The Sultan Of Special Effects
A Tulsa makeup artist’s fantastical effects create beauty and real horror.
John Stirling is an artist that produces works with the help of an airbrush, skin wax and, yes, even rigid collodion. His canvas is the face, the body. The pictures he paints are not always beautiful, but sometimes they are. They often evoke horror, fear, even disdain. And that’s exactly what Stirling wants.
“Funny thing, I just kind of grew into it,” Stirling says of his special effects makeup artistry.
“Seven years ago, my ex and stepson wanted tattoos, and they wanted me to get one, too. So I started researching, got an airbrush and stated playing with temporary tattoos. Next thing I knew I was airbrushing at events, doing face painting and body painting.”
It was Stirling’s work at Scream Country – an epic horror attraction that has haunted Drumright, Okla., for the past decade and a half – that vaulted him into performing true special effects makeup artistry.
This month, Stirling has cleared his calendar and prepared for a whirlwind of special effects, which includes providing makeup for those working at Scream Country, as well as the cast of Evil Dead The Musical, a national traveling homage to low-budget horror movies. Working on the makeup for this production tops the list of great experiences for Stirling.
“Evil Dead The Musical is holding sellout shows again all through October in Drumright,” he says. “It’s a challenging show, and I get treated like a rock star.”
Stirling has also done work for a breast cancer charity calendar, and he has also done traditional Cherokee makeup on renowned Cherokee storyteller Robert Lewis.
But it’s the horror aspect of his work that keeps Stirling excited.
“Getting to work with America’s oldest living horror show host Count Gregore was a thrill,” he says.
Stirling hopes to continue to expand his special effects makeup artistry business, even into television.
“I want to get started (on a) TV pilot that takes a look at monsters from the aspect of a naturalist. Kind a Crocodile Hunter or Man vs. Wild thing, but in this case, monster hunter and horror survival. It would be a makeup artist’s dream – a new monster each week,” he says.
An accounting clerk by day, Stirling admires another self-taught special effects makeup artist, Tom Savini, who is considered by many to be the father of modern-day horror makeup. He says there are no certifications needed to perform special effects makeup, but that it helps to be trained.
“Art school, cosmetology school – it all helps. But you must practice safe makeup. Safety is a huge part of special effects makeup. It’s being able to make people look gory and horrid, but safely.”