Cat-eye liner has been an indispensable part of my makeup routine ever since I discovered liquid eyeliner. As soon as I drew that first (somewhat shaky) wing, I knew I’d discovered a look that was meant for me.
I know I’m not alone in this. Those of you who have embraced the Way Of The Cat Eye know how devastatingly cute, seductive, fun, dramatic and gorgeous it can be.
But I also know that there are too many people who say that they can’t do cat-eye liner. They don’t think it works on them. They never figured out how to do it. They can’t find a good liquid liner. They just. Don’t. Know.
Consider me your Cat Eye Fairy Godmother. I’m here to grant you three wishes, assuming that what you wished for is a thorough grounding in the theory behind this look, followed by two awesome cat-eye tutorials.
Look, I won’t lie: the most important things in learning how to do your eyeliner are experimentation and practice. Nobody is good at this stuff the first time they try. But these tips, tricks and lessons are going to make it so much easier, and I guarantee that with my help, you'll have it mastered in no time.
Hey, if I could do it with a felt-tipped pen in high school, you can do it today with actual eyeliner. I promise. (Also: please don't use a felt-tipped pen.)
Let’s begin the lessons with a thorough grounding in The Basics, which I’m calling…
No, I could not help that pun.
1. Line shape and thickness.
A good cat eye is not the same width all the way across; that would be crazy-unflattering. It begins with a thin line, then gets thicker towards the end. Starting from the end, I draw a semi-circle about halfway across my lid, smoothing it out so that it's a gradual arch.
The width and placement of this thicker part can create all sorts of fun illusions. If you make it rounder, it can make eyes look bigger. If you make it flatter and thinner, it can make eyes look longer. If you start the thick arch really close to the end, it can make eyes look further apart. If you bring the thick part closer to the inside, it can give you a retro, almost Powerpuff Girls wide-eyed style.
Experiment! See what you like best!
2. Find your ideal shape.
Cat-eye liner is not a one-size-fits-all prospect, and depending on the depth of your crease and the shape of your eyes, you may need to experiment a little to find which shape and thickness looks best for you. Keeping that in mind, there are two basic cat-eye wing shapes: Curvy and triangular.
A curvy wing comes out, rounds at the bottom, then curves up like end of the letter J.
A triangular wing comes straight up and then in.
As a guideline, I’ve found that curvy wings are best if you want to make your eyes look bigger, as they extend and elongate the natural lash line. The triangular shape works best if you have quite large eyes and are looking for some added definition. When you see me with cat-eye liner, I am almost always wearing a triangular wing, because (as someone once said in the comments on xoJane), Grandma, what big eyes you have!
Another guideline: If you have very deep eyelid creases, or an extra fold, try a curvy flick. This shape tends to miss the crease at the outer corner, thus avoiding any issues that can occur with an angular shape over skin that moves.
If your creases are shallow, or if you don’t have epicanthic folds at all, start out with a triangular shape. See how you like it. If it’s too angular, begin rounding it out a little and see where it takes you.
Of course, none of this is eyeliner law. You do not HAVE to stick to these guidelines or else the Cat Eye Police will come and get you, or a magazine will call you a “don’t.” These are just some places to start experimenting--at the end of the day, wear your makeup the way that makes you happy.
3. Don’t pull on your skin while you draw.
At first, this seems like a good idea. Pull the skin tighter so that you can draw your lines easier, right?
Wrong! So wrong!
This creates weird illusions, and depending on how you’re pulling, it can make you think that your flick is going higher or straighter than it really is.
Check this out. Goofus here has pulled the skin by her eyes taut, which has made it really easy to draw on. But when she’s done, she realises her wing looks NOTHING like she thought it would!
Gallant, on the other hand, tips her head back to draw her lines. She does not pull on the skin, even when she draws over her crease. This way, she know what her flick is going to look like the whole way through.
Oh, Goofus! Will you ever learn?
4. Get the angle right.
This is crucial. No matter where your flick begins, you want to make sure that both of them come up and away at the same angle. There’s nothing worse than one wing higher than the other!
If you are a beginner on the Cat Eye Journey, the easiest way to do this is by holding a brush against the side of your nose and lining it up with the outer corner of your eye and the end of your eyebrow. This will show you the angle you should be aiming for.
When I was in my liner novitiate, I used to use a narrow sponge applicator and black eyeshadow to draw a small line along my brush. This was my flick guideline. I’d then trace over it with liquid liner, and voila! Two perfect wings with no issues at all!
