A makeup specialist puts the gore back in Horror

Abby Clawson

It’s a weekday morning for Abby Lyle Clawson ’04. She heads into an on-set trailer to catch up with a leading actress, cut her face up and add some realistic touches of blood. They talk about family, friends and that psycho who almost hit them on the freeway.

From a young age, Clawson says she loved altering faces with her talents in makeup. Her mother Cindy Lyle ‘71 even recalls her daughter sending sleepover friends back home with fake bruises and scratches.Today, that childhood dream has come to fruition with her career as a movie and television makeup artist. Her years of experience working in small films and blockbusters led to her recent nomination for a 2020 Emmy Award for her work in “American Horror Story: 1984” for Outstanding Period and/or Character Makeup (Non-Prosthetic).

“I was totally shocked and full of pride for the team I was on to achieve such a high honor in our field,” she says. “Truly a highlight in my career.”

Clawson’s make up work includes beauty (think cosmetics for an award show), period (fitting to a specific era), character (changing physical configurations) and special effects (which can include prosthetics).She was on the 2019 Academy Award-winning team for best make up on the feature film “Vice.” A few of the many television series she’s worked on are “Ratched,” “Hollywood” and “Baskets.”

Clawson recalls earning more significant roles in her solo career as early as 2008. Continuing to meet the right people, project after project, eventually led her to be recommended for an international opportunity.

That chance ultimately led to an African Academy Award in 2010 for her special effects’ makeup in the film “Sinking Sands.” Clawson received the award early in her freelance career and worked in Ghana for 45 days for the production.

This work included creating a realistic third-degree burn, as well as the aging and progressive stages for the following five years in the storyline. “It was a very difficult shoot for lots of reasons, so I was full of pride and validation when I was first nominated and then won!” she said. “I felt strong to move forward and keep pursuing what others would call a dream.”

Since then, Clawson has worked with actors such as Christopher Walken, David Spade, Rosanna Arquette, Elijah Wood and more. Most recently she worked Angelica Ross in “American Horror Story.”


Coming from a military family, Clawson lived all over the country and the world, but there was one place she was dedicated to land permanently: Los Angeles. Clawson was a “theater kid” in high school and eventually made the switch to Auburn’s theater department in her junior year “I was really thankful for that,” she says of her time on The Plains. “The theater department was small enough but had enough money to do big things that I could be really active with a lot of departments.” These inspiring experiences gave her the creative freedom to explore makeup and design as a career.

Her mother is, among other things, a portrait artist, and influenced Clawson to pursue her creative passion. A couple of weeks after graduating, she loaded up her car and drove to California to begin her lifelong dream.

“This is not an overnight success,” her mother Cindy Lyle said. “She’s very resilient and she beat the streets.” Clawson applied everything she knew from Auburn when she enrolled at Make-Up Designory (MUD), a makeup school located in Burbank, but picked up even more.

“I learned a lot about different medians of make-up application, production terminology, and what exactly this job was other than just make up,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade that education for anything.”

“I would always say, if this was something somebody wanted to do, they had to go to school for it; otherwise, they would be so far behind,” she says. “Or like anything else artistic, do a hardcore apprenticeship.”

On the set of American Horror Story
On the set of “American Horror Story”

After her accreditation from MUD, Clawson worked every gig she could find for the next five years as a freelancer. She recalls the “long-haul struggle” that included many small independent projects and student films. “Anything that you and a group of peers could get together and create was the name of the game!”

Following 10 years of resilient work, Clawson joined Local 706, a makeup artist and hair stylist guild that enabled her to progress in her field, provide long-term job security and give her the ability to work on anything she wanted. No doors are closed to its members.

“It was all like a snowball effect,” she said of her lead up to 706. After every gig, she was running into more professionals in the industry, helping her land her next project. “It was all slowly building up by getting to know people.” The Auburn alumna says she has formed some unique bonds with these actors. They are usually the first ones on set together, as well as some of the last to leave. Clawson literally gets to know the person behind the mask.

“It’s an interesting game—we are close and very personal,” she says. “We know a lot about each other’s lives. It’s very weird how regular it becomes, that you’re just friends and doing a job together.”

Working with multiple generations of actors, Clawson says she is passionate for working with anything historically accurate. In the miniseries “Hollywood,” she helped recreate the 1948 Oscars with various look-alike real stars of the time and at that event. “The scope of grandeur was incredible,” she says.

Though she says “it’s totally rewarding” to see her work in theaters and television, you’ll rarely find her wanting to watch it— she’s always critiquing herself.

“You’re sitting there looking at your work, very large with a magnifying glass, so problems you might have missed are now very large and hard to ignore. As the artist, you are always trying to hone your eye to be better the next job,” she says. Following a pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Clawson is back on a new set (following safety and health precautions). She is also taking care of her two boys, Sawyer and Finn, with her husband Brian, whom she calls “a constant support throughout her life and career.”

“I want women to know that they can have both sides of life,” she says. “That’s very important to me, to have a career and to have kids.”

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Applying Fake Blood
Clawson often applies fake blood to actors as well as makeup

Clawson has some amazing projects to look out for in 2021 including a film about a notorious LA icon. To see the latest work from Clawson, follow her on Instagram @MabbyMakeup.

Working in a cutthroat industry, being nervous doesn’t come to mind when she’s involved with these million-dollar productions. “A good healthy mix of excitement and apprehension on what can go wrong,” she says of her mindset. “So, you prepare for all situations and walk in with confidence.”