For David Nicholas the paint that goes mostly on people's faces has always been a tool for empowerment — not hiding.
"A little powder and paint will make you what you ain't," he said. "It's not just about camouflaging or concealing the spots people might not like, a lot of it is about using the makeup to balance out your features."
Nicholas, 62, embraced makeup and started painting his own face and the faces of others when he was a child, which led him on a journey to work on thousands, maybe millions of faces throughout his career. The self-taught makeup artist has made over stars, including "Grey's Anatomy" lead Ellen Pompeo just as she was starting out as a model because he knew the Everett, Massachusetts native's sister.
He forged a long, prosperous career having made up Cher, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tom Bergeron and people know if they have a "difficult job they call me," Nicholas said. He's had studios across the Boston metro area where he's trained up-and-coming makeup artists and helped people embrace their beauty.
He's been in Andover for the past 7 years, and now he's giving up his studio and retiring.
That doesn't mean he's hanging up his brushes for good. Nicholas will still make house calls for clients and continue some of his favorite work: volunteering at hospitals to help people with skin conditions.
"I will die with a brush in my hand," Nicholas said. "I don't know how to not do what I do."
During his career, he's volunteered at every hospital in Boston to help makeover patients dealing with various skin conditions, like alopecia, burns and many other issues that impact their appearance.
"There isn't a disease or accident I haven't confronted with makeup," he said.
"It's the most rewarding when you see an individual empowered by choosing how they look," Nicholas said. "I want them to know it's an option for them to choose if they are looking for improved balance in their features or to dress up on a special occasion."
"Seeing particularly women empowered through my corrective work is especially rewarding because unfortunately, society is cruel. If you don't blend in, unfortunately, people can be cruel," he said.
Nicholas' roots lie with his upbringing in the North Cambridge Jefferson Park projects and later Somerville, he said. At only 8-years-old he began painting people's nails on the porch for 10 cents apiece. He had his first business cards advertising himself as a makeup artist at 15.
As he grew up and became a teenager he would often wear makeup — calling it his "Boy George" phase in the 1980s. His parents knew he was gay while growing up and openly embraced it.
"That's the root of his success because he never had to fight for that at all," said David Miranowicz, Nicholas' husband who is known as "the other David."
"My parents were very accepting of me and never said anything was wrong with me," Nicholas said.
As a successful makeup artist and proud, openly gay man in the 1990s Nicholas met Miranowicz who had just graduated from Merrimack College and was working as a personal assistant to one of Nicholas' clients.
"Being a young gay guy I knew he was a positive role model," Miranowicz said, adding he was enamored by Nicholas' charisma.
They are commonly referred to as "The Davids," which was painted on their Andover studio wall.
They've been together in life and business for 27 years. Nicholas plays with the paint and Miranowicz takes care of the finances as co-owners of the makeup studio and DNI Cosmetics, Nicholas' makeup line he started more than 30 years ago when he realized no one makeup brand covered every skin tone, he said.
As Nicholas retires, Miranowicz will continue their makeup line and get back into modeling, he said.
Their Andover makeup studio is closing at the end of August, just as their lease was up, Nicholas said. The pandemic did hasten his decision to retire and pull back as an artist. He likely won't be teaching any more classes but will keep making up people one-on-one.
As they pack up the Andover studio, they gave away a full-body mirror to a young woman who grew up getting her makeup done by Nicholas. She always wanted to be a model, and now she's doing it in New York City and will have that piece of her upbringing with her, Miranowicz said as he dashed out to her mother's car with the mirror.
They will also have to pack up the "thank you" notes from stars like Tom Selleck and Dick Clark and the photos and newspaper clippings of others that adorn the walls.
"He's not comfortable being called a legend, but he's a legend," Miranowicz said.
Looking back at his 45-year career, Nicholas is proud of his work in an industry he's openly criticized. He's happy to have taught many people, particularly women, how to use makeup to empower themselves.
"We should accept people no matter what they look like," he said. "Whether they adorn themselves or choose not to."
In recent years he's seen, people embrace his stance on how makeup should be used as a tool to empower themselves and not just hide blemishes.
He's particularly impressed with transgender youth he's helped makeover to embrace themselves, he said.
"I'm hopeful because people are very accepting of change, but I hope the new generation doesn't forget we paved the way," Nicholas said.