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Five minutes with Lesley Johnston

Amanda Smith

With over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, Lesley Johnston is one of Canberra’s most accomplished makeup artists, and has worked her magic on the faces of celebrities, models and local brides-to-be.

We chatted to Lesley to find out more about her career, the changes in the industry and her tips and tricks…

When did you get started in the makeup industry? 

I studied at the Canberra Makeup Academy (CMA) in 2005, when I was in my early 20’s.


Photo: Tina Nikolovski

What attracted you to the makeup industry? 

I have always had an obsession with pop culture and makeup is a huge part of that obsession. Makeup artistry wasn’t what it is now: we didn’t have Facebook, Instagram or other social media so I’ve been able to see the growth in the popularity of makeup artistry from something that was only for weddings or seen on the screen to what it is today. My heart will always belong to editorial makeup for photography but I do find event makeup very rewarding as well, being a part of a bride’s wedding day is very special for all involved, including the makeup artist.

What do you love most about your job? 

I love all of it, I know that sounds cheesy but I really do! I love makeup itself, the different brands, products and formulas available, it is really interesting to see where it comes from and what it is made of. I love working with other creatives on projects for photo-shoots and film, not only from a creative aspect but it can be so inspiring to be around other people with the similar passions. Lastly I especially love working with my event clients, whether it is a one off event booking or one of my regular ladies, I honestly enjoy the time I spend with them doing their makeup and being a part of their day. Makeup artistry is a career I really love.


Photo: Geoff Jones.

What has been your career path so far? 

After I graduated from CMA I started working at Mecca Cosmetica in the Canberra Centre, starting out as a casual and working my way to 2IC. That time there was invaluable as cosmetics retail teaches you how to communicate and listen to clients as well as how to use products in different and unexpected ways. I worked there for five years until I had my first son, and while on maternity leave I wasn’t sure what to do with myself when a good makeup artist friend suggested I start freelancing.

Around this time the directors at the Canberra Makeup Academy asked if I would be interested in teaching makeup and although its not something I had thought of, I do really enjoy it. I have been teaching the Diploma of Makeup there casually for the past four years. Also during this time I was doing freelancing work and have been lucky enough to work for many local businesses like WIN News, Southern Cross 10, MIX 106.3 Radio, In The City Magazine, The Canberra Times, Canberra Style Magazine, Royal Australian Mint and HerCanberra to name a few.

Photo: Tina Nikolovski

Photo: Tina Nikolovski

Are you a full time makeup artist now? 

Makeup artistry is my full time career at this time and it is quite difficult to be a full time makeup artist in Canberra, so you do have to really love it to be able to survive. It is a seasonal industry with Canberra being understandably quiet over winter and very busy between spring and autumn.

What have been some of your career highlights? 

I have a few career highlights that will always stick with me, the first doing Samara Weaving’s makeup in Sydney for the cover of In The City Magazine. Samara was so lovely, down to earth and quick witted, we had a blast on that shoot!

Also meeting Francois Nars, the creator of NARS Cosmetics was an absolute highlight. His cosmetics are one of my favourite brands and meeting him was a moment I won’t forget.


Lesley Johnston.

What are your biggest makeup ‘don’ts’? 

Don’t wear a foundation that doesn’t match your skin tone! Always try before you buy with foundation, it will save you money and heartache in the long run. Don’t keep your makeup past its used by date! If it has changed consistency, smells different or just isn’t performing like when you started using it, it’s time for it to go!

Don’t follow trends! I believe that makeup trends are a great accessory to an already established beauty routine. You don’t need to do them all to stay up to date, a new lipstick or trying a different brow shape is all you need to stay current.

What is trending this season in makeup? 

Dewy fresh skin will be a must-have this summer, we will see a lot more people looking at products like Tinted Moisturisers and BB Creams to give them the perfect summer complexion. Liquid lipsticks with their opaque matte finishes will still be popular but lip-gloss is going to make a return soon! Brows will still be big but soft, expect to see less of the perfectly sculpted brow and have more natural finish to them.


Mecca Cosmetica Beauty Sleep Eye Pencil: This all in one product is amazing to keep in your handbag for a quick pick me up.

ModelRock Liquid Lipsticks: This Aussie brand has the most amazing, non drying, stay all day lipsticks! They do a great range of colours as well so there will be one to suit every occasion.

Benefits Roller Lash Mascara: The only mascara to actually curl lashes without needing to use an eyelash curler! I can’t get enough of this mascara!

For more information visit Lesley’s website here.


Feature image: Lesley Johnston 


Amanda Smith

Amanda is a lunch enthusiast and Canberra local with a love of all things curious. With a background in photography and current studies in journalism, she hopes to produce work on the human condition and what makes us so intricate. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with her eccentric family and buying bread, dip and olives from the Old Bus Depot Markets for lunch on a Sunday. More about the Author

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