Makeup Artist

01

What Is a Makeup Artist?

From the wildly popular television show, Face-Off, to the demands put on movie producers by audiences for more realistic characters, the world of makeup artistry couldn’t be trendier than it is today.  Yet, as long as the theater, movies, and television have existed, artists have applied stage makeup and/or prosthetics to actors and actresses to transform their characters and captivate audiences.  How would people relate to the characters in the movie, Avatar if not for the brilliant use of makeup and prosthetics? Or, why would the blood and gore in the movie Carrie, turn audiences’ stomachs? Ensuring that the makeup looks convincing on a character in a film or movie or even on a model on the runway is difficult, and becoming a makeup artist is no easy task. But, for those individuals with passion and creative talent, a career as a makeup artist can be very rewarding. 

There are a number of different techniques used by makeup artists, including fashion makeup used to paint the faces of supermodels for magazine photo shoots as well as on the runway. Special effects makeup (or fantasy makeup) uses plaster castings, prosthetics, and makeup to transform men into monsters. Airbrushing techniques give a higher depth of detail to the makeup without the heavy buildup found with greasepaint. High definition makeup uses light reflectors and minerals to give the skin a flawless look, and bridal makeup, which is now all the rage in Asia, Europe, Africa and the US, are also techniques practiced by makeup artists.  And, while each technique is considered a ‘makeup,’ artists must be equipped to apply makeup in different ways, depending on the event. For example, theater makeup artists must apply makeup that can be visible from a long distance since the audience is often far away from the performers on stage. 

Professional artists in their own right, makeup artists apply a variety of mediums to the skin (not only the face) to transform, mutate, revamp, or enhance the appearance of a person or persons.  They must have attention to detail, even the very fine details like wrinkles and blemishes, they must be patient, as applying makeup can take hours, they must understand the various types of makeup, application techniques, anatomy of the face and body, and understand what is needed to meet each client’s needs, sometimes on deadline.  They must know about the various types of brushes and how to hold them, how to apply loose powder, how to clean their brushes and other application tools, what enhances each individual’s face, how to deal with makeup application in different lighting situations, and how to make someone beautiful or grotesque.  And, while applying makeup to a professional model is very different than applying makeup on a character in a film, the techniques learned through an educational program cannot be overlooked.

02

Typical Work Environment

Where makeup artists work depends on the type of makeup they wish to do.  Even then, there is usually a lot of variety about where and when you’ll perform makeup services.  If you’re most interested in working with fashion makeup, you may find yourself at TV and film studios, on photo shoots in the middle of nowhere, or a beach in the Bahamas, rented lofts, or even hotel rooms.  Fashion shoots, sometimes also called location shoots, can happen most anywhere, and it’s one of the biggest reasons people enter this particular field.  Models must be seen in unusual and exotic locations, in different lighting situations, and with a variety of different makeup to meet client’s needs. Most fashion magazines have offices in New York, Chicago, Miami, and other large metropolitan areas. But, there are always opportunities nearby no matter where you live, and ‘everywhere’ is a great place to build experience. 

Over the past ten years, bridal makeup has really taken off. If this is an area of interest, you will be traveling locally to any number of venues, from churches and wedding halls to the bride-to-be’s home. Lighting will most likely be an issue when applying makeup, as fluorescent lighting does not have the same illumination as other types of lighting, so understanding how to apply makeup in different lighting situations and for different lighting situations – daytime or evening –  is key to being successful in this field. 

Much the same as on a fashion shoot, TV and movie makeup artists spend a great deal of time in production studios. They might also travel to location, even to a remote location in another country.  This can be pretty exciting for individuals wishing to enter this specific filed, but understand that jobs are very competitive, and you must have experience and a great deal of talent to be considered for work.  Even makeup artists who apply makeup to people in commercials will often travel a great deal of the time, both locally and abroad. 

