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Make-up artist applying gauze around a man's wrist, fake injury.

Verona McDonald on prosthetics – "Do it all, be open to trying everything..."

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I found AUB when I was 14 as, from my grandparents’ house, we watched the campus accommodation being built. They told me about the grand performances held every year that the BA (Hons) Make-up for Media and Performance students contribute to. At this point, I had been teaching myself prosthetics for a year. After looking into the course and seeing the make-up produced by students, I knew there was no other one for me. Four years later, and an accepted offer, I was making my way to campus.

My biggest accomplishment I have taken on board this year was a collaborative project with Bournemouth University for their 2024 medical simulation under the theme ‘Zombie Apocalypse’. It was a collapsed building simulation in an underground car park, using boxes as pillars and a mixture of live and mannequin models. It was a two-day training exercise to help first- and third-year paramedic students and nursing students have a live, interactive experience, guided by healthcare professionals.

I always begin with an initial concept. Because this had to align with medical professional expectations, I went into my first meeting wanting to do a ripped open stomach and bitten-off fingers, to match the zombie theme. I quickly found out that was for marketing, and marketing only; thus the injuries could stay the same but were labelled as an eviscerated bowel and catastrophic haemorrhage hand injury. With that medical grounding and additional requests for two stomachs, two blood rig leg pieces and the hand, the project quickly turned into my entire major project.

As I specialise in prosthetics, more so in casualty, I know it is crucial that all research has to be done before making, as our perception of injuries, compared to what happens in reality, are very different. I was able to life cast before the event to have the hand and stomach to sculpt onto once the designs were complete. I was also given a moulage for the two days for burns, compound wrist fractures and lacerations – running over 50 prosthetics in preparation.

Content warning: images contain prosthetic blood, gore and injury detail.

I love the research aspect, so I made sure that all the injuries I had to create, particularly the hero pieces, would fit the context. The medical research can be rather graphic, so I was always mindful to take breaks when seeing real-life intestines and degloved hands got a bit much. Once the timing, location and cause of the injury were established, I was able to add the final detailing to my designs, like hair punching, before beginning the practical element.

Make-up is my main creative outlet, but I have been able to incorporate other interests into make-up. For another project, I did a documentary-style presentation of a triathlon bike crash, inspired by a bike failing of my own a couple months before the brief was announced, during a New Forest triathlon. Moving forward, I would eventually love to be working on film sets, applying make-up and operating blood rigs. However, working in the workshop, making the prosthetics, I find equally thrilling.

I currently sell wedding dresses, so as I'm starting out, I will see if I can get more experience doing that, as I have been commissioned for bridal before overseas. Additionally, since taking part in the simulation, I would love to do more, as well as silicone prosthetics for amputees. Ideally that would be my base job, whilst picking up daily work as I build my way up in industry.

The main piece of advice I would give to prospective students is: do it all. Be open to trying everything, as you never know where it might take you. This course is the perfect opportunity to have the one-to-one guidance on all aspects of make-up and hair. As good as it is to know what you want to do, like me, always having my heart set on prosthetics, it was so rewarding to embrace all skills learnt, like how to knot a beard. It can reinforce what you do and don’t want to do, and those skills are transferable. Much as I am not a wig person, getting used to handling hair strand by strand through knotting made hair punching so much easier – and that’s now one of my favourite skills.

Check out more of Verona’s work on Instagram.

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