So, You Want to be a Makeup Artist

Ah the glamour of working in makeup! Flying first-class everywhere, working in amazing tropical locations, working with the stars, getting your face in flashy magazines….. If you think that is what being a makeup artist is about, then think on. Being a successful makeup artist is a combination of many factors, including skills, talent, aptitude and personality, as well as a little luck sometimes. Ultimately, it is a tough industry – and many people who set out to do makeup as a career will fail.

Reality Check

Most people who do a makeup course will never succeed as a makeup artist.

  • It’s basic economics – the supply of jobs is low and demand for jobs is high. Makeup is massively oversubscribed and lack of solid paid work often forces people to rethink and go and do something else.
  • If you’re not fussed about working in film/TV, then bridal, beauty and retail may have more opportunity, if you have the desire and skills needed for working in the service industry.
  • Working in film and TV involves long hours (social life… er, eh?) in all sorts of weather, sometimes in cramped conditions, fierce competition for few jobs, and lots of arseholes. Oops, there – we’ve said it! To be fair there are lots of lovely people too, but sadly lots of big egos, attitude and backstabbing. A cornucopia of duplicitous toss pots!
  • Of course, you have talent. You are determined, like makeup and films, and you can draw with lipstick. You have no friends, so the social thing is fine! And you are not afraid of toss pots! Bravo!
  • Sure, people do make it into the media industry and have a career, but to reiterate, most people who set out to be a makeup artist will never earn a decent living from it.
  • Of course, you are going to try – and why not? Trying is absolutely better than not trying. We all knew this cold reality when we started and still tried. It could be you! You could win the makeup artist lottery!

Where Do I Start?

Do you really have the aptitude, stamina, skills and ability?

Ask yourself some tough questions and give yourself honest answers:

  • Am I truly artistic? Do I really have talent?
  • Do I understand colour and light; am I prepared to read all about this “boring stuff”?
  • Do I want to practice, practice, practice in my own time to get better?
  • Can I deal rationally and calmly with lots of different people who may be a) nice; b) not nice; c) nice then not nice then nice again; d) 100% arsehole? It is a valuable skill.
  • Have I the stamina to do a 14-hour day, six days a week and not complain endlessly about it?
  • Can I survive mentally and financially between makeup jobs?
  • Have I the aptitude and good grace to be able to start at the beginning as a trainee and work my way, slowly, up the makeup ladder?
  • Am I really a team player? Can I work well with others, take instruction and do it to the letter with skill, calmness and humour and without moaning to everyone?
  • If I was left on my own, can I be trusted to work and pay attention and not sit around checking my Facebook?
  • Can I get up at 5 AM in the morning, drive to a location in the rain and dark and arrive not only perfectly on time, but amazingly cheerful every time?

If you can answer yes honestly to these questions, then maybe, one day, you could be a makeup artist. So, do you still want to be a makeup artist? Then read on!

Sign Me Up! Where Do I Start?

Training, Grasshopper, training – you need some basic training.

The commonest way to get this initial training is via a media makeup course, but it all depends on what area of makeup and the industry you wish to go into.

Also, don’t forget makeup is not just about the makeup application – there are many other skills needed to be a competent makeup artist, including people skills, organisation, health and safety knowledge, colour understanding, being able to prioritise and work to a deadline.

You could do a makeup course, you could be self-taught, you could know someone in the industry who will train you up or, for retail counter work, you may be trained in-house.

Ultimately, you will need to work with experienced and talented people to really progress.

Hairdressing

Being able to work with hair is often an essential part of working as a media makeup artist – but this does depend on what area you want to work in and also what country you live in.

For example, prosthetics dudes don’t normally twiddle hair and feature films often have separate hair and makeup departments. In some countries, including Canada and USA, hair and makeup are completely separate departments and you work in only one, so if you want to work in makeup there, you wouldn’t need any hairdressing experience.

For many media jobs in the UK, you’ll be expected to be able to do both hair and makeup. You should get a barbering or hairdressing qualification and then back this up with solid relevant experience (e.g. wig work and period hair styling) to be useful to a wide range of film/TV productions.

So… I have done my makeup and hair training. I can wash my hands before a makeup, make an eye bag, trim hair and know that red and blue makes purple. Ooh la la! I am a makeup artist! What happens now?

Career Progression

Want to be a makeup artist Grasshopper?Doing a makeup course DOES NOT make you a makeup artist and it sure as hell doesn’t make you a designer.

Tweaking a bit of hair or washing a few wigs DOES NOT make you a hair artist either.

Fiddling with latex in your basement DOES NOT make you a special effects makeup guru.

You are a trainee with much to learn Grasshopper. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve practiced with makeup at home, done a short intensive course or spent three years getting a fancy qualification – when it comes to working in the real world, you are a beginner.

You have no/little experience of working in the professional world of media and have a ton of stuff still to learn.

Trainee

A good trainee is the oil that keeps the makeup department engine running – you clear up, get drinks, run errands, sort out continuity and whatever else is required of you.

