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How to add Colour to your Makeup Palette

Image of bright eyeshadow shades

I’m a huge fan of bright eyeshadow, perhaps because neutral shades such as browns and pale shades tend to make me look like I’ve been beaten up, or not had enough sleep. Or it’s more likely because I just love colour. I love experimenting and playing around with different shades, and just seeing what works and what doesn’t.

Nevertheless, I know a fair few people who avoid colour, especially in eyeshadows, like they avoid the creepy guy at the bar! And I think that the problem is, that when you think about using bright and vivid colours especially, the mind is automatically drawn towards images like these, which I photographed from a couple of issues of Marie Claire:

Image of a heavy and creative purple eye look (Marie Claire UK)

Whilst this look is fantastic, and I love the Cadbury-purple shade, I don’t even think that I’d wear this for a night out, purely because it seems overly dramatic, and perhaps a little “stage show”. I think you need a lot of confidence to pull off a look like this.

Image of a green eyeshadow look (Marie Claire UK)

This is an amazingly beautiful look, but for people who aren’t very good at applying eyeshadow, I think that this is a little bit on the difficult side. If I tried to do this look, for example, it wouldn’t look so neat and pristinely applied.

Image of a rich turquoise eyeshadow look

Whilst another incredible eye look, this is a bit of both of the above: it’s a bit too dramatic for my confidence levels, and I don’t think I’d ever manage to apply it so neatly.

How do you create a vivid look without the drama?

The key to creating colourful eye looks without being over-the-top or too bold, is simply to keep things simple and most importantly; blending. Blending is so important, and so easy to do. This is my How To, for creating two simple and very cute looks with subtle hints of colour:

Step One: Prime Those Lids

Image of Urban Decay's Primer Potion

It doesn’t matter whether you’re going for a neutral look, or full-on colour; priming your eyelids is essential for a number of reasons:

  1. It brightens up the colour of the shade applied, making shades more vivid. This is especially helpful if you’re applying shadows that aren’t highly pigmented
  2. If you have oily skin, the primer helps to mattify the skin, so that the shadow won’t just slip right off. This is also helpful in warmer temperatures, whether during the summer or when you’re at clubbing or going to a concert
  3. Primer helps to prevent the eyshadow (and eyeliner) from creasing annoyingly and clumping into specific areas of your lids (typically in the middle), which is rather unattractive
  4. Eye colour stays put for much longer than if you didn’t use a primer. I’ve tested Urban Decay’s Primer Potion for this, and even managed to ย wear my make up over night and it stayed put!!

Step Two: Apply a neutral colour

Image of eyes with neutral shade: "Sin"

The chances are that you probably already wear neutral shades, because as sales of Urban Decay’s Naked palette’s have proven, neutrals are increasingly popular because you can do so much with them from light, delicate and sophisticated looks, to amazing smokey ones. Plus, these types of colours make excellent bases for colourful looks. So, in effect, we’re going to be building up on the tried-and-tested neutral look.

But, start by covering the entire eyelid with a pale brown or taupe shade, concentrating more on the centre of the eye socket and the inner edge. For this, I’m using Urban Decay’s Sin, which is one of my all-time favourite “base” colours because it has a nice shimmer but it isn’t glittery, which I’m not particularly a fan of.

Step Three: Add a dash of colour

Image of different colourful eye looks

The great thing about both of these looks is that they don’t need to be neat, and sometimes making them a little messy, or smokey adds a certain something about them, that I absolutely adore. But both of these are completely different and subtle, and which one you choose to try depends really what you are aiming for overall. So how did I achieve each look?

Left Eye: Green with Envy

Image of a green eyelining look

Using an eyeliner brush, or if you don’t have one a small eyeshadow brush works just as well (on this occasion, I actually used a cotton bud / Q-Tip which worked amazingly well!!), coat the ends of the bristles in the colour that you wish to use (in this case I used a mid green shade), and run the colour along your upper lash line as if you were applying a normal eyeliner. For a little more subtle drama, you could also apply colour to the lower lash line, either all the way across for full effect, or just the outside corner for something a little more subtle.

If you wish to tone down the colour, carefully blend the colour gently into the base colour to neutralise it a bit.

A quick note of warning, I have experienced a little fallout from doing this, and found that I’ve gotten powder in my eye, however it’s never caused any problems other than the initial “blink it out quick”. Nevertheless, a chunky coloured pencil eyeliner has a similar effect without the risk of getting product into your eye, but perhaps isn’t quite as easy to blend, and depending on the liner shade and consistency, you may have difficulty toning the shade down as easily.

Right Eye: Passionate Purple

Image of a cute pale purple look

Ideally, this look should be done using a blending brush, but a small eyeshadow brush can achieve a very similar look. However, the shape and consistency of the bristles of a blending brush are much more suitable for blending out for discreet looks.

Cover the ends of the bristles in the colour of your choice, and dab the tip of the brush into the outside corner of your eye. Gently rotate the brush to blend it out a little, and gradually blend the colour along the upper socket of your eye. It’s up to you how far across the socket you take the colour, but as a rule of thumb, I would typically take it half way or two thirds across to avoid making your eyes look small or weird (how far you take the colour may also depend on your eye shape, so it’s important to decide for yourself). This is especially if you have chosen a colour that is either bright or particularly dark.

Step Four: Finish up

Image of different colourful but subtle eyeshadow looks

You could add a little extra to the purple look with a quick line of brown eyeliner. Brown is more advisable than black for this look, as a black liner may draw too much attention away from your hard work. Finish either look with a coat of your favourite mascara to open up those eyes. One coat is generally enough for this type of look.


  1. Whichever look you opt for, in order to make it as subtle and work or school-friendly as possible, the key is ultimately: Blend, blend and blend. Blending tones down the colour.
  2. If the colour is still a little too bright for you, carefully pat a little of your base colour onto your eye socket, gently blending it into the colour toning it down. However, you should avoiding adding too much product, as this could create a “caking” effect.
  3. If you do find yourself wanting to brighten up the colour a little, especially with the eyelining look, a good tip is to dampen your brush before applying the colour. This works wonders at creating a shade that is much more vivid. This tip is ideal if you are looking to transform your eyes from a day to a night look easily.
  4. Always apply the colour in thin layers, so only add a small amount to your brush. Remember that it is easy to add more colour, but it isn’t always quite so easy to take it off (although as I mentioned it often is possible, but if it can be avoided, that’s always best!)

If this colour isn’t quite enough for you, you could always add a beautiful bold red lipstick, to create a classic beauty look.

For reference, the three model eye looks came from these two issues of the UK Marie Claire magazine:

Images of models were taken from Marie Clare UK magazine.

What do you think?

Do you love adding colour to your eye make up? Or are neutral tones your favoured choice?

Kat Musselwhite

Kat Musselwhite

Kat is a freelance writer, who believes that everyone is beautiful, and make up just helps to enhance that natural beauty. She loves playing with make up, watching films, travelling and writing.

Kat Musselwhite

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  1. Patricia Ramos
    Patricia Ramos
    July 11, 2012, 4:03 pm

    Those colors look great with your eyes! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Kat Musselwhite
      Kat Musselwhite
      July 11, 2012, 6:06 pm

      Aww thanks very much Patricia ๐Ÿ™‚

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