When Lucy Boynton walked the red carpet at the Golden Globes in January, the British Bohemian Rhapsody actress wore a gold Celine dress paired with metallic-caramel eyeshadow applied in exaggerated swoops that echoed the shape of arches in Gothic cathedrals and old churches. The eye makeup was such an unusual look for an awards show, where most celebrities play it safe with lashes, lips and highlighter, that Boynton was quickly hailed as the beauty breakout star of the year. With every subsequent event appearance, interest and reaction to the actress’ makeup intensified.
The woman behind the look was Jo Baker. “[The Golden Globes makeup] got such an amazing response, and we don’t preplan any looks – we make it up on the day,” says the British makeup artist. She’s sitting at a table in the neon-lit food court beneath Toronto’s Royal York Hotel, sipping a can of Coke in an attempt to jolt herself out of her jet lag. It’s the first Friday of the Toronto International Film Festival, and Baker just flew in from the Venice Film Festival the day before. “I got so much praise from peers in my industry,” she says. “Everywhere I went, people were like, ‘Jo, omigod, what are you doing? We’re just waiting to see what you do next.’” Celebrities with no social-media presence told Baker they’d signed up for Instagram just so they could track her next look, like the silver-glitter strokes that looked like firework explosions she applied around Boynton’s eyes a few days later to complement the delicate crystal strands of her Prada dress.
Though the two had worked together on a few shoots in L.A. here and there, Boynton became a regular client this year, and with the rising star’s numerous appearances, Baker’s work was suddenly on the global stage. But it’s fair to say that the attention Baker’s creative audacity garnered also helped raise Boynton’s profile; at the start of the year, the actress was barely on anyone’s radar, but as the months went on, she became one to watch due, in part, to the beauty risks she continued to take. (They’ve both benefited from the relationship so much that it seems like a huge oversight that they weren’t included in The Hollywood Reporter’s annual glam-squad list in September.)
For Baker specifically, though, 2019 has been part of what she’s calling “a really enjoyable new chapter” in her career, where she’s finally able to do the makeup she’s always wanted to do. Previously, she’d been held back creatively when working with celebrities. “I would tell people ‘I’ve got this cool idea,’ and they would be like ‘Okay, okay, but can we do a safer version than that?’” she recalls. She also lost her father last year, which gave her a new perspective. “I had that conversation with myself where I thought, ‘If I were dead in two years, would I be content with what I’ve done so far?’ And the answer was ‘No.’” Working more frequently with an open-minded client like Boynton provided Baker with the freedom to flex her brushes. “Because she’s so utterly unafraid, it allows me carte blanche to really conjure up amazing looks,” says Baker. “She has never doubted any vision I’ve had for her. She’s been like ‘Love it, do it, great, I’m in.’”
Baker, 39, grew up in London – to which she attributes her playful and adventurous taste – reading magazines like i-D, The Face and Pop. From an early age, she loved sketching, painting and drawing, but she says it was “innate” for her to transition to faces, adding that she was the girl who would apply glitter glue to her friends’ lips in art class. Four years working at the M.A.C counter in Selfridges provided the hands-on training she needed. “I probably did 120 faces a day,” she estimates. “It was a conveyor belt of colour. Some people love their neutrals, but I was always fascinated by colours and what I could do with them.” She dabbled in working backstage at fashion shows, but it wasn’t for her. “I was doing someone else’s vision.”
The opportunity to relocate to L.A. arrived 15 years ago, when a photographer friend hired her to groom Usher on a shoot in London. The singer liked what Baker did so much (“He was kind of fascinated because I had 12 types of concealer on the back of my hand and was stippling them on his skin”) that he hired her for his Confessions press tour and sponsored her U.S. visa. Guys like Eminem continued to be her clients for a few years, but then Baker had an epiphany: “I’m really good at grooming, therefore I’m invisible,” she says. “I was also bored of just making guys look like they weren’t hungover.” So she focused on women – Emmy Rossum and Sharon Stone both took her on – and started to become known for being “a bit out of the box” and having a “cool” and “modern” approach.
Lucy Boynton at the 2019 Golden Globes.
Baker’s ideas come from everywhere. “My eyes are open all the time,” she says, explaining that she notices colour and texture wherever she goes. She took in the shape of a lobster claw during a linguine dinner one night and was inspired to draw red eyeliner in a “weird curve” on Boynton the next day and coat her lower lashes with matching mascara. For Baker, finding inspiration in the seemingly banal items we look at every day is a way to honour them. “It’s almost like saying to people ‘Can we celebrate this for a second?’” The end result is makeup that’s less glamorous and classic and far more unexpected and interesting, and that’s exactly what Baker is trying to achieve. “I want all my girls to look cool more than I want them to look gorgeous, you know?” she says. “I don’t want them to look beautiful and sexy – although if they do, that’s great, but that’s not my main aesthetic.”
“ For Baker, finding inspiration in the seemingly banal items we look at every day is a way to honour them. “It’s almost like saying to people ‘Can we celebrate this for a second?’ ”
When Baker posts the latest look she’s created to her Instagram account (@missjobaker), she makes it a collage, including references to the origins of her idea, which have varied from exotic birds to burned toast. “I’m trying to show people what goes on in my head, that there’s an actual process behind this,” she says. But she’s also elevating beauty discourse to something beyond product shout-outs. “It’s nice to tell people something that’s not just ‘This blush is amazing’ or ‘Babe, get this highlighter – it’s everything,’” she says in a mocking tone. “It dumbs it down. I just want it to be smarter.”
As for whether she feels any pressure now that beauty enthusiasts excitedly anticipate her next reveal, Baker is adamant that that’s not the case. “I love it because now it’s not just for me,” she says. “People want to see something different, and they want to be inspired.” And given the virality of some of her makeup looks this year, she realizes she can now create a moment at any event – it doesn’t have to be the Oscars or the Met Gala. “And that, to me, is just thrilling,” she says. “Because, really, as an artist, you want to get as many people as possible to see your vision – to let them into your little fantasy world.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of ELLE Canada.