It’s not an overstatement to say that the face of drag would look far different without Raven. Since the time that the queen, also known as David Petruschin, first walked into the RuPaul’s Drag Race workroom during the show’s second season in 2010, her own distinctive approach to painting her face has become something of a hallmark of drag makeup. Echoes of her distinct style cannot only be found in the Drag Race contestants that came afterward, but arguably, in the heavily contoured makeup found widely across Instagram, too. When RuPaul herself was in the market for a new makeup artist in 2018, she called on Raven, who has exclusively painted her face ever since (including for Ru’s photoshoots for Interview and Vanity Fair). While Raven famously finished as a runner-up twice on Drag Race, she’s now the only alumni of the show to win an Emmy; she took home the award for—what else?—makeup in 2020.
All the while, Raven has maintained her own drag career, and to superfans, became the final word on drag fashion thanks to her work on the long-running YouTube series Fashion Photo RuView alongside season three winner Raja. So when Drag Race producers World of Wonder were developing a makeup competition show for their streaming platform, there was no other choice but Raven to play host. Painted with Raven, which debuts on WOW Presents Plus November 25th, features seven contestants as they compete from home in challenges with $25,000 on the line.
Here, Raven talks about the experience of seeing her face on others, learns about “Yassification,” and reveals the hosting tips she learned from RuPaul. And despite her reputation for deploying expert shade from time to time, Raven reveals that the secret to her long-term work with World of Wonder—both in front of and behind the camera—is simply being nice.
Which beauty icons or makeup artists first got you interested in makeup?
I was always interested in the makeup from music videos, sci-fi movies, and fantasy. I loved watching MTV. Madonna was always transforming herself. It wasn’t necessarily with makeup as it was the entire thing. Cher was another person who I was always intrigued by—I didn’t know about the other things she was doing to herself and why she was always looking different.
Beauty makeup is fun, it’s nice, and it’s needed. But I always liked to see more fantasy, more transformative makeup. That’s probably why I got into drag. Let me start transforming myself from carving out these lines and wearing stuff that, at the time, was more taboo because it was for a woman, and not really as available and accepted as it is now for men to wear.
Are there any contemporary people whose makeup excites you?
I have always been a huge fan of Chanel from Drag Race season one.
I love Pat McGrath. Everyone asks me, and she is one of the first things out of my mouth every time I talk about makeup. I just love not just what she does as an artist, but what she's done for herself and for the beauty industry. She’s kind of one of the... I’ll use the word pioneers.
There are also artists from the past, like Kevyn Aucoin. These people who I think of that created these faces or trends in time that you look at and go, “Oh, they did this. That was their face.” So it’s just a little bit of everything.
Since Drag Race season two and All Stars 1, your own face and style has become a staple, not only in drag, but sometimes you might see it on a Kardashian. Did you think your specific makeup style was unique going into the show? How has it been for you to see people reference it since then?
When I first started doing it, I never wanted to do what everyone else was doing. So when I started seeing my face put on other people’s faces by themselves or even by their makeup artists, I thought, “Oh my gosh, did I do that?” You think to yourself, did I do something that was commonplace for everyone? Or did I do something that made people go, “No, that’s perfection. I want to look like that.” As I slowly started to see more people wearing it, I thought, okay, obviously I did something right. To see it go even further into the mainstream than just the drag niche was odd. But I never tried to brand it or trademark it. When people say, “Oh, someone’s wearing your face, or someone took your look,” I go, “It’s not mine. Let them have it.” I’m honored, actually, because I would rather us all have some of it. I’ve made jokes that, every time I get tagged on Facebook or Instagram, I should get paid a dollar by people who said “that’s me” because it was happening so much.
There’s a meme right now called “Yassification” where people put this exaggerated beauty filter on random photos and a lot of them do end up looking sort of like your makeup.
Oh my gosh, how fun. Yassification like “Yassss?” Okay, I’ve got to find this.
You’ve got to look it up.
When I first started doing drag, there were two types of faces I saw: the one where it was the huge cut crease with the arch brow and the brown, pink, and white down the cheek. Then I saw the other one where it was the softer beauty, and I wanted to be somewhere in the middle, where there was that definition, but also that soft beauty to it. So I meshed the two together. When I put on my makeup, I didn’t want to see myself. That’s probably why I always wear contact lenses and I always did everything a little bit bigger. I wanted to make sure you didn't see me at all.
