How to Choose a Makeup Course

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Makeup courses can be expensive. On top of tuition fees, you have to support yourself. Not all courses are equal; some are really good, some are terrible. With some time and effort you can find the right course for you and get the best tuition for your money. After all, this is the start of your career and you want the best start possible.

Reality Check

Firstly, doing a makeup course does not make you a makeup artist, nor does it guarantee a long and happy career.

Secondly, most people who do a foundation training course will not succeed, many giving up through lack of paid work or the stamina needed to work in this industry.

Makeup is a fiercely competitive job and it all boils down to simple economics: a small number of jobs vs. humongous amounts of people doing makeup courses. Basically, there are nowhere near enough jobs to provide everyone with regular paid work.

It does vary from industry to industry, with film and TV being the hardest sector to get regular work in. The retail, beauty and service (salons and spas) industries may provide a better option for many.

Do I Really Need to Do a Course?

Ultimately this is down to you, your talent and your aptitude. Just remember: doing a course doesn’t make you good or employable! Doing a course doesn’t make you a makeup artist – it makes you someone who has simply done a course in makeup.

Industry people can have mixed views about doing makeup courses. There are a handful of successful makeup artists who have been totally self taught – and there are those who have completed an initial training course first. Ultimately, success comes from a combination of many, many factors for each individual and training is just one of them.

In a really competitive industry like film and television, you’re probably less likely to be considered for jobs without some sort of foundation training in something relevant to the area you wish to work in (e.g. having an education in fine art for prosthetics), unless you have amazing contacts who can teach you everything. However, few makeup departments have the time to train someone up from scratch on the job.

If you feel a course is the way to go for you, then read on.

What Type of Makeup do You Want to Do?

There are various industries for a makeup artist to work in, including television, theatre, wedding and beauty, fashion, retail and the service industry.

There are also specialties within makeup, like prosthetics and body painting.

All these fields share some commonalities like health and safety, colour theory, corrective makeup, skin care and good working practices. However, the techniques used, creativity needed and other required skills do vary from area to area.

Decide what type of a makeup artist you want to be and what area you want to work in and train accordingly. Consider the makeup courses that teach the type of makeup you want to do. There are schools and courses that specialise in each area, from tv and film, to prosthetics or bridal and so on.

However, don’t forget all the other skills that a competent makeup artist needs, including people skills, organisation, working to deadlines and dealing with many curve balls. Does the course help fine tune these skills too?

Types of Courses and Providers

Makeup courses are run by:

  • Local authority, government or community colleges (who also usually run courses on all sorts of subjects).
  • Private makeup schools. Many of these are run by makeup artists/designers.
  • Online or long-distant makeup courses. If you want to do a course, we suggest that you do one that’s taught in a bricks-and-mortar college. This provided hands-on experience and is taught face-to-face by tutors who can give you feedback and help when needed. Don’t waste your money on a long-distance learning course – it’s hard to learn all about a creative, hands-on profession this way. The exception to this is Dick Smith’s SFX makeup courses – they get great reviews, are very respected, good value, tons of information from the master and lots of SFX makeup dudes have done the advance course.

Course lengths vary from a couple of months all the way up a couple of years. Shorter courses tend to be full-time and intensive; longer courses can be either full- or part-time. Again, it depends on what sector you want to work in as to how much there is to know about that industry – a bridal course doesn’t need to cover as much as a film/television course.

Some schools offer qualifications from diplomas to degrees, others give you a certificate of achievement or attendance.

How much time and money you have influences what courses are available to you. Personally, we say don’t get into huge debt for a course if you really don’t have the money. Remember – have a reality check.

Choosing a Course

Get All The Information

Read the website, get the brochure… then ignore all the waffle and flashy photographs. Makeup schools are businesses and are designed to make money. Of course, that’s what business is about and we don’t begrudge people making a profit. Some just do it less honestly than others.

Look at everything they say. Consider the curriculum, the facilities, what you get for your money, what kit you get, how you’re assessed and how long they’ve been training and so on. Get the school’s prospectus. Obtain as much information as possible, simply a starting point of reference for asking questions and checking the validity of what is being promised.

What are the “satisfaction guarantees”? As in, what refund do you get if you decide the course isn’t right for you? What is the complaints procedure should you not be happy?

If they are promising you a career – they are lying. No school or course can guarantee you this.

Don't be taken in by bullsh*t

Accreditation and Legislation

Accreditation is a voluntary “standards check”, where an independent ruling body or organisation checks over the course and school facilities every so many years. A report is given to the school about what is good and any areas to improve on, which are checked again at some point. If the course fails miserably during an inspection, it will have its accreditation revoked until standards are improved and rechecked.

While it’s good to have an independent review of the school, accreditation doesn’t mean that the makeup courses are right for you, or that the standard hasn’t changed since the last audit – keep an open mind! You may even be able to request a copy of the audit to check how the last inspection went (this depends on where you are in the world and local laws about viewing such documents).

Legislation is different to accreditation. It refers to the laws that apply to the country/state/region the school is. So, you need to check if there are legal requirements relating to running a makeup school in the country/state where you wish to study. If so, check that the school has the applicable license(s) to operate as a makeup training facility.

Some legislation offers consumer protection too e.g. for students in California and Florida, there is the California Fair Refund Policies and the Florida State Fair Refund Policies.

