By Sophie Norris
A self-taught makeup artist who was badly bullied for her weight throughout school is regaining her confidence by creating enchanting makeup looks.
Donna Sweeney suffered years of schoolyard taunts for being a ‘bigger kid’ causing her to suffer crippling anxiety and panic attacks – and completely lose trust in people even into adulthood.
But the 30 year old found an escape from her fears and self-doubt when she started getting creative with her makeup brushes ten months ago.
Now background screening analyst Donna will often sit up all night until 7am putting the finishing touches to her incredible looks – which include mystical mermaids and unicorns to fierce tigers.
Her ‘therapeutic’ hobby has filled Donna with newfound self-belief and confidence and she says it allows her to empty her mind ‘like yoga’.
Donna from Sevenoaks, Kent, said: “At school I was a bigger kid and I was bullied for my size.
“Through secondary school I found a small group of friends but was still bullied for my size, the way I looked and the way I dressed.
“I had the same sort of trust issues with friends and the people around me for years even in my adult life.
“Only now can I say I have about four true friends I can trust completely.
“I’ve just always had issues with trusting people because I would trust too much and be let down or get my heart broken by the people I thought would have been my nearest and dearest.
“Makeup for me is like art and my face is a canvas. Since doing the different looks I’ve gained more confidence and have more belief in myself as an artist.
“Doing makeup is very therapeutic – it’s like painting a picture or doing your nails.
“It gives you some quiet time with yourself, empties your mind but also puts your focus on something different that’s not your own worries or thoughts. Some people do yoga, I do make up.
“I can tell myself that I’m good at something now, the fact that others like it is a bonus.
“It’s so heart-warming that something that was to just give me a focus against my anxiety has been received so well.
“To have people tell me I’m talented or an inspiration is a wonderful feeling.”
After being bullied as a child, Donna has suffered with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and claims the process of putting on the makeup and creating larger-than-life characters is calming.
Taking hours each weekend to create a new look, Donna has seen her panic attacks reduce and it has helped her tackle an ‘overwhelming feeling of fear and worry’.
Following her overnight transformations she sometimes struggles to remove the makeup again, walking into work with bits of her creation still stuck on her face.
After spending her life doubting herself, Donna claims enjoying art and makeup has given her more confidence in herself and her abilities.
Donna said: “Doing the different makeup helps my anxiety. It relaxes me, makes me feel better and gives me confidence.
“Before I started doing it, I was in a very bad place and getting depression. It was affecting me at home and at work.
“When my anxiety was bad it was as if I have an overwhelming feeling of fear and worry. I almost feel like I’m drowning in it.
“I felt scared of everything I did or anyone around me, it could be for the smallest things.
“Sometimes I would have panic attacks with it, so my heart would beat harder and faster and the feeling would get worse.
“I really needed something as a focus to take my mind off things.
“Getting stuck into something like makeup and using it creatively, not just to look nice, is great.
“Now I feel like I can breathe again. I can walk around without the fear I would have around people.
“I feel like I don’t need to worry about what others think anymore because I do this for myself.
“The fact people are calling me an inspiration and talented – it fills me with so much confidence.”
Last month Donna created two stunning rainbow looks after being inspired by Pride Month.
The LGBT celebration was Donna’s inspiration for a Pride design with a ‘cracked’ effect that she says encouraged her to come out of her shell.
Donna has also created looks based on Tim Burton’s well-known films such as Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat and Emily from The Corpse Bride.
Watching The Nightmare Before Christmas and Beetlejuice, alongside Burton’s other films, was a huge part of her childhood and Donna claims revisiting the characters has been therapeutic.
Donna said: “I did the Pride look for Pride Month. I’m a very big supporter of the LGBT community.
“The look with the cracks is inspired by coming out of your shell and showing your true colours and true self.
“I’ve always loved Tim Burton’s characters. His creativity played a massive part in my childhood.
“When I was younger I loved The Nightmare Before Christmas – Sally is my favourite character of all time. I also loved Corpse Bride.
“Day-to-day I rarely wear makeup anymore. But I usually do a new character once a week and it’s a way of showing myself I can do something creative and unique.
“It’s such a fantastic feeling when I’m satisfied with a look. I feel wonderful.
“I’m a perfectionist, I’ve been known to stay up until 7am doing it before.”
Recently Donna created Victor, the husband of Emily in Burton’s 2005 animation Corpse Bride, using her makeup collection.
As well as using cosmetics, she sculpted her jaw line using black face paint to create a sharp chin.
She also painted the Cheshire Cat, including his gigantic grin, using a palette of only nine colours and some white face paint, to create a floating illusion.
Donna said: “When I create the look, I don’t think how I can look exactly like them. I focus on how I can change my face to create a look based on them.
“In many of Tim Burton films, the characters are animated and use special effects.
“I’ve only been doing them for around three months but I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved.
“With Victor, I really wondered how I could create his animated character on a human face.
“In the end, I used black face paint to sculpt my face to give the pointed chin and then make up for the rest. The blacks and greys made it as grim as possible.
“For his black hair I bought a cheap wig online. Sometimes I will dye my hair too.
“My Cheshire Cat was the most impressive and my most thought-out look.
“I used a makeup palette with only nine colours – mainly shades of green and blue. The rest of it was black face paint and black eyeliner.
“I also used white face paint on my neck to make it look like the cat was floating – like it does in the film.
“It will usually take me between three and four hours to complete to full character as it appears on my photos. That includes putting on the wigs if needed.”