Smoky eyes — just the phrase alone sets makeup lovers’ hearts racing with sheer panic and fear. If you want to get smoldering without your whole look combusting into flames, then this daytime smoky eye tutorial is sure to light your fire. You’ll achieve the ideal sultry look without accidentally turning yourself into a panda — or looking straight up club ready at 9 AM on the subway.
Let’s get something straight first: smoky refers to a technique, not a shade or color. The term smoky means that the shadow is deeper at one area of the eye and gets lighter and lighter as it gets further and further away, just like a puff on smoke. The area of saturation can be at the lashline, on the lid, or in the crease. A smoky eye can be a deep dark black (like the color of my soul), or a sensible work appropriate taupe. Ask 50 different makeup artists for a smoky eye without providing any additional details, and you’ll end up with 50 different looks.
Now that we’ve clarified our objective, it’s time to practice our application skills. Choosing the wrong color, misplacing the shadow, and over or under blending may all lead to muddy lewks that look more messy than dressy. However, once you hone a few simple techniques, you’ll be able to achieve a sultry smokey eye with any shadow and color on any day at any time. So let’s get smokin’.
Start With A Primer
Eyeshadow primer is the key to getting the most out of your shadows. Primer acts like double sided sticky tape to keep your shadows in place for hours, especially if you have hooded eyes (like myself). The skin on the eye area is super thin and extremely mobile, so powder shadows are likely to shift around oily eyelids or straight up fall off drier skin.
Primer also amplifies that saturation of the shadow. By giving the pigment something to stick to, you’re allowing the formula to build and intensify. If you fell like your shadow fades within hours, primer might be the key.
Simply take a grain of rice size amount of primer with your pointer or ring finger and smooth the product across the eyelid area, from the lashline all the way up to the brow bone. Sometimes, I’ll apply whatever product that’s left on my finger to my brow and lower lashline. This trick gives my brow pencil and eyeliner more grip so they’re more likely to stay in place all day as well.
Word to the wise: do not use eye primer and face primer interchangeably. If you put face primer on your eyes, the hydrating and/or silicone base will start slipping and sliding right away.
Create A Base
Always start with lighter shadows and work deeper. By starting light, you have more control over the saturation of the finished look. Plus, starting light before adding in deeper colors naturally creates a smokey gradient so you don’t have to blend until your hand literally falls off.
To prevent the darker colors from sticking too much to certain spots (creating patchiness), I lightly sweep a bone colored shadow all over my lid using a super fluffy blending brush. I place this shadow all over my lid from my lashline to my crease — pretty much the same placement as the primer. Choose a shadow that’s matte and one shade lighter than your skin. This will also brighten up any remaining natural darkness that exists on the lid (which is super important when creating a smokey eye). Dark shadow will bring out any natural darkness around the eye and can warp the shape of the look you create, so neutralizing the skin before is pretty important.
If you don’t have any darkness on the lid (bless you), then you can simply use a little translucent setting powder for this step. It’ll allow the darker shadows to glide across the eye and blend more easily.
Sketch Out The Crease
So this is the sketching before the painting. Using a shadow that’s two shades darker than my skin, I create my crease by buffing the product directly along my socket line, starting at the outer corner, working inward. I highly recommend doing this with the eye open (especially if you have hooded eyes) so you can see how the placement effects the eye shape.
This step is like highlight and contour for the eye. By placing the shadow right in the eye socket (where my actually eyeball ends and my brow bone begins), I effectively lift up the shape of my eye and open it up so much more. My skin naturally creases a lot lower than my socket. If I placed the crease color there, I would look like I was sleepwalking at all times. Placing the crease color along the actually socket line will make you look wide awake without drinking six white mocha lattes from Starbucks.
Every time I pick up more shadow, I always place the shadow at the outer corner of the eye first. If you start at random places along the crease every time you add more shadow, you might end up with a patchy mess. If you start at the inner corner of the eye, you might end up optically pinching the eyes closer together.