Special effects makeup artists typically work in studios, either for a major entertainment company or motion picture company, like MGM. They also travel to location, sometimes abroad. Movies like The Dark Knight Rises was filmed in India, England, Scotland, Italy and the US.  Makeup artists responsible for making Christian Bale look convincing as the Dark Knight traveled with the crew and spent months overseas. This may also be something to consider when choosing a specific field of makeup artistry; do you want to travel? 

Makeup artists who prefer the theater usually work backstage or in an actor’s dressing room. They may also work in production studios helping costume designers develop costumes to match a character’s makeup, and vice versa. But, theater can be local or across the country, and relocating is pretty common for those who wish to work in this field. Of course, there is always local theater close by, which doesn’t necessitate traveling long distances. Even most colleges and universities have theater departments for students to gain experience and add to their portfolio.

Makeup artists also work at makeup counters and in high-end department stores. This is a great place to gain experience as most department stores are always on the hunt for makeup artists to work behind the counter. You also won’t have to find clients or worry about the business end of becoming a makeup artist, which leaves time to hone your craft and decide if this is the career for you.  Makeup artists work in some larger beauty salons, and also at corporate events or special functions, like galas and fundraisers. These too are great places to practice and build a portfolio of work.  These are great jobs for makeup artists who want more routine and less travel.

03

Education, Training & Certification Requirements

A formal education is not necessary to succeed in the field of makeup artistry, but if you’re serious about becoming a makeup artist, attending school is an option you should pursue. There are many different programs, both in the US and in Europe, and depending on what specific field – makeup for supermodels, or makeup for the theater – there are schools that can set you on your way.  But what makes up a good school? There are a number of things to consider, including coursework, costs to attend, staff and faculty reputation, etc.  It’s also worth thinking about what kind of skills you wish to graduate with; creating the next great character on the backlots of Hollywood, or creating a smoky eye and red lips for supermodels in Paris? The school’s programs; if they specialize in one or two makeup techniques, or generalize in many, will be one of the first things to consider when researching various makeup schools. 

Each state has different requirements to become a makeup artist. Some states offer a separate license so an individual can only specialize in one field. Other states require cosmetology certification to practice as a makeup artist.  Still, other states don’t regulate makeup artistry at all, so it’s imperative to research the state’s requirements prior to choosing a program. 

Makeup artists can receive training through a cosmetology associate degree program found in many technical schools and community colleges. Programs typically run about 1500 to 2000 hours, and usually take anywhere from one to two years to complete.  Cosmetology students learn a broad range of beauty techniques, from hair and makeup to skincare; all of which help aspiring makeup artists learn their craft.  In most cosmetology programs, students will also learn sanitation, state regulations, and business skills. More concise programs are also available through beauty schools. 

Makeup artists who want to work in film or theater may consider earning a bachelor’s degree in theater.  Most programs incorporate makeup into the curriculum. Some programs even offer concentrations in makeup application. Students are trained in basic makeup application, corrective makeup, and special effects makeup.  Many private school programs also offer courses in prosthetics, color theory, airbrushing, waxes and gels, forms, effects for baldness and for artificial blood, etc.  No doubt, professional-level makeup artist programs save time and effort trying to learn everything by trial and error, and many offer internship opportunities at local or school theaters to gain experience and make connections.

04

Make-up Artist Salary & Job Outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, stage and theater makeup artists earned a median annual salary of about $66,000 as of May 2015. The BLS projects 10.2 percent job growth from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than average for all occupations.  The top ten percent of all makeup artists make just over $122,000, with the lowest ten percent making about $20,000 per year. Of course, wages vary depending on the industry, geographic locations, education, and years of experience. 

The industries that have the highest concentration of employment for makeup artists are the motion picture and video industries, personal care services, radio and television broadcasting, and performing arts companies, in that order. 

About one-fourth of all makeup artists are self-employed, with most jobs short-term; only lasting a day or two.  Wages fluctuate greatly for freelance makeup artists, and some may experience long sprints of unemployment in-between events. 

And, whether working for a company or freelancing on your own, a professional portfolio highlighting your very best work is essential to entering and remaining in this field, getting the job, and earning a reputation.

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