrealistic beauty standards in magazines and on social media. She said she tries to teach her younger clients, especially, how to see and enhance their natural beauty.
“I have seen YouTube makeup and celebrity makeup really soar. The industry went from being a $1 million industry to a $6 million industry,” she said. “That’s why I got into it – because it was so popular. About six years ago, when Kylie Jenner started getting big, was when people started getting into cosmetics. People started caring about their skin and wanting procedures like filler and Botox and things like that. They were caring a lot about vanity.
“A lot of the younger girls – because of all these magazines and YouTube and Instagram – they sit down, and I will hear them say things like ‘Sorry I don’t have great skin’ or ‘My eyes are so small.’ They automatically think I see them as ‘less than’ or ugly. I feel like the celebrity status has really helped and hurt the community.
“My job is to find a happy medium between what the mom sees, which is the daughter’s beauty, and what the daughter wants,” Sparks said, “to still help the person see their natural beauty even though they don’t see it in themselves.”