Sikelela Nkuku on being a celebrity makeup artist: “I’ve turned my insecurity into a career”

Sikelela Mkuku. (Photo: Supplied to DRUM)
Sikelela Mkuku. (Photo: Supplied to DRUM)

She’d always been exposed to women in her family being passionate about looking beautiful, so the makeup bug bit her quite early.

As a teen she’d play around with makeup and liked how it made her look, but civvies day at school was where Siki would show off her skills.

“I wasn’t even doing it as something special, I just liked makeup and would put it on when we weren’t wearing our uniforms at school,” she tells us.

But she admits it’s a little deeper than that, “I had acne growing up, and it made me very insecure – it almost damaged my self-esteem.”

Then she discovered the power of a good foundation, watching YouTube videos to learn how to do “Instagram brows” and many other trends.

“Makeup isn’t about completely changing how your look; it’s about enhancing your features and covers the imperfections that make you feel insecure. When you have makeup on, you feel invincible,” she says, laughing.

When her peers realised how good she was, they’d ask her to do their makeup for special dates or events. “So there I was, doing people’s makeup in the school bathrooms.”

She became so popular that she ran out of makeup, which sparked a business idea. “I needed money to replace the makeup so I figured I’d start charging people to do their face, and I guess my calling was instantly realised from then on.”

After completing matric, Siki went on to study makeup at a beauty school and started getting clients before even completing her qualification.

Siki’s magical hands have touched the faces of some of South Africa’s darlings such as Linda Mtoba, Pearl Thusi, DJ Zinhle and Chuma Matsaluka.

We ask her which face she liked painting best and after giggling, she answers: “Linda and Chuma, definitely. I don’t really pick a favourite face because of what the person does but because of the structure of their face. And those two ladies’ faces excite me.”

“Linda Mtoba was actually my first-ever famous client. I knew she was coming to an event in Cape Town so I DM’d her and asked to do her makeup. Honestly, I was just taking a shot, I didn’t even think she’d respond. But my shot was very specific because I knew what event she was attending and when it was. I asked if I could do her face on that day and referred her to my work Instagram account. Next thing, I got a call from her manager asking me for my rates and for me to come through,” she says, sounding understandably excited.

So, what’s the strangest request Siki has ever gotten?

“This one time,” she pauses and laughs, “a client with very light skin asked me to make her look a bit darker, that was just weird.”

Although her journey has been great, Siki admits it’s not without flaws. “This industry is quite cut-throat, especially if you’re a young person. I sometimes walk into certain rooms and productions, sets and studios, and I’m instantly undermined before even opening my mouth because I’m so young. A lot of makeup artists are quite a bit older than me and don’t expect me to know much – until they see my work,” she says with confidence.

Here are three common mistakes Siki thinks people often make with makeup:

  1. Not using the correct foundation shade to match your skin.
  2. Not using the right type of foundation to match your skin type – oily, dry or mixed skin.
  3. Skipping primer – skincare is important, primer is a key aspect before applying makeup.

However, she insists people should express themselves with their makeup, “Do what you feel. Do you!”