INTERVIEW: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Head Makeup Artist Raven
A once young, broke and fabulous RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant, David Petruschin, better known as Raven, is all grown up now and she’s giving definition to the world of reality show makeup. Raven is a two time Drag Race runner up after making it to the finale on multiple seasons (Season 2 and All Stars Season 1) of the successful reality competition show. Although never winning the crown, it could be argued that she’s won a better prize than any past winners as she’s now RuPaul’s personal makeup artist, holding the position since Season 9 of the main show. As the department head makeup artist, Raven won her first Emmy at last year’s awards for her outstanding work on the show and she’s been nominated again this year, but can she make it two in a row? Drag Race superfan and JumpCut Online’s Hamish Calvert checked in with her over Zoom to see what she makes of all the awards buzz!
[After some initial introductions chat turned to Raven’s many gorgeous makeup and fashion looks that she’s debuted on RuPaul’s Drag Race]
Hamish: I have to say your beige look is probably an all time fave, so good.
Raven: Oh the one from UK [RuPaul’s Drag Race UK Season 2]?
Hamish: Yes, stunning.
Raven: Thank you very much, you know I had packed that and had brought that with me in the beginning of the year and then we only filmed half the season and then everything got shut down so we had to come back. So I pulled it out and I was looking at it for several months thinking do I even want to bring this back with me, because by that time you think differently, like I don’t want to bring that and I was like, “NO!” I have that packed, I’m bringing that with me.
Hamish: Yes, I’m so glad you did because it’s amazing.
Raven: Thank you.
Hamish: Anyway, congratulations on your Emmy nomination, it must feel amazing to be nominated again, but tell me how did it feel to actually win last year?
Raven: Well it’s funny because last year we won in very odd circumstances. We were not at the ceremony. There were five of us in a small office on set while we were filming All Stars 6 I think it was. We were watching in the office and we were with Ru and we were with a couple of the producers and when they said RuPaul’s Drag Race we were like “Oh, my, gosh!”. I just remember grabbing Jen [Fregozo] and I remember Ru screaming, like screaming, jumping up and down and grabbing Jen and I was like “Oh my gosh, we won a freaking Emmy!”.
Everyone on set was like gosh you didn’t get the whole fanfare, but I mean we won an Emmy, it’s still an amazing accomplishment. This year you know, they’re saying that we can attend, it’s still going to be a more intimate get together, there aren’t gonna be so many people. But that was the other thing we didn’t get to grab the trophy, we had to wait. I didn’t get mine until the 9th of January.
Hamish: What!? Well sure, it’s like winning twice then! So as well as your own nomination this year, RuPaul’s Drag Race as a whole has been nominated for 11 Emmys which makes it the most nominated reality show this year and it’s already the most awarded, so what is it like to be a part of such a successful show?
Raven: I started watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, season 1. I love doing drag so why would I not watch the show? I had auditioned, and didn’t make it on to season 1 and I watched it and I thought, wow I would love to be a part of this someday. And so season 2 came along and I ended up getting on there. I’m glad season 2 was where I got to step in and kind of do my thing. Watching the show over the course of 12 years, gosh it’s been 12 years, is that how long it’s been? It’s over the last several, many many years I’ve always thought it was a very special show but I always thought that this deserved to be held in a high regard, and if Emmy is the highest form of showing of appreciation for this thing, so be it.
But just to see the amount of people who have embraced drag, who have learned to love drag, who have looked at drag in a different light. Parents of some of the contestants who now go “Wow, I love what you do”, they go to their shows, they support them. It’s an amazing thing but to look at all of the competition reality shows that are out there and to see that this is the most decorated, literally and figuratively speaking, it is wonderful to see that it is being celebrated, that it is embraced, that it is being enjoyed, that it’s being loved. But at the end of it the academy is looking at this show as what it is and it is a work of love and art, so many people put so much work into the show.
Hamish: Definitely, long may it continue. You’ve featured in so many iconic moments on the show as a contestant and you’ve since returned as a guest, do you now feel like working behind the scenes you get the best of both worlds?