As I use windshield wiper motions back and forth, I move my brush in little circles rather than sweeping straight across. This helps to bust out any hard lines and edges so the crease looks less like an amoeba of taupe, and more like a subtle puff of smoke. Little circles create a gradient. Sweeping motions reinforce a blob-like shape. Buffing is a tiny difference in technique that makes the most tremendous impact.
Before I move on to the next shadow, I take a tiny smudge brush and smoke the color out across my bottom lashline, starting at the outer corner, working inward. This mimics the natural shadow that occurs from the heaviness from a fuller upper lashline, and it also prevents the look from becoming too top heavy.
Pro tip: if you’re in a pinch, you can use your bronzer or contour powder for this step. Often when I’m traveling, I’ll use my highlight and contour palette to create the whole eye look.
On super busy days, you can stop here. Just add some mascara and you’re good to go. All the other steps just add different levels of subtle drama, so how extra you want to go is up to you.
Deepen The Outer Corner
Wielding a soft brown shadow two shades deeper than the last, I deepen my outer corner to add a slight upturn to my downturned eyes. By adding this darker color to the outer third of my eye along the crease, I optically tilt my eye upward, creating a cat eye shape without having to do a wing.
With a flat brush, I pat this color onto the outer corner of my eye, keeping it tight to the "outer V." Then, I blend it out using the same brush as before, starting at the outer corner, working inward using little buffing motions. The flat brush and fluffy brush are best friends. If I use the flat, I have to follow it up with the fluffy to buff it out right after. I just keep repeating this process until I reach my desired level of saturation.
Just as before, once I’m done blending, I use a smudge brush to smoke out my lower lashline. This time I only go halfway across. Again, by placing the density of the product toward the outer corners of my eye, I’m effectively created a cat eye shape.
If you want to take this look from day to night, you can just repeat the same process over and over, using deeper and deeper shadows, keeping the placement closer and closer to the outer corner of the eye every time. Smokey eyes aren’t difficult — they’re just repetitive.
Brighten The Lid
Light and/or shiny shadows help to attract attention and maximize space. To make the most of my tiny lids, I use my middle finger to tap on a little shimmer directly on the center of my lid, directly above my pupil. Then, I use a clean finger to tap out any hard lines or edges.
Shimmers tend to have a bit more fallout, so using a finger (which is super porous) rather than a brush for this step is super helpful.
Even if you have textured lids, you can still do this step. Because there’s already such a strong matte shadow base underneath, the intensity of the shimmer will be watered down. The light reflecting properties will open up your eye, but there won’t be enough shimmer to amplify any existing texture.
Line The Upper Lashes
For nighttime, I love a sensible, thick, smoked-out black liner. However, I like to keep my eyes a little brighter for day time.
Instead of a black liner, I’ll opt for a dark brown pencil. It’ll open up my eyes and make my upper lashline appear fuller without screaming "HELLO LOOK AT MY EYELINER."
I also apply the liner with an angled brush rather than applying it straight from the pencil. This creates a softer, smokey effect that emphasizes the smokey shadows. I find that applying the product straight to the eye can create a line that’s a little to graphic and contrasts with the vibe I’m trying to create.
Often, I’ll use the same angled brush to apply a little shadow in a similar color. This creates a hazy effect that softens the look. Look at any red carpet eye look that doesn’t involve an intentional graphic liner. The top lashline is always set with powder because it brings cohesion to the look and helps with longevity.
For daytime, I skip liner on the lower lashes, which can automatically transform a look from day to night. When I’m feeling particularly tired, I’ll use a little white liner in my bottom waterline to brighten up my eyes a bit more.
Roll On Some Mascara
Hello! How could one leave the house without mascara? To make sure my lashes don’t get lost in my smokey eye, I wiggle the brush back and forth at the base of my lashes before pulling through to the tips.
I love a sensible chunky lower lashline for nighttime, however, it looks a little out of place when all the other elements are so soft. To keep the lower lashline defined, but subtle, I lightly tap my mascara wand against my lower lashline. This provides just enough product to give a little extra oomph.
When in doubt, smoke it out my friends. With just a few tips and tricks, you can finally become the smokey master you were born to be.
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