Please don’t ever think this is beneath you – a job as a trainee puts you in a great position to watch experienced people at work, maybe help with background artistes, assist on set – and you slowly learn and develop your skills and understanding. If you’re good, have left the attitude at home, are willing to help and learn without getting under people’s feet – who knows, the team may use you again.

Too many trainees we’ve some across think it’s beneath them and have a little bit of “I’ve been to college know it all” attitude – LOSE IT!

There are exceptions to this progression – some countries don’t have the trainee grade, but you should still consider yourself a beginner with much to learn.

Assistant

The next step up. You’re given more responsibility – what this is depends on who you’re working for and how well they know your skills, plus the size of the production can dictate how much you’ll have to be able to do.

Artist

So you’ve been at it for a few years getting good solid experience on a variety of productions. You’ve learnt more, you’ve put into practice what you covered at college over and over again. It’s time for a fanfare…. you have made it. You are a makeup artist. If you’ve had lots of hair experience, you are a hair artist.

Designer / Chief / HOD

A good (notice we slipped the word “good” in right at the start?) head of department has years of professional experience working their way up from the bottom and lots of other key skills like: organisation, knowing how to look after and manage a team, having a good eye for detail and continuity, understanding and implementing good health and safety, able to research for special effects or historical periods, liaising with other departments, able to break down a script – and so on.

From starting as a trainee, you’ll gradually build up these skills, and build them well over time, with lots of practice in various situations. “Don’t run before you can walk”, some wise ass once said.

Not everyone wants to be, or is cut out to be, a designer – and that’s fine. Some are happy being part of a team and letting someone else have the responsibility of being the head.

Getting Work

The tricky part at any level of experience – you’re often looking for the next job.

As mentioned, there are six million makeup people and two jobs. OK, we exaggerate, but getting work is not easy for the vast majority of people. Again, there aren’t enough paid jobs in film and TV for everyone.

Only a handful of people work regularly, a few people will work now and then, enough to scrape by – and sadly many will endlessly chase jobs and eventually give up, as living on nothing and not getting anywhere is pretty frustrating.

Finding Jobs and Getting Contacts

Media makeup jobs come about mainly through contacts, and many jobs have gone before the word is out. Again, competition. So, what else can you do? You could:

  • Check online media job sites. Sadly lots of them have lots of unpaid “work” and we’d say, never pay to join these sites, it is a waste of money.
  • Send out your CV to designers – they get loads of CVs, so make sure yours stands out and is well-written with no errors.
  • Once on a job, ask other crew members what productions are coming up, as they always know what’s going on elsewhere.
  • Use film and screen agencies – many have a crew database and send out emails when jobs come in.
  • Promote yourself online via social networks, professional networks and websites.
  • Get an agent once you have good experience and skills they can market (i.e. not fresh out of college).

Unpaid Work

  • Working for a low rate or even for nothing just devalues the craft of makeup and it will not pay your bills.
  • If you think that working for free will lead to paid work, think about it – there are lots of makeup people (some with much better CVs and contacts than you) and few paid jobs. The ones with proper credits and paid experience are in a better position to get the paid jobs.
  • There is also legislation in some countries that prohibit a “for profit” production taking on unpaid workers. So even if you want to work for free (but why would you!), the law means that it is generally illegal for companies not to pay you. For the UK, check out National Minimum Wage regulations.
  • Work experience is the exception – as this is rarely paid, but check out the legislation in country as to what constitutes proper work experience, as opposed to you being used as free labour under the guise of “work experience”. Being on a set with the pros is a great way to learn – just make sure you are not being exploited.

The Learning Never Stops!

There’s always more to learn and reasons for continuing your learning include:

  • Refreshing makeup and hair skills, or learning brand new ones
  • Technological changes putting new demands on makeup techniques and products
  • New makeup products and ingredients are released daily it seems
  • You pick up tips and tricks – time and budget constraints often impact the makeup department, calling for resourcefulness and creativity all round

There are lots of ways to keep your skills current and valuable:

  • Short courses
  • Online resources – but make sure the online resource knows its facts and is giving proper advice
  • Attend relevant trade fares and exhibitions
  • Read books and makeup magazines
  • Watch DVDs and online videos
  • Practice, practice, practice!

So, do you still want to be a makeup artist? If yes, then good for you. One tip – if you do end up working in the industry and ever think you know it all, why Grasshopper, it’s probably time to get another job…

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2 thoughts on “So, You Want to be a Makeup Artist

  1. Hi,
    I’m Matin. 21. I have experience as a makeup artist in my country.
    I want to learn more in here. what should i do? I have my resume and photo of my job which i done before.

    1. Hi Matin. If you want to learn more, then perhaps do short courses to “fill in the gaps” with what you want to learn. Google search to find courses and then do your research to make sure the course will teach you want it to! With regards to your resume/CV and portfolio, send it out to makeup designers/artists who work in the area you want to work (e.g. TV, fashion, film), and ask for trainee/assistant work, or even a few days work experience. It’s hard – there are LOTS of makeup courses (in the UK anyway) meaning competition for few jobs is fierce.

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