Raven: I do, it’s a funny thing to watch the way things are put together and the way everything happens. Like oh we film this in this sequence, or today we’re doing this this way. It’s wonderful to be able to step from in front of the camera as a contestant, and you have your ideas of how things run and how things go, that this is rigged and then when you’re behind it you see that that’s not the case. They sit down each time that there’s a challenge or a lip sync and they’re literally going “No this, no that”. They’re constantly working, everything is fair. Being on both sides of it you see that it is fair, I mean I don’t agree with a lot of decisions, but they’re not mine to make.
Hamish: You and me both. Now, we have to talk about Miss RuPaul. Every single episode she walks out on that stage looking incredible, so could you tell me a bit about your creative process, do you work around whatever outfit Ru has planned, how long do you have for each look and how do you tie it all together?
Raven: Well we get the dresses sometimes, about a week before we start production and sometimes they’re trickling in as we’ve started because Zaldy [RuPaul’s Fashion Designer] is, I mean he is a busy, busy, busyyyy person, like not just for Ru, working for several people. So we get them in and when they come in we print up the pictures and we have them all on the walls so we can see what they look like on the mannequin and then I start to go ok, this is the kind of idea I would like to do for this gown, this is the look and colours I would like to use for this outfit or this costume. We don’t pick the dress out in advance, it’s the morning of, we get there early and we start chatting and talking and then we go ok well what dress were we thinking of doing. So we’ll go into the room with all of the costumes and Ru will go, “I wanna wear that”. Ok so then I have to go what was I thinking, what did I want to do for this one and then I start to go into that direction and it’s not just this is what you’re wearing, this is how I’m doing it. I’ll say this is what I was thinking for this, and most of the time, actually all of the time Ru goes “I love it, let’s do it” and he opens his eyes after I’ve done it and goes “Oh my gosh, gorgeous” and then we use a sealant and I know this is where it’s going to stay and then we go. So we work together to make sure that he’s happy with what he’s wearing but that I’m happy with what I’m putting on Ru too.
Hamish: Brilliant, and is there any particular look that you’ve been especially proud of. Is there one stand out look that you think, look what I made happen?
Raven: There are some that we did that we just filmed that will come out at another time that I’m like “oh, OK, that one is good” and I wish I could take a picture of it, I wish that I had it now so that I could just look at it. They are very fun, they are a little different, you know, a little edgier. I always get emotional thinking about it, every time the light hits Ru and she turns and has her arm up and I’m standing there watching, I’m looking at the monitor, look what you just did, look what you just helped present out there for the world to see, yeah it’s a pretty amazing accomplishment. I also loved the finale look [season 13], the one, not the grand finale, well I loved both the finale looks but the one on the main stage where she’s wearing the short silver dress and it was kind of a butterfly look on the eye where it was yellow into pink and it came up and she had big round hair. When we go in and do colour it’s always fun because, you know who doesn’t want to do that but then there are those days where it just calls for the beige face where it’s just beauty makeup with a little added something. I am always amazed at the fact that I am now part of this process. But one of my favourite looks I’ve ever done on Ru was for AJ and the Queen [2020 Netflix series] where she was the chandelier, and when she was in the trailer and she was looking down, I said “that’s good makeup, that’s real good makeup”.
Hamish: I’m glad you think so too. Now obviously you’ve had to adapt to a lot of things with the pandemic but is there any skills or techniques that you have adopted in the pandemic that you think you’ll continue to use, is there any new skills you’ve created or honed that you’re going to continue to use post pandemic?
Raven: There wasn’t really much we changed, the only thing that really became different was that there were less people around on set and we had to wear masks and a shield obviously. I’ve always been very tidy and very clean, I’ve always cleaned my hands and make sure I have breath mints, I’m always cleaning my brushes and my products and I put things down and clean off my areas. I’ve always been very strict when it comes to that so I don’t think that there will be much that will change because I’ve always done it, but I do like that there’s been a little less commotion around so it’s been, you stay over there, I’ll stay over here, we do this and you do that. That’s been the nice thing you know, people have found out that things can be done a certain way, I mean look we’re doing an interview on a zoom so it’s one of those things that I think a lot of people are going to slowly say that this is just going to be the way were going to do things from now on, but let’s hope not everything stays that way.
