For New Hampshire-based make-up artist Kriss Blevens, the first two weeks leading up to this February’s New Hampshire primary were a whirlwind. She logged 170 hours and directed a team of 12 make-up artists working with the 2016 presidential candidates.
But this isn’t her first rodeo. Blevens has worked with presidential candidates in the last six elections, and was a lead artist for debates and conventions during the 2008 campaign, traveling across the country for 18 months with the candidates as chief make-up artist for CNN’s special events unit. She did make-up for then-president George W. Bush when he gave his first address after 9/11. She has worked with President Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, businessman Donald Trump, former Florida governor Jeb Bush and former president Jimmy Carter, to name a few.
“My foray into politics was through a total chance encounter,” she says. “My husband at the time was speaking with Pat Buchanan, and mentioned that I was a make-up artist. Pat needed make-up for his appearance on CNN’s Crossfire, and asked if I was available.” After that, through word of mouth, she booked a gig with Newsweek magazine and later, NBC’s Meet the Press. From that point, Blevens became a go-to artist for political events. She has regularly worked with politicians appearing on MSNBC, FOX, ABC and Comedy Central, and even has Secret Service clearance.
Her make-up career began organically. As a former model for the London School of Make-up, she learned the trade by observing how the artists applied make-up to her. In 1987, as a beauty pageant contestant, Blevens became known as “the make-up girl” after helping fellow contestants with their looks. “It was then that I realized it was something I was good at, and really enjoyed,” she says.
Fast forward 20 years to June 2007, when Blevens did Hillary Clinton’s make-up for the first Democratic presidential debate, which led to rumors that Clinton had undergone plastic surgery. “Afterward, everyone at CNN kept asking me ‘What did you do? What did you do?!’ so I thought I had done something wrong. Then a colleague told me, ‘Everyone thinks Hillary got a facelift!’” Blevens credits that look to products from her own cosmetics line.
She loves the challenge of making the skin look absolutely perfect with a no-make-up look. “With HD, it’s like being under a microscope,” she explains. “Not just the blending, but the product has to be really powerful in small amounts. And I’ve perfected this art where the person looks amazing both face-to-face and on TV.”
Blevens specializes in make-up for women over 40 and prides herself on being hands-on. “I don’t want to sacrifice that intimacy by using an airbrush,” she says. “I’ve been trained in it, but I prefer the old-school methods and like to transmit healing and positive energy through the application.”
Blevens says that she’s been working with most people for so long that they know her and trust that she will help them look their best.
“Of course, there have been candidates that do it themselves and want to stay that way, and maybe there’s things you’d like to change about that person, but at the same time, I’m a firm believer that we should all express ourselves in the way that we’re comfortable,” she says. “We should all express our own personal style. Of course I’m talking about Donald Trump when I say this! He combs his hair the way he does, and he doesn’t want anyone touching it! He does his orange spray tan, a little powder, and he’s comfortable with it, and I respect that.”
“I haven’t talked politics until this election,” she admits. “I kept things light until now, but I was so moved because of my personal experience, and I didn’t realize how uneducated and unaware the candidates were. I had a forum to talk to them about it and I used it. I’m glad I did, and I feel fulfilled because all the candidates are now talking about the heroin epidemic after the New Hampshire primaries.
“As make-up artists, we have a mission to change how people feel about themselves. Building relationships with clients has a healing element to it, and it’s a great time to share stories. You never know if the person you’re working with has a child who is recovering or a sister who is addicted. You never know who will be affected. There is more below the surface of the person you’re working on. Use that intimate time to have open and honest conversations. You can use the make-up brush as a tool for healing.
“I love doing make-up because it’s so fleeting and very in the moment,” she says of what has become a nearly 30-year career. “As human beings, we’re always changing, we’re always moving, aging, growing; so you never do the same work again. You’re painting a soul and they have a story. Our stories are all different—it’s fascinating. It’s been a phenomenal career that I’ve never gotten bored with, not once. What a great calling, huh?”