Hi there kweens, teens and everyone in-betweens,
If you’re an aspiring drag artist, I assume you’ve already reached that place where you want to do more than just consume the art. You’ve watched lip-sync videos on repeat, gagged over stunning costumes and chosen your favourite drag icons. You’ve found real friends equally obsessed with drag… or just a corner of the internet and some virtual ones. And now you’re thinking to yourself, ‘dammit I could do this, I’d be fieeerce!’
Lately, I’ve been approached by a few of you, on social media, and in person, with the question ‘I also want to do drag. How do I begin?!’. So today, I thought I’d respond to that, and give you all little rhinestones of wisdom plucked straight from the craft-bag of my own experience. Be warned, these might not be the glamorous answer you were looking for. But even though my stones aren’t real diamonds, they sparkle more brightly.
1. Just begin – don’t overthink the problems
The important thing is to take that first step. Don’t worry about the problems. Have fun. The first time I did drag, I wasn’t worrying about the difficulties, but just feeling it. I did it for myself. I had a sudden urge to lip-sync to ‘Gods and monsters’ by Jessica Lange – so I dug out this ratty wig from the previous year’s Pride, donned a colourful bed-sheet and lit a cigarette. It felt so good. Every evening after that, for a week, I would just hang out with myself in that poor wig, listening to music and lip-syncing for myself. I wasn’t worrying about how I was looking, but rather how I was feeling.
There are two important points here. First, that bed-sheet night was a start, which meant I overcame my own misgivings. Second, a start is followed by continuity. I continued to fool around because I valued it. So start somewhere, be it just for fun with friends, or to click funny selfies…and recognise it as a start. Meaning don’t stop there. Keep focusing on the positive feeling and shut that negative voice in your head.
2. Experiment- even if you don’t know what you’re doing
When a painter first begins to paint, she most likely won’t create a masterpiece. She’ll start with an idea of what she wants to create, put some paints together on a paper and hopes for the best. If it’s a house she is going for, it might end up looking like a child’s drawing. Still, from that experiment, she will learn what went wrong, what paints suit her canvas and how to straighten her lines.
It’s the same with drag. You have to be prepared to keep trying different techniques with makeup, different outfits; even different styles of entertainment, be it lip-syncing, dancing or whatever. Only by experimenting will you develop your drag persona. And what’s more, it’s fun!
3. Resourcefulness – use what you have
Many of you complained that you don’t have the space to do drag, as you live with family or in shared housing. Some of you were worried about being caught or found out by parents or flatmates. Money and resources were by far the most common problem.
Now, those are the foundational problems, and mean that you’re already half a drag-artist. Herstory is full of stories of drag queens who skipped meals to buy a feather boa so they could prance down the runway at the ballroom. No one’s telling you to starve of course, but you have to make it work. I know 16 year olds who save up to buy one eye-shadow palette and one foundation stick, then lock themselves in their washroom for a few hours and paint their faces. Others wait till their parents go to sleep, and stay up all night just to practice a look and put it on Instagram. When I would visit my parents’ home for the summer, I would sneak my mum’s old shoes and tops from the box she would keep for charity. As a struggling artist who couldn’t afford much, I was the charity!
You’ll just have to be smart, like a mouse. Grab what you can, find your little corner and practice.
Warning: Never, repeat, never use lead-based paints, or cheap makeup. Regular home-brands which your mother or sister or aunt use are a good starting point, and quite inexpensive. Borrow, if you have to.
4. Throw yourself into a learning curve
By this, I mean that you don’t have to do it all on your own. Reach out to artists around you. Check out the tons of online content including tutorials and guidelines from makeup to costuming. More interestingly, there are useful online competitions you could participate in. The prize is often nothing more than your name featured on the page surrounded by illustrated fireworks, but the real prize is the invaluable lessons you get to learn. The artists hosting these competitions have paved the way through grit and hard work, and can guide you well. I learnt a lot from queens who had been doing drag for only one year simply by participating in an online competition and getting valuable feedback that helped me to grow.
As you can see, you don’t need a private boudoir, the most expensive makeup or a childhood full of theatre and ballet classes to be a drag-artist! What you really need is a spoonful of grit, ample amounts of imagination and the drive to push through. The rest will follow. At the end of the day, even if you’re rich with lots of space and resources (congratulations, and call me please), you’ll still need these basic ingredients.
Drag is about reaching in, grabbing your most adventurous self and wearing it on your skin. The feeling of standing there, dressed head to toe in only your own imagination, is indescribable. It makes the struggle worth it.
So, just start somewhere, play around freely, use what you have and keep learning. And I know you’ll slay !