How to Create the Perfect Cat-Eye Liner

Celebrity makeup artist Vincent Oquendo walks L'OFFICIEL through 6 foolproof steps for drawing flawless cat-eye liner every time.
Reading time 8 minutes
Ellen Burton photographed by Giorgio Murru for L'OFFICIEL India July 2016.

The cat-eye is a classic makeup look that everyone should have in their beauty arsenal. From Old Hollywood stars like Sophia Loren to modern beauties such as Bella Hadid, winged eyeliner has proved its timelessness. While a simple look, drawing on the flick can be deceptively (even intimidatingly) tricky. When done properly, it has an eye-opening effect that adds instant allure. The liner is a favorite of celebrity and editorial makeup artist Vincent Oquendo, who's executed killer cat-eyes on the likes of Hadid, Hailey Bieber, Lily Collins, and more. From the runways to the red carpet, the MUA swears by a layered eyeliner application technique that creates an extra bold effect that lasts all day.

To help you master the cat-eye, L'OFFICIEL consults Oquendo on the six foolproof steps to get the perfect winged liner.

Step 1: Prep the Eyes

Just as with applying foundation or other face makeup, the eyes need to be prepped for makeup application, too. "One of my favorite go-to tools is the Lumify Redness Reliever Eye Drops," Oquendo says. "Especially for eyeliner, I never skip this step." The handy product helps take down any redness on or around the eyes, making them appear brighter and more awake, and more importantly, providing a fresh canvas for you to begin your makeup look.

Step 2: Find the Perfect Pencil

Once you’ve let the eyedrops settle in, you can begin lining  the upper lash-line with a soft eyeliner pencil, like Mac's Eye Kohl. “Use a kohl pencil, not something long-wearing, because you want [it] to be a bit more malleable,” Oquendo suggests. 

This first liner application is only the first layer (the artist calls it a “safety layer”), so there’s no need to make it perfect. In fact, Oquendo recommends having some micellar water and pointed cotton buds on hand for easy cleanup around the edges. The Garnier SkinActive micellar water is the makeup artist’s favorite. Just make sure that whatever makeup remover you’re using during the process doesn’t have oil in it, or else it will cause any other products you apply to slip off. Oquendo also suggests doing eye makeup before the rest of the face, so that you won't mess up your foundation in the process.

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Bella Hadid with a cat-eye by Vincent Oquendo.

Step 3: Curl the Lashes

Before creating the signature flick of the cat-eye, Oquendo pauses on the liner and takes a moment to give the lashes a good curl. “If your lashes are curled properly, they can change the shape of your eye,” he says. This in turn will affect the angle and length that you draw your winged liner. 

To give the lashes just the right oomph, Oquendo says that using the right eyelash curler is key. Eye shape is an important consideration when choosing the best eyelash curler, but so is your hair color. Oquendo notes that people should look for a curler that contrasts with their hair, so brunettes should use a metallic gold or silver tool, while blondes will want one that is dark. This way, you will be able to see your eyelashes more clearly against the curler and you’ll be less likely to pinch yourself. 

For the proper curling technique, the makeup artist says to use light pulses, pre-mascara. 

Think about if you were drawing something. You’re going to use a pencil, because you have an eraser and can fix your work.

Step 4: Swipe on Priming Mascara

At this point in the process, you’ll want your eyelash curl to hold as you draw on the winged liner, but a full coat of mascara could smudge as you continue working or the lashes themselves could get in the way. Oquendo prefers to use a softer mascara that can act as a lash primer and keep the lashes curled while you finish the rest of the eye.

“One of my pro-tips for red carpets is that I always use two mascaras,” Oquendo shares. “One for defining, and one for volumizing.” For the former, the MUA swears by the Maybelline Lash Discovery. “It’s a super skinny, teeny-tiny brush,” he says. “With all of my celebrities, I dig it into the root of their lashes and then do a thin veil of it over their whole lash. I use it like a lash primer.” 

Later on, after finishing the cat-eye liner, you can add a volumizing mascara to complete the look.

Step 5: Outline the Wing in Pencil

In order to get the right angle of the cat-eye flick, you should look at a stationary mirror level to you. This means no craning your neck or using a handheld mirror, which could make it more challenging to draw each eye’s wing symmetrically. Once you’re looking ahead with your chin level, Oquendo says to take your eyeliner pencil and draw small ticks or dots from the outer corner of your eye aimed up toward the end of your brow. This will give you the optimal angle for the cat-eye.

“It’s OK to make a mess, because that’s why having those cotton buds and micellar water nearby is going to help,” Oquendo reminds. “Think about if you were drawing something. You’re going to use a pencil, because you have an eraser and can fix your work.” You can make the outline marks for the flick as long or as thick as you want, and then shape the edges of the wing for both eyes with a pointed cotton bud dipped in micellar water. “This is the step that you want to take the most time to do: evening out your eyes,” the artist says.


Step 6: Finish with Liquid or Gel Liner

After perfecting the base layer with pencil liner, then you can go over with an opaque liquid or gel liner. “Here’s the joy of doing the pencil first, when you get to the scary stuff, all you’re doing is tracing,” Oquendo says. Even if you accidentally draw outside of the pencil liner, the base is there and you’ll be able to see where you need to clean it up. The Kat Von D Tattoo Liner, Inglot AMC Eyeliner Gel, and Shiseido Archliner are just a few of the artists favorites. 

Before applying the liquid or gel straight on the foundation liner, though, Oquendo stresses to test that your products are compatible. A waxy pencil layered with a long-wearing liquid liner that has alcohol in it may cause the products to peel off altogether. Doing a quick test on your hand will let you know whether you’re good to go.

The layered approach also helps the liner pop more. “That’s my big secret with the red carpet,” Oquendo shares. “It’s a multi-layered liner, but it doesn’t look like it. It doesn’t look busy, but it has depth and it punches in a photograph. Even for a selfie, it just looks bomb.”

For a softer option, the makeup artist suggests only layering the liquid liner on the flick of the cat-eye, so you can amplify the definition of the winged liner look but keep the pencil eyeliner visible on the lash-line for a more natural effect. Oquendo is also a fan of colorful cat-eyes, which is an easy way to make a statement eye look, or playing with more lines to accentuate the eye shape, like the runway makeup he did for Christian Siriano's Spring/Summer 2021 collection.



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