The Dead Look

Katharine Reece MFA ’12

In Person

Be forewarned: when hanging out with Alisa Ortiz ’16, she might casually ask if she should slit her throat. In addition to being a student at Sarah Lawrence, Ortiz is a professional makeup artist, and she has mastered the art of making people look dead—gruesomely dead.

Ortiz began playing with makeup in junior high, refining her techniques via YouTube videos. “Eventually it gets to a point where you want to know more than the average, ‘Oh, I want to go to school and look really pretty,’” she says. “I also realized that while there’s really only a couple of ways you can make someone look pretty, there are infinite ways to make someone look grotesque.”

Her professional breakthrough came after she hosted a face-painting event at her church on Long Island. That led to a Halloween event, which led to a Zombie Walk; now she’s painting faces for birthday parties in Bronxville and teaching SLC students how to zombify themselves.

Ortiz came to Sarah Lawrence because she wants to be a writer, but she says if that doesn’t work out, she would be happy to work as a makeup artist. As it happens, her work provides plenty of rich writing material.

“I have heard and said so many weird things,” she says, laughing. “During the Haunted Trail walk for the Boy Scouts, one guy was like, ‘they’re just going to hang me, but I want to look messed up.’ So I said okay and I beat him up a little bit. I gave him a contusion on his forehead and then he asked if I could break his nose, so I said, ‘Yeah, let’s break your nose!’”

Ortiz, who is also the Spiritual Space manager on campus and a practicing Methodist, is partial to Halloween because it precedes the Day of the Dead, the Mexican holiday of remembrance. For her, Halloween is the closest that Americans get to celebrating death, and she’s pleased that her work keeps her so involved with it.

So: how to achieve the deadest look? Layer on pieces of toilet paper with Elmer’s Glue, let it dry, then slice it open to create a wound. Toilet paper with lots of texture and tiny perforations works best, Ortiz says. “You want it to look like a whole layer of dermis and subcutaneous skin that’s cut open,” Ortiz explains. “Then you paint over it with face paint—and you can also get coagulated blood gel, which looks even more real.” Blood gel also happens to taste like mint, which could serve as a refreshing reminder that you’re alive and don’t actually want to eat brains.