How to Become a Makeup Artist

Maybe you have a knack for telling what color lipstick or eye shadow would look good on a person based on an intuitive sense of what best compliments wardrobe and complexion. Maybe you were captivated at the beauty of Hollywood stars and pondered how makeup must have played a key role in unleashing the elegance and enhancing that which was naturally inherent in these charismatic figures. Whatever the reason behind the attraction, if you are called to the artistry of makeup as a career, there are several considerations you would be well-advised to investigate.

As with any profession in the arts, developing a career as a makeup artist means being up against a preponderance of other aspirants like yourself. One of the first choices you may wish to make is one of specialization. This would be an area of the profession for you to concentrate and to focus upon for training, eventual gainful employment and ultimately, with perseverance and talent, success. There are several areas in which the skills of a makeup artist are necessary. Be it on the professional stage in which broad strokes are utilized to help the actor create a character that can be seen from a theater’s back row or for the subtle art of film and television in which your skills are best realized by the audience who won’t even notice your handiwork, or on a fashion runway or photo shoot, each requires a certain specific expertise. Master one (or more) of these areas and you will have a leg up.

Like a painter has a canvas, the makeup artist’s medium is the human face and body. Makeup is utilized for the following mediums: Theater, TV & Film, fashion, magazines and for the fashion modeling industry.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

Chris Lanston

Makeup Artist

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Company:
  • Twitter:
  • Chris Lanston
  • New York, NY and Los Angeles, CA
  • 15
  • DGReps Agency
  • @chrislanston

Unlike many in my profession, I was basically self-taught. I never took a makeup class or went to school. I learned primarily from reading Kevyn Aucoin books and from constant practice until I was satisfied with my results.

My workdays are always different because as a working artist, I might be on set for half a day or all day for a week straight. Often, I might be called to do a photo shoot for a publication the following day or get hired to do a red carpet event, so I wouldn’t ever say it’s ever average, but I am always enjoying each day as it comes.

What I like most about my career is being able to give back what I enjoy… It’s easy to get caught up in the lifestyle with celebrities, and it is extremely fun, but to be able to help an average woman find her confidence by showing her the beauty she has is always an unforgettable experience. What I dislike is dealing with so many egos. I’m fine with opinions, but leave the ego at the door.

Advice

First piece of advice
My first piece of advice is to never take anything personal and to remember to have fun! Keep in mind it’s art, and so know what kind of artist you want to be first. This is the way you can find and develop your signature style.

No hard and fast rules
There are no rules to makeup, but always try to learn new tricks and ways of expanding your craft. Never talk back to a mentor or try to outshine the key artist when you are only an assistant. If your work is good, it will be noticed. And always try something you think you are not good at to get better and perhaps discover a new talent.

Spend time on a portfolio
If you aspire to a career in NYC or LA, then I would spend time working on a portfolio, and then call a few agencies to see if they might be interested in seeing your book. Another way would be to go to salons and see about assisting or find photographers who need makeup artists.

Kaylin Johnson

Makeup Artist

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Company:
  • Twitter:
  • Kaylin Johnson
  • Austin, TX
  • 4
  • Self-employed
  • @kaylinskit

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.

Advice

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.

Mimi Chapman

TOTHEBEAT – Owner

Quick Look Bio

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My educational background is in Biology and Epidemiology. However, I started my career in the makeup industry approximately 1 year ago and am a self-taught makeup artist. The growth in just those 365 days has been tremendous! I went full force into this industry, researching and studying with some of the most notable artists in the field. I spent countless hours reading books, watching tutorials, and practicing looks. I attended classes, seminars and conferences to learn the basics of makeup application. In addition, I sacrificed the necessary funds to ensure I had quality products for my clients.

My average workday starts a few days before a job. In preparation for each client, I must ensure that all of my products and brushes are cleaned and sanitized. I survey my collection to make sure I have all the products I need as well as make any last-minute purchases for items that I am low on. If I am traveling to a client, I pack up a large kit that includes almost every item at my studio. I always want to be prepared for additional services that weren’t requested at the time of booking. Clients that book appointments also have the option of traveling to my in-home studio to receive makeup services. I prep this area for each client and schedule all appointments in hour and a half intervals.

I love the reaction a client has at the end of their session! It is such a rewarding feeling to see someone leave your chair with an increased amount of self-esteem and self-confidence. Many clients are unsure of what to expect at the end of the session and the glow in their eyes when they look in the mirror is indescribable! As with many professions, the preparation needed to prepare for an appointment takes a lot of time, especially when you are traveling to a client. Many hours are spent cleaning, sanitizing, packing and loading your products and equipment, so cancellations are an inconvenience and one of my pet peeves.

Advice

Be cost efficient
At the start of my career and during my research of the industry, I went out and purchased almost every item I had seen someone use in a video or during a demonstration. I quickly learned that this was not the most feasible and cost efficient way to maintain a makeup business. Although I did not know this initially, I learned that you do not have to have a specific product to create a specific look. There are so many items out there that are duplicates for other items. If you want to use blue eye shadow, you don’t have to go out and buy the same blue eye shadow that you saw a makeup artist use in a class or on a video. Learning what products achieve the look you want and save you money is a skill every makeup artist should grasp. Many items in my kit are exact duplicates of other items that cost more money.

