Have you ever looked at an eyeshadow palette and just been lost at how to start using it? Sometimes the color combinations jump out at us but other times, they’re harder to spot. I have a very methodical approach to initially looking at an eyeshadow palette to visualize the types of color combinations that can come from it, which I’ve shared when I wrote briefly about how to build your own palette here.
This post features Natasha Denona’s Love Eyeshadow Palette, which includes 15 eyeshadows. This methodology can be applied to any size eyeshadow palette as a starting point. I’ve found that as I’ve learned to spy more color combinations and have worked with a variety of color combinations in practice, I see them more readily and can start to mix and match freely.
Divide Into Groups by Shapes
One of the easiest things to do with an eyeshadow palette is to visualize each column and row as a potential color combination. In the Love palette, this results in five (vertical) trios and three (horizontal) quints. In very large palettes, you might find it necessary to first visualize palettes with palettes (see below for guidance), especially for those who find it difficult to see the color combinations in the beginning!
Next, I like to look for quads of colors, and I’ll start from left to right, top to bottom. In my experience, a lot of brands arrange their pre-made palettes as groups of four. When there are only two rows of eyeshadows in a palette, quads are a good way to start, too. When the palette doesn’t evenly divide into perfect groups, consider using your hand or a piece of paper to “block” out the excess shades so it is easier to see.
As many readers have gathered, I have a tendency to cram a lot of shades into a single look, which is both a personal preference as much as it is a way to test more at once. After visualizing foursomes, I move to groups of five (see slide two) or six (sextets), which span slides seven through twelve. Just like with visualizing quads, I go left to right, top to bottom and look for a rectangle of six.
I like to think in terms of primary, secondary, and tertiary groupings with primary groupings being “easier” to use; imagine these as the combinations that you’re expected to find and try out, whereas secondary and tertiary may start to require a bit more creativity in placement or technique to be cohesive. Depending on the color scheme of the palette and the brand’s choice of layout, secondary and tertiary groups can be marginally more challenging to very challenging!
For those who prefer to use only a few shades in a look OR if you find that you need a few to start off with and then can mix and match after that, duos are a great way to look at a palette. I like to visualize the duos left to right, top to bottom first as horizontal duos and then as vertical duos.
More advanced visualization comes in the form of thinking in less traditional shapes (so not rectangles or squares) but in L-shapes or diagonals. Here’s a look at the Love palette divided into L-shaped trios — you’re basically taking the quads you divided the palette into and taking out one shade from any corner to create a trio.
You can also take smaller combinations, like duos, and then pair the duo with one (to make a quad) or two duos (to make a sextet) that aren’t normally connected. This is a great way to work toward mixing and matching on your own!
Create Palettes within the Palette
In larger palettes, it can be easier to break the palette into smaller palettes, which is a lot like dividing any eyeshadow palette into quads. In this 15-pan palette, that means that dividing into groups of nine gives me enough room for variety but can be easier to work from. In a palette of 20 or more, that might mean groups of 9, 10, 12, or 15.
Once you’ve done this, you can repeat the techniques from earlier! You’ll see that to build quads out of a nine-pan palette, you can get fancier by creating quads from L-shaped sections.
Putting the Color Combination Together
I find thinking about color combinations in terms of shimmer vs. matte and light vs. dark to be a good starting point for determining where a color might go on the eye. I’ve wrote about where to apply eye makeup at length here, but two common placements are:
Gradient: going from light to dark on the lid and going dark to light from the crease to the brow bone OR dark to light/light to dark horizontally from the lash line to the crease/brow bone
Halo: using the lightest shade on the center of the lid and flanking with deeper shades
I usually take the darkest shade in the combination and expect to put that in the outer corner and/or deepest part of my crease, or if I’m working with a larger number of shades, then I might use it to smoke out the lower lash line. Lighter and brighter, more shimmery shades tend to work well on the inner tearduct (to brighten), on the lid (all over, inner corner, or center), or on the brow bone.
Lighter and mid-tone shimmers or mattes are ones I often place as transition shades, which are near or above the crease area. Mid-tone and deeper shimmers work well anywhere on the lid or in the outer corner.
It can be good to pick a light and dark shade, so that there is contrast between the two shades. If you want to incorporate more than two shades, you might go light, mid-tone, and dark, or you might incorporate different textures, like light shimmer, mid-tone matte, dark matte, and light matte. You can also pair a lighter shimmer with a darker matte as a duo and add in shades as necessary, e.g. something to diffuse and transition the crease shade toward the brow bone or add in your go-to brow bone highlighter.
For reference, I’ve shared over 1,000 eyeshadow looks here. You can search looks by product or color here. I’ve also shared over 1,000 color stories I’ve pulled from various palettes and single ranges here with most of them being foursomes. You can also search for color stories by product, type, color, and more here.