Hair painting allows the colorist to “sign” their work—their client’s hair—with a signature hair color design.  

A California-based stylist and salon owner, and a member of the MODERN SALON Artist Connective, Sadie Jean Gray @sadiejcre8s has developed a technique she calls Raw Contouring, and after spotting some of the results of this method, we asked Gray to give us the backstory.

“This is highlighting and lowlighting but it’s using a hair painting surface technique,” she explains. “But ultimately, it’s less about the painting and more about the sectioning and tailoring it to each person.  

"I chose the term 'Raw Contouring' to describe this technique because ‘raw’ means something in its truest, most genuine form.  And contour is to create depth and shadows.  Light and shadow should always go together because you can’t have a shadow without light. Together, you are accentuating someone’s natural beauty.”

Raw This Way

There are different ways to incorporate Raw Contouring into your coloring.

"It’s very pliable as far as the technique goes," Gray says. “Sometimes I will do a balaymelt, where the contouring is the melt, so it’s darker toward the root and you have the ombre effect without having all darkness at the top. The balayage serves for the brightness toward the scalp.

"You can add the contour in back of the light (to create that depth at their roots and still have the brighter ends). When you do create that pocket of depth, you want to make sure that at the point on the triangle where the dark touches the light, you stay about ¼ of an inch behind where the highlight touches the hairline.  Otherwise you can create stripes."

“The contour could be a color melt.” Gray continues. “I can create the brightness around the face where the sun would naturally touch and then the contour is pockets of depth.  To achieve this, I surface paint at a diagonal, back, and then I would create deep triangles (acute), with the smallestpoint being in the front and the widest part of the triangle towards the back. The lowlight would be in the interior part of the hair where the sun doesn’t naturally touch."

It can be done with foiling, too, if the hair is dark but they want light, contrasting pieces.

“If they have level 5 or darker and they want low maintenance, along with brightness, dimension and depth, the balayage hair painting isn’t going to give them that super dramatic pop of light especially if they don’t want a lot of warmth.  If they have more pigment inside that hair shaft I will choose foiling.” 

Technique Tips

  • “I do prefer a clay lightener if the hair is a level 7 or lighter. If they are a level 6 or darker, I will add some powder into that clay because clay dries so quickly and the powder swells.  For 30g of clay, I might add 10-15 grams of powder to put some ‘oomph’ into that blonding. You just want to add a touch, though. And I would drop the ratio of developer down just a little.”
  • “I incubate always with plastic wrap because it keeps the moisture in—the longer the clay stays wet, the longer it has to keep processing.”
  • “Raw Contouring is great on any kind of hair texture. The most important thing is when you slice your section, and you have it in your hand, you have to concentrate more on how much hair is at the ends than how much hair you have at the roots. On some people, you can take this section at the roots but it thins down as you go and is very fine on the bottom.  The brightness and depth will disappear and blend together—it will look muddy—so you have to make sure the section is a good thickness at the end.  And that is the way you tailor to each person.  When people don’t look at the end of the hair they are just being mechanical.”

The Grow Out

Low maintenance is a key advantage of this technique, Gray says.  “The grow out is so flattering. If the contour and the shade of the contour is darker than the natural color, I recommend feathering that product up to the root instead of applying right to the scalp. When you get to the very top where the part would be, instead of taking a slice you would weave the low light in there (take a medium size stitch, in between babylight and thick) and then put the lowlight at the part.  Depending on how much brightness you want, you could add a highlight in between.”

Learn the Gray Way

Gray is an educator who has taught in both large settings and smaller, intimate environments. “I love a smaller group because there is less distraction and more opportunity to get in and paint.”  

Follow her on Instagram to tap-into her color techniques and teachings. 

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