3 Shadows in 3 Easy Steps: A (Fail-Proof) Eyeshadow Tutorial for Beginners
At first glance, that 20-color eyeshadow palette can look overwhelming. But trust me, you’re not alone.
The first time I fell in love with a palette, it was the e.l.f. Studio Baked Eyeshadow Palette in California. I remember opening that pretty black case to gaze wide-eyed at all the pink, brown, and grey shadows arranged in neat little rows, thinking, “I can actually wear these!”
This palette had such a gorgeous collection of shimmer shades, and I’d never tried baked eyeshadows before. So, with shadows in tow, I arrived home only to realize… I had no clue how to wear them. Sure, they looked gorgeous in the pan, but where did I place them on my eye?
That was a long time ago.
Since you’re here, I’ll assume you’re just as confused as I was. But don’t worry. In this easy eyeshadow tutorial for beginners, you’ll learn exactly what to do with your makeup palette – no matter the mood or time of day.
Before we get started though, make sure you have all of the essential eyeshadow brushes you need to create professional eye makeup results. If you’re not sure, see our guide in the link above.
All set? Let’s start the tutorial.
1, 2, 3… Done! Eye Makeup Anyone Can Learn (An Eyeshadow Tutorial for Beginners)
Most eyeshadow palettes include light, medium, and dark shades. These colors are designed to complement one another when applied together on the eyelid. Using the techniques learned in this basic eyeshadow tutorial for beginners, you can apply just these colors to create really stunning looks.
But choosing the right colors to use in your eye makeup design isn’t enough. After all, many palettes already do this for you.
“The basic concept of any eyeshadow design is to shape and shade in well blended progression of light to dark colors.” – Paula Begoun from Paula’s Choice Skin Care
To look really stunning and apply makeup well, you have to know which shadows and textures will make the most impact where… then apply them to the lid.
We’ll talk about all this and more throughout the eyeshadow tutorial. Before we get to the real nitty-gritty though, go ahead and prep your eyes with a primer.
Why Eyeshadow Primer?
Eye primers help shadows stay put without all that creasing you get when too much moisture collects on the eye area. And, as you probably know, the skin around your eyes can get pretty dang oily – especially if you have oily skin!
Not only do your shadows last longer, but primers give you a smoother surface (a blank canvas) for applying all those colorful shadows in the palette. Even more helpful, tinted eyeshadow primers can reduce redness around the eye area – very important if you’re anything like me (with hereditary eye circles at the top of your list of problem areas to conceal).
You’ll want to apply primer under your brows and directly on your eyelid (I like the e.l.f. Studio Eyeshadow Primer in Sheer). But to save the extra expense, a concealer or eyeshadow base (like Maybelline’s Color Tattoo in Barely Branded or MAC’s Paint Pot in Bare Study) can work here instead.
Once you have your primer in place, it’s time to add shadow. Here’s how I apply eyeshadow when time is limited.
The 3-Shade Eye Makeup Technique: Applying Eyeshadow for Beginners
In this eyeshadow tutorial for beginners, we’ll create the below eye makeup look using The Rock Nudes Palette by Maybelline.
I love this eyeshadow look because you really can get professional results using most palettes. You also don’t need any fancy tools, and it only takes 5 to 10 minutes of your time. Plus, the techniques in this eyeshadow tutorial are so easy to learn, a complete novice shouldn’t have much trouble.
Below, we’ve circled each of the three eyeshadows we’ll be using in this eyeshadow tutorial for beginners.
Step 1: The Highlight
Find the lightest shadow in your makeup palette. This is your highlight color.
What does that mean? Think about it this way: softer pigments naturally reflect more light. In this way, light shadows emphasize those features around your eye that get little attention and make them more visible.
Let’s use the shimmery light cream eyeshadow (first shadow on the bottom row of Maybelline’s The Rock Nudes Palette) as our highlight shade.
“The basic rule to remember is that everything you highlight will visually come forward and become more prominent, and everything you contour or darken will recede, or move away from you.” – Robert Jones, author of Makeup Makeovers Beauty Bible
So, if you brush a light highlight directly across the brow bone, your brow will appear lifted. Just like how highlighting the inner corners of your eyes will make you appear wider awake because you’re calling attention to those inner corners and brightening up your eyes at the same time. Cool, huh?
Sometimes eyeshadow palettes will include two or more highlight shades (especially palettes with five colors or more). Other times, these same highlight shadows will have a shimmer finish for when you want a more dramatic evening look. Usually though, it’s common to have at least one light matte shadow in a palette.
While shimmer shadows are designed to catch the eye, matte shadows offer a more subtle finish for those early morning commutes or afternoon brunches – and it’s this kind of texture that I usually reach for during the day.
When you’ve found your highlight shade, you’ll want to apply it under the brow (directly on the brow bone) and on the inner-most corners of your eyes (for that brightening effect we mentioned earlier).
- Lightly sweep the color across your brow bone with a flat stiff brush, concentrating most of the shadow underneath the arch of your brow.
- Without adding any additional shadow to the brush, blend the highlight down to the lid. The color should fade as it travels closer to your crease.
- Now, still using your flat shadow brush, pat a concentrated amount of color onto the inner corners of your eyes – the area closest to the bridge of your nose and by the tear duct. Normally this step is done last, but you can always apply more shadow later if the color fades during the blending process (we’ll get to this in a moment).
Feel free to brush this same highlight shade across your entire lid, from your upper lashline to the crease and the inner corners of your eyes to the outer edges of your eyelid. This step is entirely optional, but light shadow can give colors a nice base for layering darker shadows on top.