You and Jujubee both set a template of how to be a contestant on Drag Race, and how to entertain not just in the challenges but in confessional, on the runway, and on Untucked. Now, you’re stepping behind the judging panel for Painted with Raven. Are you looking for contestants with that same sort of individuality and personality you brought to Drag Race?
When I speak with queens that come off of Drag Race, they want to know your advice afterward. And I say, “just be nice.” Even when they’re going to film, just be nice. Be nice to production. Although people may view me a certain way or think I am whatever their preconceived idea of me is, I am genuinely not trying to offend, hurt or be mean to anyone. And when I stepped into the filming, I thank everyone.
On this show, they’re by themselves, so they didn’t have to be in that fishbowl of a bunch of people poking and prodding and putting microphones on you and then adjusting lights, but the camaraderie between all of them was there. They were literally genuinely trying to lift each other up.
Going into something like this as a judge and a host, I didn’t want to ask anything of them that I hadn’t done. That’s something RuPaul set that precedent for. On Drag Race, all of these challenges are things that Ru has done. So I felt the same way. I’ve hosted drag shows for several years now, and I felt like this was the right time. Ru and all of the producers at World of Wonder said, you’re meant to do this.
What are some of the makeup tips you’ve learned over the years that people could apply to their day-to-day routines?
My biggest tip is to take your time. There are so many people out there who are running and doing, you know, 50 things, or they’re leaving the house at 8:15 in the morning to make it to work by 9. They’re burning the candle at both ends. Give yourself time, at least a couple of minutes every day to give yourself that little extra something, whether it’s a little pinch of color on the cheek, something on the lips, or a little mascara. Beauty is going to take time. Everyone may be born with natural beauty, yada, yada, yada, but we wouldn’t be talking about this if it weren’t for the fact that makeup helps enhance it.
Not everything needs to cost you an arm and a leg. My makeup kit is full of stuff from the cheapest drugstore mascara to a very high-end foundation. I also truly believe that not everyone who gets ready and puts on makeup isn’t doing it to create any type of dialogue or controversy. I think, just do it, go for it, who cares? You bought it, you’re wearing it, enjoy it.
That seems very in line with your whole persona—you’ve always done things your way. You’re not a queen who does Top 40 music in your shows, just because that’s going to get the most tips. The one song I always associated with you is Miss Kittin and the Hacker’s “Frank Sinatra,” which isn’t necessarily your typical drag song.
There’s so much music out there—why would you want to walk onto the stage in a club and do something they just heard before the show and they’re going to hear right after the show? Do something that you’re listening to at home that makes you go, “You know what? I feel like doing this on the stage.” Whether you make a dollar or a hundred dollars in tips, give them yourself. If you’re not feeling it in the dressing room, then you’re not going to feel it on the stage.
Right, that’s sort of the ideal of drag, using makeup and all of these tools to create a higher persona. It’s not just drag makeup in the show, but do we get to see that spirit in Painted With Raven?
Each contestant in Painted with Raven is very, very different from the next. Each one of them came into the competition with a point of view and they said, “this is the way I do makeup.” In the weekly challenge, you can see their own personal touches on it.
Did you get any advice going into this from Ru herself?
Absolutely. I said, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to put people up for elimination or eliminate someone. He started laughing and he goes, “Oh yeah, that’s not the fun part. And it never gets easy, but it gets easier. The more you go on, you realize this is part of your job. The end of each episode, you have to do that.” He said, “We wouldn’t be pitching this idea to you if we didn’t think you had it in you, This is what you do.”
Right, and with Drag Race, it’s gone on for so long we know that even people who get eliminated benefit from the platform.
When I started doing drag, it was 2002. We as Drag Queens were looked at by both the straight community and the gay community as weirdos. People would look at you and go, “Why are you doing that?” You had to say: “I’m doing this because I love it. I’m doing this because I feel fabulous. I’m doing this because I want to decorate myself.” To see drag come from there—and many, many, many years before that, when it was done in secret and you could not even walk outside in it—to it now being celebrated as part of pop culture, looked at by the world as an art form, I’m so happy that it’s going on for so long.