I'M A DUMBASS about makeup. I used to apply my mom's under-eye concealer as lipstick, thinking I was the picture of Twiggy chic, when in reality it looked like I'd been making out with Silly Putty. My makeup IQ hasn't gained much ground since then, but I've reached "a certain age" where mastery of beauty products might not be a bad idea. Unfortunately, navigating the Byzantine world of cosmetics is like trying to pass your potions O.W.L. on your very first day at Hogwarts. What concoction for face? Where go brown goo?

I tried makeup books. Not visual enough. I watched YouTube, only to see adorable 20-year-olds time-lapse themselves into duck-lipped Kardashian abominations. Nope—not for me. I needed a tutor.

So I called local makeup artist Patty Harding (whose work you can see in ad campaigns for Wildfang, Bridge & Burn, and Gilt jewelry), and she promptly came to my rescue, showing up at my door with a bag of tricks and rock-steady patience. First she looked over my meager toiletries, and was politely aghast at my filthy makeup brushes. Harding showed me how to wash them (rub bristles thoroughly through a dab of shampoo, rinse, and let them dry hanging over lip of sink).

Step one for Project Teach Grown-Ass Lady about Makeup: wash face. Slather on moisturizer. Harding then applied a primer (it makes products stay on longer), concealer for red areas, and a bronzer. On my own, I think I'll stick with a bit of concealer and some bronzer—it felt mask-y under the primer. Harding gave me tons of advice about what colors went with my skin, and then we delved into eyebrow tints, eye shadow, blush (a little goes a LONG way), and the proper application of mascara (work it into the roots, then pull brush up to the lash ends). I looked nice when she got done with me! But... could I do it myself?

Three attempts later, here I sit, fully made up—on my couch in a raggedy t-shirt, looking very fancy for my cats. It took me about 20 minutes to get to this stage, and I'm not fully convinced my work could withstand the harsh realities of sunlight, but it's a much better effort than I've ever put forward. My cats are nonplussed, and I'm not sure I want to shave away two snooze buttons' worth of sleep from my morning routine, but at least now I can do it.

I was far more successful replicating the second look Harding taught me: showy roller-derby game face. Before our lesson, I'd always just applied oodles of black eyeliner, then slopped on some glitter. Harding showed me how to apply proper cat's eye liner (start with the outermost point and draw the line toward the corner of the eye—no more stroke-victim crookedness!), then put a richly pigmented glitter on my lids. I bought some similar bronze eye glitter (Stila's Magnificent Metals Foil Finish), which came with a teeny little bottle of serum and a pot of glitter that you mix on a wee palette, like a very glamorous Severus Snape. And while I have loads of work to do to become a better roller derby player, not so far to go with kickass sparkly face paint.

The takeaway: I need to keep practicing to get better at this makeup business, because while it's relatively easy to nail a gaudy look, it's not so simple perfecting everyday subtle. Oh! And the brown goo goes on the eyelids.

Makeup artist Patty Harding, flashyhybrid@yahoo.com, $150 for private consultation (about 90 minutes)