As you follow along with this eyeshadow tutorial for beginners, keep in mind too that the lighter the highlight, the greater the contrast against your skin and the more dramatic the shadow will appear in your eye makeup design. For a subtle, daytime look, choose creamy flesh-toned hues over lighter shades to reduce contrast.
Step 2: The Base
Locate the hue in between your lightest and darkest shadow. This is your medium or midtone color (what is also referred to as your base shade). It should be a bit darker than your highlight but lighter than your contour shade (we’ll talk about contouring in the next step of this eyeshadow tutorial for beginners).
What is your midtone color, exactly? Depending on the eye makeup look you’re going for – whether it’s blue smokey eyes or purple shimmer – your midtone color should be a wash of the colors used to complete your eyeshadow design.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you want to create a really sexy cat eye effect with purple shadow and black liner. For this, you’d probably start off with soft lavender eyeshadow as your midtone shade before completing the look with dark plum shadow in the crease. Make sense?
Your medium base color can have a matte, shimmer, glitter, or pearlescent finish. Which you choose is really up to you and the makeup look you want to create.
Once you’ve chosen your midtone shadow, apply it all over the eyelid. Let’s use a rich plum eyeshadow (the third shade on the bottom row) as our base color.
- Place your flat stiff brush on the outer corner of your lid (where you want the full concentration of color) and softly pat your midtone shadow over the entire surface, from your lashline to your crease and across to just above your tear duct.
- With a clean (soft dome) blending brush, blend the shadow along the crease using circular motions. The color should begin to fade into the highlight shade you applied in the last step of this eyeshadow tutorial. Keep blending until there’s a smooth transition of color.
Like your highlight color, you’ll probably have multiple midtone shadows in the same palette. Don’t let this confuse you!
Experiment with each color until you’ve created a few eye makeup designs you like, using the three-shade application technique you’re learning in this eyeshadow tutorial for beginners.
Step 3: The Contour
The darkest shade in the trio is your contour color. This shadow doesn’t have to be much darker than your midtone shade, but it should be the darkest color of the three.
The job of the contour shadow is to add depth and shape to the eye. Your contour shade also can minimize problematic areas you want less visible.
Need an example?
In the makeup world, it’s very common to add contour shadow to the crease for a little extra definition. But if you have hooded lids (yes, Asian beauties, I’m talking to you!), your crease may be difficult to see while your eyes are open. To fix this problem, it’s actually recommended to brush your contour color slightly above your natural crease (source) to make your eyelids visibly larger (minimizing that hooded appearance).
That’s the power of contour shadow. And we’ll be using a deep purple shadow (the fifth shade on the bottom row) to build depth in this eyeshadow tutorial for beginners.
But unlike the example above, let’s focus this shade in the crease of your eyelid. If you do have hooded eyes, you can compare methods after this guide as you practice applying eyeshadow. For learning purposes, stick to your natural crease for now.
- Starting from the outer corner of your eye, sweep a small amount of contour shadow into the crease with a soft dome blending brush. Your shadow should form the shape of a sideways “V” as it travels from your upper lashline to the very edge and a third across your crease.
- Soften harsh lines, blending the shadow into your midtone and highlight shades using the blending technique you learned earlier in this eyeshadow tutorial for beginners. You should notice a smooth gradation of color as your contour shadow fades into the highlight and base (midtone) shadows on your eyelid.
- Layer more shadow as desired. You can repeat steps 1 and 2, gradually building color intensity and blending small amounts of shadow with your brush. Even angle the edge of your contour shadow towards your brow to spice up your look for the evening.
- Optionally, add definition by applying this same contour shade on the outer third of your lower lashline with a small smudge brush. Finish off with mascara and you’re done!
Unlike your highlight, the darker your contour shadow, the more dramatic it will look on the eye and the stronger the eye statement you’ll make. To avoid overpowering your lids with too much color, brush a little shadow on at a time. You can always add more shadow later.
But what about eyeliner? Just pat the shade across your top lashline with a small angled brush, starting from the outer corners of your eyes and thinning the line as you move your brush inward. Easy! Your contour shadow is now doubling as liner.
You can stop here or layer eye pencil on top for a naturally blended effect. Or, soften the look by adding a thin layer of contour shadow after you’ve already lined your eyes with pencil. The choice is yours!
It’s okay to have a little fun with your contour shade. Experiment with bold colors and their impact on your eye makeup designs as you practice using different shadows.
To complete this look, I lined my top eyelid with Maybelline’s Master Precise Liquid Eyeliner and coated my lashes with L’Oreal’s Voluminous Butterfly Mascara in Blackest Black.
How Will You Color Your Eyes Next?
So, in this eyeshadow tutorial for beginners, you’ve learned how to make your eyes stand out using only three shadows and some basic eyeshadow brushes. Awesome!
Keep exploring your creativity with the three-step process you just learned, creating beautiful eyeshadow designs as you experiment with bolder colors and different shadow combinations.
But don’t worry if this doesn’t all make sense immediately. Like all skills, applying makeup takes time and patience to master. Just start putting these concepts into practice and applying eyeshadow will become a whole lot less daunting. I promise!
Up for a new challenge? If you’re ready to move beyond this eyeshadow tutorial for beginners and take your eye makeup designs a step further, head over to my next article on demystifying the eyeshadow palette (coming soon).
Did this article help you? How do you apply your shadow? Let us know in the comment section below!