I stumbled into makeup almost by accident. I was working full-time as a video game designer, and I happened to attend a seminar by a makeup artist. When I found out that I could do makeup for weddings on the weekends without going to beauty school, it sounded like fun. I begged my friends to let me practice on them, and soon I was reaching out to amateur models and photographers to build a portfolio. I’m a self-taught artist and gained a lot of my experience by working in the field, but I started out reading books and studying online videos.
In addition to makeup for weddings, independent films, and local fashion shows, I am now a consultant for cosmetic companies. I also have pursued beauty writing through my blog, Kaylin’s Kit, and with books such as The Mercenary Makeup Artist.
A day on set typically involves driving to the location, getting set up, and doing makeup for your first model or client. For commercial photo shoots, models will often be photographed with multiple looks during one day. So if there’s just one model, you often have some downtime between each makeup look. This is a great time to clean your brushes, eat a snack, or even lend a hand during the shoot. Then I often redo the model’s makeup for the next look. I can usually pick up and go home at this point, but sometimes clients are willing to pay to keep me on for touch-ups during the shoot. A job can take anywhere from half an hour (for one bride) to a full day (for photo shoots with multiple models and/or multiple looks). For larger jobs, there will often be several artists on staff, and that can add a really fun group dynamic.
I really love being able to transform men and women with makeup. There’s something so special about the power makeup has over us, and the way it can be used to play up our different features. It’s not just about defining someone’s stunning eyes or making dark circles disappear. Makeup can give a bride confidence, help an actress become someone entirely different, or allow a burn victim to draw attention to their beauty, rather than their scars. At the end of the day, that’s what I love most about makeup.
While high-profile artists spend a lot of their time on set, local artists, like me, often spend a fair amount of time chasing down business. This can be anything from answering emails from brides (asking for my availability and rates) to attending networking events like makeup shows. I also write 1-4 blog posts a week and handle phone and email consultations for makeup companies. Being a lucrative makeup artist is about running a successful small business, and you won’t get paid unless people know about you.
People skills and professionalism are necessary
Makeup is like other small businesses, and it requires a lot of people skills. Sometimes people can be just plain rude, such as brides who are under a lot of stress. Early morning call times, cranky clients, and rush hour traffic can be frustrating. Be prepared for this.
I’ve seen artists fail because they simply can’t handle the responsibility. If you can’t be early to an appointment–whether it’s at 4 a.m. or 4 p.m., then don’t commit. A makeup artist is one of the first people on the scene, and a professional will never hold up a shoot. If you can communicate well via email, handle frustrating situations gracefully, and generally conduct yourself diplomatically, then there is definitely a place in this field for you. Makeup skills are important, but interpersonal skills are far more important to your success.
Be conscious of expiration dates
Getting started in makeup artistry doesn’t have to be expensive, but it would’ve been nice to know how quickly my kit would expire. I dove in headfirst and bought almost a whole makeup kit at once, and then everything started to expire at the same time. I didn’t have a large volume of clients my first year, and I had to throw out some liquid makeup that I’d never opened simply because it expired. It would’ve been better to be more conservative in my purchases, especially those made for specific photo shoots. For example, I bought $80 worth of face paint for a shoot that never happened.
Don’t be disillusioned
Some people get disillusioned with this industry because they go in expecting to work with celebrities and supermodels. There are a few makeup artists who do, but those are the exceptions. Most of us earn our income through weddings, and most wedding looks are pretty similar. There is some creativity involved in this career, but ultimately you serve the vision of others: the director, the photographer, the bride, or the model. If you love inventive looks and crazy colors, there may still be a place in this field for you, but you might not get paid for that type of work until you’ve clawed your way to the top of the industry.
Don’t quit your day job
I also recommend that you don’t quit your day job. Many of the most lucrative jobs, such as weddings, are often on the weekends. It’s a lot easier to learn when you aren’t desperate to make ends meet. You’ll make a better impression on clients and you’ll be more likely to have some extra cash for your makeup kit. If you reach a point where you’re flooded with work, then that’s a good time to start thinking about a more permanent career change.
You have many options to master your craft
There are many different ways to master makeup skills, from books to online videos to beauty schools. Techniques are widely published on beauty websites, so study up and practice often –both on yourself and on your friends (using their makeup, of course). I am self-taught because I felt I could tailor my studies to what I most needed to succeed, from bridal makeup to looks that would hold up to professional lighting. However, the most difficult part of being self-taught is designing your own plan. I recently wrote a book, The Mercenary Makeup Artist: Breaking into the Business with Style, to help aspiring artists. I wanted to create a step-by-step path that anyone could follow, from finding great educational resources to making a portfolio and getting your first job. It is critical for you to treat yourself as a business and to conduct yourself as a professional.
One of the best ways to learn is by getting on set. Once you’ve mastered some of the basics, like a great foundation application and some popular looks, reach out to artists in your area to see if you can assist them. Many artists would be glad for some free help. Just be prepared to do the thankless tasks. Even if you think the work is beneath you, the opportunity to observe a mentor in action is priceless. No matter how much I studied, I always learned the most in the field. It’s hard to replace the pressure of a real photo shoot, where time is just as important as quality.