On beauty, with Susan Heydt

What makes a person beautiful?

Susan Heydt doesn't answer that question with "cosmetics," which might be odd coming from a woman who makes a living as a makeup artist. For her, beauty is on the inside, and makeup is about how a person presents herself to others.


"One time, I did a blind woman's makeup," says Heydt, who opened Suze Makeup Studio in historic Ellicott City about a year ago. "She had no reference as to what her makeup looked like, or what mine looked like. So, we're doing her makeup for who? Not her — we're doing it for how she's presenting herself, and how we're all presenting ourselves."

Nevertheless, Heydt spends her days applying powders and creams and glosses to clients and also giving lessons at her Main Street studio, where a director's folding chair is perched in front of a floor-length gold-framed mirror — a far cry from the décor of her Amish ancestors who, Heydt says, didn't have mirrors.

"If we're not looking, it doesn't matter," the Ellicott City resident says.

But for many people, appearances certainly do matter. The power of image plays heavily into her T.H.E. Artist Agency work on celebrities, politicians and athletes. Famous faces she's made over include Ben Affleck, Hillary Clinton and Alex Ovechkin.

Despite her resumé of A-list clients, Heydt is mostly self-taught, with the added help of training courses from the companies whose makeup she sold after college, including Clinique and Dior.

Her formal degree is a Masters in counseling psychology from Boston College. Her training as a counselor, Heydt says, is invaluable to her work as a makeup artist.

"We were trained to be good listeners," she says. "I didn't realize it at the time, but that set me apart from a lot of other artists. … I think being a little bit older helps, too, being more mature. I don't think I could have done this as well in my 20s." Heydt is reticent about giving her age — over 40, not quite 50 — but says it doesn't really matter, for her or for her clients.

"Age is a mindset," she says. "It's about how you fit into your life, and how you feel."

And Heydt wants to make sure her clients feel good.

"I like to help people look like themselves, just better," she says. "Like they had some rest, or less stress. It's very subtle, but I know I've got it when they smile."

Achieving a natural-looking result, according to Heydt, comes down to perfecting color combinations, and close attention to blending and texture.

For Dawn Lucas, of Ellicott City, looking natural is important because her makeup routine is minimal.

"Typically in the morning, I put on a little bit of eyeliner, a little bit of blush, some bronzer and lip gloss and walk out the door," says Lucas, who sat in Heydt's chair on a late February afternoon.

After Heydt finishes making-up Lucas — a birthday gift between friends of nearly 10 years, Heydt says — Lucas doesn't look "made up" but says she feels fresher, more awake. Lucas says she doesn't trust many people other than herself to do her makeup, but Heydt is one of them.


"She's in your personal space," Lucas says. "She's in your most immediate, personal space. It's a very commanding place to be, and she knows how to work it, what works and what doesn't for me."

Being in that personal space is almost sacred, Heydt says, but she likes the intimacy of getting to know a person.

"I like people's stories, hearing about what makes them happy or sad, and I like just being a part of it," she says. "… I like being a positive part of their lives, even if it's superficial. Well, it's not superficial; makeup lends itself to people's confidence."

Heydt's desire to connect with people stems from her background as a trained counselor, and her schooling served as an inadvertent inspiration for her career.

"I remember my professor saying to us, 'You should do what you enjoyed when you were a kid. When you were 11, 12 years old, how did you play, when you had no restrictions?' " Heydt recalls. "… And for me, it was doing makeup. It was the light-bulb effect, that I should get back to having that feeling."

Another of Heydt's inspirations is J.K. Rowling, who began writing the Harry Potter books while juggling the responsibility of motherhood. If Rowling, as a mother, could pursue her dreams, Heydt, a mother of two girls, ages 11 and 13, who attend Glenelg Country School, could as well.

She was picked up by an agency, and began working whatever assignments she could, but her big break came in 2008, when she did John McCain's makeup for the cover of Esquire. Since then, she's made-up countless politicians and celebrities, including America Ferrera, Michelle Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Joseph Fiennes for work on camera, photo shoots and public functions. But, Heydt says, she approaches them all with a down-to-earth attitude.

"Celebrities can have the baggage, the diva moments, but I'm meeting the person for the first time, regardless of public opinion or political opinion," she says. "I give everyone a chance to meet them as a person, and treat them that way. We're all kind of the same with no makeup on."

Which may answer the question of what makes a person beautiful. "Their mind, probably," Heydt posits.

"Their kindness. Their personality. How they treat other people. What they care about. Their heart and their spirit."