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Beyond the Brushstrokes of Roxanne DeNobrega

A makeup artist painting the rainbow in a Black and white world.

A makeup artist painting the rainbow in a Black-and-white world

NameRoxanne Maxime DeNobregaBirthDecember 28BirthplaceGeorgetown, GuyanaEthnic OriginGuyaneseOccupationsMakeup Artist, MentorShare
Fact checked by Charmaine Gooden
Proofread and copy edited by Carol Martin

Under the protection of VOGUE covers plastered on the wall of her childhood bedroom, Roxanne DeNobrega grew up falling in love with makeup. Maybe it was her bright green shaggy rug or the purple eyeshadow on Beverly Johnson’s cover that influenced her; DeNobrega simply knew she loved bright colours.

This love of colour drew her to department stores, where she’d admire the collections of bold palettes. Despite her magnetic connection to makeup, she couldn’t help but notice that the shelves of foundations and concealers were always missing a colour; her own. This absence in the makeup industry would follow her throughout her career.

Early Life and Career

Outside of the cosmetic aisle DeNobrega took every excuse she could to express herself through makeup. But a job in the makeup industry was only a dream for DeNobrega, in the early day immigrating from Guyana to Toronto in 1974 with her mother, she was expected to pursue a career in the sciences, not the arts.

While working as a receptionist, it didn’t take long for DeNobrega to grow sick of receiving the question “what do you do?” and never being able to reply with a heart felt answer.  

In response, she enrolled in the Fashion Arts program at Humber College in 1995, received a Mac makeup kit and found herself agreeing to a four-day job as a makeup artist for a Bank of Nova Scotia advertisement. With a fresh $2800 earnings in her pocket, she realized that makeup didn’t just have to be a passion, it could also be a way to support her two young children.

Learning the Art of Makeup

DeNobrega  started working in 1996 with the IMAN cosmetic line in the Eaton’s makeup department at the Eaton Centre. “My research had advised me to work in department stores because you get opportunities to work with many skin tones and it prepares you for working on film sets as a makeup artist.” she explains. As she continued booking side jobs, the flaws of the industry only became clearer.

Black makeup artists were not prioritized, and typically only hired to work on Black models. “I was always doing Black faces, but I just had to move forward and keep proving myself,” says DeNobrega. “Being a Black artist, you tend to be put in a pigeonhole where you could only do Black skin, but if you’re an artist, guess what? Your canvas is blank.”

She attributes her job working at the makeup counters in Nordstrom for helping hone her talent on all skin colours. “What I would always do was  to get anyone and everyone in my chair, especially people that don’t have my skin tone, so that I could practise on them.”

 

 

This special section creates a photo next to a pull-quote

 

 

Yes, I am a Black makeup artist, I’m proud to say. But I can do all your colours of the rainbow.

Breaking Barriers

After doing many volunteer positions on short films, she was then offered the head of department position on her first TV series called Lord Have Mercy. “The studio name was Revival, located on Eastern Avenue. I used to take the bus  by there often, so it was a dream come true to be able to finally work in that studio.” Then came the opportunity to become a developing artist with the Artist Group, which led to many more opportunities to assist artists in the commercial world.

DeNobrega was used to being the only Black artist on set, highly aware of the faults in the system. “I knew there were obstacles, but it had nothing to do with me because I just had to push my way through,” she says. “I have to do this. I don’t have a choice. I have kids, I want to live a good, decent life and I want to do something that I love.”

However, the past three years have shown a slow but positive change in her workplace. “I appreciate now when I go on set there’s groups of all Black hair and makeup. It’s still a struggle because a lot of people aren’t used to seeing Brown or Black skinned people in a certain position. I know since I’m the department head, I can feel it and see it. There’s a lot of passive aggression that still happens around me.”

Influence and Legacy

Her daughter, Kandyce Young, worked alongside DeNobrega as her first assistant for over a decade. She describes how working with DeNobrega “was like taking a masterclass every day.”

“That is Roxanne in every aspect of her life, she is a true giver, a true people’s artist. She wanted everyone to win all the time. She forced me to be great at all times, and gave me the tools to be great,” says Young.

Young explained how, at the core of everything, DeNobrega simply loves makeup. Each year she rallies many makeup artists and brands to volunteer free makeovers and makeup kits for underprivileged and homeless women. “This act speaks volumes about her character,” says Young.

It’s still a struggle because a lot of people aren’t used to seeing Brown or Blacks in a certain position.

I know when I’m the department head, I can feel it and see it. There’s a lot of passive aggression that still happens around me.

DeNobrega grew her career from the ground up. Published in L’Official, she has been booked for Netflix shows, and high-fashion runway shoots and has worked alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

However, at the end of the day if you call her for a free glam session, she would happily invite you over. “I give back to my community by helping out new emerging artists and  filmmakers and donating time and products to women’s shelters.”

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