No matter what shape you make your wings, this is a great way to get them angled evenly. Though brows are sisters, cat eyes are definitely twins.
5. Keep your length in mind.
This is the number-one reason why I think so many people imagine that cat eyes aren’t cute on them: the length of their flicks is wrong. Too long of a wing and the cat eye isn’t flattering; too short of a wing and the same thing applies. It’s a classic Goldilocks conundrum!
My flattering length is quite long because I have large eyes with a deep crease. I draw my wings straight and triangular, so I have to make them fairly long or else they’ll disappear into folds of skin. For someone else, this optimal length may be much shorter. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a scientific formula dictating how long the perfect flick should be--you really do just have to practice until you have that “AHA!” moment.
6. Get a product that you love.
My love for LORAC Front of the Line PRO liquid eyeliner is well-documented. It is so brilliant--truly black and absolutely waterproof, with a thin and flexible tip that is perfect for drawing cat eyes. It is the best liner I've ever used, and it's what I've used to create all of these looks.
You may have read all this and felt a little overwhelmed. It's a lot of information! Just know that it isn't actually that complicated when you're doing it--these are mostly ways for people to figure out and correct the issues they've been having with their liner.
So now that you have the theory down, let’s get into the practice. We’re going to start with a basic cat eye that's good for every day, and then try an advanced version that builds off the same look.
First, an important note: DO NOT follow these instructions one eye at a time. I never want you guys to end up with one eye done and one still naked! What I want you to always do with eyeliner looks is do each step on BOTH eyes before moving on to the next one. This drastically decreases the odds of ending up with two different lines. Trust me.
Start by drawing a thin line from the inside corner of your lash line (by your tear duct) all the way to the end of your eyelashes. This is going to serve as your base.
Now make the end thicker. I rest my little finger on my cheekbone, and instead of moving my entire hand to draw this line, I only move the fingers holding the liner. This gives me a perfect, even arch every time.
Finally, I draw my flick. I’ve been doing cat-eye liner for so long that I don’t need to use a brush as a guide anymore; I angle my flick up towards the outer corner of my eyebrow, drawing the bottom line first and then joining it up to the top.
Then I fill it in, add some mascara and under-eye liner, and voila! Now I have perfect cat eyes!
If you’re looking at this and going “It can’t POSSIBLY be this simple,” it is, I promise, and it gets much easier with practice! I am living proof!
So now that you have this down, let’s move on to a more dramatic cat eye. This takes a bit more work, but it’s definitely gorgeous for a night out.
THE DRAMA QUEEN
Begin with a base of light to medium brown eyeshadow all over your mobile lid (the part that moves when you blink). The actual shade that you use will vary depending on your skin tone--I’m using Factory from Urban Decay, a perfect cool brown with a satin finish.
Next, I repeated all the steps outlined in The Basic Cat Eye above so that I ended up with a bold liquid liner look, with one minor alteration: I made sure to extend the lower line of the wing (the one we draw first) all the way down so that it joins up with my lower lashline.
Then, I used my liquid liner to draw a fine line underneath (and in between) my lower eyelashes, getting right up to my waterline. Take this all the way to your tear duct.
Extend the thin line along your upper lashes down so that it forms a little triangle around your tear duct. Join this up with the liner you’ve just finished along your waterline. We’re getting VERY literal with the cat part of cat eye today!
If your underneath liner is maybe a little uneven, take this opportunity to run a little matte black shadow beneath to soften it up. I love the contrast between a sharp top lid and a lightly smoky bottom one.
Or--why not?--pick a brighter colour and run it underneath instead of black! I chose a shimmery green to bring out the green in my eyes; this is Lancome Color Design Infinite Luminous Eyeshadow in Enduring Vert, which I applied with a damp brush for maximum colour impact.
Apply some mascara, and you are done! Dramatically beautiful cat eyes are yours!
You can add fake lashes if you really want to get nuts with this look. Because the liner is so big, it can definitely handle some big eyelashes, so get full Real Housewives with it if that’s your jam.
But fake lashes aren’t required. It also looks great with just mascara. That’s my personal jam.
This concludes today's cat-eye liner lessons! I hope that this guide was helpful, if you have any liquid eyeliner questions, please ask away in the comments and share pictures of your cat eyes, if you're wearing them today.