For the first in our special interview series “On Beauty” we’re talking to Oscar winning make-up + special effects artist Elka Wardega.

Elka won an Oscar in 2016 for her amazing work on Mad Max: Fury Road and has worked on many international hit films including Moulin Rouge, The Matrix, The Great Gatsby and The Hobbit.

Elka shares with us how she got into the make-up and special effects industry, career highlights, her view on beauty and her favourite products to use (hint: one of ours might just feature in here).

Could you tell us how you got into the make-up and special effects industry?

I was a bit of a wayward teenager and dropped out of high school earlier than everyone expected (sorry mum!). I don’t know what I was thinking but it wasn’t long before I realised, I needed some direction. I looked in the paper at what jobs were on offer and I noticed some ads for make-up artists. I already had an interest in beauty make-up and at that time I was watching lots of fantasy/horror and sci-fi films. Some of my all-time favourites were The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth and I wondered if there were any opportunities in Australia to learn how to create such wonderful characters. After conducting some research, I found a two-year course in Sydney that offered training in make-up and special effects. At the end of my second year my teacher was working for Bob McCarron, Australia’s pre-eminent special effects make-up artist at the time. Bob needed a junior workshop assistant for a couple of weeks, and I was asked if I would like the job. I jumped at the opportunity and that decision changed my life forever. I worked with Bob for the following 8 years, he became my mentor and is still a close friend. Looking back, I guess it was part being in the right place at the right time, and part showing initiative and ability that helped propel me into the industry.

What do you love most about your job?

So many things! I love that every job is different. I am constantly challenged and forever growing as an artist. I love researching new projects, interpreting the vision of a director, designer or client and seeing thoughts and ideas become a reality. I love working together with others to achieve a collective vision.

Winning an Oscar in 2016 for your outstanding work on Mad Max: Fury Road must have been a career highlight for you. Did this international recognition change your career in any way?

Thank you. Yes, it was an incredible time in my life and such a team effort. It’s an honour to be recognised by your peers for the work that you do especially in such a public way! It was a truly humbling, surreal and somewhat daunting experience.I wouldn’t say winning an Oscar changed my career in the way one might expect. Our film industry here in Australia is small and the availability of jobs on big feature films are few and far between. I haven’t been flooded with job offers, the work just isn’t here. If I wanted to work full time in the feature film industry, I would have to set up overseas either in the US, Canada or England. I enjoy working overseas but I couldn’t make that transition permanent. I love living in Australia and I’d miss my family and friends too much to do that. I am content with the career I have built here.

One thing that has changed is that I feel more comfortable spreading my wings and trying something new. I am currently pregnant with my first child and in the process of setting up a bridal make-up business (Belle Blue), in the Blue Mountains. I don’t think I would have the confidence to branch out and do this if I hadn’t earned that recognition.

You have worked with a huge array of people, both in Australia and internationally. You’ve applied make-up and prosthetics to hundreds of faces and been very much up close and personal most of this time. With this experience in mind, how would you describe beauty?

Great question! Yes, being a make-up artist puts me in a very privileged position. There is a lot of trust required. The art of applying make-up to someone else can be an intimate experience for anyone sitting in my make-up chair, especially if it involves sitting for three hours every morning at 4am (which is not an unusual start time for a prosthetic make-up). It’s difficult for beauty to exist at this hour! I am involved in complete transformations as well as subtle enhancements. Whatever the final look may be, my aim is to always let the person in my chair shine through. If I can help build trust and confidence, then beauty will also shine through. Beauty is subjective, it is both a feeling and an illusion, it’s ever-changing and difficult to describe. It truly comes from within.

You’ve begun embracing natural and organic beauty in your work. What made you want to transition to this type of skincare?

I have always gravitated to natural and organic beauty. In my own personal routine, I follow an ethos which makes sense to me, what is on your skin sinks in. I want my body to be as healthy and free of unnecessary chemicals and toxins as it can be. Every item we own, and encounter is made up of different materials which can be both harmful and helpful to us, to society and to the planet. If I can make a choice in my skincare that is helpful, then this will always be my preference.

What are some of your favourite beauty products and why?

Anything that makes me feel good! Being pregnant, I am not drinking coffee or alcohol, I’m remembering to take my vitamins and drinking a lot of herbal tea and water. I feel great and my skin has never been so clear!

When I use up make-up in my professional kit, I have been trying to replace it with an organic/vegan/cruelty free product. I have a rule that I can’t buy new make-up unless I have run out or really need it so it’s a slow process and one of trial and error as I get used to how these products perform in a professional capacity. Some of my favourites so far are the Clémence Organics Ultimate Face Cream which is one of the most hydrating I have used in a long time. Skin prep is very important for make-up application. If you have clear skin, and are well hydrated, you hardly need any foundation and what you do put on, looks even better.

I’m also enjoying using Ere Perez lipstick, RMS luminizers, Charlotte Tilbury colour chameleon eye pencils and Eye of Horus mascara. I like to use creamy make-up products rather than powders; creamy products tend to sink into the skin rather than sit on top and I prefer beauty make-up to look like it’s coming from within. I’m trying to be patient while I finish up my current products, but I can’t wait to try the Ellis Faas and Kjaer Weis ranges! I love Ellis Faas for her colour concepts and Kjaer Weis for her use of sustainable packaging. There are so many fantastic brands that are trying to make products in a more thoughtful way.

Top beauty tip?

Be yourself, be kind, strive to be happy with the way you look without make-up, embrace ageing with pride and walk with confidence.