You have to practice
For the beginning artist, my advice might sound cliché, but practice, practice, practice! When I started in this industry, I did looks on myself every day. I tried things I saw in videos and noted areas I needed to work on. I practiced different methods to perform a skill so that I knew a hundred ways to do the same things. I did looks on family members and friends to learn how to work with different complexions, face shapes and flaws. I tried many different products and found cheaper versions of expensive products. Lastly, I made sure to attend classes and conferences to get the insight from pro makeup artists and experts.

Step out on faith
Also, you have to just step out on faith! Don’t take offense to criticism and critiques, because it can only help you. Understand that makeup artistry has different genres, so if you are not good at glam makeup, try fantasy makeup or Special FX. More importantly, make sure you have gained the skills needed to classify yourself as a makeup artist.

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Makeup Artist?


Our experts make no claim to a definitive educational path. To become a make-up artist, practice is your best friend, but there are several schools and colleges where you can learn the skills necessary and have access to each school’s professional network.

Often, when attending university as an actor or to learn some other related skill, theater makeup classes are a part of the curriculum. This is how many stumble upon what truly fascinates and inspires them, in this case, the magic of makeup.

There are many schools that offer certificates and degrees in the art of makeup. Some are listed below, but it is important to keep in mind that no school can replace that which you have within, namely the drive, dedication and talent necessary to ultimately succeed.

WHAT IF I DO WANT A DEGREE IN MAKEUP ARTISTRY?

Here are some options for schools in North America:

  • Cinema Makeup School
    Cinema Makeup School teaches all aspects of makeup design and execution, though the school is most renowned for its teaching of monster–making skills. The school specializes in providing instruction in prosthetic design, production, and application. Three-time Oscar winning makeup artist Ve Neil has worked with the school to provide the $10,000 Ve Neil Legends of Makeup Scholarship. This scholarship is awarded to one student a year. Tuition for the Master Makeup Program (8 weeks/ 630 hours) is currently around $13,000.
  • Joe Blasco Makeup Schools
    Opened by film makeup legend Joe Blasco in 1976, this school has retained its status as a top-flight makeup school. Joe Blasco also offers online courses and focuses on courses covering specific sub-topics of makeup expertise. Tuition for the “Masters One Course” (15 Weeks/600 hours) is approx. $19,000.
  • Last Looks Makeup School
    Not a traditional makeup school, Last Looks travels across the country providing in-depth workshops in various cities. Courses are taught by professional and well-known makeup artists. This school might be a good choice for the student with limited funds who wishes to focus on specific areas of study in an intensive and immersive environment. Tuition for a these one-day classes are about $650, while multi-day workshops are offered for $950.
  • Douglas Education Center
    Should special effects and movie makeup be your area of focus, the Douglas Education Center in Monessen, Pennsylvania is home to the Tom Savini Special Makeup Effects Program. This 16-month associate degree program is for those who wish to work in special effects. Training includes makeup application and a variety of special effects-specific topics such as mold-making, animation fabrication, and exhibit and display design. Please contact school for tuition information.
  • Blanche MacDonald Centre (Canada)
    Operating in Vancouver, Canada since 1960, the Blanche MacDonald Centre is a leading makeup artistry school in Canada. Please contact school for tuition information.
  • SOMA (Canada)
    Since 1978, the School of Makeup Art (SOMA) offers two diploma programs, one being “Extensive Makeup Design” and the other being “Makeup and Fashion Image.” These programs provide the training and skills necessary for students to pursue careers in theatrical and special effects makeup. Please contact school for tuition information.

GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR

To start, it is a good idea to find some willing human guinea pigs to practice on. It is most helpful to try out your skills and materials on a myriad of people. This means finding cooperative friends and relatives with various facial shapes, eye types and colors, skin tones and ages. You may want to pick up a few books and experiment with various techniques. If you are focusing on the theatrical, try working with aging or making your subjects more youthful via light and shadow effects. This can be fun and quite informative. A great resource, and what many consider to be the Bible for the art of theatrical makeup, is the book titled Stage Makeup. It can be pricey but is often available used at a discount.

As you experiment and develop your skills, you will reach a point in which you can start to build a portfolio of photographs of your creations. This will be helpful as you seek jobs, internships or admission to schools. Having a photographic collection of your work, a portfolio showing your abilities, will also assist you in knowing where you most need to improve and, importantly, how your makeup creations translate to photographic images. Makeup in photography, movies and TV often takes on a different appearance than in life; it is essential to know how this might affect your technique and application in order to achieve the desired results for each medium.

What time and again seems to be a common theme in our research and interviews with professionals is the following: Practice, perseverance, and a mind for business and self-promotion are the keys to success. A fire in the belly to pursue that which you love is another necessary ingredient to success as a makeup professional (or any artist).