Hamish: Well we love a clean queen either way so that’s good. As I’m sure you are more than aware with fame and success there comes a higher level of scrutiny and criticism from fans and viewers and I was just wondering what you had to say to people who take controversy with some of your looks and how do you deal with those kinds of comments?
Raven: The thing is, I know what you’re talking about, you have to really understand the intent behind someone’s presentation, if you’re coming from a place of malice and you can see someone is coming from a place of malice and you call someone out on it then, by all means call someone to the carpet, let them know, hey you’re wrong. But if someone has literally done nothing to provoke someone or incite ridicule it just starts to look like people who are looking for a reason to be angry or upset.
I spent the better part of the lockdown in my backyard, we were told to stay home and I live in Southern California and I laid out in my backyard from the time the sun came up till the time the sun went down. So therefore me being someone who pays attention to detail I needed to deepen my foundation and I needed to make sure that it all looked good. So I never thought, oh I’m gonna look like this or I’m gonna do this, it was more of a I need to match this up so I never come from a place of wanting to present myself as something I’m not but if you really dissect it most people follow or know me because I have played a woman for the last twenty years of my life. You’ve celebrated that I’ve manipulated my face with makeup, things that were made for women, quote on quote, I padded my body, cinched my waist, dressed myself in a dress and high heels, wig, jewellery, nails, then I’ve gone out on a stage and moved my mouth to someone else’s music, which is a woman, and I’ve done all of this stuff that’s deemed appropriation but people got upset because they thought I got too dark. I’ve never tried to present myself in that way and I feel that if you’ve gone out into the sun, bronze yourself up, why not? I think the whole thing was silly.
Hamish: I know how bad the fans can be and it’s just when you see comments like that there’s someone on both sides so I was just interested to know how you dealt with it. Thank you for sharing that with me, I appreciate that.
Raven: You are welcome.
Hamish: So other than yourself, have any past contestants on Drag Race really impressed you with their makeup ability? Are there a few standout names that you think, they know what they’re doing?
Raven: Oh god, well Shannel from Season 1. I’ve always loved, admired and respected Shannel. We worked together long before drag race and we knew each other and I remember Shannel was like the face and I’ve always loved her. I’ve always loved Nina Flowers’ makeup because it’s another, so severe but everything is blended and placed. I like the queens that do a…Jadia – Essence – Hall. That bitch, knows how to beat – a – face. Yeah just such a beautiful beautiful makeup. [Goes to mention another queen] Oh! I can’t talk about her because she has not been featured yet.
Hamish: Go on, dish the dirt Raven.
Raven: No, no, no, no. It’s funny because drag has transitioned so much to where everything has become so soft where everyone wants to blend all of the edges and I still want to see that carved out cheek or that carved eye. I like a queen who knows how to go in and give you dimension and go I’m not trying to trick nobody, I am a dude with a bunch of makeup on or I am a non binary person who you know has male features that’s now creating female features. Mayhem [Miller] is another queen who doesn’t get as much credit as she should for her makeup. I’ve watched her show up at a show, forget her makeup bag and have to use Morgan’s [McMichaels] makeup, including foundation and when she’s done, just blown away, she is someone who is very very very good and skilled at makeup. And I love Trixie Mattel’s make up too, she wears a lot of it and I’ve always been a fan and I love that it just gets bigger – and bigger – and bigger!
Hamish: Awk, Raven you should have been Miss Congeniality!
Raven: You know what Miss Congeniality never wins the crown, and I wanted to win the crown!
Hamish: Well, you’ve got an Emmy! I could sit and chat to you for hours but I think that’s our time up. Thank you so much and all the best at the Emmys!
Raven: Thank you Hamish
This year’s Emmys take place on 20th September, tune in to see how Raven does.
All Seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race are available to stream on Netflix (UK)