Qualification and Certificates

General media makeup qualifications mean very little in the real world. Having the right attitude and genuine ability mean far, far more.

For those wanting to work in the beauty sector, doing a beauty therapy or cosmetology qualification is essential and in some countries it’s needed to get a license to work. We’re not talking about these qualifications.

Few makeup schools fail people, meaning good and not so good students are released into the makeup world after doing a course. A rare few schools do state that students will be removed from the course and reimbursed if they don’t have the right aptitude or ability.

Some schools do have quite strict entrance requirements, which is great (why let someone do a course they are not going to be good at?); however, many do not. Sadly, many makeup colleges these days will pretty much enroll and pass anyone.

Don’t favour a school solely because you get a fancy qualification. If your final toss up is between two schools and all other things are equal, then, sure, go for the qualification.

Whatever initial foundation training you do, you still leave a school as a trainee (in the UK) or a beginner with much to learn.

Sorry you learned nothing

Look at the Curriculum

Everyone learns at different paces and schools tend to cram in as much as they can. Consider your ability to take in new information. Some intensive makeup courses may be too fast – you do something once, then straight on to something else. A longer, slower-paced course may be better for you.

A good foundation course should teach all the essential basic elements of makeup, with plenty of hands-on practice time and a low ratio of tutors to students.

Practice is the way to get better! Lots of practice on fellow students as well as models is good. Being practiced on helps you to understand things from a client’s perspective. I’ll always remember the pressure used on my eyes by one dimwit student; suffice to say I have never jabbed a client. It also gives you practice on a wide range of skin types, tones and ages. It’s up to you to practice outside of school – and the more you practice, practice, practice, the better you will get.

Lies you tell yourself

Talk to Former Students

And talk to more than one! This is a vital step, one of the most important, in researching makeup schools. It gets to the nitty gritty. Personal reviews from past students is an invaluable way to establish a course’s true value and if the promises in the prospectus were fulfilled.

Everyone will have an opinion, so the more ex-students you talk to, the more you will identify the common good points and the common bad points. Get testimonials from the horse’s mouth rather than trust the testimonials on a website.

Visit the Schools

The location is largely irrelevant, safety and transport not withstanding. Of course, if the area feels unsafe, or you can’t get there, then don’t go to that school. What we mean is, don’t be put off by a college that’s in the suburbs, as compared to one in a city centre. Reputation and the quality of teaching mean a lot more.

Don’t be put off by a crappy-looking building – it’s what goes on inside that is important. Don’t be wooed by a college that brags about its film studio location – it means nothing if the tuition is rubbish.

Go to the schools and have a good look around. Take the prospectus and question everything in it. Talk to the current students, preferably when the tutors are not earwigging! Is it cramped or spacious? Is the lighting good? Any ventilation? How many tutors to students?

Check Out the Tutors

A makeup course should be taught by makeup pros with lots of experience in that field, including recent work. Techniques and technology changes continually – you want someone who knows this. Being taught out-dated techniques is not useful to anyone.

Look tutors up on the internet, check out their credits and body of work.

Can the tutors teach? They may have experienced and be great artists, but this doesn’t necessarily make them a good teacher! Speaking to ex-students will help to ascertain if the teaching methods are good and demonstrations carried out well.

Tutors come and go all the time. Ask the school who’s actually teaching on the course you’re looking at. Literature and websites are not always kept up-to-date.

See Through the Waffle and Ask Yourself “SO WHAT?”

  • A school has an agency and industry contacts. So what. (What type of work and how much does it really get in? Will I be offered any of it? Is it paid?)
  • A school has former students that have won an award. So what. (Someone has to win them, and this could be down to lots of other factors, not necessarily where they trained – which was more than likely a long time ago! Schools change!)
  • A school has lots of flashy photos on their website and say that they are the best provider in the world. Big claim. So what. (Are the photos done by the students or are they professional? And schools that bad mouth other schools, well…)
  • The website has a list of former students working on big films. So what. (How many former students are not working on big films? Answer: Most of them.)
  • The school is owned by a makeup designer. So what. (This doesn’t mean you’ll be swanning off to the Caribbean as their assistant. They may not be there most of the time, or they may not be any good at teaching!)

Ask yourself: SO WHAT? So what does this actually mean for me? It seems a bit belligerent, but you must ask tough questions as, sadly, the bad schools are good at flannel. Marketing is designed to part you with your money over the competition.

Phew… This is Exhausting!

Well, there are a lot of courses out there! Just remember, it’s your money, your time and your future. Make the effort, ask lots and lots of questions and don’t take anything the schools say at face value without checking. There are really good courses out there, and there are really bad courses: do your research!

Found It! My Dream Course…

Once you find your dream course, then it’s over to you. Work hard! Behave as a professional should. This means, turn up on time, attend everything (some schools will, rightly, kick you out for poor attendance), take notes/photos for reference, practice outside of classes, read makeup books, look at DVD tutorials… in other words “work ethic”. If you can’t cut it when just at school, then in the real world, which is much, much tougher, you will fail.

Then, once you’ve done your course, more hard work comes your way… finding work, and keeping on finding the work.

Do not underestimate how tough an industry this is!

Good luck! May the odds be ever in your favour.

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